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Remote Internships at Elite Boutique and Bulge Bracket Banks Explained
The COVID-19 crisis was an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, which had a dramatic impact on the daily lives of people all across the globe and the broader economy.
Employers and employees in the US were all forced to adapt to the new norm of “remote work” in early 2020 due to the lockdown measures imposed by the government – with MBA summer associate programs for investment banking certainly not being an exception.
While progress has been made on all fronts of the pandemic response and the ongoing deployment of the new vaccines, the reality of the situation is the initial optimism for the accelerated widespread vaccine availability in the US seems to have gradually faded away – and perhaps along with it, the chances of in-person internships in Summer 2021.
In This Article
Throughout this comprehensive guide, we delve into various topics including the latest updates on the status of investment banking internships, an explanation of how MBA Summer 2020 internships were coordinated, our predictions for Summer 2021 and its similarities / differences from the prior year, and specific internship advice pertinent to the remote work environment.
But before doing so, we would like to provide a quick, summarized rundown that entails the top five key trends to be aware of in 2021 and onward.
Top Five Key Trends
|1) Continuation of Work-from-Home (“WFH”)||
|2) M&A and Sales & Trading ➞ Leading the Return Back into the Office Workspace||
|3) Stringent Workplace Restrictions – Regulators Are the Decisionmakers with Precedent (NOT Employers)||
|4) Digitalization of Back-Office Functions and Automation||
|5) Virtual Recruiting Platforms – Increased Automation and AI-Enabled Capabilities to Move Beyond Usage as Initial Screening Tools||
Investment Banking Summer Internships have traditionally been around nine to twelve-week programs with ten weeks being the approximate duration of the “intensive period” of high workload, following the completion of the onboarding and initial training.
In the past, these internships were preceded by orientations and oftentimes guest speaker events and intern mixers.
On the flip side, to wrap up the internships: presentations of collaborative projects would be made to the investment bank’s senior bankers with final celebratory dinners before all the interns departed back home.
But due to the logistics of having to host virtual internships for the first time in 2020, most investment banks were forced to shorten their programs to somewhere between five and ten weeks.
For example, Evercore’s internship program was reduced to seven weeks, whereas JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Jefferies, and Goldman Sachs each lasted approximately five weeks.
Transition to Virtual Internships at Initial Breakout (Source: Financial Times)
For Summer 2020, due to various challenges such as the shortened timeframe and privacy concerns of working from home, most banks decided to replace their entire internship program with an education-oriented training program.
Instead of doing real investment banking work, interns at these banks worked on projects that taught them about the job of an investment banker, in a similar format as the case study assignments completed in business schools but with more strict time constraints and emphasis on mimicking real on-the-job tasks.
There are several potential reasons for these investment banks to have come to this resolution, but one of the main concerns during that specific period was the volatility in the capital markets during Spring 2020 and the dramatic plummet in M&A deal count and the number of IPOs.
By the end of Q2 2020, the market sentiment held substantial uncertainty due to the coronavirus outbreak growing exponentially as M&A volume plunged in Q1 and Q2, with the exception being sectors related to healthcare, industrial technology, and enterprise software.
Through H1 2020, the IPO and M&A landscape in the US was shaping out to be a disastrous year on par with the Great Recession Recovery Period as dealmaking had been brought to a halt.
But with public equities leading the recovery, the IPO and M&A market was eventually brought back in an extraordinary recovery throughout H2 2020 to end in-line with previous years:
North American M&A Activity Q2 2020 (Source: Pitchbook)
Another concern for investment banks was regarding the issue of confidentiality, in which firms were reluctant to have interns contribute to pitches, let alone participate in live deals.
In total, when you combine the uncertainty surrounding the M&A and IPO market as the virtual internships were being planned, the risk of financial underperformance, and the sheer amount of confidential data / material involved in the M&A Due Diligence Process, the pragmatic, logical decision for most investment banks were clearly to structure their internship programs around training.
Keep in mind, the shift towards remote work was not only an adjustment for interns but all employees within these investment banks. Under the circumstances, the decision of firms to not prioritize the training of their interns is understandable – although this meant less practical experience and minimal (or no) participation in live deals for interns.
While the types of projects provided to interns differed by each bank, some of the most common tasks included:
Depending on the specific individuals’ perspectives and goals, remote internships could be perceived as a positive or negative:
|Positives 👍||Negatives 👎|
Heading into the New Year, not a single elite boutique bank or bulge bracket bank had made a decisive choice on whether Summer 2021 internships would be virtual, remote, or a combination.
The hold-up and final decision appeared to have been contingent on the ongoing progress of the vaccine deployment in the US – which since the beginning of 2021, has not panned out as originally projected.
To get straight to the point, most Summer 2021 investment banking internships will be conducted remotely in all likelihood. However, this does not mean that all investment banks (or locations) will hold virtual internships, as there will certainly be exceptions.
The main determinant of whether internships will be held back in the office is the degree to how disrupted the workflow has been since the switch.
