48 Hours in the Life of a Sales & Trading Intern
The following takes place between 6 AM and 6 AM, at a large investment bank in Tokyo.
6:00 AM: The alarm goes off. I really want to snooze but via sheer willpower I jump out of bed – need to impress my boss and co-workers.
6:50 AM: I am one of the first people at the office. I breathe a sigh a relief after confirming that my boss isn’t here yet – sometimes he comes in early too.
I had promised myself that I would prove to my boss what a hardworking intern I am. I hastily start the menial task of copying and passing out materials (e.g. research reports, recap of other world markets, latest rates data, etc.) to each trader’s desk. I wonder how many of the traders actually read what I pass out.
8:00 AM: The trading desk is almost full now. I am skimming articles on financial websites and Bloomberg, preparing myself to sound well-informed on the markets when talking to people for the rest of the day (Note: Many trading interns do not get access to Bloomberg since it is very expensive… to the tune of $1500 USD per month). I try to predict how the news will affect the markets for the day.
8:15 AM: All the equity traders have arrived at their desks – fixed income trading is on another floor. Everyone gathers for our morning meeting. Some of the salespeople that work with the traders float over to listen in.
Traders that specialize in each sector or type of trading – vanilla equity, options, portfolio trading, agency trading, etc. – give quick overviews of what happened the day before and their predictions for the upcoming trading session.
What happened overnight in the US/European markets is also naturally a point of discussion, since markets tend to follow each other.
Sometimes I struggle to understand all the jargon or the specific concepts underlying their comments, but overall I can grasp what they’re saying. Everyone speaks in English at the meeting, but many revert to Japanese afterward.
9:00 AM: The Japanese stock markets open. Today I am spending the first couple hours sitting next to an equity options trader, having gotten his permission the day before. I make sure to stay especially quiet right before and after the market close, since those are the busiest times for traders.
Out of his 6 monitors, he has Excel open on 2 screens, Bloomberg open (usually charts) on another 2 screens, Reuters open on 1 screen, and another screen for Microsoft Outlook. The numbers in Excel update every second. I see the trader wrinkle his eyebrows and I wonder why.
10:00 AM: I wait for a moment when the trader seems less busy, and I ask him about what happened. Apparently his gamma had not been hedged as well as he had thought – shortly after the market opened his gamma rose to a higher level than he had anticipated, which meant more risk than he wanted.
I nod in appreciation; I know that some other traders would not have bothered to answer my question.
11:30 AM: Today is a volatile day in the market, and many traders don’t feel comfortable leaving their desks for lunch. I am sent to McDonald’s to buy burgers for most of the equity traders. I’m OK with doing a bit of grunt work; after all, I am an intern, and I’m way better off than the interns in Liar’s Poker.
12:30 PM: By now my eyes and neck are a bit sore from looking at the equity trader’s 6 screens while sitting at the edge of his desk. The market is slowing down a bit now anyway, so I return to my own desk and read some articles and midday market recaps.
I work on the stock picking analysis project that my boss assigned to me, but I know I won’t be able to get any serious work done until the late afternoon.
1:30 PM: I figure I’ve annoyed the equity option trader enough for the day, so I try to find someone else on the desk that’s approachable enough to let me sit by them. I end up sitting next to an equity trader who focuses on retail stocks. Unfortunately, he is one of the more introverted types, and it’s hard to get him to say much. I see him make two trades for the rest of the day.
3:00 PM: Japanese stock markets close. Of course, there’s still after-hours trading, and much work to be done. I see the equity options trader I sat with get up and go to the coffee room. I “coincidentally” happen to go to the coffee room for a break.
There, I thank him again for letting me sit with him, and I do the best job I can of commenting on what happened in the market that day, while asking his opinion on a few points.
He comments that I am pretty knowledgeable for an intern, and it seems like I have made a good impression on him. I think to myself, “Yes…. one step closer to getting a full-time offer…”
4:00 PM: I go out for coffee with a guy from the middle office, an appointment made previously. He’s one of the junior guys, so he’s not too much older than me.
As an intern, not everyone is willing to go out to coffee with you – and sometimes you can learn a lot from people other than the managers and star traders.
