A bank CEO's 15 tips for incoming summer interns
Banking internships will be starting soon.
There can be a lot of anxiety among interns about how to treat the experience - how to dress, how to act, and even how to think. Luckily, there's plenty of advice to be found for a fresh class of interns, courtesy of Rich Handler, the CEO of Jefferies.
In an extensive Instagram story, Handler lists the 15 things he wishes he knew when he began his summer internship (granted, that was more than 30 years ago) after a long career on the Street. His tips are broadly the same as last year’s, congratulating the interns and encouraging a healthy work-life balance, as well as a sense of gratitude towards having the internship opportunity at all.
1. Understand the assignment first
Handler’s first bit of advice is to stop. Stop both yourself and your supervisor – ask for explanations, ask for clarifications, and ask for guidance. It will take some time to understand the industry’s lingo. “Slowing us down until you understand what you need to do, if done right, will be viewed as a sign of your strength,” he says.
2. Zero Sum
You’re not competing with the other interns – you’re collaborating with them. “The best interns will always be the ones without the sharp elbows that connive to make themselves look good at the expense of others,” Handler says. Share information and understanding, uplift people, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. “Life is not ‘zero sum’ and the best people in our (and every) industry are the ones who live their lives this way."
Again, the advice is to stop and think – just five minutes, Handler says, is enough to ask yourself the questions that guide your work process. “Why was I asked to do this assignment? What was the conclusion that was reached? What will someone do with this new knowledge? Why was this relevant or important, or was it?” Are the questions he suggests. “You must understand the ‘thinking’ part of what you are doing as opposed to just the ‘working’ part.”
It can be easy to forget that investment bankers are human beings, often even in possession of a soul. “While you are working hard to please everyone, never forget that it is the human connection that matters the most,” Handler says. “Everyone has multiple priorities, constant pressures and complications, strengths and weaknesses, talents and insecurities, and good and bad days.” It’s important to grow out of the college/university mindset and into the ‘real world’ one, he adds.
There are going to be a million questions in your head. “There are no stupid ones,” Handler says. Asking tactfully is as important as acting at all, however.” If you are in a real time experience with a potential transaction going on around you, the time to ask the question may be a bit later. Use common sense and be aware.” And open your ears - don’t ask the same question twice.
Checking your work is good. Checking it twice is better. Investment banks deal with “lots of zeroes before you get to the decimal point, so even small mistakes can quickly become big ones.”
7. Learn entire firm
Keeping a broad horizon is critical to developing, both as a banker and as a person. It also means that – with the very real possibility that you don’t enjoy your internship – you have a clue as to what you want to do instead. “There are many different aspects to an investment bank and you might find a different one suits you better,” Handler says, although that isn’t the only benefit. “Even if you are in the perfect spot already, knowing the other aspects of the company will always make you better at your job and it is fun to understand how all the pieces really fit together."
8. Act like this is your career choice
Although this might have gone without saying, dedicating yourself to the internship is very important. “Even if you wind up only doing this job for 10 weeks or a couple of years and never consider the company or industry again, you will be much better off because your mindset was right and you gave it your all.” If you do stick around, optimizing your path from the get-go is also crucial.
Tied into number 4, it’s important to remember that human beings (which investment bankers, science has proven, are) have a personality. And that’s a good thing. “Your personality is a large reason why you were selected in the first place. People in our industry have a sense of humor, enjoy their coworkers and clients, and like to have fun.” That being said, that’s not an excuse to be immature.
10. Personal health / face time
“Work hard and when your work is done, leave the office and go exercise, see your family and friends, explore a new city, or just rest,” Handler says. Don’t feel guilty about having a life, or about having spare time. Don’t force yourself to work harder than you need to. “Take ownership of your mental and physical health and speak up if you need help. We will consider this a sign of strength too."
Being exposed to clients is an important (and intentional!) part of the internship process. It is, Handler says, one of the best ways for young bankers to learn. “Seeing how we treat our clients and learning from the types of questions and concerns they have before they make an important decision is incredibly valuable to understanding if this is a long term career for you.”
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the full time offer. It’s also not the end of the world if you don’t really like banking – at the end of the day, the most best things in life are free, and can’t be either given nor taken from you. “Having youth, smarts, personality, experience, health, family, friends and ambition will go a long way. Have confidence in yourself that if things do not work out, it is probably our loss and not yours.”
As said above, there are a lot of zeroes before any decimal points in banking. The numbers are big – and therefore, so are the consequences (which is also why accuracy is so lauded). Discretion is more than just advised – it’s a legal requirement. The risks are “devastating ramifications,” both for the banks and for clients. And for you. “Your most precious asset you have today and throughout your life is your reputation. Protect this at all costs because every firm in our industry has seen an incredibly successful person reduced to uncontrollable tears knowing that they made a mistake that will cost them everything they worked so hard to achieve.”
Less of a point of concern – all of those rounds of interviews do have a purpose, after all – but Handler notes that any childish notions ought to be left at the door. “You are an adult and we will treat you like one,” he says, and those that cannot adjust to professional life will not finish their internships. It happens rarely, but it still does. “Such a shame, but only themselves to blame.”
15. Fellow interns
Your colleagues are an amazing opportunity to make lifelong friendships, Handler says. “Regardless of what happens during these next ten weeks, each of these people can be lifelong friends, co-workers, clients or business partners.” It’s also important to underline that you are not competing against them – and if you treat these fledgling relationships in that way, you will suffer for it.
Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: Zeno.Toulon@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance.
Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)