For the select firms that decide to hold internships in-person:
The concerns of returning to the office were further reinforced on February 16, when Dr. Fauci pushed back his timeline for widespread vaccine availability in the US to mid-late May 2021 after initially predicting late March to early April 2021 earlier in the year, and added further uncertainty into the discussion by mentioning it could even extend into the early fall.
Dr. Fauci Delays Timeline for Widespread Vaccine Availability in the US (Source: CNBC)
Based on even the most optimistic assumptions, there is not enough assurance that widespread vaccination within the US would be achieved before Summer 2021. Heading into this, many firms and companies were under the belief that vaccination targets would be achieved by early April at the latest, which would give companies around two full months before interns would join in-person.
However, these hopeful plans for in-person internships and the rapid deployment of the vaccine have been hampered by delays and now the confirmation by the NIAID Director, Dr. Fauci, may have been the final straw, as his statements validated the skepticism on the forecasts that the entire US population would be vaccinated around Spring 2021.
“It may take until June, July and August to finally get everybody vaccinated,” Fauci said. “So when you hear about how long it’s going to take to get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, I don’t think anybody disagrees that that’s going to be well to the end of the summer and we get into the early fall.”
Several of the top technology companies, most notably Facebook and Google, have already publicized that their summer internship programs would be virtual in 2021, and the consensus appears to expect EBs / BBs to soon follow suit with their announcements within the next few months.
From a risk management perspective, it seems doubtful for an investment bank would needlessly take on the liability of flying in interns from all across the country.
The limited benefit and upside of having interns come into the office for in-person internships are disproportionally offset by the potential downside.
The priority of most investment banks is bringing their deal team, required deal support members, and trading roles back into the office (rather than the training of future employees). To put this order in jeopardy by proceeding with in-person internships would be an unreasonable risk.
Coming as a surprise to many, Goldman Sachs unexpectedly announced that their 2021 internship would be held in-person – separating itself from the majority of other investment banks such as Morgan Stanley that intend to keep their internships virtual.
Goldman Sachs In-Office Internships (Source: Financial News)
In a recent conference, David Solomon, Goldman’s CEO, called work-from-home an “aberration” that needs to be corrected as soon as possible, adding that it was particularly concerning for entry-level roles.
The statement by Solomon has been receiving scrutiny as it seems to prioritize the training of new interns over the safety of their employees.
Goldman’s official decision is subject to change as the start date of internships approaches, or it can also switch back to virtual after the internship has begun if any potential issues arise (i.e., there is still much flexibility remaining).
Nevertheless, the statement is an interesting development that could potentially have a ripple effect and impact the decisions of other rival banks.
Following the decision by Goldman, JP Morgan has announced its internships will also be allowing interns to come into the office this summer.
JPM Announcement of Expectations of Return to Office (Source: New York Times)
According to people familiar with the matter, the offices holding in-person internships will be in New York and London. The groups expected to be returning are sales & trading and investment banking.
In terms of the other investment banks, most have announced their internships will be done remotely as of now, or not released any public statements.
Morgan Stanley Internships Expected to Start Remote (Source: Business Insider)
To begin this section on a positive note, most EBs / BBs have indicated they anticipate hiring most (if not all) their interns in 2021 similar to the year before. But this should not come as a surprise considering most of these top firms already had high retention rates (i.e., summer associate to full-time role conversions) in the first place due to securing the best talent at the top business schools.
As with the rest of the world, investment banks were caught off guard in 2020, leading to unstructured internships and an evident lack of preparation, with one of the few positives being the high retention (i.e., high return offers). Neither summer associate nor summer analyst internships were a priority for these investment banks and most banks were planning to give return offers to all of their interns barring any unforeseeable circumstances.
The internship length in 2021 will return closer to the traditional full-length duration, as opposed to lasting as short as five weeks. In effect, the amount of time the banks had to plan out the internship program and the longer-lasting internship can be interpreted in two opposite ways:
Given the increased amount of time to prepare and develop the program, the Summer 2021 internship experience should (and certainly will) be run better than Summer 2020.
Summer 2021 internships are anticipated to be training-oriented again – albeit, they will consist of more engaging, realistic exercises to simulate live M&A deal experience.
But the drawbacks and risks that caused the limitations in the first place such as the concerns surrounding client confidential data, software breaches, and an intern that the team has not yet met in-person nor proven themselves remain unchanged.
In effect, the disappointments of many Summer 2020 interns may not be addressed by most firms. To specify, many interns received barely any transactional experience and zero participation on live deals.
Similar to Summer 2020, tasks related to pitching will be handed off to interns. Examples of deal-related tasks include formatting pitchbooks, business development work (i.e., pulling and organizing contact details, gathering relevant information / data when putting together a reference sheet for the call), and light valuation work (e.g., trading comps, transaction comps).
So the internship program in 2021 should be an improvement by a large margin from the previous year. However, the improvements made to the internship program are going to be most evident in the training material, as opposed to increased responsibilities and live deal participation.
Note, as always there can be exceptions to a rule, as certain intern groups played very active roles in the group they were placed in. While the responsibilities given to them may not be significantly demanding and be relatively minor tasks, this ability to “virtually shadow” an analyst / associate during a live deal and help out as-needed was something many groups were not given the chance to do so.
