Friday, June 11, 2010

Summertime, Summer Internships

Several years ago, for MBA's in finance, the summer internship was, well, a 10-week cocktail party. Back then (the 1990s? the 1980s?), financial institutions (the big banks, the smaller boutiques, the funds, the asset managers, the venture-capital firms, etc.) spent the summer wooing first-year students, wining and dining them, and presenting them one fabulous time after another--all to make sure they could clinch the hiring of a talented crop.

Times have changed. Today partly because of the post-crisis environment, financial institutions have an upper hand. They, too, are careful how they spend summertime money and they learned at some point that MBA interns can contribute and participate in deals, projects, and research.

Most important, now more than ever, they use the internship program to facilitate full-time hiring. If they could hire all full-time MBA's from the summer-internship class, they would--even if it means hiring nobody from the second-year class during the school term.

Because they pick most of the full-time class from the internship class, they are also keen to make sure they choose strong, competent, well-rounded associates. Hence, unlike in years past, MBA interns spend much of the summer proving themselves in order to win a coveted full-time offer by September.

Of course, some wooing and wining and dining still goes on. They certainly don't want to turn off talented MBA's, discouraging them and sending them fleeing to competitors, hedge funds, or smaller start-ups.

At the same time, nonetheless, they want to make sure they get the full-time offers correct. So while interns are burying their heads in financial models, acquisition projects, debt-restructurings, portfolio analysis, asset allocations, equity valuation, client-meeting preparation or project analysis, they in turn will be evaluating, ranking, rating, and dissecting the talent before them. They want to ensure the finance and accounting MBA's absorbed in large doses during the year can be applied properly and swiftly in real transactions and business activity. They want to reaffirm technical competence.

That may sound daunting, but the numbers aren't. More than half the interns at some major banks will be extended full-time offers. And during good times when there is a growing need for associates, they don't mind extending 100-percent offers.

Consortium first-years in finance will be starting internships all over the country over the next week. In numbers that are slight improvements from a year ago, they are setting out to make their marks at UBS, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital, and many more--heading to New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Charlotte, and Atlanta.

Even if the numbers work in their favor and if the hardest part is getting the internship offer in the first place, interns (including Consortium MBA's) can get the most from the experience if they remember a few things:

1. First, have a good time and meet new people, contacts, and students from other schools, but take care to get the offer. Network, socialize, venture out to Connecticut for a cookout with senior bankers, and become buddies with others, but take care to get the offer--even if you find you don't like the firm or conclude that banking is not for you.

2. Show mastery of the technical skills you learned in school and demonstrate enthusiasm and strong work ethic.

3. Do right by yourself. It's okay to conclude in the end the firm, the role, and the work are not for you. But continue to work hard and try to secure the offer to use as leverage when you look elsewhere during the second year.

4. Observe that institution's culture for yourself and decide if it's a match for you. You'll hear a lot about what others say. Draw your own conclusions and ask mentors, colleagues and other (Consortium) alumni to be candid about work atmosphere, fair opportunities, development, long-term prospects, and respect for work-life balance.

5. Don't worry or get involved in office politics. You don't want to be defined by it, and ten weeks will elapse so quickly you won't care about it when you are back in school.

6. Take the opportunity to learn. Compare the theory from school to the application on the trading desk, in financial models, or in corporate strategy. Observe markets, deal teams, activities, deal flow, transaction dynamics, decision-making, and the way a business group gets things done.

7. Improve skills in client relationships (although many interns won't see clients much), business development, product innovation, and business generation. These skills are sometimes brushed over in business school, but can be invaluable in the real-world setting.

8. Yes, check out diversity. Observe the firm's progress. Check to see if the firm is walking the walk, talking the talk it claimed to have been doing when you saw its representatives on campus. Check to see if the firm is promoting diversity by checking the box or genuinely encourages it with passion and purpose.

9. Make the most of the summer. But try hard to get that offer, so you can return to school with relief, less pressure and momentum as you embark on second year. And if you don't, push ahead if you know you learned much and did your best.

Tracy Williams

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