Sales & Trading Internships: The Top 9 Ways to Go from Internship to Full-Time Offer
Six years ago I had beaten the odds and managed to secure a trading internship at a bulge bracket bank in London coming out of a proper non-target.
I thought I was done: after all, the networking and interview prep to win the internship was the hard part, right?
An internship means nothing if you can’t convert it into a full-time offer, and it’s arguably even harder to do this in sales & trading than in investment banking.
You might be competing against 15-20 other interns who are just as qualified as you, if not more so.
And you cannot underestimate the importance of rocking your internship to win a full-time offer – in the “post-financial crisis economy” there are very few spots for graduates who were not previous interns.
Winning an offer doesn’t just get you a full-time job at the bank you interned at, but it also gives you an automatic reference for other places you want to apply to and a “Plan B” option.
There are already tons of articles on this site on how to succeed in your internship, but most of them are focused on investment banking or corporate finance roles – so I wanted to detail some of the smaller details that go into making a sales & trading internship successful.
We’re going to look at everything from your wardrobe (Brian’s favorite topic) to pre-internship preparation, food orders, networking, trading games, and more:
Point #1: Wardrobe
This has been covered to death, but some things are important enough to repeat.
There is really one wardrobe rule to follow: if you have any doubts, then do not do it.
The rule of thumb is not to stick out until you are more ingrained with a team. So, be as conservative as possible for your first day (i.e. suit and tie) and then see what everyone else there is wearing and adjust accordingly.
You may end up settling on business casual, but it never hurts to be conservative on the first day / first week.
Point #2: Pre-Internship Preparation
Most people will tell you, “Everything you need to know will be taught on your desk – enjoy your summer!”
Do not listen to these people.
There is a huge difference between interns who come in with zero prep and interns who have clearly read around the subject.
You only have a couple weeks with each desk – so if each desk needs to teach you the basics, then you won’t stand out and you’ll be less likely to win a full-time offer.
For example, if you are on an equity derivatives desk, you do not want to be spending time learning what delta hedging is – you want to be discussing with the trader how he optimizes his delta hedging.
Knowing the basics allows you to use the time sitting with the trader to actually discuss ideas and trading strategies, rather than asking questions on basic information.
You don’t need to know as much as a full-time trader, of course, but knowing the basics of each different product is a very wise idea.
Point #3: Asking for Work
As an intern, you need to avoid one mistake above all else: annoying someone.
Yes, you have to be keen and eager to do as much as possible, but there is such a thing as crossing the line and asking for work too much.
Everyone has times when they’re receptive to helping and times when they’re busy – you need to learn to read the traders in your team and pick the best times to ask them for help (hint: if they look stressed out or it’s right around the open or close, you’re better off staying away).
Whenever you sit with someone and ask questions, always:
- Bring a notepad and take notes on everything they say.
- Resist the temptation to go off and spend hours on some task without asking the trader whether or not it would be useful first.
#2 is a very common mistake – some interns think they’ll be more impressive if they “surprise” the traders with all the work they’ve done on their own as they present a complex Excel / VBA template…
But this is a horrible idea.
There is probably a reason why the trader does things in a certain way, so if you come up with an idea to improve a process always ask the trader about it, create an outline of what you’re thinking about, and explain how it will make HIS life easier first.
If he says no or doesn’t seem to care, try again – if he says yes, great, go and create what you pitched.
Once you’ve done this a few times and have proven that you won’t screw up, traders will start handing off more and more work to you – full-time traders always have ideas on the backburner, but are rarely comfortable giving them to interns because it will require more time than just doing it themselves.
So instead of asking for work in the beginning, propose specific ideas to help them and keep doing that until they start trusting you and handing off work to you.
Point #4: Networking with Other Desks / Getting Placed on the Desk You Want
Placements are 80% at the hands of HR, with the exception of your first placement – which is 100% in the hands of HR.
Do NOT think you can slack off just because you didn’t get the desk you wanted to be placed into.
In fact, the single best way to move to a new desk is to become an outstanding performer on your current desk – too many interns think it’s all about “networking” and meeting people on other desks at the expense of their actual work.
Network as much as you want – every boss will be open to it – but make sure you are performing, because once you are seen as a high performer other desks will want to take you.
