Or should you?
As summer internships finish up and full-time recruiting begins, this is one question that always comes up:
What should you do if you don’t get a return offer?
A lot of what you should do is obvious – so first, let’s take a look at what not to do.
Lie About It
The problem here is that you can be caught very easily – especially if you worked at a large bank, where your offer status is just a phone call to a friend away.
Yes, people do lie about their offer status and sometimes they get away with it.
But is it worth the risk?
Tell the Whole Truth
If you didn’t get an offer – whether it’s because no one got offers, or because you watched YouTube all day and never did anything – you will need to learn how to spin what really happened.
- “The market was bad” is actually a weak excuse unless you can truthfully say that absolutely no one received offers, or that your bank just doesn’t take on full-timers for whatever reason.
- It’s usually better to say something like, “I did well, got good reviews, and enjoyed the work, but wanted to be put in such-and-such group instead…”
- Another approach is to cite the culture and say you performed well, but would fit in better with the people you’re interviewing with right now.
- If the bank never told you one way or the other, you have a very easy way to spin the truth – just say that they are not telling interns for now, and while you enjoyed working there, you think you’d be better off in the group you’re interviewing with because…
In all cases you should focus on the positive aspects of whatever you actually did, and then also link in the positives of the place you’re interviewing at.
Apply to the Same Firm Again
This only works if you worked in one group at a large bank, didn’t get an offer there, and know people elsewhere really well and are certain that news won’t spread to their group.
Sometimes banks are actually disorganized enough to let this happen, and I’m sure there are some people who have won offers like this.
But if you worked at Goldman Sachs Investment Banking and didn’t get a return offer, you shouldn’t bother applying there once again.
What are they going to learn in 4 hours of interviews that they wouldn’t already know from 10 80+ hour weeks?
Think You’re a Failure and Dwell On It
Not getting a return offer after a summer internship is one of the least serious setbacks you’ll ever experience. Other setbacks that are worse:
- Getting laid off as an underperforming VP – very tough to get back into finance.
- Getting laid off 3 months after you started working – hard to find something else.
- Not getting an internship in the first place.
- Breaking your leg and having to go in for interviews anyway.
- Having both computers break and losing all your data while creating a new product, in the midst of traveling (this just happened to me).
The whole process can be very random and political, especially in certain groups – so don’t take it personally, unless it really was your fault (you kept screwing up your comps repeatedly).
Wait to Hear Whether or Not You’re Actually Getting an Offer
This one is counter-intuitive, but consider the following:
- Traditionally, banks tell interns about return offers on the last day or in the last week, and sometimes earlier than that.
- Some banks (Goldman being the most famous example) like to delay telling people for months, even when the market is good.
- These days, a lot of other banks are adopting the same approach – so you may not know definitively for a few weeks to a few months.
You need to be very careful about relying on hearsay. Until you sign the dotted line, anything could happen.
Rather than waiting to hear, you need to hedge yourself by applying to other places and then making “Plan B” scenarios in case nothing works out (see below).
Rely on On-Campus Recruiting
If you go to a school that actually has on-campus recruiting, you might be tempted to just rely on this process to get another offer.
The problem: everyone else – including those without banking internships – is doing the same thing.
If you want to stand out, you need to go around the standard channels and speak directly with recruiters at other banks (more on this below).
So What to Do Then?
Ok, so those are a couple of the more common mistakes to avoid with return offers.
Now for what to do in case you already know, or anticipate, that you won’t get a return offer:
Find Out Why
First, you need to find out why you really didn’t get a return offer – not just the story that your MD or HR told you. These days it’s very common to say that it was due to “market conditions,” when in reality it might be because you kept screwing up.
This helps you in 2 ways:
- You can then come up with more stories / support during interviews to explain your situation and address any “objections” that interviewers might have.
- It shows you who might actually be a good reference for you (see below) and who would be useless.
If you actually did well and everyone liked you, but you just didn’t get an offer for political reasons or anything else outside your control, getting references will be huge.
Finding bankers who can back up how good you are, tell others about it, and then also refer you to their friends is huge and is often the difference between getting a job somewhere else and getting nothing.
Of course, you can’t do this if you didn’t get an offer because you really did watch YouTube all day at work.
Forget about trying to build relationships and asking about your friend’s ski trip to Colorado – if you need a full-time offer ASAP, then you have to be more direct with your networking.
The best way to do this: contact recruiters at large banks directly, say you interned at such-and-such bank, and that you want to know how to position yourself for an interview at their firm due to looming deadlines.
Leave it vague and avoid discussion of whether or not you got an offer until it actually comes up in interviews – and when that happens, justify it by using some of the reasons given above.
If you’re looking at smaller banks as well, you can just cold-call / cold-email them and explain very briefly where you interned and that you want to interview with them.
And if you already have decent relationships with bankers, you should ask about an accelerated interview process given your internship.
But Hedge Yourself, Just In Case
You stand a significantly better chance of getting a full-time offer if you’ve already done an internship… but things don’t always work out, so you always want to hedge yourself just in case:
- Consider autumn (more common in Europe), school-year, or unpaid internships that might turn into full-time offers.
- Look outside banking and consider trading, consulting, and other fields that could get you into business school.
- The Master’s Program option.
- And yes, the ever-popular ski bum alternative as well.
One reason I recommend starting to recruit ASAP rather than waiting for on-campus recruiting is that these methods are all time-consuming (ok, except for the last one), and you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with options… focus on what you actually want first.
You might be tempted to press the “panic” button if you don’t get a return offer, but you should resist the urge to do so (or anything else similarly drastic) – it’s not the end of the world, and it’s easier to overcome compared to other setbacks.