I milk him for information: Which traders are more approachable? Exactly how do you interact with the traders? What happens when a trade doesn’t settle correctly? We also bond by talking about which girls in the office are cute.
5:00 PM: My manager takes me to a small conference room for my 10-minute weekly meeting. How much have I learned so far? Which type of trading was I most interested in? Did I have any questions? He reiterates that the competition is tough and that I’ll have to keep working really hard to impress everyone if I want a full-time offer.
5:30 PM: I start working on my stock picking analysis project once again. By downloading data (both fundamental data and technical analysis data) from Bloomberg into Excel on thousands of stocks, I try to figure out a handful of stocks that would be good long trades, and some that are good short trades. This is only one of several projects I am working on.
7:00 PM: Many of the traders have left their desks by now. I wander around the trading floor trying to find someone who’s not in a hurry to go home, and I try to start a conversation to learn something about their trading that day.
Sometimes traders are more relaxed at this time of the day and it’s easier to talk to them.
7:30 PM: I get an email with a link to 50-page economic report from the research team. I interrupt my work to skim the report.
8:00 PM: Almost all of the traders have left the office. Why is my manager still here?
8:30 PM: My manager finally goes home. Whew. I try to wait at least 15 minutes after he leaves so it doesn’t look like I am leaving right after he does.
While there’s less face time in trading compared to investment banking, you still don’t want to leave before your boss – especially as an intern.
9:00 PM: Meet up with a friend and some of her friends for dinner. Most of them are done eating by the time I arrive, but at least I get to say hi.
11:00 PM: Arrive at home. I plan to go to sleep within 30 minutes but after checking email, I end up staying up past midnight. I cringe when I think about how hard it’ll be to wake up the next day.
Then I think about my investment banking intern friends – who are still at the office – and I feel a bit better.
5:40 AM: Wake up. I had set my alarm earlier because the day before I had trouble finishing the grunt work on time. I pummel my own head in an attempt to feel awake.
6:30 AM: I arrive at the office… and there is only one other person there. Hmmm, am I working too hard? I tell myself it’ll all be better once I am a full-time employee – which is usually true, at least in trading – and then I begin copying research materials that need to be passed out later.
7:00 AM: The copier is jammed, and I didn’t notice for 15 minutes. Crap. I start to multitask, using 3 copiers instead of 2.
8:00 AM: Today, before the general traders’ meeting, I go to the agency traders’ smaller meeting, which is only in Japanese. The agency traders are responsible for executing the large orders placed by large buy-side institutions, like mutual funds.
They talk mostly about news and overseas market movements, but they also talk about the previous day’s order flow, and about how a research report produced by our firm today might cause a lot of orders for a specific stock. The meeting lasts about 10 minutes.
9:00 AM: The Japanese stock markets open. Today I am spending the first couple hours sitting with the agency trading team. Agency trading is really different from proprietary trading because all the decisions about what and how much to trade are decided by the client – the only decision made by the trader is how to divide the order into smaller trades and when to execute them.
The trader I am sitting with has been doing this for years, and is able to constantly submit trades while barely looking at the screen and talking to me at the same time.
I pray that his discussion with me doesn’t cause him to make any mistakes. Fortunately, he doesn’t have fat finger syndrome. The trader has 4 screens – 1 for order submission and order details, 2 for Bloomberg (charts), and 1 for email / browsing. I am able to ask a dozen or so questions, which is more than usual.
11:00AM: The Japanese market closes for the lunch break (1.5 hours). I go out to lunch with the agency traders, who have less work than the other traders since they don’t have to do as much analysis.
Half of our conversation is about trading, and the other half is about Japanese celebrities. My knowledge of celebrities helps me bond with them… which might increase my chances of getting a full-time offer? I later realize that bonding with traders and being liked are quite important for getting an offer.
M&I Note: This is an important and oft-overlooked point. As an intern, people need to like you if you want a full-time offer – and the same goes for entry-level interviews as well.
12:30 PM: Since the agency traders don’t seem to be annoyed by me, I keep sitting with them until the markets finally close at 3 PM. I start to get bored and tired near the end, but I keep myself busy thinking of new questions for them.
3:30 PM: I had previously made an appointment for coffee with one of the sales traders, but he cancels on me for the second time. Maybe I just should give up on talking to this guy.
