Brutally honest advice from Wall Street interns

Beecher Tuttle | E-Financial Careers

We’re in the heart of intern season, which means thousands of bright-eyed college and graduate students are putting in the hours, setting themselves up for long distinctive careers on Wall Street. Others, meanwhile, are shooting themselves in foot, killing their chances of finding work down the road, at least at the bank in which they’re interning.

In an effort to help keep the latter group as small as possible, we reached out to four vice presidents on Wall Street – two investment bankers at bulge bracket firms, a hedge fund exec and a consultant – to capture the dos and don’ts of being an intern. Each source not only currently manages interns, but has been one in the past at the MBA level. Two are female and two are male. They asked to remain anonymous to give you the real dirt. And off we go…

Male VP – Investment Banking

  • Don’t take your necktie off. Ever.
  • Be awesome to your assistant – she’s probably one of the boss’s assistants too.
  • Walk fast everywhere – people will think you are busy.
  • Don’t ever, ever ask for more work.
  • When you get an offer, people will expect you to make a speech. Be prepared.

Female Hedge Fund Exec:

  • Don’t wear flip flops to work in the morning, even if it’s from the elevator to your desk. My feet hurt too. Suck it up.
  • Heels should be no higher than 4 inches. Leave your Louboutins at home. Only secretaries wear the red soles to work.
  • Don’t carry a bag that is exponentially nicer than your boss’s. And no logos. You don’t have to go super budget with a Kate Spade or Michael Kors catastrophe, but be cognizant of your surroundings. Saint Laurent or Valextra are fine.
  • Don’t count calories openly if you are skinny. Use MyFitnessPal or some other app discreetly on your iPhone.
  • No screen saver shot of your “amazing” boyfriend of __years.
  • If flying on business, NEVER wear an underwire bra, it will set off the X-ray machine at security.

Female VP – Investment Banking:

  • Ask questions! Don’t sit at your desk for hours spinning your wheels because you don’t understand something. If you have spent more than 5 minutes trying to figure something out and you know it shouldn’t take long, ask another person in your summer class and if they don’t know ask a full time analyst. 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.
  • You will be asked to do several mindless tasks. Have a good attitude. The full time bankers will likely complain about their job constantly. Don’t chime in but don’t be some chipper “I love this job” crazy person. You won’t be sleeping. You shouldn’t be that happy. People will think you are on something.
  • Back to the mindless tasks, do them well. Check every email twice before sending. Check your work two or three times. You shouldn’t be making grammatical mistakes in emails. Formatting is not hard. Do it correctly. When you are asked to print out work you have done, check it when it’s printed. They will teach you this in training, but never hand anyone a sheet of paper that is literally hot from the printer.
  • As far as dress goes, no one expects you to dress like a seasoned banker but use some common sense. You were likely visited on campus by full time bankers countless times during the recruiting process. You should know what the bankers dress like. Guys: no brown suits, green shirts, brown ties…you get the picture. You can’t go wrong with a white shirt. What guys wear is not going to influence their chances of getting an offer but you will be made fun of to your face.
  • Girls, obviously, don’t be slutty. You should know that. Also don’t come in wearing Louboutins. People will think you don’t need this job and, to be honest, if you are wearing $700 shoes to an internship at age 21 you probably don’t. These choices could influence whether or not you get an offer.

Male Consultant:

  • While you are a new hire and essentially a part time employee, you are expected to act informed beyond your tenure. Do your best to project confidence in unfamiliar situations to establish credibility.
  • Demonstrate how you are a team player.  You are expected to kick ass on individual deliverables, and everyone will do this. The folks who will distinguish themselves and get hired are the best team players.
  • Go to lunch or coffee with as many people as possible to build a network of advocates for you in the company. Ask these people thoughtful questions during your chat with them.

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