In 2020, some firms were reluctant to make their analysts / associates be placed in charge of an inexperienced, unproven summer MBA associate while adjusting to the foreign remote work environment themselves. Amidst the transition period, many of them were consistently pulling all-nighters with weekly hours being on the very upper end of the typical range.
These would refer to product or industry groups specializing in areas benefiting from COVID-19 related tailwinds, which saw increased deal flow. Alternatively, banks with pent-up demand from when the deal count in H1 was effectively flat with weighed-down valuations. But now that period has passed (for certain firms) and there is a sense of normalization now, an increased amount of communication and opportunities for networking could be a possibility.
Many investment banks that received positive feedback were those that directly paired each intern with a specific analyst or associate. As a result, these “mentor / mentee” pairings might be seen across more investment banks. But many of these were mid-tier investment banks that had deal volume on the lower end, and their analysts / associates had more availability to dedicate more time to interacting with interns via video calls.
Therefore, the positive feedback was more related to interns receiving career advice, meeting the deal team on a personal level, and of course, the return offer.
Contradicting this possibility is the rumor that a few EBs / BBs will NOT be doing group placement in 2021 for their class of new interns. While not yet been confirmed, this would indirectly suggest 1) the interns should expect virtual training, not live deals, and 2) the main contact will be HR representatives and/or a group of employees specifically put in charge of leading the internship program (but not the deal team).
To restate the disclaimer, this is speculation heard from employees – again, confirming banks have not yet finalized their internship.
One of the main positive aspects of the training phase is getting the chance to meet and become close with the rest of your intern class over the duration of the internship.
A clearly stated focus of Summer 2021 internships will be giving summer associate classes more opportunities to build rapport and develop into a more collaborative team.
Some banks put interns into peer groups to go through the training and complete assignments together, but this was not standard across all EBs / BBs.
In a virtual environment, this peer group can serve as a great network and resource you can get help from throughout the internship – we highly recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity to interact with the other interns as much as you can as they potentially represent future co-workers (assuming full-time offers were received and placed in the same office).
Remember, these other interns are likely just as unsure of what to expect from the internship as you; hence, having access to peers that are undergoing the same experience as you to rely upon for support can be mutually beneficial for the entire group.
As a continuation of the prior section right above, the investment banks’ employees will for a fact, get to know you more on a personal level, as well as assess your ability to socialize with the rest of your intern class and leadership skills.
Whether it’s the deal team or HR that is judging you, your social skills will become more important during 2021 to assess the potential “fit” with the firm.
Realistically, bringing the same level of networking and social aspects of in-person investment banking to this virtual environment might be unattainable, but many investment banks have expressed their desire to introduce more enjoyable social activities for their intern classes for better bonding despite the distance barrier.
For example, many investment banks have expressed their plans to increase social engagement by hosting mixers, “Happy Hour” events, and scheduled video calls over lunch / dinner with more senior bankers – all arranged and conducted through virtual means.
“Traditional Wall Street internships are immersive affairs in which interns learn technical skills, forge bonds with peers, get hands-on experience and try to make a mark on senior executives who may some day hire them.
JPMorgan’s objective was to “replicate every piece of what an internship would involve” including social engagement, said a person familiar with the bank’s planning, adding: “We haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to deliver it.”
The bank, which hires about 3,000 interns globally every year and has pushed this year’s start date to July, plans to use technology including virtual mixers to immerse students.”
(Source: Financial Times)
This is an important consideration because sociability can oftentimes be a function of the environment. To list two quick examples:
Most MBA summer associates, if asked to provide a review on the internship experience, would provide a positive response. But this positive review can most likely be attributed to the fact that they received a return offer, above all else.
The more important question that an intern should be asked is: “After your MBA Summer 2021 Associate stint at [Investment Bank], do you truly feel adequately prepared to join the team and capable of contributing in a meaningful way in a short matter of time?”
Realistically, virtual internships cannot replicate in-person internships. An intern, whether a summer associate or summer analyst, does not receive the same opportunities to add value and prove their work ethic, attention-to-detail, and reliability to the deal team.
These are not only opportunities for an intern to earn the trust of the deal team, but also a chance for the intern to gain confidence in his/her abilities under real pressure in a live deal.
Instead of time constraints being the main source of pressure as with training exercises, the high-stakes of the deal where every detail matters and the pressure to earn the respect of the deal term are significant sources of pressure not replicated in virtual internships.
Even if return offers were received, the fact that many interns themselves have indicated they feel inadequately trained should be a point of concern that implies there’ll be a steep learning curve once their full-time job starts. These concerns were confirmed by private surveys conducted independently.
Many of these interns were not pushed to their true limits to confirm they can perform under high-pressure as well as withstand the physical toll of long hour weeks consistently without a noticeable reduction in performance or quality of output.
When the factors listed above are taken into consideration, there is a sizeable amount of risk for many of these investment banks and increased rates of employee attrition could be seen in the coming years. Note, investment banking is already an industry well-known for its high employee churn at the junior levels.
Now that our findings on what to expect during Summer 2021 Internships have been covered, we will move onto how Summer 2020 Internships were structured.
