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A bank CEO's 15 tips for incoming summer interns

Banking internships will be starting soon.

There can be a lot of anxiety among interns about how to treat the experience - how to dress, how to act, and even how to think. Luckily, there's plenty of advice to be found for a fresh class of interns, courtesy of Rich Handler, the CEO of Jefferies.

In an extensive Instagram story, Handler lists the 15 things he wishes he knew when he began his summer internship (granted, that was more than 30 years ago) after a long career on the Street. His tips are broadly the same as last year’s, congratulating the interns and encouraging a healthy work-life balance, as well as a sense of gratitude towards having the internship opportunity at all.

1. Understand the assignment first

Handler’s first bit of advice is to stop. Stop both yourself and your supervisor – ask for explanations, ask for clarifications, and ask for guidance. It will take some time to understand the industry’s lingo. “Slowing us down until you understand what you need to do, if done right, will be viewed as a sign of your strength,” he says.

2. Zero Sum

You’re not competing with the other interns – you’re collaborating with them. “The best interns will always be the ones without the sharp elbows that connive to make themselves look good at the expense of others,” Handler says. Share information and understanding, uplift people, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. “Life is not ‘zero sum’ and the best people in our (and every) industry are the ones who live their lives this way."

3. Think

Again, the advice is to stop and think – just five minutes, Handler says, is enough to ask yourself the questions that guide your work process. “Why was I asked to do this assignment? What was the conclusion that was reached? What will someone do with this new knowledge? Why was this relevant or important, or was it?” Are the questions he suggests. “You must understand the ‘thinking’ part of what you are doing as opposed to just the ‘working’ part.”

4. Relationships

It can be easy to forget that investment bankers are human beings, often even in possession of a soul. “While you are working hard to please everyone, never forget that it is the human connection that matters the most,” Handler says. “Everyone has multiple priorities, constant pressures and complications, strengths and weaknesses, talents and insecurities, and good and bad days.” It’s important to grow out of the college/university mindset and into the ‘real world’ one, he adds.

5. Questions

There are going to be a million questions in your head. “There are no stupid ones,” Handler says. Asking tactfully is as important as acting at all, however.” If you are in a real time experience with a potential transaction going on around you, the time to ask the question may be a bit later. Use common sense and be aware.” And open your ears - don’t ask the same question twice.

6. Accuracy

Checking your work is good. Checking it twice is better. Investment banks deal with “lots of zeroes before you get to the decimal point, so even small mistakes can quickly become big ones.”

7. Learn entire firm

Keeping a broad horizon is critical to developing, both as a banker and as a person. It also means that – with the very real possibility that you don’t enjoy your internship – you have a clue as to what you want to do instead. “There are many different aspects to an investment bank and you might find a different one suits you better,” Handler says, although that isn’t the only benefit. “Even if you are in the perfect spot already, knowing the other aspects of the company will always make you better at your job and it is fun to understand how all the pieces really fit together."

8. Act like this is your career choice

Although this might have gone without saying, dedicating yourself to the internship is very important. “Even if you wind up only doing this job for 10 weeks or a couple of years and never consider the company or industry again, you will be much better off because your mindset was right and you gave it your all.” If you do stick around, optimizing your path from the get-go is also crucial.

9. Personality

Tied into number 4, it’s important to remember that human beings (which investment bankers, science has proven, are) have a personality. And that’s a good thing. “Your personality is a large reason why you were selected in the first place. People in our industry have a sense of humor, enjoy their coworkers and clients, and like to have fun.” That being said, that’s not an excuse to be immature.

10. Personal health / face time

“Work hard and when your work is done, leave the office and go exercise, see your family and friends, explore a new city, or just rest,” Handler says. Don’t feel guilty about having a life, or about having spare time. Don’t force yourself to work harder than you need to. “Take ownership of your mental and physical health and speak up if you need help. We will consider this a sign of strength too."

11. Clients

Being exposed to clients is an important (and intentional!) part of the internship process. It is, Handler says, one of the best ways for young bankers to learn. “Seeing how we treat our clients and learning from the types of questions and concerns they have before they make an important decision is incredibly valuable to understanding if this is a long term career for you.”

12. Perspective

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the full time offer. It’s also not the end of the world if you don’t really like banking – at the end of the day, the most best things in life are free, and can’t be either given nor taken from you. “Having youth, smarts, personality, experience, health, family, friends and ambition will go a long way. Have confidence in yourself that if things do not work out, it is probably our loss and not yours.”

13. Integrity

As said above, there are a lot of zeroes before any decimal points in banking. The numbers are big – and therefore, so are the consequences (which is also why accuracy is so lauded). Discretion is more than just advised – it’s a legal requirement. The risks are “devastating ramifications,” both for the banks and for clients. And for you. “Your most precious asset you have today and throughout your life is your reputation. Protect this at all costs because every firm in our industry has seen an incredibly successful person reduced to uncontrollable tears knowing that they made a mistake that will cost them everything they worked so hard to achieve.”