4:00 PM: The Head of Prop Trading is having a meeting with some other traders and some middle office guys and suddenly calls me and another intern into the meeting. He wants me and the other intern to help with trading commission calculations, and I have to collect some of the information necessary to do so myself.
I am surprised that a bulge bracket investment bank doesn’t precisely track its trading commissions – but later, I realize that even the biggest financial institutions are full of problems you wouldn’t expect.
I think about how I already have a big trading analysis project AND an equity research project AND grunt work AND other random stuff I have to do, but at the same time I can’t bring myself to say no. This guy is an MD, so I’ve got to impress him. Fortunately the other intern pipes up and finds excuses for why we can’t help.
4:30 PM: Afternoon snack. I go downstairs and make sure nobody I know is in the room, and then I eat a sandwich while massaging my eyes and neck. I don’t want to come off as stressed or physically strained to anyone.
5:00 PM: I spend an hour trying to figure out some Excel VBA for automating organization of data in the trading analysis spreadsheet I’m making. After some trial and error, I get it to work.
The other intern sucks at Excel and is having trouble doing his analysis, so he comes to annoy me with questions. I wonder why an MBA knows less than me about Excel.
7:30 PM: I eat some ramen. Mmmmm. No matter how unhealthy or cheap it is, I still love ramen.
8:00 PM: I feel really tired, so instead of working on my project I just read tons of financial articles. Nobody is paying attention to what I’m doing, anyway.
8:30 PM: Half of the trading desk is still here, mostly junior people. What are they still doing? I go over and talk to them – they are planning and analyzing trades for the next day.
I conclude that if these people weren’t workaholics, they probably wouldn’t be here. Then again, if you’re making or losing millions of dollars every day, sometimes overnight, maybe you’d never be comfortable being away from work anyway.
9:00 PM: I go home and cook noodles with canned fish, seaweed and soy sauce and eat them while watching Japanese music videos. Actually, it’s a pretty good way to cool down. I read a chapter of Future, Options, and Other Derivatives by John Hull.
11:00 PM: I crawl into bed. Wow, I’m going to get almost 7 hours of sleep!
6:00 AM: Wake up. Back at it…
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No Matter How Badly You Fail Your Investment Banking Interviews, You Can’t Do Worse Than This
Forget about conquering your interviews and fixing all your mistakes.
Sometimes it’s fun to sit back and laugh at how badly you failed.
Or at least to engage in some schadenfreude.
Story #1: Holla Back, Office
This one took place when I was interviewing for every single position under the sun: banking, sales & trading, hedge funds, consulting, and reality TV hosting.
I had something lined up with a well-known hedge fund, and went in for my interview.
I had been flying to random cities and going through a dozen interviews per week, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of this interview or what the position even was.
The conversation went like this:
Interviewer: Walk me through your resume.
Me: [Do the 2-minute walk-through, then explain how I’m moving away from the engineering side and into business.]
Interviewer: Oh, ok, well just to let you know, you’ll definitely learn about business here but I’m not sure this is exactly what you’re looking for.
Me: Really? I thought this was a hedge fund.
Interviewer: Yes, but you’d be doing “support work” for the traders rather than actually trading.
Me: What do you mean by “support work”?
Interviewer: Writing scripts, programming new trading tools, fixing compatibility issues…
Me: Ok, I’m not really looking for that.
Interviewer: No problem – we can finish up now if you want.
Me: Sure thing, nice meeting you.
And just like that I left 5 minutes into the interview.
Whenever I tell this story to friends they say, “OMG that was so baller of you to just walk out of an interview like that” – but it felt pretty natural at the time.
Lessons Learned: If something sucks worse than The Matrix: Revolutions, cut your losses and get out.
And if you’ve already put in 500 hours of study into something, don’t feel obligated to continue just because you’ve already spent a lot of time on it… think 80/20.
Oh, and make sure you read the job description before walking into an interview…
Story #2: Chronic Back Pain
I wish this were one of my stories, but I’m not so lucky: it comes to you from a reader, who wrote in about his experiences interviewing for an internship at a bulge bracket investment bank.
“I was applying for internships at bulge bracket banks, and somewhere along the line I had learned that the ‘Please introduce yourself” question was similar to the ‘Tell me your strengths and weaknesses’ one.