Before the actual internship began, most investment banks sent “care packages” to welcome the new class of interns. These packages would contain items such as:
Each bank also had its own set of policies in handling technology-related equipment such as:
As a side remark – to get work done efficiently, the importance of setting up a quality workstation cannot be emphasized enough.
The bare minimum should include items such as an external monitor, keyboard, and headset.
By this point, you probably have a workstation setup at home already, but make sure your workplace is up to the “investment banking standard” and optimal for productivity.
For example, a 21.5-inch monitor is probably not going to cut it when you have to go through a 30 column Excel model.
If possible, try to create a workspace where you can separate “work” and “personal life.” While certainly not necessary, it can be helpful mentally to have a clear-cut distinction to improve your ability to focus.
As another example, imagine working on a scattered desk within your dimly lighted messy room versus a clean table in your common living space area with a monitor on top where you can plug in your work laptop – and ask yourself: “Under which setting would I be more likely to be productive?”
At the start of the internship, banks normally offer a one-week (or longer) training session to welcome the interns to the program.
To see how M&A Deal Documents and deliverables such as pitchbooks vary across firms (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Qatalyst Partners), take a look through our article on M&A Investment Banking Pitchbooks.
Despite these tasks not feeling like “real work,” your performance during this training is being closely tracked.
Also, to ensure interns are proficient with these things before releasing them to the project teams, most banks give interns graded assignments throughout the training program to complete.
There might be very little “upside” to completing minor tasks properly, but mistakes in menial practice exercises can have very negative implications on others’ perception of your reliability and competence.
Put another way: “If you can’t do minor tasks correctly, how can you be trusted with more important projects where attention-to-detail is critical?”
As soon as you begin the internship program, banks will start to collect data points on you, which collectively impact your final summer evaluation.
Therefore, it is critical to approach the training exercises with the same degree of seriousness as the actual job and not only deliver high-quality work consistently but also in a professional manner (e.g., not be late for an 8am training session).
Neglecting the importance of these training exercises can end up being a costly mistake as these truly do matter over the long run. For the lack of effort, instead of the lack of technical knowledge or cultural fit, to be the basis for not receiving a return offer would be a regretful lapse in judgment that should NOT be seen at the MBA level.
Once you have completed your training and finally “hit the desk,” here comes the next challenge – getting staffed on projects.
Here, the biggest takeaway is to be proactive but not aggressive. Because M&A Activity in Investment Banking comes in waves and is unpredictable for the most part (even during pre-COVID times), it is common for bankers to be staffed on multiple projects at the same time.
To coordinate this staffing problem, there are staffers in each team whose job is to find junior bankers who have availabilities and staff them on new projects (and the same process goes for summer associate staffing).
Moving on, the question becomes: “So how should you approach indicating your interest in being selected to be staffed on a deal?”
Throughout your internship, always remember that quality is more important than quantity, so make sure you are not leaving negative data points to your intern evaluation.
After a few weeks, as you become more proficient in the work involved and can also better gauge your availability, you can then think about doing additional outreach to the teams that you are most interested in working with.
To reiterate, understand that being proactive and getting added to a live deal means you will be given responsibilities with real consequences (that you asked for on your own accord). But this potential to leave a positive impression on the deal team comes with risks that you need to take into consideration.
This is not meant to discourage you from taking the initiative to get staffed on deals, but to have enough self-awareness to ensure that you are actually capable of being helpful based on your skill-set and experience level. Otherwise, this could easily backfire and you can become a hindrance to the deal team.
Remember, the expectations for virtual interns are low and each interaction counts (especially the initial impression) – so how you are perceived while staffed on the deal carries significant weight.
Before asking to be staffed on deals, take measured risks (i.e., compare the upside vs. downside) and ensure are not “biting off more than you can chew.”
While the section up until this point has been based on a group where interns were actively getting staffed on deals, most firms were not giving many responsibilities to interns (especially not on live deals). In this case, you should be more proactive in expressing your interest in gaining transaction experience (or a live deal if possible), you should still avoid being pushy.
Staffing capacity can open up at any time – therefore, continue to work towards being the most qualified, as you never know which unexpected opportunities might present themselves.
For these banks, either:
Clearly, if it is the latter, it would be the best use of your time to focus on standing out more and showing your work ethic to “earn” the right to be staffed on a deal.
In addition, you must also directly ask to be staffed and ensure the team is aware of your desire to participate in a deal. Otherwise, they will not staff you on a deal, as they were not even made aware of your interest in the first place.
Taking the initiative at these banks is important to obtain the deal experience you desire, as it’ll certainly not be handed to you.
But this request needs to be backed up by your evaluations and training performance.
Ultimately, it comes down to your scoring, how positively (or negatively) the analysts / associates speak about you, and your general reputation within the firm.
One common misconception is that training exercises are just learning experiences for your own educational benefit throughout the entirety of the internship.
While this is not 100% completely wrong since the firm is training you for the job and wants you to be progressively learning more each week, the purpose of these training exercises shifts from being “education-oriented” during the initial onboarding training week(s) to “performance testing” to gauge how close you are in terms of being ready for the job (and to benchmark you against your peers).
