Diary of a markets intern

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Week 10: A fizzle rather than a bang

It's amazing to think that this is the last week. It's been a great opportunity to share my experience with all you readers. Although I have not learned much this summer on my allocated desks, I have got to meet some great people and network my socks off with various MDs and SVPs.

Ultimately, we won't know our fate until some time in the next few weeks after we've left the bank. Most of us are trying to give it a final push, not necessarily work-wise, mainly socially. Formal and informal drinks and dinners have been arranged as we just try and soak up the investment banking experience before becoming students again.

My team seemed to be off with the fairies again this week. Most were sorting out remortgaging their homes, arranging further holidays and unofficially looking for other jobs. The tension was evident as various job cuts in the big houses were announced. It was quite sad to see grown men scurry around and back-stab colleagues to keep their jobs.

The trading floor was also manic all week. It really began to sink in that this little life I had been leading for 10 weeks was coming to an end. My internship has just solidified my drive and determination to work in investment banking. Hard work and being a sponge are the two primary skills required of an intern. Both are qualities that I know I have. After giving my final two presentations this week, I was encouraged to see that my nerves had dampened and my attention to detail had improved significantly.

Even if I don't receive a graduate offer, I don't actually think I will be as upset or disappointed as I I may have been at the beginning of the internship. I'm glad to be going back to student life and studying. You really learn to appreciate being a student, because working such ungodly hours and dedicating yourself to being a human computer and robot takes a great deal of courage and strength. I will definitely be enjoying my 'me time' before life as a banker changes me forever.

I've had a great summer sharing my internship with all you readers. Good luck everyone for the future.

Week 8 & 9: A waiting game

Well, another monotonous couple of weeks it has been. Everyone is watching their own backs as the markets start to tumble once again. The guys on my team are more involved in their computer screens than they are with directing any work my way or teaching me anything. Guess these are the symptoms of the credit crunch settling in for the autumn. Not much really that I can do, as business is slow and clients are few and far between. I've therefore taken the opportunity to mingle more on the trading floor and speak with people in different divisions to increase my understanding of the bank's securities and services aspects.

My team became thinner and thinner over the last few days: one went off to Turkey, the next to New York, another to Canada. It made me seriously consider if this internship was worthwhile. A holiday seems to be the only thing on my mind as well as most of the other interns'. We're drinking coffee more and more frequently, as large groups of us with hardly any work to do meet to swap travel stories and in some case holiday scars and secrets.

I would definitely say that the best thing about these last nine weeks has been meeting a whole host of new people from far and wide. The characters that have emerged have made it all the more enjoyable and it seems we ended up at one bar or another nearly every day after work.

It's great being able to experience this trivial world of banking with so many other like-minded people. A handful of interns have been knocked down to size over the last few weeks. It's great to see people for who they are, without their stereotypical personas attached to them. We have already arranged trips to each other's countries and universities (away from London) and, regardless of the graduate offer outcome, I know I have made some great friends for life. And if not that, I know my competition for the future!

Next week is our last week and a lot of us are worried that we won't receive a graduate offer. There are rumours that only 20% of us will be given a place. It is quite scary, but right now I'm not that worried if I don't get an offer. The market right now is very tough and not getting an offer doesn't mean any of us are not right for banking, it just means that the bar has been set unbelievably high.

I go into the final week of my internship with anticipation and trepidation, but more realistically with excitement, as I look forward to a much-needed holiday!

Weeks 6 & 7: Bored senseless away from the trading floor

My new rotation began 2 weeks ago and it was a shock to the system as the team are not based on the trading floor. Not much has really happened on the desk, and so that is why I have merged my diary this week. Sitting behind a Chinese wall, you are banned from engaging with the global markets floor, in case you breach any confidential information.

After some of the comments that I have received I thought I would talk a little more about the role of an intern. It's not glamorous and - let me be honest - sometimes it's not fun.

The 'challenging tasks' I was given this week included, editing a PowerPoint presentation (28 times) for the team; changing the colour scheme and font of a 50 page Excel spreadsheet; and doing some basic research on pension buyouts.

"Yawn" I hear you all collectively say. But there is always a lesson to be learned, even through such tedious and monotonous tasks. Approach them with the same enthusiasm as you would any of the more interesting tasks. If your team acknowledge that you do not complain or moan about getting stuck in and completing the work at the bottom of the pile (even with a fake smile on your face), you will have passed the initial test. Find questions to ask, no matter how stupid you may think they are. Show that you acknowledge why you are doing the task and how important that task is for the team. It will work in your favour.

As for intern politics, not much this week. After mid-term reviews, many of the toffs were put in their place and all of a sudden they are a lot more humble and a lot less idiotic. Guess it wasn't just us non top-tier university students who picked up on their attitudes! Anyway let's hope next week brings some more enthusiasm and interest for you readers. I too am bored senseless and am daydreaming of my days on the trading floor....

Week 5: The recognition comes...just as I leave

So, it was my last week on the desk this week and I was actually quite happy. I'd felt quite under-utilised and even after asking absolutely everyone on the desk for work to do, I had been left twiddling my thumbs.

On the Wednesday, however, someone from research finally said 'hello' to me (after 4 weeks of saying 'good morning' to them!) and asked me to complete some Excel work. The task was simple enough for me to do and within 10 minutes I had sent it back completed.

The research guy peeked up from behind his monitor and said: "That was quick! I'm going to send you some more stuff to do is that OK?" My under-used brain did a leap of delight. I spent the remaining part of the morning on Excel and overheard the guy who had assigned me work tell the MD in no uncertain words "Why didn't you give her [me] to us earlier, she's done all the work we've given her so quickly."

