Investment Banking Internship Success

In this final tutorial we’re going to lay out the winning qualities of successful investment banking interns and show you exactly how to express them.  We’ll then reveal everything you need to know about how banks decide which banking interns to keep on (i.e. into the analyst program) and which ones to reject.

By laying out the process from start to finish you’ll be able to walk into your IB internship with total confidence – you’ll know what to show off, who to impress and when to hustle.  This knowledge separates the winners from the losers.


BONUS: Download a free reporton how to crush you summer internship and earn the $100,000+ return offer, plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.


How to rock your investment banking internship

Right now we want to focus on the 80-20 qualities you need to earn a return offer after your 10-12 weeks at the bank this summer.  So this tutorial is tailor made and ready to eat for all you investment banking interns! ‘Summers’ are judged to our mind on just two things…

  • Are you someone who’s cool to chow ramen noodles with and edit a 100-pound deck at 2am? i.e. Are you as likeable as a Warren Buffett offspring?
  • Can you make this ‘deck’ look Board-ready and freaking literate by 6am, whilst I go home to sleep? i.e. Are you as competent as a Buffett-Munger lovechild?

In this sense banking is not quite like high school, in that popularity alone isn’t the yardstick. It’s more like college.  To win the respect of the team you have to not only avoid acting like a douche but you also have to contribute something intelligent and useful.  


What’s more important; likeability v intelligence?

No one else will tell you this, but 8 times out of 10 likeability is more important. We’ve seen the popular-but-average kid beat the socially awkward mini Rainman to an investment banking return offer too many times to conclude otherwise.

This bias makes sense, because whilst the popular kid can always be taught a few more tricks to get the work done like a good lil Excel Monkey, the savant intern can never be taught how to lighten up, make like the Fonze and ‘be cool’.

But what explains this bias most is the underlying assumption that anyone who’s managed to get into an investment banking internship is already way above average in the intelligence department. 

They can get the work done.  So even if it’s a scratch below the savant’s level, it’s still freaking awesome and good enough. Likeability is also crucial in banking because of 1) how close knit teams are; 2) how much time teams spend together; and 3) because without everyone working together perfectly, deals won’t get done as fast or as well as they should.

And hey, investment banking teams make decisions just like cavemen; douche bags never get to join the tribe.


But why debate the issue as if these qualities are mutually exclusive?

Because too many investment banking interns start their summers focusing 90% on ‘intelligence’ – proving they’re smart – and give almost no attention to ‘likeability’.


They bury themselves in work, rarely look up to say hi, and never take the time out to socialize with other interns & bankers; none of which is conducive to fitting in or gaining respect (these being 2 crucial things you need to win a return offer).

We thus vigorously argue how important likeability is so students focus on it more than they do now – and so they realize that even the hardest working intern won’t get invitedback if they’ve shunned socializing.

Thankfully this warning really only applies to 20% of interns.  


How to be liked & respected during your internship

There is one simple rule to being liked during your banking internship; Act like a mini Tony Robbins and say YES to everything.  And I mean everything!

Let me share a few examples to illustrate – PS these may or may not be based on real scenarios and even realer internal monologues!!

Analyst Chuck: Richard, do you want to help me finish updating this database tonight?

Intern Rich: Certainly, I am but a petty Excel Monkey and I just love formatting poorly constructed excel sheets from 2002 that a disgruntled analyst made in his second last week of work.

Associate Bob: Richard, want to go out tonight for drinks after the office tennis party?

Intern Rich: Delicious, I can easily rock up to my mid-term interview with MD Larry Larryson tomorrow morning on no sleep, enough alcohol in my system to power a Prius and day old stubble resembling the shoe-shine guy downstairs.

MD Larry Larryson: Richard, want to grab coffee?

Intern Rich: Well why not, doesn’t matter that I’ve already had 10 cups of freaking Joe today with other kids from the floor or that my caffeine intake today might just cause ye olde central nervous system / bowel system to shut down during my presentation this afternoon.

The point being illustrated here is that no matter what’s going on, how busy you are, or how sleep deprived you may be; always pitch into help, get involved and above all, socialize during your summer.  If you have to stay an hour or two later to finish off your work so be it.


Apart from going “YES” crazy, adopt the “When in Rome” idea during summer

Meaning, do as other junior bankers do.  If that requires you to drink, cuss and get loose, do it.

Nothing helps bankers bond faster than getting drunk together, talking shit and throwing around the f-bomb after all.