Once the initial training has ended, your focus must shift to performing at the top of the class as each exercise is scored for benchmarking purposes and to determine if you’d be a viable full-time hire.
If a deal team is short-staffed and could use some additional help, “Who would the staffer bring onto the deal?”
The staffer might already have a sense for the few top interns that clearly stand out, but will refer to the performance benchmark to confirm their decision before bringing the intern onto the deal.
The fact that a few interns at a certain group got live deal experience does not mean that the entire intern class did too.
These “fortunate” interns chosen to work with the deal team in a live deal (or transactional work) are the ones that have proven through the training exercises that they can complete tasks properly with both accuracy and speed.
From the perspective of staffers, their priorities are the live deals and picking the most qualified interns to be staffed on the deal based on a subjective and objective assessment, as opposed to making sure all interns get their fair share of experiences.
While understanding the core concepts behind M&A can be grasped quickly, Accretion / Dilution Modeling can take time to be able to complete accurately at a fast pace. Considering COVID-19, there should be plenty of time to put in the effort to learn concepts beforehand through your own initiatives and have the foundational knowledge to build upon.
If you are not a fast learner or coming from a non-traditional background, it would clearly be in your best interests to take advantage of Financial Modeling Courses that will teach you all the required practical skills required on the job – in addition, make the extra effort to get along with your peer group and potentially find at least one individual with more experience that can be a reliable source of guidance when you are stuck or having trouble.
Enroll in The Premium Package: Learn Financial Statement Modeling, DCF, M&A, LBO and Comps. The same training program used at top investment banks.Enroll Today
Even if you have decent technical knowledge in finance and accounting, lacking modeling experience can set you back (figuratively and literally). Therefore, it is crucial that you come in with at least some level of Excel and PowerPoint familiarity.
Throughout the training, if you are inexperienced in modeling, you want to focus on learning proper implementation when building fully integrated, dynamic models. What you want to avoid at all costs is being the slowest, least efficient person within the intern class due to a lack of Excel / PowerPoint knowledge.
Memorizing the basic shortcuts at a bare minimum can free up a significant amount of time, which can then be spent on your weaker areas, the modeling of financial data with proper integrations (as opposed to the other way around).
To reiterate, as an intern you are certainly not expected to come in with perfect modeling skills. But if you desire more responsibilities and to stand out amongst your peers, it is necessary that you are a step ahead of them and prepared well ahead of time.
On the flip side of the matter, at the very least, stay on par with the rest of your intern class, understand the basics fundamentals, and avoid falling behind in terms of technical knowledge.
Let’s say that you are actually staffed on a project, immediately begin some form of preparation.
For example, reach out to the project team and ask to get on a call with the analyst or associate. If possible, ask for materials you can go through by yourself and make sure you can get the proper IT access as soon as possible.
These are easy wins to showcase your positive attitude and can make you more efficient when the team gives you specific pieces of work.
It is also important to make an effort to get to know your project team. Most project teams are comprised of:
As a side note, VPs and Senior Associates tend to be in-between the two categories; however, there is a very noteworthy pay gap at the VP vs. Senior Associate level despite the two being relatively close in terms of roles / responsibilities (i.e., this is the first of many “step-ups” in IB compensation).
As an intern, you will most likely have limited interaction with senior bankers and spend most of your time with the associates and analysts on your team, so winning junior bankers’ support is the key to the success of your internship.
To all summer MBA associates, be cognizant of how investment banking analysts are far more experienced than you, which means that they can be great resources to learn from.
Besides, they will also provide input to your summer internship evaluation, so it is equally important to work well with them and gain their support.
To work well with different bankers, be mindful of each banker’s working style and personality – then cater your interactions with them accordingly.
Oftentimes, there can be some internal conflict between analysts and MBA summer associates within firms, which typically coincides with the treatment of analysts as inferior to them in an Investment Bank’s Organizational Structure.
An analyst will rarely have disdain for an MBA associate without reason if treated with respect; thus, adopt the mindset that an analyst is someone from whom you can learn from.
Regardless of how prestigious the business school you come from or how high you scored on the GMAT – at the end of the day, the analyst has more real working experience than you however you look at it.
From the perspective of the analyst, it can be frustrating to be looked down upon by someone who has less experience.
Be mindful of this predisposition of many MBA interns from top business schools to act in a pretentious, condescending manner when you first interact with analysts and make it very clear how you do NOT fit that stereotype during your interview and the initial weeks of the internship.
If done correctly, these analysts will not only be helpful resources for you throughout the summer but vouch for you during your evaluations, as well as become good friends.
One of the most difficult aspects of working remotely is effective communication, and it is even more important for interns as they never get the chance to meet most people they are working with in-person.
To illustrate this point, let’s walk through a hypothetical scenario:
Here, as you can see in the illustrative graphic below, that one question from the MD trickled down three layers before arriving at your desk. Each Communication Layer incrementally adds more time to the flow of information within the deal team (and the “cycle” is completed).
To make matters worse, while you may think it’s only one question, there may be three other questions that are dependent on your answer.
