Getting ready for your Summer Internship?
Summer internships are a fantastic way to explore the inner workings of a particular career and to set up a pathway in your desired field (should you want to take it).
During the summer of 2017, I interned at a large investment bank. The internship was organised as a 10-week programme; 1 week of “core training”, 8 weeks “on the desk” and 1 week at the end for “reviews, feedback and next steps”. The programme was a fascinating and genuine insight into the “life of an investment banking analyst”.
As I’m sure is the case for many of you, one of the biggest challenges of an internship is securing a full-time offer. Competition can be steep and the stakes feel high after such a rigorous selection process. Surprisingly however, there are plenty of “easy wins” to stand you out from the crowd.
- Doing good work
This one might sound obvious, but it is the best place to start and you would be amazed at how much this can be a differentiating factor. It’s worth saying that “doing good work” definitely doesn’t mean working the hardest or the longest number of hours. Instead, from my experience, an important part of it is finding the projects and tasks that you really connect with and have a genuine enthusiasm for.
For example, I enjoyed connecting what was happening in the real world with the analysis that we were presenting e.g. what competitors were doing and potential implications, decisions made by Central Banks and how that affected our assumptions, big changes to management teams ahead of meetings or relevant news announcements that had just been released.
Finding personal interests brings out a natural level of enthusiasm, gets you engaged and full of energy. It might spark a conversation with a colleague that you have never met before (showing curiosity and getting your name on the map) or brings you across a piece of news that influences the narrative of a client discussion (showing awareness of the big picture).
In addition to enthusiasm, there are some other great ways to deliver to a high standard:
- Invest in a notepad, it pays real dividends. Keep one with you as much as you can and note down any advice that you receive, feedback or mistakes (with the aim not to repeat). It can fast-track your learnings, growth and performance
- Reach out to an analyst to figure out what the “best practices” are early on e.g. internal platforms / resources available to make you more efficient: shortcuts, research and data portals, precedent materials and models
- Be organised e.g. join calls ahead of time, save new versions frequently to avoid losing valuable work, keep to deadlines (and communicate when you can’t)
- Be conscious of your own workload and manage carefully e.g. don’t go “over-capacity” and end up delivering late or low quality work (this is probably the worst mistake). The mantra of “under-promise and over-deliver” is definitely something that I reminded myself of frequently. So “say no” when you have to
- Be honest and manage expectations — take notes, but feel confident to ask if you are not sure (particularly important in a virtual environment). And ask what the deadline is. I was afraid to do this at times, but it helps you prioritise and manage your own workload. Sometimes you might be involved in a low-priority piece of work, but you won’t be told that unless you ask about time-frames (everyone wants to get everything done as soon as possible). It’s also okay to ask for more time when needed and where possible
- Be clear and concise in your communication. Proactively highlight any questions / outstanding points you have, but at the same time suggest what you think and why (“I wasn’t sure about this. But I had a look at xyz and found this”). If unsure, it’s always better to over-communicate. Layout your emails clearly including links, file paths or attachments, so that it’s easy to source and look through
- Similarly, be organised when building backups, so that they are easy to check (imagine you have to run the analyst through your work over the phone and how you might structure that conversation)
- Quality over speed. Take time to think through the task at hand before jumping straight in, give some structure to your thoughts and how you might get started
- Proof-read your work (x2). Printing and giving a thorough check is the best way
- Be patient. Work smartly and make use of down time (e.g. explore, research and network)
- Keep a simple log for everything you worked on as the internship goes by, it will help for your review checkpoints
- Actively try to find ways to add value e.g. extra reading, suggestions, putting yourself in the shoes of an analyst and front-loading some of their work
- Ask interesting questions: keep up to date with the news and deals relating to your projects or team. Ask team members for their opinion: “what would you do in this case?”, “I was thinking about this, what would be your thoughts?” For easy ones, be sure to check google first
2. Being visible
Halfway through my internship, I was broadly told that if I didn’t go on more coffees, I wasn’t going to get an offer (not for a lack of caffeine, but rather because I hadn’t met enough people in my team).
