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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Diary of a finance intern

Courtesy of efinancialcareers

Week 1: Coffee and competitiveness

This week began with an all-intern training session where we looked at the different areas of the business and the different products. The next two days were spent in equities training with the other equity interns. Some interns had majored in finance but for those who, like me, are from completely different backgrounds it was all a bit confusing. I did however learn a lot, make a few friends and write a big list of all the things I needed to work on when I had some free time.

There are three interns on my desk and while it is nice to have the support it makes things very competitive. We were not due on our desk until Thursday morning, but we all decided to head there after training on Monday and so the competition began. I start work at around 6am and leave at around 6pm. Following this, I usually go out for drinks to get to know people and to prove to my colleagues that I am not tired or stressed. I had less than four hours' sleep two nights in a row but the days go quickly as there is a lot going on around me and I never even have time to think about how tired I am.

People are generally nice and very helpful, though it is obvious they are watching our every move. So far we have been asked to do some basic research and reporting, and a few translation exercises. We have been allowed to listen in on some client calls and to attend almost all the internal meetings our desk is involved in.

The most stressful part of my day is the morning coffee run. Something seems to go wrong with someone's order every day and it creates a tense environment,. Luckily, there are three of us so I am not on duty that often. The other stressful thing is the chitchat we get at least once a day reminding us that the market is bad and realistically there is only a job for one of us. We interns need to work as a team and yet show our individuality and skill. Not as easy as it sounds on a chaotic trading floor.

I will be spending all weekend reading the news and trying to understand the material from the training sessions. While we are not allowed in at the office over the weekend, I will still spend most of it catching up on week one and preparing for week two anyway. I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity and I want to use it to learn as much as I can and to meet as many people as I can. With two other interns to do battle with, and to be friends with, I am going to do my best to keep my options open and open as many doors for myself as possible.

Week 2: Tears, translations and trying to sleep

All I can say is I am glad that week 2 is over. I was in every morning by 6.15 and I don't think I got to bed before midnight even once. By Thursday evening I was so tired that I started randomly crying on my way home. I spoke to a friend interning at another firm and she assured me she had been just the same the night before and it was good to know I was not the only one.

Monday this week began with reporting back on the major news from over the weekend and sending out a summary of it in both languages. I also summary translated a story which I thought was big and was really pleased and encouraged when a rather senior member of our team asked me to contact the analyst and provide some further information on the topic.

Tuesday was particularly exciting as I was given the opportunity to note-take at an analysts' meeting. The presentation itself was rather dry, but the questions that followed were really interesting and gave me a good insight into what investors are interested in.

On Wednesday, another intern and I helped at a seminar held in a nearby hotel. It was really fun to get out of the office but also a little stressful, as we were asked to run errands to rectify every little thing that went wrong. That was pretty tough considering it is the middle of summer and we were instructed to keep our jackets on.

On Thursday, I sat with an execution trader and a prop trader, which was a lot of fun and really insightful. They were both really patient with my questions and invited me back to have another look when there was a little more going on.

Friday was spent tying up loose ends and trying to finish all the little tasks we have been requested to do throughout the week. After discovering that would only be physically possible if we stayed all weekend, we were pulled aside by our mentor. He highlighted the importance of not taking on more than we could handle and advised us on how to say no.

I went out three nights this week. Friday night was an all-nighter, meaning I spent 24 hours straight with some of my colleagues. Luckily, they are all good people and I get on with them well, but I am starting to miss my friends and my personal time. We were told on day one of our training that this was a six-week job interview, which makes it all pretty tiring at times.

I will once again be spending at least some of this weekend catching up and trying to get ahead. I am pretty happy to do it though, as the more I learn the more I understand and the more I want to know.

I am feeling excited and little nervous about week 3. We will be given some more direction on our personal projects which will include having lunch with an analyst to get some more direction. I have promised myself I am going to sleep more, drink less and eat more healthily this week. Let's hope I manage to keep at least one of the three promises!

Week 3: Fun and humiliation as we reach the half-way mark

It’s three weeks down and three to go.We had our mid-internship appraisals this week and they were much more casual and far less informative than I had imagined. They say no news is good news, but for an intern who is fairly confident of getting a lot of stuff wrong, no feedback at all is a pretty scary thing!

This week was, as usual, really busy. We continued to start at 6am but somehow the evenings have begun to get later and we now leave at around 7 or 7.30pm and we are sometimes the last people on the desk.