14. Maturity

Less of a point of concern – all of those rounds of interviews do have a purpose, after all – but Handler notes that any childish notions ought to be left at the door. “You are an adult and we will treat you like one,” he says, and those that cannot adjust to professional life will not finish their internships. It happens rarely, but it still does. “Such a shame, but only themselves to blame.”

15. Fellow interns

Your colleagues are an amazing opportunity to make lifelong friendships, Handler says. “Regardless of what happens during these next ten weeks, each of these people can be lifelong friends, co-workers, clients or business partners.” It’s also important to underline that you are not competing against them – and if you treat these fledgling relationships in that way, you will suffer for it.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon Reporter
  • ED
    ED S&T GLMarkets
    7 June 2023

    Well said but than dreamland face reality where everyone is for themselves, especially “unsecured leaders” mostly generalists managers - those aren’t bankers but at the best 1 process supervisions and you bet they aren’t even technical.Buying MBAs those days, cheating on outsourcing most work to copy writers etc is common vs % passing rate at FCA what mean business.No surprise people who failed in qualifications are using this trick as HR built it till this day!

    To make a case: How easy is to get ED (VP2 US colleagues)@S&T in London?If you know how to play the corp. game and diversity card it is possiblewithout qualification, weak education etc. Commonmisconception is it is difficult not being sb protégé. Well, I was recruited by direct HR approach (typically for +VP). 

    However, I can call myself v.lucky HR on-board me although:

    - I was disciplinary terminated, sucked @BofA in 15’focusing on the last employer instead, recommendation.Lucky this hasn’timpacted my screening, most banks perform much detailed checks further in history!

    - I'm 100% non-TARGET (Uni, MBAs, background etc)I have low (3.6/5.0)MscMarketing/Accounting of EasternUni,non target even there,2nd degree but never finished,started ACCA which failed after 1stexam, same goes to FCA etc. An obvious trick was do buy instead MBA) the cheapest London’s MBA(100% pass rates+ CMI incl. nb cares,West London@the end merged with City Uni-what confused HR as it is still same quality)

    - My background by no means wasn’t FO,as I camefrom generic op. Firmops,CA experience, never been involved in actually sellspitching, direct clients interaction, not like most transfers to FO

    - I’m not qualified,neither FCA, FRM, ACCA etc, Analyst I supervise are 2x more technical superb, as far my +15 YOE middle op support goes.I have started ACCA but failed,started FCA but failed, so MBA with impossible to fail(100% successful rate) at WestLondon was my way around, especially as they merged it with City Uni at final study what confused HR even more and giving other label for same quality same.

    - CHEAT TRICK there are MBAs and “MBAs”- I have completed the cheapest (budget-limitation & language barrier) non-target (some called it Micky Mouse MBA)costed +£16k, which was later luckily merged with City Uni.The main requirement pass basic IELTS(sb might be laugh) not like in professional MBA programmes (GMAT) not to mentioning LSE andrest Russel’s Group requirements! Most of my colleagues @GS have graduated LSEetc(140£k eMBA)however due to language, communication I was also forced to use extensive help copywriters(fiverr,gumtee) to pass final result.

    - My communication skills although average at the best, I have neverstudied English language as my 1st foreign language, nor eastern accent luckily hasn’t impacted my chances.

     - Finally if I were representing a different sex, probably not meeting diversity, I wouldn’t stand a chance among colleagues, with CFAs,LSEs etc

    Overall I’m so grateful and happy that I can lead own team and set owntargets as well recruit people suitable for business and my management own personal goals.

    I’m keep telling friends that in this business critical thinking is disadvantageous,there is no space for too old, too experienced candidates as they tend tocreate leaderships challenges and raising uncomfortable questions about senseand ways of doing things.the speed, accuracy are the most importantin this role alongside soft skills managed (not the most knowledgeable or skilled got promoted!).I personally tend to recruit only young candidates,who are willing to make effort, work long hours and do not challengesupervisors causing unnecessary fractions.Why I would recruit sb you can possessa threat to your own role! 

    Ethics& Integrity: Neither GS nor my previous bank wouldn’t probably mind if I will admit that I’ve spent few years clamming council social housing benefits as well, living with my further family in their council flat and still work as Director(savings ‘000).I simply used an opportunity as I was learnt doing at work.

     To summarize I’m not exactly a raw model for juniorcolleagues (sometimes) better qualified and technically skilled on the job than me, neither in terms of technicality nor especially ethics at all, but as theycame to me and once you are in, who cares…

  • Co
    5 June 2023

    This looks very interesting.

    But it also feels a bit vague and superficial, not the article, but the advice.

    It's difficult to break into any career, and I imagine it might be even more difficult in America, than in Europe. Therefore I can imagine that the elbow pushing is felt as far more necessary.

    It's nice to read somebody actually encourage a good attitude towards work-life

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