For instance, once you respond to the associate and the associate relays your findings to the VP, the VP may have come up with more questions with regards to your answer due to areas of potential minor inconsistencies or contradictions with the other answers that the MD will likely point out.
In short, the burden of performing additional diligence to figure out logical, well-thought-out explanations for the discrepancies noted by the VP returns right back to you.
The ongoing delay for the MD to receive his/her requested answers to the ten questions is further prolonged until you (i.e., the “bottleneck” holding up the process) can respond with satisfactory diligence findings that are approved by both the Associate and then the VP.
To reiterate, one can clearly deduce that any unnecessarily delayed responses on your end will not be doing any favors for the rest of the deal team by any means. The workflow process in investment banking is already time-consuming (exacerbated by COVID) with areas of inefficiency due to the constant reiterations, prolonged diligence requests, and being staffed on multiple deals simultaneously.
Projects in banking can move very fast, making it crucial to respond as soon as possible. While this way of communicating has its inherent inefficiencies, these are out of your control.
As a summer intern, you should focus on what you can control and, in this case, respond to the email quickly to reduce the time lag.
Being direct and going straight to the point when writing emails goes hand-in-hand with being quick in responding. Clearly, writing longer emails is more time-consuming, but more importantly, when someone receives a long email, they will either:
Particularly in the virtual environment, being concise matters more. Having a reputation to be a fast responder makes you more reliable and more likely to be given a task.
Both of these results have an unfavorable impact on you as the recipient is left with the impression that you are incapable of communicating concisely.
In situations that lengthy explanations are required, at least outline the key message upfront and then have it followed by detailed explanations.
Alternatively, in a virtual environment where people cannot just walk over to someone’s desk, sometimes it may just make more sense to send people a message or give them a quick call.
Given that you are working from home and oftentimes juggling multiple projects at once, it can be difficult for managers to keep track of your status.
Therefore, it is always better to over-communicate. While sometimes you may feel things are getting too trivial, and you don’t want to spam others’ inboxes, over-communicating is still better than leaving the bankers guessing where you are at.
For example, each time you receive instructions on a task, always send a quick response to acknowledge receiving the message and even better with an estimated timeline of completion.
Many times, as you get more experience working with the team and gaining their trust, they may not need to hear from you as often, but it is always better to start with over-communicating.
Whenever you receive instructions, always make sure you understand exactly what needs to be done and if not, ask clarifying questions as soon as possible.
The last thing you want is to assume what your manager wants, spend hours working on it, only to find out it is different from what they had in mind.
Take advantage of the first week or two in order to ask questions and pay close attention, as this is the period when questions are welcomed and gladly answered for you to catch on and soon hit the ground running.
But do keep in mind that as you learn more about the firm-specific standard practices, conventions, and workflow, the number of questions and clarification on instructions should wane over time.
Often you hear about bankers becoming frustrated with interns precisely for the reason of them not asking questions when they needed to, which leads to regret about giving them the task in the first place.
A frequent misconception that many interns have is that asking questions makes them look incompetent. Fight that misconstrued belief and keep in mind that sometimes it may be the managers who are not making themselves clear.
Plus, asking thoughtful questions can even help them to think through the task because often the reason the task was unclear or left vague in the first place can be because they haven’t taken the time to truly think through what the final product would encompass.
As a general rule of thumb, the questions asked to bankers senior to your position should be specific to the project you are tasked with.
But on the other hand, understand that asking an analyst / associate a question that can be easily Googled, found in the intern training manual, or by reverse-engineering the firm’s practice financial models or deliverables provided during training shows a clear lack of effort.
If a question comes up and your workflow has resultingly come to a standstill:
This is yet another reason why it is critical for you to establish good relationships with the deal team early in the internship, and become comfortable with dropping by their desk to converse and ask a quick question (but since its the year 2021, this would involve giving them a brief text / email or call).
If a question can be answered in less than a few minutes by the banker, you should NOT be sitting at your desk unsure of what to do next as this is an inefficient waste of the firm’s time, as well as your own time.
Returning to the previous example when an MD has questions on a deck and one of them eventually got passed down to you ➞ always make sure to respond to your analyst / associate first, instead of replying directly to the VP or MD.
This not only adds a layer of review to your response, but also shows that the team is working well together, and the analyst / associate is keeping a pulse of everything going on.
Depending on the individual group’s culture, some groups in banking are still fairly hierarchical and if that is the case, you want to follow this hierarchy in your communication as well, especially if you are communicating with people outside of the project team (e.g., clients, senior bankers).
In contrast, if you help an analyst or associate impress a VP / MD, you can certainly bet that they’ll likely return the favor and speak very highly of you from that point onward.
In the worst-case scenario, a direct response to the VP or MD could be negatively interpreted by the analyst / associate as you attempting to go “over their head.”
Regardless of how much you might want to leave a positive impression on the senior bankers, the analyst / associate is the person you report to and the one responsible for the quality of your work (i.e., an error or mistake in the response puts your analyst / associate in an awkward spot, and will likely lead to some unpleasant conversations).
In the spirit of teamwork, keep in mind to always communicate as a team and make your team members look good in front of others.
