COMMENT: Mad, bad and lazy banking interns - and how to handle them

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COMMENT: Mad, bad and lazy banking interns - and how to handle them

The banking interns are coming. In just over a month, summer internships in investment banks will begin. If you work for a bank already, internships can be a time of intense frustration. If you're coming into a bank as an intern, you need to understand why this is.

Firstly, banking internships today are not the same as banking internships in the past. When I was an intern, the internship was all about trying to make yourself useful. Not any more. Nowadays, the internship is all about being told what to do by the human resources (HR) department. - This means that there are so many social and networking events happening that when you try getting an intern to do something, you will probably find that he/she is either not at his desk. And if he/she is there, you will find that the intern has no time to help due to all the HR duties. If you're up against a deadline and you want an intern to help, this can be frustrating. The best thing is not to expect an intern to help in the first place. 

Once you've presumed that banking interns are largely ornamental, you can devote your time to studying them from an anthropological perspective. They come in many varieties, but there are a few main categories.

Some seem very hungry. These are the 'hungry interns' - not for a job, but for food. For these interns, the staff canteen and Seamless deliveries are heaven on earth.  After years of eating cheap student food, they finally have a chance to eat premium cooked meals. If they're not on the desk or in an HR networking event, you can be sure to find them in the cafeteria, having cake and coffee. These interns may also attempt to stay on in the evenings in order to get a food delivery at their desk.

There is also the 'always late intern.' This intern can overlap with the hungry intern, because he is usually late due to a 'networking breakfast.' Often this simply seems like an excuse: it's not easy getting up at 6am when you're used to lying-in until 11.30.

And so there is the 'very lazy intern.' This is the one who is extremely late and makes an even lamer excuse than the networking breakfast. I encountered one in the lift at 11:00am on a Thursday morning. He was adjusting his shirt and putting on his tie (not something you do if you were back from a senior management croissant). There were a couple of other people in the lifts and he didn’t spot me straight away. He was rotating on my desk, so we both got off on the same floor. I said, “Good morning Mr. X”, stressing the “morning”. He turned white, and then came up with what has to be my all time favourite bullsh*t excuse: “Really sorry for being late, I thought today was Saturday”. Yeah right. One hell of a night, to misplace your time zone by 2 days.

Surprisingly, there's also the ICBB ('I can't be bothered') intern. His main objective in getting the internship was to… get the internship. He wants something else in life and is doing a banking internship to tick the box. This is often due to family pressure, or a need to prove he could get into banking if wanted to.

The worst sub-category of ICBB intern are the ones who are there by straight-up nepotism. I encountered one ICBB who was introduced to me by the head of desk. A couple of days later, I asked him to assist me in putting together an Excel spreadsheet, and he declined due to a, "lunch with my dad”. He obviously assumed I'd been briefed. I hadn’t: I was on holiday the week before, when the head of the department took a few seniors in the room to warn them of an impending intern - the son of a billionaire hedge fund manager client.

This is why, if you already work in finance, summer interns can be a minefield. They are mostly pointless and they will mostly suck your time. But you need to treat them well, because you never know who their parents are.

This is particularly important to remember if you're an analyst and just one rung above the interns yourself. - In my experience, the analysts prey on the interns. This is the first time in their careers that they have been able to manage another human being, and they take full advantage of this by giving interns the worst tasks possible. I have had to rebuke a few analysts because of their totally inappropriate behaviour.

And if you're an intern in a bank this summer? Be aware of how annoying you are. And try to mitigate this by being unfailingly helpful and pleasant. You will need to get the full time staff on your side - particularly at the end of the internship. Too many interns leave this until the last moment, and suddenly start patrolling my desk as the internship comes to an end and they realize they need my backing if they're to get a job offer, and my advice on the crucial presentation they're going to give. 

Amit Itelmon is the pseudonym of a senior banker.

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