Landing a finance internship is hype, what’s more hype is locking in the return offer. Your junior summer is all about making sure you have a full time job lined up at the end of it. Senior year gets a lot more fun when you don’t have to continue the job search. Keep reading to learn your key items to killing it over the summer, whether you’re in investment banking, private equity, or any other internship.
Return Offers: What to Do
A lot of this is common sense, but you would be shocked by the number of interns that still mess up. The good news is that the bar is very low. No one expects you to come in already knowing everything. The only things that matter are responsiveness, willingness to learn, working hard, and being reasonably personable.
You should really be available and responsive at any time that your associate is awake. This may sound a bit drastic, but you just need to work hard for 10-weeks. When you come on as an analyst (or MBA associate) you’ll have way more latitude in segmenting for work and personal lives.
It’s risky if you’re working on a project with the associate and it’s 11pm, they’ve stopped responding, and you decide to go to bed on your own. Particularly in the era of work from home freedom, you don’t know when comments will come in and when your associate has truly finished the work. They may be on the phone with the VP and give you a task at midnight. If you’re not ready for that task it will not look good.
The associate may even say it’s fine and not to worry, but nine times out of 10 this will leave a bad taste and may get brought up during internal evaluations.
It sucks, it’s unreasonable, not a way to live life, but honestly just must be done for your 10-weeks.
Willingness to Learn
It’s important that you come in to the summer ready to learn new things — that’s the whole point (other than getting the return offer). There are times where it’ll be overwhelming and frustrating, but you really just need to push through.
At the same time, absolutely do not be afraid to ask for help. If you’re stuck and spinning your wheels, reach out. You could talk to other interns first, then check with your analyst or associate.
The key here is to take very clear notes whenever anyone is explaining something to you. Maybe I’m just a donkey, but it’s easy to think you learned how to proceed from an explanation only to get back to your desk and realize you forgot a couple crucial steps that seemed obvious. It is not a good look to ask the same questions over and over. Totally fine here and there, but don’t make a habit of needing four explanations for each task.
It will be incredibly differentiating if you’re able to take what you learn on your first task, then show that you know it going forward. If you think of your knowledge base as a staircase, you want to continuously be walking up the stairs. It’s fine if you don’t remember stuff right away, but you’ll be in a great spot even if you get just to the point where you know the correct terminology and can figure it out.
Like I said, a lot of this is common sense. 90% of your summer success will be determined based on showing up and trying to grind. Perhaps the #1 key for earning the return offer is creating a reputation of being a hard worker.
Half of this is optics. At the intern level your work product probably won’t be very valuable to the team. But, you should still be there with the team at all times. Facetime cultures are BS, but if there is one time in your life to get in early and stay late, your summer internship is it.
You would be amazed at the number of interns who plan vacations in the middle of a deal, leave their laptop at work and stop answering, go home at 6pm before anyone else on the team, etc.
Be Relatively Personable
You don’t need to turn into a comedian or frat social chair, just be pleasant to be around. If there is one intern who is Einstein-level genius but sucks to be around, and one intern who has certified donkey brains but is amiable, the return offer will go to the donkeybrained kid every single time.
Again, simple stuff, but still worth listing out because a lot of people get tripped up by it.
You won’t come into the internship knowing everything so do not think that you do. If your analyst/associate/VP tells you to do something a certain way, just do it. Don’t argue and say that Professor Numbnuts at Princeton told you something different or that you invented your own modeling technique. Anything like that will lose you points, not win them.
Don’t be unpleasant to be around. Bar a few psychopaths (that you will meet), no one wants to be in the office at 3am. You don’t need to make it abundantly obvious to everyone that you’re not having a good time. No one is, but everyone will have a better experience if the team collectively maintains a kind and collegial atmosphere.
This is one item that’s actually harder than it sounds. When you’ve gone weeks without adequate sleep and your VP gives you some insane comment that doesn’t make sense, it is incredibly easy to respond with some snide remarks. Just do whatever it takes to bite your tongue, brush it off, and laugh with the homies in the bullpen.
Some of the worst banking experiences have been late at night grinding non-stop, but so have some of the best. It all depends on what you make of it and who you’re with. Be someone that people are okay working with late at night, or that they even look forward to spending time with.
In short, be nice and don’t be an asshole, no matter what.
What Happens If You Don’t Get a Return Offer?
Slots are limited, market conditions change, and things happen. Absolutely do not worry if you didn’t secure the return offer. You’ll still be able to secure a full time role.
The end of the summer becomes something similar to a big game of musical chairs across banks. Internships wrap up and communications about return offers go out. At the same time, interns will be trying to trade up to a better bank, switch out of an unpleasant group, move locations, transition into product vs. coverage (or vice versa), etc. All that to say, there will be plenty of open spots for you to snag.
Immediate Next Steps
The key in this situation is to move quickly. You have a few weeks to a month to nail down a spot, and the longer you go without doing so that worse your situation gets.
You do not need to wait for final confirmation of a return offer before making things happen. If you start to feel like the offer may not be in the cards, you should immediately begin planning your next move. You can potentially ask your analyst for some guidance as well, though they may or may not give you any helpful info.
Start networking hard. Reach out to all your contacts and update them on your summer. Say something generic like you learned a lot, but want to switch groups for XYZ reason. Do whatever you can to get on interview shortlists for full time positions.
A lot of the full time slots will either not be posted or will be filled before HR even passes on resumes from online applications. Absolutely apply through these because you never know, but your primary course of action should be networking.
It’s also not an issue if you have a small group of contacts. Hop on LinkedIn, find associates or VPs in your target groups, and send them a cold Email. Keep it short and sweet, but let them know you’re on the market and would love to interview.
While doing this, you need to make absolutely sure you have your technicals down cold. If interviewers suspect you didn’t get a return offer they will put you through the ringer to see if there is any weakness. Don’t give them any reason to ding you on the technicals because they will be trying their hardest.
Be upfront about your non-offer if asked. If you haven’t heard back either way, say that, but if you know you didn’t get it do not lie. It’s a small world and whoever interviewing you will probably reach out to a contact at your internship for an informal reference check.
Spin the situation in your favor. Own that you didn’t get the offer, but don’t say you were a trash intern. Let your interviewer know there were limited slots as well as any other mitigating items. Then drive home your preference for the new bank.
If you came from Goldman and you’re interviewing at Raymond James, be prepared for some pushback. Just emphasize a preference for middle market companies, smaller teams, higher-touch work, location, etc.
Closing Thoughts on Return Offers
Whatever the outcome, cut yourself some slack. This is one of the most stressful periods of your career and undergrad experience. Things will work themselves out one way or another.
If you get through the summer and don’t have something locked down, take a look at some boutique banks. You’ll get the same, if not better experience and be in a position to lateral within 8 – 12 months.
If you do get the return offer or land another full time role, take some time to celebrate. You worked incredibly hard and deserve some fun and relaxation in your senior year. You might not get another opportunity for a while after you graduate, so take full advantage.