- Snagging an investment banking job will be harder than ever amid a deals drought and layoffs.
- Insider spoke to experts about what the 2023 summer intern class can do to stand out.
- They offered tips on when to ask for help and how to prove yourself useful.
Wall Street’s summer internship season is finally here — and the competition will be fierce.
Droves of college students are descending on investment banks in New York City, San Francisco, and other big cities this week to spend the next several months learning about dealmaking, trading, and other banker jobs.
The goal: An offer to return to work full-time after graduation.
While working as a junior banker for an investment bank can mean long hours doing PowerPoint presentations and other tedious tasks, it’s also considered a one-way ticket to a lucrative finance career. Most investment banks pay upward of $100,000 to first-year analysts, not including bonuses. But the real pay comes after the first few years when you start getting promoted to associate and above — or when high-paying hedge funds, private equity firms, and other high-profile companies come knocking.
Return offer rates were upward of 90% range during the deals boom of recent years, explained Steve Sibley, a finance professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. As a result, most students who succeeded in snagging a competitive internship were a shoo-in for a full-time job.
Not anymore. The competition for return offers stands to be tougher this year amid a drought in dealmaking that has led to industry-wide layoffs. Making the right impression, therefore, will be of utmost importance.
“It’s going to be brutal. They’re rightfully worried,” Sibley said of the incoming intern class. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 70% or even less,” he said of the return offer rates at the end of the summer.
“This is a 10-week extended job interview,” Sibley explained. “It’s a 10-week test drive or trial run for the bank with you as an employee, and also from your perspective, it’s a 10-week trial of the bank as your employer.”
To give the 2023 internship class a leg up, Insider spoke with industry experts, including a Wall Street career coach and Sibley, the finance professor, to compile a list of 10 do’s and don’ts to live by this summer. They offer their pro tips on everything from how to dress to what to do with yourself when work is slow — and even when to leave the office for lunch.
Don’t ask a question that Google can answer for you
As a newbie, it can be tempting to ask a million questions to ensure you’re getting things right. While this can demonstrate your interest and attention to detail, you risk becoming annoying if the answers to your questions can be easily found on the Internet.
“If Google can answer it, why bother somebody?” said Sibley.
Sibley suggests this hierarchy when in need of help on a project: “If Google can’t tell you, ask a fellow intern. If a fellow intern can’t tell you, ask your analyst.”
Don’t wait for work to be handed to you
For the past year or so investment banking activity has slowed a lot. It’s very possible, therefore, that you’ll be in a group that isn’t very busy. It’s no excuse. Don’t wait around for an assignment if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs, the experts say.
If you don’t have anything to do, it’s your fault, said Asif Rahman, co-founder of Wall Street career coaching company Office Hours.
“You should be proactively asking everyone on your desk, What are you working on? Can I help you with anything?” Rahman said. “Before you leave, always go around.”
Sibley concurred. “A lot of times students show up sort of complacent and wait for the work to come to them. You really need to be proactive with your staffer in terms of requesting work.”
Sibley advised that any downtime in the office be used to get up-to-date on the markets or other industry news. “If you’ve got downtime, you’re reading about stuff, researching deals that the bank’s done. Talk to people about other deals. Just demonstrate an interest in the bank and the deals that they’ve done and try to learn as much as you can.”
Don’t go for lunch if your seniors are grinding at their desks
As a summer intern, you’ll be working most closely with your firm’s full-time analysts who were recently interns themselves. At the end of the summer, they may help determine who gets a return offer.
Your attitude and work ethic can show in seemingly small ways. One example: If your analyst doesn’t go out to lunch, you shouldn’t either. Stay in the office and order in.
“If you’re a summer intern and the analyst you cover is working vigorously during lunch, it’s very tone-deaf to just step out and take a one-hour lunch break,” said Rahman. “If your analysts take you out to lunch, great. But if not, if they’re working, even if you don’t have anything to do, find something to do and don’t leave the office.”
Don’t make a fool of yourself at social events
Summer interns will be expected to attend many work events — lunches, dinners, and happy hours. And that means alcohol. If you’re not actually 21, don’t drink with senior coworkers, period. (No, not even with a fake ID.)
“I’ve heard horror stories — they drink too much, they don’t know their tolerance, and then it comes out that they’re 20 and it just completely torpedoes their chance of getting a return offer,” said Rahman. “I don’t think the risk is worth it.”
If you are of legal drinking age, have fun while keeping the consumption professional. These social events are still part of the internship.
“Sometimes bankers will try to pressure you into over-drinking. Stand firm and know your limits. Don’t succumb to that sort of pressure,” said Sibley. “Wall Street is a booze-soaked environment. Be moderate. If you want to go out and have an immoderate time, do it with your fellow interns on a weekend without any of the seniors around.”