Getting colleagues to know who you are was much more important than I had anticipated.
So where to find opportunities to network?:
- 10min (virtual) coffee chats or join team members for lunch
- Start conversations at appropriate times when you get the chance — at the water fountain, in the elevator
- Get involved with team / company events
- Get to know other team members via your current projects and the people you have been working with e.g. “I’m working with Ben on this piece of work and he mentioned that you worked on xyz, I’d be very interested to hear more about that, if you wanted to grab a coffee later this week?”
Some other tips:
- Network with a purpose, but be natural and professional
- Know when to talk and when not to. 20% talking, 80% listening
- Speak intelligently (aka avoid saying anything obviously stupid and/or waffling)
- Be genuine, don’t over-compliment!
- Be confident with first names
- Don’t over-joke — remember work colleagues. Best to avoid being too loud or to overly draw attention
- Ask if you can help out when you can
3. Having a rock-star attitude
Crafting a great mindset is crucial. Sometimes things go wrong (or at least they feel like they do). And then you worry that you messed it all up just because of 1 awkward conversation or a few minor errors. It is important to put an internship (or even a day of an internship) in context of a full life of opportunities and perspectives. Strength comes from being able to take these (mostly imagined) worst-case scenarios on the chin and move beyond them onto the next thing in your day. Remember it’s a tortoise race — don’t let 1 day ruin your whole internship. Move forward, stay positive
Some other snippets:
- Be genuinely grateful for the opportunity — smile and be the positive one, even when it is tough! It makes a huge difference, particularly in environments with typically long hours
- Be polite and respectful to everyone at all times (irrespective of work, deadlines and high-pressure situations)
- Don’t assume you will get an offer or think you know everything already
- Have a strategy, with specific goals: 1) Ask team members a few weeks in, how can I improve and then create some action points
- Show initiative and reciprocate — see if you can help an analyst out, show that you’re willing to go that one step further. Be curious, look at presentations / models saved down, think about them, ask sensible questions at sensible times
- Look after yourself too! Sleep, diet, exercise, seeing family and friends — recharge batteries and stay healthy
- Talk about social life (family and friends), life outside the work, the weekend — keep it interesting
- Try not to get annoyed / angry when tired. And avoid making excuses. Instead, “Okay, I understand / that’s noted — thank you.” or “I have a couple questions, could we discuss quickly when you have 5mins?”
4. Best not to do’s…
- Complain. It’s a really easy one to do, especially when everyone else is doing it around you. But it’s the fastest way to lose an offer. Never complain or talk badly about someone
- Make controversial comments or over-joke at any point — you don’t need those attached to your name
- Go over-capacity. It is painful and you risk giving poor-quality work for no real benefit (people don’t remember good work, but remember bad work)
- Be late: try to be there 5 minutes early with a notepad. If a colleague is busy, be patient or send a polite email suggesting another time that might suit better
- Under-preparing. Sometimes this is a bit of an admin task, but checking ahead of time whether the phone works, there are enough chairs, there are pens, paper, handouts and that the room is free are all easy wins to ensuring meetings run smoothly, which reflects well on you and shows proactivity. Prepare in advance (15 minutes before), and if unsure, just ask to see if there is anything that needs doing
- Be a bit awkward: keep a couple interesting stories about yourself in mind e.g. sky-diving or charity events that you did over the summer
- Being short-sighted. If you have a bad day, don’t let it ruin your whole internship — keep your thoughts to yourself and a smile on your face (at least until you leave the office)
Just to wrap up, I’ll admit that it’s not easy to put all of these into practice at the same time, particularly in real-time and remote situations. But hopefully this gives an insight into what to expect, alongside some short pieces of advice to help you get the most out of your internship.
Summer internships are a fantastic opportunity to gain a real-life insight into a career and to see if it’s a good fit for you. Remember if it’s not, there are a million other exciting opportunities out there and you’ve just tested one! To those embarking on this experience in the coming days and weeks — best of luck.
Be curious, enthusiastic and most importantly have fun with it!