If you are truly serious about impressing the upper-level senior bankers, concentrate on impressing the analyst / associate as consistent, high-quality work will undoubtedly flow upward.
Let the analyst / associate speak positively about your work ethic and quality of output on your behalf, rather than trying to impress the VP or MD by overstepping your boundaries.
When bankers are working under tight deadlines and high pressure from clients, the last thing they want is to deal with any individual personnel issues within the team.
As a matter of fact, a collaborative team is such an important factor that you will oftentimes hear people joining certain groups or banks because they jive well with the team there, even if they had the optionality or qualifications to join a larger, more prestigious banking group.
As a summer intern, the key to being a team player is to shift your focus away from your own self-interests (e.g., attempting to impress others, being concerned about your reputation, building out your resume further) to doing whatever you can to make the team better.
In simple terms, the incentives of the principals (MDs / VPs) diverge significantly from the summer associates, and even the analysts / associates. This can be attributed to the compensation structure in investment banking where no junior bankers own equity in the firm.
Just take a look at our recently updated Investment Banking Compensation article, where you can see the pay gaps (and differing incentives). At the MD / Partner Level, a substantial portion of their compensation comes in the form of a bonus that is dependent on how much deal flow they brought in for the firm.
This type of incentive is not found in investment banking until the MD / Partner level, yet even as an intern you must understand: the interests of the firm come before your own.
If you figuratively adopt the mindset that you are an “owner” (i.e., the “principal”, as opposed to the “agent”), it will show in your effort and it is only a matter of time before others begin to notice the amount of effort you are putting in for the firm (and the team) to perform well.
To get along well with the team and steadily become a more integral member, start with the menial tasks such as taking nicely-formatted notes from meetings, sending out calendar invites, and properly cleaning up the formatting on deliverables (e.g., aligning text boxes on an appendix slide).
While these little things may not be exhilarating for you, completing these tasks on behalf of more experienced bankers frees up their time, which they will certainly remember and these minor tasks progressively build up your reputation and trust from the deal team (leading to more responsibilities).
While you have probably done a fair bit of networking during recruiting and as you start the internship, one of the key rules to remind yourself of is: keep your connections warm.
This should go without saying, but warm connections are always better than cold ones, and you should rely on your existing connections to expand your network.
That being said, banks will generally offer you plenty of opportunities to make new connections within the bank, be it with senior bankers as mentors, junior bankers as buddies, or your fellow interns.
Even as you gradually settle into a routine; nevertheless, continue to network and remain active as doing so will pay dividends in the future.
This can be as simple as remaining in touch with your past co-workers and former bosses.
Or, it could involve cold-emailing employees at firms that you someday want to interview for. Many of these employees on the buy-side tend to be more receptive to requests to chat nowadays due to having more time available in their day-to-day schedule.
Plus, the employee probably expects career advice and a casual conversation because you are amidst working an internship at a reputable bank; whereas, the majority of “networking” emails in their inbox are inquiries asking to be hired.
Investment bankers often complain about the long hours and the face time culture in banking. The good news is, in a virtual environment, these things are a bit easier to manage.
Enjoy the flexibility that comes with virtual internships, but remember to be available and easy to reach at all times.
That being said, because of these flexibilities you are enjoying, it is even more important to always be “on-call” and responsive (i.e., avoid going “MIA” needed to be reached urgently).
Besides more challenging training programs, expect more nuances from the prior year such as check-up calls to be made to ensure you are truly are “on-call.”
In the case that a call is not picked up (or returned within a few minutes), this could clearly be marked down in your evaluation as a negative.
Try also to be more attentive to ensuring that your co-workers and deal team can give your cell a ring with the assurance that you’ll pick up.
If you and the rest of the team are experiencing a slow day, depending on the intensity and personalities of the deal team, you can be told to relax or to just take the rest of the day off.
In the first case, feel free to enjoy lunch with your family or grab coffee with friends. But as a courtesy, even if one of the bankers told you that you can relax, play it safe by letting the team know that you are going on a quick coffee or lunch break. And as always, remain alert and periodically check your phone.
This type of schedule is quite the contrast from the pre-COVID Typical Day in the Life of an M&A Analyst and many criticized how MBA Summer Associates in 2021 had too much time for “leisure activities” at home last year.
But one consideration is, a substantial portion of your time can be spent waiting at your desk (i.e., “face time”) reading the WSJ on a deliverable from the banker representing the opposing side of a transaction, comments from a senior banker reviewing your work, or a client sending over requested material. Piling on more repetitive practice training exercises on interns to reduce the downtime would be an irrational decision.
These calls to confirm you are at your workstation can come in the form of an abrupt video call request from an HR rep or a fire drill exercise emailed to you (and required to be completed soon).
To finish this part up, do not be caught off guard by the increased number of tests.
If you follow instructions and pay close attention to what is expected of you as an intern, none of these tests such as a check-in video call or a fire drill exercise should be a concern.
Under the shortened time frame, interns will inevitably have fewer opportunities to leave a positive impression on the team, which makes each interaction and task matter more.