Anyway, I had trouble thinking of weaknesses that were legitimate but which were also not overly negative.
But finally I thought of one that sounded more realistic, and rehearsed it a couple times before going in for my next interview…
…and here’s what happened:
Interviewer: Can you introduce yourself and tell me about your background?
Me: You mean my strengths and weaknesses, right? My strengths include my analytical aptitute and my ability to learn quickly. My main weakness is my chronic back pain.
Interviewer: Um… so are you able to work at a desk?
Me: Yes! No problem.
[Awkward silence ensues]
Miraculously, I still landed the internship offer.”
- Make sure your “weakness” doesn’t involve a physical attribute.
- Learn how to tell your story.
- Even if you screw up, it’s not necessarily the end of the world – 1 really bad answer won’t always sink you.
Story #3: Equities in Tokyo
This one started when I was running around applying for as much as humanly possible… first mistake.
Somehow I got an interview at Goldman Sachs’ Private Equity Group in… Tokyo.
At this stage I didn’t even know what private equity was, and there’s no way I was qualified to read 100-page financial documents in a language other than English.
But I said, “Well, Japan is cool and living there was fun, so I might as well just go in for the interview and see what happens!”
I had to drive from campus to San Francisco for the interview, which normally takes an hour – only it was a Friday afternoon and I hadn’t taken into account rush hour traffic.
The interview was scheduled for 3 PM, but I was so late that I had to call them and ask to change it:
Me: Um, I’m scheduled for an interview with you at 3 today but… um… my car broke down and I can’t make it. Can we push it back?
Interviewer: Uh…. ok, but I’m booked the rest of the day – I could stay late and do it at 6 today.
Me: Ok, sounds good… see you then. Sorry to trouble you.
Things were already pretty bad, but then they got even worse when I arrived and met the interviewer.
She saw that I had lived in Japan and that I wrote “Advanced” or something silly in my “Language Skills” section – so she decided to test me.
Interviewer: [Switching to Japanese] So can you explain what you did in your internship?
Me: [Explained it, I was pretty used to talking about it so no issues here.]
Interviewer: Ok, now let’s test your knowledge of finance. Can you explain why a company would want to use debt rather than equity?
Me: Um… um… uh I don’t know the words for any of these concepts…
After I stumbled around for 5 minutes and explained that I didn’t know the words for WACC or amortization, the interviewer switched back to English and started asking the same questions.
Interviewer: Can you explain why a company would want to use debt rather than equity?
Me: Well, equity could be… more risky?
Interviewer: So is it only about the risk?
Me: Actually I’m not really sure…
So I completely failed the same set of interview questions in 2 languages, while making the interviewer stay late on Friday after interviewing people all day.
“Equities in Tokyo” was not in my future.
1. If you ever find yourself not sure of WHY you’re interviewing for something, cancel the interview.
You might be using the “scatter-shot” approach to landing interviews, but it’s better to be more targeted and not apply to 20 different industries.
2. Don’t be an idiot with logistics.
Even if you nail all your questions, showing up 3 hours late to an interview, forgetting to dress appropriately, or interviewing for the wrong position are all enough to sink your chances.
3. Seriously, don’t exaggerate language skills.
While you can exaggerate other skills without consequences most of the time, languages are easy to test – and being able to order food at a restaurant or argue with your parents does not make you “fluent.”
Unless you can read business newspapers flawlessly and understand 100% of the financial news, don’t even think about writing “Advanced.”
If you have embarrassing interview stories – and who doesn’t? – send them along or share them in the comments below.
Maybe we can turn this into a regular feature.
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My Own, Personal Networking Blunders and What You Can Learn from Them
“I was sitting in a meeting with my MD the other day and I mentioned how I was “just a peon.” Then he immediately objected and said, ‘No, no, no, I don’t think of Analysts like that…’ “
So this is what they really did at JP Morgan investment banking.
Most career fairs are boring – but this one was getting more interesting by the moment.
Plus, I had just found a female banker who shared my sense of humor: was this a dream?
At the Career Fair
My next-door neighbor and I were off to our school’s fall career fair and we were checking out the booths of all the banks and financial firms.
We brought along with us enlightened questions such as, “So, what’s it like being an investment banker?”
