How to fail as a banking intern

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Cutting the branch your sitting on

Current bankers have told us that interns these days make fewer mistakes than they used to and are often more prepared and serious than classes from just a few years ago. There’s enough information out there for students to walk in with fairly clear expectations. Unfortunately, the overall maturation of interns has made it even more difficult for banks to differentiate between candidates. No one is spoiling their chances by taking nude selfies in the bathroom anymore; banks need to look for subtle mistakes to help trim the herd. If anything, they’ve had to become more judgmental.

Below are a handful of common errors that can cause an intern to spoil their chances, whether they know it or not. Some are seemingly hypercritical and even arbitrary. The key, it seems, is to stand out with your work while blending in everywhere else.

Don’t botch the details

The consensus easiest reason to downgrade an intern is to find sloppy or lazy mistakes in their work or communication. Math, formatting and even grammar failings in emails rarely ever go unnoticed. “It speaks to your capabilities but also your attention to detail – one of the more underrated keys to being a reliable junior banker,” said a former Barclays associate. This can be a particular stumbling block for interns who come in with a stronger skillset than others. The work can appear more mindless and tedious than an actual learning opportunity, but you can’t treat it as such.

“Less proficient but hungrier interns can often beat out those who think they’re already capable analysts,” he said. Double-check your emails, triple-check your work.

Dress to blend in, not stand out

Bankers seem to get personally offended or at least annoyed when interns wear a suit or a pair of shoes that costs more than the internship pays. Fair or not, some make the inference that you come from money and may not be hungry enough to do the dirty work and put in the hours. Others may just view it as poor judgment. Be well-tailored, but don’t stick out with gaudy luxury names, a hedge fund exec told us. "Leave your Louboutins at home."

"And don't wear flip flops to work in the morning, even if it’s from the elevator to your desk,” she said. “My feet hurt too. Suck it up.”

Work before you network

If you’ve ever listened to interviews with bulge-bracket CEOs, they’ll preach to interns about the importance of networking, grabbing coffee with different members of the bank and meeting as many people as possible. “That’s bull****,” said one current VP. “If you’re off shaking hands and kissing babies while others are doing actual work, good luck.” The best way to meet other bankers outside of your group is to offer to pitch in on other projects after you’ve finished your work and your boss has gone home. Which leads to…

Don’t leave early. Don’t have plans

Being the first intern out the door at night can be a death sentence, even if you personally don’t have any work left. Find something to do, or at least pretend to. But don’t leave before your superiors unless you’re thrown out the door as a group, which does happen. “And don’t make plans that you can’t break. It’s only 10 weeks,” said the VP. “You’ll need the practice for the next two years anyway.”

Ask questions, but not the same ones

Don’t sit at your desk spinning your wheels if you don’t know what you’re doing, said a former Deutsche Bank VP. “Everyone assumes you are dumb and don't know anything about this job. They won't think less of you if you ask a question,” she said. But asking the same questions repeatedly – especially to the same person – will absolutely hurt your chances, added a headhunter who spent two decades as a banker.

Don’t be the party guy/girl

This is one issue bankers say they are seeing less and less. But don’t come in hungover, don’t talk about your epic evening and be careful not to overindulge at work functions, even if others do, said the banker-turned-recruiter.

It’s also always good practice to steer clear of these conversations outside the walls of the bank, never knowing who’s listening. We were told the story of an analyst who once bragged to a friend about a drug-fueled evening during his morning commute to New York City, not knowing an MD from a different group within his firm was sitting in the same train car. That was his last day with the bank.

And perhaps my favorite piece of advice

“Walk fast everywhere - people will think you are busy.”

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: btuttle@efinancialcareers.com

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