Investment Banking Internships — Three Frequently Asked Questions to a Mentor
I thought it would be helpful to share some things I’ve learnt going through the process of being an intern, being mentored and mentoring interns.
Although we live in an unprecedented time, there are still plenty of opportunities to make the most of the internships available at the moment.
How do I make the most of a remote internship?
Undoubtedly it is challenging to make the most of your 10 weeks or so when it is being held remotely. Nothing quite beats the buzz of the office, the spontaneous water fountain conversations or the canteen hum.
However, you can still achieve your goals of securing full time employment, broadening your network and trying to understand is this really what you want to do in the early part of your work life.
Working remotely has proved very effective in Financial Services, with a number of banks offering flexible working as standard now coupled with record profits made during the pandemic. There are a number of tools at your disposal to help you secure your full time offer. For example, using the in-house chat software, video conferencing and of course Microsoft Office are all excellent tools you can use to shine. Use them wisely and do your best to learn the best practices from your colleagues quickly. Before work, I had never attended a conference call and getting used to announcing yourself, going on mute and knowing when to speak is a skill you must learn quickly.
Challenge your senior management to make the remote internship better for you. If you have particular reservations you should find ways to addresses these and speak to your leadership about how they can help. At one bank I worked at the graduates asked for a coffee randomiser across the firm so they could meet new people in different areas — the whole firm was invited to participate and needed to opt in over e-mail. In banks, usually if you come up with an idea you’ll have to own and implement it so make sure you have the capacity to do so. It was excellent to be paired randomly with people at all levels and on the odd occasion when you were paired up with someone you knew well you could ask for another match or just enjoy your virtual coffee with someone not so random.
I don’t have enough work to do, what should I do?
This is probably up with as one of the most common questions I’ve been asked as a mentor and one I experienced as an intern too. While it is always helpful to have a bit of spare capacity as work is rarely constant, it is good to know how many hours you are spending at work and if you are getting the most out of your time.
Not all banks are created equal and nor do they spend the same amount of time preparing the internship period for you. During my internship at Lehman Brothers, HR and all of Corporate had talks, drinks & networking sessions arranged at least twice a week so we were kept very busy. We even joined in some charity work to build some compost bins for a local school.
If you find yourself with too much time on your hands, I would recommend:
a. Spending time to understand the bigger picture of your team, speak to colleagues in and outside of your time to understand the clients, processes and data flows you are supporting
b. Find some inefficiencies in your team’s workflow and speak to your manager about ways in which you can help create a proposal to make it work better
c. Spend time on the internal knowledge tools which are usually available at most banks. Learn about products, regulation & financial statement analysis — even though some of this may not feel relevant now, the more you know the more you will understand financial services.
In some cases, I’ve had mentees with such little work to do that they are asking their manager every week for more work and they feel like that they are beginning to annoy the manager. Not all managers are created equal either and sometimes you can get a bad manager who isn’t going to give you enough time or work to help you make the most of your internship. I’d say its very rare but does happen. In this case you would need to take responsibility to find work and perhaps work with the broader team to support them in any way you can. The job offer at the end is not always down to one individual and sometimes if you make enough connections someone else may be able to take you on if it doesn’t work out in your current team.
I’m working in the Back Office and want to move into a Front Office role, when should I bring this up with my manager?
A pretty common scenario I’ve seen is interns taking roles within Back Office (Finance, Technology, Legal, Audit etc.) because they could not secure any Front Office roles. Clearly having an internship in your chosen field is better than not having one.
The non-revenue generating side of Investment Banks are very interesting areas to work in and there are some areas which have more ‘Middle Office’ type positions where you are working with front office staff or clients more closely (e.g. Credit Risk, Settlement Operations, Trading Technology). People have made whole careers and a lot of money in the Back Office too. The Back Office is integral to how the whole bank operates and tends to be the largest area (by number of people).
There are opportunities to move between functions at banks, it comes with patience, time and experience but eventually you are afforded more opportunities to work in different countries & divisions. It is one of the most attractive characteristics of working in Investment Banking. I know and have seen many people move from the Back Office into the Front Office, all of whom have been very successful in doing so.
During your internship, I suggest playing this move quite closely to your chest. You should remember that most internship managers and teams are paying for a role within their team, they are looking to fulfil a full time position and use the internship as an extended training & interview period. If you start off saying you want a Front Office role from the very beginning it makes it very difficult for the team to offer you a role in the future which doesn’t help you out if you don’t have another role secured at another bank or department. I suggest playing the long game and don’t give up on your ambition to be a trader or sales person, it will happen just give it some time.