There is always a scramble over perceived talent.
Point #5: Food Orders
There are 3 types of interns when it comes to food orders:
- Type #1: The Arrogant Type – He thinks he’s too good to get food for someone else. After a while, he won’t be asked to get lunch orders… but he also won’t get any real work and no one will like him. Don’t think that you’re being “tough” by resisting – just like joining a fraternity, you have to pay your dues when joining a trading desk.
- Type #2: Poor Attention-to-Detail – He’s really eager to take orders and impress everyone, but he keeps screwing them up and missing small details like how they want their bread toasted. He has the right attitude, but if he can’t get results it will be the same outcome: no real work and no full-time offer.
- Type #3: The Professional – He’s the intern who takes food orders very seriously and asks what all the traders want 15 minutes beforehand. As a trader, there is nothing worse than being hungry and not being able to get food.
An extra tip: do NOT write anything down – just remember it and then write down the order as you walk away. Yes, they will notice this.
Do it with a smile, do not make mistakes, and you will get more interesting work.
After all, if you can’t even order food correctly what are the chances that you can create a complex VBA program correctly?
Point #6: Face Time
Many firms / desks / traders say there’s no such thing as “face time” and there’s no point in staying late for the sake of staying late.
They’re half-right: no, don’t stay if you really have nothing to do… but don’t leave when everyone else leaves, either.
What worked well for me: I would spend the day networking and sitting with various people, and then after the close I would review what I learned during the day and finish off any Excel work or other tasks.
It requires more time on your part, but if you want an offer it is an effective way to get project work done and meet people.
So yes, avoid face time, but stay and finish your real work – even if it’s after hours.
Point #7: Trading Games
Trading games are quite similar across the major banks. It’s an open outcry game where there are two sets of players: market makers and market takers.
You’ll have to make markets on some random variable, like a consecutive dice roll, and then you’ll have to trade options/other derivatives on it.
In each session, there will be a couple traders to observe. You must make a solid impression in these games by performing well and understanding the rules.
There will always be a few interns who cannot handle the open outcry game, and it is quite funny to see people swarm on these guys.
I go over a full breakdown of how to beat the open outcry game in my interview guide, which covers all the arbitrage opportunities and how to price the options.
Point #8: End of Internship Project
Most internships will culminate in a final project that you’ll have to present to HR, your line managers, and most of the guys you worked with.
Do not underestimate the importance of this presentation.
Many interns feel they have impressed their team “enough” and that it won’t mean much since they’ve already impressed their teams – they could not be more wrong.
I’ve seen many interns close to getting an offer fail to receive an offer by blowing off the final presentation – and sometimes interns who had mixed performances manage to win offers with spectacular final presentations.
In many cases, the desk you were on might not have the headcount to make you an offer – so the end of rotation presentation will be your chance to impress other desk heads that might potentially hire you.
Point #9: The #1 Thing You Need to Do During Your Internship
There is one thing that all successful interns do: get to know as many people as possible.
Getting an offer often comes down to a vote, and you never know which desk will have the room to expand its headcount when decisions are made – so you want as many people as possible to have a good opinion of you.
Too many interns simply get on their desk and only get to know the people they work with directly: 2-3 MDs, couple of VPs, and a few junior guys.
This isn’t enough if you want a good chance at a full-time offer.
When I started my internship I got placed on a sales desk, which I hated at first because I was interested in trading – but it was the best thing that could have happened because one of my projects there allowed me to get to know traders on all the different desks.
After 3 weeks, I sat with pretty much every desk on the floor – and successfully won my full-time offer at the end of the internship.
S&T Conversion 101
Assuming that the hard work is over once you’ve been through months of networking and interviews to win your sales & trading internship is completely the wrong approach to take.
It’s actually tougher to convert an S&T internship into a full-time offer than it is in many other fields, because as an intern you won’t have the opportunity to do as much “real work” – and because there are fewer slots to begin with.
But if you follow everything above and succeed where other interns slack off and screw up, you might just defy the odds and find yourself with a full-time offer at the end of the summer.
This is a guest post from “DerivsTrading,” an experienced options trader who has worked at both bulge-bracket banks and hedge funds in London. He defied the odds and broke into sales & trading coming from a non-target school.
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