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How to excel in an investment banking division (IBD) internship

Investment bank intern

If you’ve just started an internship in the investment banking division (IBD) of a large bank, you’re one step closer to securing a full-time job in arguably the most competitive areas of the business. Don’t expect an easy ride – interns in IBD work longer hours than anyone, despite recent moves to make life a little easier, and securing a full-time job is a matter of impressing consistently over the course of ten weeks.

How can you succeed? Current analysts, formerly successful IBD interns and career consultants offer this advice.

1. Remember what it is you’re being tested on

IBD internships attract elite students used to over-achieving, often meaning an over-inflated opinion of their abilities and a misinterpretation of what the bank expects. They don’t want you to be the finished article. In fact, they’re essentially a “constant assessment” of whether you have the right skills for the full-time job, according to one second year IBD analyst.

Your superiors are testing you on four things, he says.

  • Your ability to manage data – understand it, summarise it and draw the correct conclusions
  • Whether you can use the right tools – Excel, Powerpoint etc. These make you more efficient and are therefore incredibly important. If you don’t have these skills, you need to demonstrate an ability to learn.
  • Your endless enthusiasm: Can you make yourself available 24/7? Can you demonstrate ‘passion’. If not, you’re probably not well suited for the job.
  • Do you have the right interpersonal skills to get on with your team over a prolonged period of time?

2. Embrace the boring, and you will be rewarded 

Here’s a newsflash for you – interns in investment banking do not advise CEOs, nor do they really get much of an opportunity to meet clients. In fact, a lot of the work is tedious. Show the right attitude.

“Some of the tasks can be boring and repetitive: infopacks, company profiles, comparables analysis and the like,” says the analyst. “If you do well you might well end up working on an important meeting aimed at a FTSE 100 CEO, maybe pushing for a cross-border acquisition, or exploring the different financing routes across equity and debt capital markets.”

3. Stay awake, stay focused

There was a old ritual imposed on IBD interns, which in the new world of reducing working hours would never be tolerated. The ‘magic roundabout’ involves an intern getting a taxi back to his lodgings after an all nighter, having it wait for him to shower and change a shirt and then return straight back to the office again. Most banks have clamped down on this, but Goldman Sachs’ move to keep interns out of the office from midnight-7am shows that long hours are still expected.

In such circumstances, it’s difficult to bring your A-game, but it’s essential to do so. “The way you’ll impress is by consistently producing accurate work in the timeframe you are given,” says Marc Hatz, an ex-Goldman Sachs and Perella Weinberg associate who now offers advice on preparing for investment banking interviews.

4. Show knowledge when you can

As we mentioned, investment banks are not expecting the finished article, but an interest an understanding of the product area you’re working in is essential – particularly if you’re on a rotational internship.

“Being alert on what’s going on in the market always offers a chance to highlight a piece of news that other people might not have picked up on yet,” says a recent IBD intern. “A good understanding of the basics of the product also helps you demonstrate that you are not just a dumb task machine, so suggest understanding the basics of the product you cover very well as there will certainly be chances to prove it.”

5. Get the basics right 

You may be asked to fetch coffee for the team, but even here you can add value. Elsewhere, you just need to bear in mind perceptions. “Never come into the office late, no matter what time you left,” says one analyst. “And if the analysts are going to be working until 2am, don’t think it’s OK to leave at 7pm.”

6. Become an expert juggler 

Your workload will be heavy, but the bank will also expect you to complete a longer-term project at the end of your internship which tests what you have learned as well as the all-important team-working and communication skills. A key skill is being able to prioritise your work.

“When the workload becomes too heavy, speak with your team or staffer about it, and prioritize between projects. This skill is key,” says Hatz.

“I suggest not losing ground on your end of internship project, thinking it’s far away, as the working pattern can always change and a busier schedule down the road might result in a poor delivery of the end of internship project,” says the analyst. “So try to make good progress constantly, but never turn away day to day tasks because of the project, as people might think you are not able to manage workload with clearly different deadlines.”

7. Ask tough questions 

There are no stupid questions. Unless the answer could easily be found on Google. Your colleagues will expect you to ask questions on the tasks they assign you, understand them and then complete the task efficiently. Going back to them asking the same questions that could easily be answered by a quick internet search will not impress anyone.

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