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Real-life mistakes of banking interns

Jefferies' CEO, Richard Handler, has written a blog on how to succeed in your summer internship. Among other things, he intones Jefferies' coming interns to work hard but not to burn out, to take rest, to ignore "face time", to be nice to clients and to be careful what they post on social media. He also says interns need to be careful with mistakes: "It is OK to make a mistake and learn what you did wrong...It is not OK to repeat the same mistake."

What kind of mistakes do interns make? We asked a lot of current banking associates, vice presidents, managing directors, past and present, to tell us of internship bloopers they have made of witnessed. If you want to be one of the 50%+ of interns who convert their summer into a full-time job offer, you want to avoid the mistakes on the list below.

Failing to complete the intern project assigned to you 

Your internship project will probably not be the most groundbreaking thing in the world. “Most interns are incapable of doing anything except answering the phone,” one equity salesman told us. “You usually just throw them a pile of work and make sure they’re out of the way. The work has to be unimportant, but they have to be made to feel that it’s very important and you have to turn the screws on them to get it done.”

However, if you don't complete the project you'll be in trouble. If you complete it in style, you might even develop a kind of personal mythology within the bank. In the summer of 2015, we understand that interns on Goldman's trading floor were each assigned a project to complete in a week. Wajih Ahmed is said to have completed it in two hours. He's now an inflation trader at GS and is known for his prowess as a summer analyst.

Failing to play politics 

If you want an offer, you'll need to work the human element of your internship. One associate recalls how, "a summer intern was hired in a Nordic sales/client relations role because she spoke Nordic languages and was a classic Nordic beauty. She soon realized that the role wasn't for her, and she networked her way into an investment role in another division while still killing it at her internship. She was offered a full-time role in her original team but turned it down. This pissed people off in that team who got HCM involved because they thought she was 'poached' by the other division."

The intern in question still got an offer, but this is a high risk strategy to play.

Hooking up at the intern parties 

There will be parties and there will be alcohol. There will also be eligible young interns.

You're not there to hook up with other interns though - you're there to get an offer. "You see interns getting drunk at networking events and flirting with the male employees," says one associate. "This gets you a reputation - especially if you're female." Instead, she says you want to forge in-office connections with the managing directors who matter.

Failing to observe security procedures

Like all of London, banks are on high alert. As an intern, you don't want to trigger a security warning. At one European bank last year an intern sent a pack of presentations to a private equity office for a sell-side presentation. However, the intern didn't specify the return address. When the package arrived, it was deemed suspicious because there was no return address, and was blown up.

Talking too much too soon

Joseph Mauro, a former Goldman Sachs partner, offered interns advice on Twitter after he quit last June. For the first three weeks of any banking internship, he said you should spend 10% of your time talking and 90% of your time listening. It's all about learning.

Expressing your own opinions

Similarly, if you want to convert a Goldman Sachs securities internship, Mauro says you need to walk before you can run. "It's too early to have you own [view]," he says. "But you better know the house view."

Forgetting to familiarize yourself with basics before the internship begins

Another intern made an entire PowerPoint presentation using only the "drawing" tool in PowerPoint and no Excel at all. Every chart and bar graph was meticulously hand-drawn. The VP and associate didn't even discover this until the intern left.

"When I started out as a summer intern, I read all the investor prospectuses, research reports, investment products' marketing literature, investor education materials, business press articles where my team was mentioned, especially relevant industry newsletters, etc. going back 2 years starting with the most recent (approx. 3,500-4,000 pages in all) in the first 3 weeks of the internship," says one successful intern.

Getting the coffee run wrong 

It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. As an intern you need to be organized and on time with lunch and coffee orders, especially when you're dealing with MDs.

Not being the first person on the desk 

You need to get the basics right, says one associate: "Coming in first, leaving last, taking notes diligently, asking smart questions, avoiding errors."

Sleeping in the toilets

You're going to be tired, but if you get caught sleeping at work it will be over. The toilets are not a bed.

Over-promising and under-delivering

"Don’t insist that you can deliver something in a few hours when it will take a day," say ex-M&A bankers Thomas Viguier and Guillaume Tardy-Joubert of Coaching Assembly.

If you're being handed a lot of work (this may not happen), Mae Busch, a former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe suggests you ask for advice on prioritizing your workload. She advises all young bankers to say, “I’d love to take that on too, but I’ve got three other projects. How would you like me to prioritize this because it won’t be possible to do them all.”

Wearing ostentatious jewelry or clothing

"Leave your Breitling at home," says one trader. "The watch your mamma gave you for getting to uni is NOT a good show. Unless your people are hedge fund managers and you will bring their biz on the floor, no one likes a spoiled brat as a junior."

Failing to ask questions and then failing to remember the answers to the questions

"Not paying attention to what you're being taught and then asking questions that show you're not listening is a common fault," says one VP.

not paying attention to what someone is telling you and then questions you to find out you're not listening - not remembering names

Failing to connect with anyone 

An intern who didn't get an offer told us the personal connection was where he went wrong: “90% of the interns are capable, so ultimately it’s all about finding a team you can click with. Unless you’re a complete genius, the team aren’t going to take you unless you fit in. ”

Forgetting people's names

Forgetting names is a no-no. "At the end of the first week you need to know the names of everyone on your team and the surrounding teams," says one VP.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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