We do recognize this goes against 97% of the advice out there on investment banking internships, but we’re assuming the analysts and associates at the bank are the ones initiating the drinking, cussing and looseness here. 

And we’re assuming you can handle your liquor, which should be a given since you are a college kid with a couple years head start on the ‘100 hour a week bankers’. With all that said, never rise above your intern pay grade.

i.e. Just because your analyst-buddy cusses like a Venetian sailor, doesn’t mean you need to become Gordon F*cking Ramsay.  Your $1000 a week investment banking internship salary just won’t allow it!

Warm up to it Excel Monkey and use your commonsense.  


Who decides whether you get hired?

Well, everyone, kind of.  You see, although your group’s/team’s MD will have the final say, often they are ‘synthesizers’ of views.  Meaning they make a decision based on everyone’s opinions, not simply their own gut.

Got proof? 

Well, unlike investment banking superdays where MDs actually interview candidates and can thus decide for themselves, during internships MDs almost never work with interns one on one, or spend more than a few fleeting moments with them.  


How do MDs decide whether you’re likeable and competent?

They supplement their “gut decision” on you with the views of those who have actually worked most closely with you.  Thus it’s often the analysts and associates – and the odd VP – in your group that decide your fate. So keep asking yourself these 4 questions during your summer internship…

  • Have I been respecting my group’s just-a-year-older-than-me analysts?
  • What about all the other excel monkeys outside of my group who I may have done bits and pieces for?
  • When was the last time I bought my analyst-mentor a coffee or ten?
  • Am I acknowledging the group’s assistants and other support staff much?

Oh yes.  As you can see everyone in your daily life as a banking intern will probably be asked at some point “Thoughts on this Richard character?”

And eventually these comments will be fed back up to your group’s MD, albeit as a filtered exec summary version.

I figure that now you appreciate the extent of the decision makers you’ll learn to be ‘on’ 24/7 and to work your guts out for everyone and anyone, whilst bypassing thoughts of offering the always aloof MD Larry Larryson a shoe shine.  


Who should you be sending the love out to & why?


You should focus on your group first and foremost

Almost 80% of the decision will come down to the analysts, associates and VPs in your own group. So although we’re telling you to watch out for everyone, pay most of your attention to making these guys happy.  This is useful to know when you need to prioritize a list of 15 to dos for 8 different people!  


Don’t neglect your fellow investment banking interns though

Although they won’t have any input in the decision, your fellow interns can greatly affect your chances, because your friend Intern Ike can save you when you’re under the pump, partner up with you on tasks you’re struggling with, and share info on who/what/why. Think of them as your comrades, not your competition.  


Avoid shunning support like most interns do

These guys can be fun to hang out with because they keep it a lot realer than most bankers who spout “lunch is for wimps” bullshit every hour of the day. Also, they can save your ass! I remember when my computer blew up and I was minutes from deadline and one of the tech dudes saved me despite having 5 other jobs on at same time (needless to say a few beers went his way that night). 

Or when one of the assistants helped me format a PowerPoint beautifully at 11pm so I could get home and pass out after 2 days straight (thank you Larissa!).

And even when the printer dude prioritized and pumped out copies of our mock pitch so we were on time to present to our MDs for an internal project during our freaking internship.  


Forget about the Board, no matter how powerful

What about the freaking Board?!  How do people you’ll never see effect your chances of a return offer? Well, because the Board will decide the recruiting budget for each part of the bank – how many analyst spots each group can offer.

Recruiting budgets are determined based on the importance of your group, with more spots going to the groups who make it rain, have persuasive MDs or have business backed up the pipeline. 

But since this final deciding factor is not within your control, let’s recognize it and forget about it.  


How do banks arrive at the hiring decision?


Initial review

A few weeks into your summer the emails will start flying between bankers requesting feedback on you.  Whether it’s one of the bankers or an investment banking HR rep coordinating the feedback doesn’t matter – this is the beginning of your “internship midterm review”.

Bankers may engage in a few coffees, feedback forums and other CIA-esque exchanges of information on the Assets during this time too.

This early vote of “yay or nay” can often seal your fate.  Unbelievable, but true!

Many disagree with this opinion of ours though.  And admittedly we’ve seen a handful of interns turn poor midterm reviews into full time offers, so we’ll stop just short of saying bankers always make their decision on you within the first 4 weeks.  


Midterm review interview

Following emails-calls-coffee amongst each other during the first 4-5 weeks of your investment banking internship, bankers will haul your ass into a midterm review interview – at most banks anyway.