Neither of us knew anything about finance.
But I was secretly interested in breaking in since it was way more interesting than sitting in front of a computer screen for 18 hours a day (oh wait… whoops).
But then we stumbled upon the JP Morgan booth, and found a down-to-earth, approachable, female Analyst there. This is rare.
She was a Bioengineering Major who, like us, had dropped the technical background and hopped into finance – and she was now at a top bank.
And she even had the guts to call herself a “peon” in front of everyone there.
We hit it off pretty well and chatted for a few minutes, and I was smart enough to get her card – so far, so good.
Uh, Now What?
“Ok, I made a good impression on her, now I’ll get interviews at her office as soon as I submit my application online, right?”
Almost… except for one small mistake.
I did nothing.
Making a great first impression is important – but it’s not enough.
You still need to follow-up and ask for what you want.
When you “hit it off” with someone, you need to follow-up ASAP and move to the next step – ask to meet again in-person or speak on the phone.
Then you need to ask explicitly how you can get an interview.
When you have a shared background, personality, AND sense of humor you need to leverage it.
Information Session: Harold & Kumar Mode?
Ever been to those information sessions where a bank comes to present, they spew some rhetoric, and then show some cheesy videos about “what interns do in their first week?”
I went to all of them.
So even though I felt compelled to go, I was 99% certain that this Morgan Stanley information session would be a waste of time.
Oh well, at least there was free alcohol.
Then I happened to see someone I knew: a guy from my fraternity who had graduated the year before and was now working at an MS office on the West Coast.
I didn’t know him that well because he had graduated just as I was joining – and we “traveled in different circles.”
But he immediately recognized me – mostly because I had a habit of sending entertaining yet politically incorrect emails about my adventures in Japan.
I chatted with him for a few minutes, caught up on what he had been up to since graduation, and joked about how he had been pulling all-nighters for a massive pitch.
I fell back into “Harold & Kumar mode” and waited for some other people to come up to him and start asking those “What’s it like to be an investment banker?” questions.
I should have skipped the chit-chat and directly asked him, “Hey, as you know I’m from a technical background but I did consulting recently, and got a lot more interested in finance when I was in Asia. I’m really interested in your office – what should I do?”
Remember, you don’t need to be best friends with someone to ask a direct question like this: you just need to be credible.
The way I handled it, he thought I was joking around and just came there for the booze. Which I sort of did.
Job Fair Failure Déjà Vu
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with job fairs: sticking to what’s offered at your school.
If you’re at a “non-target” you know this firsthand – you can’t do that or you’d never get anywhere. You need to travel.
One of the best ways to set yourself apart at these events is picking the right events to go to in the first place rather than trying to be “perfect” at every single event.
I was on the right track, because I was on the red-eye to the Boston Career Forum – for bilingual people interested in working in Japan.
There were about 5 “foreigner” job-seekers there out of thousands of attendees, so I definitely stood out.
Just like a traditional career fair at a school, there wasn’t much structure – it was up to you to actually go and talk to different companies.
But unlike the traditional job fair, you could easily get interviews and get offers within 24 hours because they were looking for people with extremely specialized skills.
Success = Failure?
I did well in interviews with a couple US and European banks there.
But that’s also where I screwed up.
I limited myself to “familiar names” rather than speaking with finance/consulting firms I had never heard of, or ones that didn’t do much outside Asia.
Part of it was that I was intimidated; part of it was that I didn’t like the culture of a traditional Japanese company and wasn’t sure I wanted to work there.
But it was a mistake to limit myself before even testing the waters – especially when the applicant pool was so specialized.
So, what can you learn from all my blunders?
- Making a great first impression is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for networking success. You don’t need to follow-up often but you need to get the timing right and leverage that great first impression to ask for what you want.
- If you already know someone and there’s a chance he/she might help you, don’t hesitate to ask – even if you think the person doesn’t know or like you that much. Worst case scenario: 1 person gets slightly annoyed at you. Best case scenario: you get an offer.
- Don’t limit your networking efforts based on artificial criteria, especially if you have very specialized skills. Explore all your options – even if you’re not sure about some of them.
Oh, and if you ever run into a banker who shares your sense of humor and who likes to call herself a “peon,” make sure you follow-up.
Christmas only comes once a year.