All the interns are starting to look and act very tired, and by Thursday it is getting really tough to concentrate for 12 or so hours. This is of course in no way aided by the nightly drinking sessions which go on in the local bar – lasting sometimes until 1am. Not to mention the big Friday-nighter, which means staying out all night and bar hopping, looking for as many people from our desk as possible to prove we are out, we are having fun, and that we can handle it.

I got told off pretty badly this week over a misunderstanding. I was singled out in front of a group of people and, rather than clarify the situation first, the person just decided to yell. I had no idea what they were on about so I pretty much told them as much. I am not sure how well that will have gone down, but I was polite and to the point so hopefully I won't get randomly dumped on again.

Our final project began to really take shape this week. It was made very clear to us that it is a team project and that they are not interested in who does what exactly but in the overall end-product. I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into it, but I am also very nervous about how us three interns are going to get on now that we will have to spend all our weekends together as well as our weekdays – and we only have three weeks and two weekends to get this big piece of work out.

The main activities we were involved in this week were the analyst company visit meetings. Basically, we set up the room, hand out papers, greet people and generally make sure everything is running smoothly. For the most part I really enjoyed this work and being able to listen in on the meetings was really great. I was able to learn a lot but it was pretty stressful when things went wrong.

I am starting to get on really well with the members of my team and the team who sit behind us in the offce. There is a lot of banter going on and work has finally becomes a genuinely fun place to be, at times.

Our boss keeps telling us that the interns this year are really high calibre and it is hard to differentiate between them. For this reason our team is really asking and expecting a lot of us. We had to go in over the weekend to help prepare for Monday, to make sure we were up to speed and would not be asking any silly questions that we should have picked up through our weekend reading.

With only half the internship left I am starting to feel pretty nervous about my future, but I have decided that much of it is probably out of my hands anyway, thanks to the state of the market, so I am going to keep having as much fun and learning as much as I can in the hope that things all pan out for the best in the end.

Week 4: Where did the last month go?

I can hardly believe I have been interning for a month. When I first began, six weeks felt like it was forever, now I wonder how I am ever going to get everything done.

Things are really starting to get crazy with the interns and we quite often end up yelling at or being grumpy with each other. The truth of the matter is that none of us are trying to sabotage each other and socially we do all tend to get on pretty well – the problem is the market is bad and there is probably only one job, and we all want it!

I started trying to check out other desks this week and was invited onto a few by people I had met drinking at the company bar…. I thought this was a good idea but it seems it may have backfired. I think my boss now thinks I am not really interested in the desk I am on and I may well be out of the running! My boss asked me if I really wanted it. Of course I said yes, but I am worried that my actions are not making that 100% clear. So I have two weeks to prove to the desk even more than before that I am hungry for this and that I do want a job on this desk, or at least in the industry!

I also got a little sick of all the masculine stuff this week. I asked to play in a sports team and was simply told no. I asked my boss to treat me just the same as he treated the guys, give me the same little errands and challenges. He said he would, but I am noticing that he isn't. I decided to take some of the little challenges into my own hands and while it seemed to put the male interns out, the ladies on the desk loved it.

There were a few tears and moments when I wanted to give up this week. Not because the industry is tough and I can`t handle it (I can and am), but more because being good is not going to be enough to get a job this year. We were told the other day that our boss had to let one of our team assistants go just to take us on as interns. The desk I sit on is full and my boss has already told us that, with the market as it is, letting someone with a track record go to replace them with someone with no track record is just not likely to happen.

I feel like one of the interns is totally out of the running – she insists on a full hour for lunch and refuses to stay after 5pm. The other intern and I are good. People tell us we are good and our boss has already told us he will do what he can.

At the weekend, two of us were at the office with our boss preparing for the next day. I am more than happy to spend the time and to learn but I just hope there is a job at the end of it. I will get over not getting a job because I was not good enough, but I will probably be pretty dark if at the end of it all there never was anything for us to start with.

Week 5: Headcount horrors

This week was by far the worst week. We continued to plug away at our group project. It’s progressing very slowly and is going to end up consuming most of this weekend – great, more time with the other interns who I only spend an average of 80 hours a week with!

We were also given some extra news flow monitoring projects this week which made the busy mornings even busier. We still arrive at 6am but we are now really struggling to get things done in time for the morning meeting. We were also given a few rush projects and translation jobs for clients with totally unrealistic deadlines. This was a good opportunity for me to push back to set some boundaries, which is something the other interns and I have been told we need to learn to do if we are going to survive in the finance industry.

