The Investment Banking Summer Intern Success Guide: Yes, You Better Get My Coffee
“Always carry shoe polish, in case said analyst’s shoes need a shine. Forget your blackberry holster – what you need is a coffee cup holder for more than four cups – this way, you’ll need only make a single trip to Starbucks each morning when you bring your team coffee.”
Despite explaining what you’ll actually do as a summer intern and even how to dominate your investment banking summer internship, summer internship questions have continued to roll in.
Sure, you want to do as much deal-related work and modeling as possible, but how do you get there? How do you avoid just going to Starbucks and the dry cleaner for me all summer? (Not that I would make a summer intern do that, of course)
How Work Is Assigned To You
Senior bankers and staffers are more hands-off with Summer Analysts than they are with full-time Analysts and Associates. Sometimes interns are “assigned” to an Analyst over the summer; in other banks and groups Analysts will “claim” interns to help out on certain projects.
In any case, though, the full-time Analysts give you work and decide what you do. So you need to keep us happy.
I always have a list of unfinished tasks, but only a few of them are high priority at any given moment. And as I’ve mentioned before, there are basically 3 types of work in investment banking: deals, pitches and random stuff.
When a summer intern starts working, I will most likely give him or her whatever is at the bottom of my priority list: the random stuff.
Sometimes this means profiles (compiling information on companies and making it look nice in PowerPoint), sometimes it means comps (reviewing financial statements and inputting numbers into Excel) and sometimes it means finding the projected rate of oil production increase in the Alberta oil sands over the next decade.
What To Expect At First
Don’t expect to build an LBO model or draft an IPO S-1 registration statement right away. You have no technical training, no one knows how competent you are, and who knows, you could have gotten the internship just because your dad is the CEO.
I would laugh if an intern asked about learning an LBO model his first day on the job. I don’t care how many accounting or finance classes you’ve had or how many $3,000 “learn investment banking” seminars you’ve taken, you’re not going to know how we build models right away, and you will therefore not get that type of work at first.
Take the work you’re given, put a smile on your face, and do it without complaining. When you’ve proven that you can do the basics well, you will be given more interesting tasks, and when you have proven yourself with those, you will get even more responsibility.
Don’t Screw Up
Screwing up repeatedly will kill your progression toward doing more interesting/useful work.
You might think, “If I’m just starting how can I possibly NOT make mistakes? I don’t know anything yet.”
The short answer is “ask a lot of questions.” No one will fault you for asking questions – as long as you ask the right people.
Never ask anyone above the Analyst level a question. Bothering your MD with a question on comps will invariably make him think you’re an idiot. Restrict your questions to other summer interns and Analysts.
If you ask questions on anything and everything you’re not sure of, you dramatically reduce the chances of screwing up.
Also, always print out and check your work before submitting it to anyone. Mistakes are much easier to see when you print out your work, so you should always do this.
A Tale Of Two Summer Interns
Here’s a brief story of 2 interns in my group last summer:
The Worst Of Times
One intern arrived and, due to my workload at the time, he actually got a client-related project to work on. It consisted of around 20 comps, and although I consider anything with the word “comp” in it to be grunt work, it was at least going to a client for an actual deal.
His task was straightforward: look at financial projections from equity research and enter in a few numbers on a spreadsheet for each company.
He finished and sent me the file – and the numbers were completely wrong. I don’t mean “off by 0.1” wrong or “forgot to add back one-time charges” wrong, I mean “revenue jumped around from $4 million to $400 million to $40 million in the span of 3 years” wrong.
Unless it’s a biotech company (and it wasn’t), you could tell something’s off by looking at that for 2 seconds.
After that incident, I rarely gave him much substantial work. If he couldn’t even copy numbers correctly, there’s no way I could trust him to draft 50 page documents or build multi-property models for casino companies.
The Best Of Times
Another intern, by contrast, had a lot of grunt work at the beginning. One time I had him do about 20 profiles because I didn’t have time and it was already well past midnight.
Although he had a lot of boring work at first, he rarely made mistakes and when he did, he always fixed them and never repeated the same mistake twice.
By the end of the summer, I had taught him so much about modeling that he knew more than some of the full-time Analysts.
I knew that he was reliable and that if he had more advanced skills he would save me days of time; as a result he learned a lot and performed the best out of all our interns.
Screwing up repeatedly has a chain reaction – no one at an investment bank gossips more than the junior guys, so if the work I give you is completely wrong, every other Analyst will know about it.
Usually the Analysts order dinner and go to a conference room to gossip and discuss the events of the day (you don’t just get fired in conference rooms).
Intern performance is a common discussion topic during the summer. And don’t worry: even if we don’t discuss interns during dinner, we’ll do it over instant messenger or forward emails to each other all day.
But the real consequence of not doing well in your summer internship is not getting a full-time offer. In a bear market this can be the kiss of death, though you can sometimes find a way to spin it favorably.
The Good News
The good news is that no matter how poorly you perform in a summer internship, it’s rarely the end of the world. You can usually still find another internship the next year or a full-time job in the fall when you go back to school.
Still, it’s to your advantage to do as well as possible so that you have more options down the road.
And so that you can avoid being the Starbucks/dry cleaning delivery service.
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