As an intern, when can you go home at night?

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Interning on Wall Street is all about making a good impression. You want to prove you're smart, but also hardworking and dedicated – two qualities that are absolute necessities if you want to earn a full-time job offer at an investment bank.

But, unless you’re a machine, you likely don’t want to spend 24 hours a day in the office. So, when is it appropriate to call it a night? Is it as simple as going home when the day’s work is done? The short answer is no. We talked to three former interns who are now working full-time on Wall Street for their advice.

“If you have real work, make sure you finish it. If you don't have real work, stay 30 minutes later than the last person to leave who has ever given you real work,” said one current VP at a U.S. investment bank.

People you work for generally resent it if you leave before them, he acknowledged. “I do,” he said.

The best-case scenario is that someone in your group doesn’t heed this advice. “You certainly don’t want to be the first person to leave,” said an associate who just left the business. She suggests you develop a herd mentality early, and follow it throughout the internship. Discuss specific plans on exit times with other members of your group and get up to leave together, she said. “Safety in numbers.”

But what if, in a random occurrence, you have no work left to accomplish and it’s only 5pm?

“Look for ways to free up the senior people – create ‘leverage’ – by taking tasks off their plate for that specific project,” said a third former intern. “But, don't be annoying by asking ‘how can I help?’ Recognize the work to be done and suggest that you as the intern take it on.”

And if nothing comes to mind? Look busy. “Don't hang around the office chit chatting, you will annoy people with real work,” said the VP. If you have nothing to do but are waiting for your bosses to leave, read the business section of the Wall Street Journal, the Economist or the FT, he said.

“Get good at looking like you are busy. Walk fast, don't talk to your neighbor constantly, throw your tie over your shoulder when you type,” he said with a laugh.

And if someone tells you to go home, go home. “Nobody wants a hero either.”


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