Unlike the interviews you sat through to break into an internship, these ‘review interviews’ are two-way. The major advantage of this is you have the chance to ask the bankers what areas you can improve on.  Armed with this you can patch up any holes and put in a 10/10 second half.

Taking the initiative to ask for feedback is exactly how those interns with poor midterm reviews – we talked about just above – managed to get full time offers despite a poor start.  For more on this hugely important point of ‘feedback’ check out our free break into banking course.

But enough about your weaknesses, let’s look at the real goal of these midterm review interviews.

Apart from getting feedback, these interviews are really just like normal recruiting interviews; a chance to further sell yourself by delivering confident and articulate answers.  In fact, with a VP or MD sitting in (often along with HR) this is a unique opportunity to get face time with the ultimate decision makers.


What will bankers ask you during the midterm review interview?

Don’t be fooled by the following list of questions – bankers are going to ask a lot more than 4! 

But these are the 4 main questions they ask, and then based on your responses they’ll tee up a dozen or so follow up questions. Like we said above, this interview is much more free flowing and interactive than recruiting season interviews.

  • What tasks have you been performing?  This is where you want to talk about how you’ve spread comps, created company profiles, and worked on some aspect of a live deal!!  Revisit our tasks summer interns perform tutorial if you want to figure out which tasks to talk about and which to forget about.
  • Who have you done work for?  Although simply doing a roll call of names will do, it’s better to attach the examples of tasks you’ve done for each banker and maybe something personal, like how you’ve enjoyed working with them because of c, d and f, and that you have learned x, y and z from them.  But keep it as brief as possible for each person, and wait for the follow up questions.
  • What results have you achieved?  You’re no longer telling them about the work you’ve done.  Now you need to pinpoint specific tangible results and show the bankers why they matter.  If you recall our tutorial on how to write an investment banking internship resume you’ll rock this.
  • What do you think of your performance so far?  This one seems tricky, because you will want to avoid being arrogant, but at the same time you don’t want to talk yourself down.  In our opinion though it’s easy – if you know what we want to hear that is.  First up, you have to be 100% positive about your performance.  So open with how you think you’ve tackled the work well thanks to putting in the hours, learning from your mentors/training and thanks to your fascination with the work.  But then you have to immediately show the proof; ie your results achieved or feedback received from bankers (especially your analyst mentor).  Then throw in a great big humble (but not negative) ‘but’, and say how you have been seeking feedback from bankers throughout the internship and have realized 2 areas for improvement.  After mentioning the weaknesses (eg something unimportant or super technical like your efficiency with PowerPoint formatting), tell them what you’re doing to remedy the problem.  Boom, you’ve nailed it!  PS You should still expect follow up questions to come.


Some banks may require you to write your answers out prior to your interview and get one or two team members to sign off on it to verify tasks/results etc.  


When will bankers finally make the decision?

It varies from bank to bank, but as a general rule bankers should decide on who’s in and who’s out by the second last week of your internship – either just before or after conducting final review interviews with all the interns.

The decision will have been preceded by last minute conference calls between all the reviewers relevant to you and your group’s MD. If you’re a sorry-ass-snake-eyes-rolling-mofo like me, you’ll see the conference call taking place in a glass-walled meeting room 10 feet from your desk.  Funzos.

FYI. Seeing and hearing laughter on this type of call can be interpreted in two ways.  Mostly bad. 

Like let’s bolt the heck out of here before they fire my ass, bad.  Thankfully the laughter I saw turned out to be good; they must have been laughing about some savant intern 40 desks away, because my return offer followed shortly.  


Final review interview

Unlike the midterm review interview, which we covered above, these interviews don’t involve much selling.  And this makes sense right – I mean it’s pretty hard to turnaround a summer at this point and convince bankers to take you on when the past 10 weeks say otherwise. 

You’ve either got the return offer or not by this point. Instead it’s more a case of HR and the odd banker debriefing you and providing valuable feedback on your summer.

If you’re even slightly intuitive you should be able to discern by this point whether you have got the return offer or not.


When will you actually hear about the decision?

Don’t expect to be told of the decision until in the last week of your internship.  Or even on the last day of your internship if your bank does final-day reviews. And increasingly, you may have to wait until after your banking internship is finished!

Why the delay?

Banks simply don’t want rejected and disgruntled interns sitting around for more than 10 minutes, let alone 10 days.  I mean do you know how much confidential information can be lifted out of a bank in a week?

7 freaking backpacks worth, that’s how much!


BONUS: Download a free reporton how to crush you summer internship and earn the $100,000+ return offer, plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.