A new intern will join our desk this week from another department, just for the experience. Four interns on one desk is going to be chaotic so I am planning to use this as an opportunity to check out some other desks and areas of the business. One of the interns is already starting to sulk about the addition to our team. But the reality is that integrating them in and getting them involved in our daily work is another test, so I am viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The worst thing that happened this week was that our team had to let a couple of its members go. This was announced in a team meeting and it was so normal that it kind of scared me. No one batted an eyelid. Even though we had been working closely with them the day before, after the announcement the only concern was who was going to take on their clients.

This actually got me thinking – how can our desk be letting people go and still be seriously looking at the interns? I decided that they could not be and decided to confront my boss about it. Sure enough, there will be no extra headcount on our desk and even though we were “great interns” there will be no jobs for us.

My boss did not use these exact words but his message was pretty clear, nonetheless I was very disappointed and I am pretty determined to get myself onto a desk where there is an opening and where there is headcount. My boss has been making calls and pulling strings, so hopefully this will all fall into place.

There is now the opportunity to extend our internships for two weeks. I was hoping not to do this as I need to get back to my other job which I have taken a six-week holiday from. It is also exciting and has the potential to become a full-time position, and I really do need to do some of my university work some time soon.

The internship has been a wonderful experience and I really have learnt a lot. I am a little annoyed that there is no job for any of us but then again I am not surprised as the market is pretty bad and even though I have nothing to compare it to I can feel the tension on the trading floor.

This next week is all about me. I am going to leverage all the connections I have made and the relationships I have with other interns and see if I can create something for myself. I appreciate my boss being honest with me when push really came to shove, but I do wonder if this information could not have been shared with us in week three so I could have had longer to get on the desks with potential openings and really apply myself there.

Week 6: No jobs

I am glad to say that it is all over. The last week of my internship was complete and utter hell and I learnt first hand that most people in finance are not very nice, in fact most of them are downright nasty. There were almost no jobs this year. Only one of the 33 interns landed a position (it wasn't me) and the pool of lies and deception that continue to surround that situation is just heartbreaking.

I spent most of my last week in tears, both at my desk and in the bar. So rather than talk about what actually went on, I would rather offer some advice to future interns. I am the bigger person and I am not going to use this as a platform to slag people off. As a friend who is very successful in a very different business said to me last night, 'onward and upward!' And that is where I am headed!

Now for the advice…

1. Think carefully about where you do your internship. Conversion rates are very different for different firms, so when you decide where to go, have a think about your actual chances of getting a job, both on the desk, and with the firm. Talk to ex-interns if you can, ask how many other interns the desk and the firm is taking.

2. Take everything you are told with a grain of salt. You will be told that your mentor and the other team members are important in the end decision as to who gets a job. But the truth is it is more likely to be your boss and his mates. Not everything you hear is going to be a lie, but just try to keep your wits about you.

3.Trust no one. The whole industry is full of people who are out for themselves. Never forget that. Play them at their own game and hope you win. Never be nasty, they never will be to you. Just grin and bear it and smile. If you think you can find someone you can trust, and there may be someone, check and double check that your instincts are right before you open up too much to them.

4. Be humble, in fact bend over backwards for everyone on the desk. Do not even joke about not wanting to go halfway across town to buy a sandwich... smile and do it! Even when the people bossing you around are younger than you (and in some ways have less experience than you), respect the hierarchy and smile and bow down - that is basically what your first five years in the industry are going to be filled with anyway.

5. Accept that it is a boys' club. If you are a guy, play the game 100%. If you are a girl, hope you have something extra somewhere else which will make up for it. They will tell you it is all a level playing field, the reality does not really matter, just what you do with it. One piece of advice, if you are a girl, accept that you cannot be one of the boys, trying to be one will only result in tears.

6. Be yourself. The industry changes people. Fight it.

This internship was a great experience and I learnt a lot, both about who I am and about the industry. I respect the people I have worked with even if I do not necessarily like them.

If I had my time again I would have done a few things differently, but most importantly I would have lived by the rules above. The culture of the bank I worked in did not suit me and although I am gutted I did not get a job, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

I am currently considering other firms, but also other industries where I am having much more success.

For anyone else who becomes an intern, I wish you the best of luck and more success than I had.

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