Many firms were more lenient with giving return offers post-2020 summer. Citigroup, in particular, released a note that upon graduation, their interns would receive full-time job offers as long as certain minimum requirements were met.
Citigroup Preemptive Internship Offer (Source: Institutional Investor)
The 2020 full-time return offers from EBs and BBs were on the higher end with investment banks such as Moelis, PJT, Morgan Stanley, and BAML gave return offers at or near 100%, whereas firms such as Evercore, JPM, and Goldman Sachs were slightly lower and more consistent with their past return offer rates.
But this should come as no surprise since these firms pick the very top candidates from the leading business schools (i.e., low-risk hires).
As a side note, another consideration is that certain offers came with delayed start dates or in the case of Evercore, the optionality to delay the start date in return for compensation.
Evercore Junior Bankers Offered Delayed Start-Date Option (Source: Wall Street Journal)
In the case that you did not receive a return offer in 2020; quite frankly, you are in a very disadvantageous position and your best bet may be to recruit for a boutique to lower middle-market investment bank ideally through connections (and eventually lateral).
Even if the economic outlook improves in 2021 / 2022 and the COVID-19 vaccine does indeed lead to the full recovery of the global economy as forecasted by many economists, full-time recruiting for front-office roles in investment banking will remain close to non-existent for the time being.
Without a full-time offer secured, you will find yourself in an unfavorable situation to be in due to the limited number of openings firms will be interviewing for. Because of the high return offer rates given in 2020 with 2021 expected to be along the same lines, the odds will be stacked against you in the current job market.
Or, potentially consider a role in Equity Research if you have an interest in following the stock market and Sell-Side Research. Similar to choosing a bank with less prestige due to the cultural fit with the team, you have to be open-minded and figure out what it is that you truly enjoy.
This means, choose the career path where you can see yourself working on a long-term, sustainable basis, not the one where you dread waking up each morning (as this will inevitably lead to regret later down the road).
Furthermore, it can be very difficult to positively spin not receiving an offer from a virtual internship. The exception being if the bank you were at gave low return offers, but this will be public knowledge and most view the bar to receive a return offer in 2020 (and 2021) to have been set lower given the atypical circumstances.
While 2021 return offers are expected to be on the higher end, yet again, do not allow that to get in your head.
Nothing is for certain, but to return to an earlier point – focus on what is within your control, which is putting in your full effort.
Another factor to keep in the back of your mind is that one of the key reasons that return rates were so high in 2020 was because of the shorter duration of the internships. A five-week internship, no matter how you look at it, is insufficient to accurately judge a candidate and it would thus be unfair to not extend an offer.
But in 2021, the internship duration is anticipated to return to (or be near) the typical range of lasting around ten weeks. And coupled with more training prepared for interns and opportunities to accurately assess interns, there very well could be lower return rates in 2021 compared to 2020.
A countereffect of many banks giving higher than normal return offers is that 2022 (and potentially even 2023) may have smaller analyst / associate classes. However, this will be reliant on the bank’s deal flow and financial performance; meaning, the performance of the bank’s other business segments such as its Sales & Trading Division.
But for reasons that should not require further explanation, try to avoid finding yourself in this disadvantageous position in the first place by treating the virtual internship as seriously as if it were an in-person internship and ensuring each of the guidelines stated in this article are strictly abided by.
By the end of the internship, there should be no doubt in your mind that you gave it your best effort and have zero regrets regarding your Internship Preparation, how you approached each project given to you, and the manner in which you conducted yourself professionally.
Be mindful of the three of the main red flags that lead to not receiving a return offer:
Based on the examples listed above, you should be able to recognize why these types of behavioral flaws are unacceptable and are basic qualities that you need to have down by now, especially as an MBA student.
Furthermore, be understanding of the firm’s situation and never complain to any extent about the shortcomings of the internships (have some genuine gratitude internally and always have a positive attitude), and prepare in advance to prevent falling behind within the intern class.
Hence, the notion that return offers were given far easier than in the past, as most analysts / associates agree that these interns were not given a “fair shot” to prove themselves and are biased towards giving a return offer.
Many bankers also understand the state of the hiring market, and not giving a return offer after a sub-par, less-than-ideal virtual assessment could damage the candidacy of someone qualified that might have gotten along well within the firm if it had been an in-person internship.
To bring our guide on virtual internships to a conclusion, some of the key points to engrain in your mind have been listed below for convenient reference:
With Spring 2021 on the horizon, we hope this guide on navigating through the remote work environment was informative and cleared up some of the confusion on what to expect from virtual internships this year – especially for those that secured offers and are unsure of what type of projects and responsibilities to anticipate.
In closing, Summer 2021 will most likely be similar to last year in being training-oriented, but firms this time around will be more prepared in advance. If not, firms with internship programs starting out in-person will at the very least have a back-up plan ready in case of an unexpected turn of events.
So expect the internship programs to be more refined in terms of being structured, consisting of a diverse range of projects with greater depth to mimic the actual investment banking experience, and comparably a more well-rounded curriculum than the year before.
While the possibility of an in-person internship is not yet completely off the table, all of the prevalent data and information that impact the decisions seem to point towards virtual internships in 2021 for most firms.
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