“Find the person who’s drinking the fastest and have one drink for every two that they have,” said Sibley. “You want to be fun, but not too much fun. You want to still be professional enough that you’re not going to be ashamed to walk into work the next morning.”
Don’t use your email or work devices for personal use
Never use your work email or devices for personal use. Companies are increasingly tracking employees through sophisticated means, including large Wall Street firms.
“People do read that people have access to all your chats, all your emails. So just assume that whatever you’re sending, people are reading,” said Rahman. “Be smart about it.
Do spend long hours in the office
Perhaps the most notorious aspect of being a junior banker is the job’s grueling schedule — a stereotype that many say lives up to the hype. The simple truth, said Sibley and Rahman, is that you want to show you’re a driven and hard worker. That means putting in a ton of hours.
“You should be the first person into the office and the last person to leave every day,” Sibley said. “Face time is important. Face time matters.”
“It’s a 10-week internship, you’re 20 years old. You have a lot of horsepower. So take advantage and work as much as you can,” added Rahman. “You’re not there to work a 9 to 5. You’re not there to hang out. You’re there to prove that you’re hungry, that you want it, that you’re passionate about it.”
Some firms have hybrid work schedules that allow employees, including bankers, to work from home. The experts recommend the interns make the most of their summers by working in the office as often as possible.
“Higher-ups, like managing directors and vice presidents, are probably the ones making decisions at the end of the summer on who gets a return offer,” said Sibley. “Those people also tend to be the ones who are back in the office full-time and were reluctant to adopt WFH.”
“Just because your analysts are working from home doesn’t mean that you should,” he added.
Sibley warns that the work required may feel unsustainable. But it won’t last forever, he says.
“The reality of it is, you need to be working unsustainable long hours over the internship to get the return offer,” said Sibley. “You don’t have to figure out how to find work-life balance over the course of a 10-week sprint. Worry about making it sustainable when you go full-time.”
“You’re in for a long summer. But wait to worry about work-life balance after you secure the full-time offer — think of the internship as a sprint, not a marathon,” he said.
Do raise your hand for every project.
You should always raise your hand to help on a project if you can handle the workload, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Falling short of expectations looks worse than politely saying no, said Rahman.
Likewise, if you’re overwhelmed by other projects, you should politely decline new ones. There’s a tasteful way to do it.
“Saying ‘no’ can be tricky. So a way to push back on it is to say, “I’m working on projects A, B, and C, that have A, B, and C deadlines. What’s the timing on this deadline? I’m happy to work on it, but how would you prioritize it versus those projects?”
Do attend social events.
“Say ‘yes’ to every social outing you get invited to,” said Sibley. “The social events are really, really important.”
He recalled one particularly introverted student who did a banking internship and didn’t attend a single social event with coworkers.
“People just didn’t know him, so they didn’t have an opinion on him when they were making the decision about the return offer. So a lot of times it’s those social events where you may meet the decision maker that you make a good impression on.”
These events are your chance to get to know colleagues personally — so don’t bring up work stuff at social gatherings.
“Talk about your outside interests, the things you enjoy doing. Connect with people on that more than about on-the-job stuff,” said Sibley.
Do show up looking polished (but not flashy)
Navigating the modern Wall Street wardrobe can be confusing in a post-COVID “business casual” world. Is a blazer too much? Can you wear sneakers to the office? Insider made a separate guide on how to dress for your finance internship, with tips from current analysts and a personal stylist.
The general gist is that it’s better to overdress than underdress, especially in your first week. After orienting yourself to your firm and group culture (formality can vary greatly by group), you can adjust accordingly.
“Assuming business professional-dressed student A and business casual-dressed student B perform equally well on the job, student A would be more likely to receive the return offer,” Sibley said.
But just because you’re starting a career on Wall Street doesn’t mean you should show off, added Rahman.
“If you’re an intern, do not wear a Rolex. Do not wear Gucci loafers,” he said. “Do not wear nicer clothes than the people who are more senior to you. A lot of people try to come in and flex Day One — you just look like an idiot, honestly.”
Do own up when you make a mistake.
“A common mistake that folks make is not accepting responsibility for mistakes and not owning their work, the good and the bad,” said Sibley.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes because they’ll happen, said Sibley.
“You’re going to make mistakes in your internship. You’re human, and you’ve never done this before. But don’t make the same mistake twice,” he said.
If you do make a mistake, apologize and own up to it. Don’t make excuses. Just say you’re sorry and that it won’t happen again.
But one way to learn from and prevent errors is to keep a log or record of what you’ve messed up on and how you fixed it. Rahman suggested physically printing out your work so you can check it on paper before finalizing it.
“You’ve been in the numbers the whole time. You’ve been deep in the model. It’s really important to take a step back and make sure it makes sense,” said Rahman. “Print out the work, read it, and then submit it after you double and triple check it.”
A shortcut from Rahman that he says many analysts forget exists: the F7 key will highlight spelling errors in Excel sheets — use it.