Hallelujah, I thought, I've finally got some recognition from somebody! Thursday was as busy as Wednesday, and I started ruing the fact that I'd finally got my teeth into something as the end of the week was approaching.

However, before I knew it, it was my last day and I began counting the hours until the weekend. Like most of the other interns, I used the day to walk around and speak to people on the floor that I hadn't had a chance to over the last few weeks. For the first time I took lunch away from the desk and started to consider if banking really was for me.

Maybe it was the desk that I was on, but considering all the hype that surrounds investment banking, it's all a bit anti-climactic. Unless you are a VP at a minimum, there is a lot of monkey work to do and no where near as much learning as I thought.

Obviously, I'm not naïve about the intern's role in the scheme of things, thinking that I would be adding a lot of value, but I thought at least I would be doing something more than being an observer. I am usually the first out there waving the flag for the industry, but over the last few weeks it has become evident that it is very fickle and, in the current market, people couldn't care less about anyone else.

This week there has not been a lot of smut (re: Overgraduate, Derivatives) although odds are continuously being taken on how likely those interns who have asked stupid questions are to get full time offers.

This week in a panel discussion, the stupid questions were met with "Oh not again!" and "Ergh, what will it be this time?" from the rest of us. These specific interns have come through SEO London which in some ways can actually explain a lot. Now let me clarify, I don't think all SEO candidates got in because they tick the ethnicity box (and no I'm hardly being racist as I am an ethnic minority and decided not to take this route), but these group of students seem to have.

SEO teaches students to ask questions and show interest, but by being loud and being the first to ask (unrelated and inappropriate) questions they are not showing much intelligence. It means that they must think that leveraging their presence will get them noticed by the higher echelons of the bank, and obviously this is silly. It is more likely that the more humble interns will receive better reviews and won't rub too many people up the wrong way.

So as the week finished, I was looking forward to some relaxation and the warm weather. Next week is the start of my new rotation. Hopefully, it will be far more fulfilling than this!

Week 4: Be warned, some traders are very (very) immature and really have no shame.

Bonjour, Hola, Yah-sou, Namaste...Hello! Well, as you can tell, I've gone a bit barmy this week, but there is meaning to my madness. My week began with the best of news...I have graduated with First Class Honours! Yippee! Most of my colleagues didn't blink when I screamed with hysterics as I found out my grade. But again, this is a trading floor and they are all used to some noise or another. My elation seemed to be the driving force for my very slow (at a snail's pace, honestly) week.

My workload seemed to dwindle this week and therefore I filled my time by networking and finding out what different desks on my floor do. I felt bad that I was away from my desk a lot, but what else could I have done - sit there like a lemon?

Building up a network of contacts seemed to be a good idea as a way of getting my presence known across the floor as well as getting a more rounded view of the bank. I found this 'task' fairly daunting at first, but gained greater confidence after the third meeting I set up.

The trick is to ensure that you utilise the bank's intranet and read up a little about the area, so you don't look like you are completely out of your depth when you meet the relevant contact. Also, have a blanket set of questions to ask, which can be utilised at all the meetings. This could include: "Are there any reports/presentations that you could send me which would give me a more in-depth understanding of how your business unit operates?"

After a few meetings with analysts and associates, I decided to bite the bullet and go straight to the top, to the MD level. It was great to have exposure to a level which is thought of as 'forbidden' to interns, and clearly demonstrates to me the flat structure that exists at the bank.

My patience with the 'top-tier' university interns was variably flexed this week and I did snap at one point, asking loudly, "Don't you go to (top-tier university), shouldn't you know how to do this?" (referring to the use of a simple Excel function). The guy's desk seemed to find my criticism quite funny, as they roared with laughter and he sat there thoroughly embarrassed.

I am not usually that mean, but after at least 10 similar questions and no inclination to use the Help function or the Internet, I was left with no choice. Again, interns, I can't stress enough how important preparation is. Although I have my own concerns with SEO London, I believe that their Excel training pre-internship is a good idea, and if you haven't used the program before, make sure that you teach yourself, so that your desk can fully utilise you.

The traders linked to my desk, or the 'Boys Club', as I like to call them, were up to a lot of their usual shenanigans all week. Be warned, some traders are very (very) immature and really have no shame. It has been a week of extremely bad Ali G and Borat impersonations and dancing around like monkeys (yes, literally scratching their heads and making monkey sounds).

Also, some words of warning: ladies, don't forget that this is a male-dominated environment and however much banks try and avoid such vulgarity, some men will be men. Do not come to the trading floor with the buttons on your shirt 'accidentally undone', and laugh at everything remotely funny the traders say. The traders will only comment on how "training you" would be worthwhile, and you will leave with less respect than you started with.

And guys, acting like a jock and trying to 'work the crowd' with a brash, conceited approach may get you in with the junior traders, but believe me, to the SVPs and MDs you will be the intern who they are "too busy" to talk to, or their next coffee runner boy!

Be humble, especially you top-tier university students. The great MDs don't care a toot that you are from Oxbridge or LSE. If you can't decipher the difference between high yield and high grade or don't take the time to listen and the initiative to ask meaningful, relevant questions, you will be completely overlooked.

Well guys, this is it for this week. Next week is my last week on my current desk before my rotation. Until then.....

Week 3: Some of the toffs insisted on stab-proof vests.

Well, well, readers, week three and counting. Last week, the "sh*t hit the fan" as the traders on my desk love to blurt out during every single conference call! And how have I been? Well, I have officially become a cynic.

What a week to be an intern! Towards the end of the week, the US treasury secretary Henry Paulson decided to inform the markets that banks should be "allowed to fail". What an idiot! Did he not realise how much trouble he would be causing in the markets? The 'Bear Sterns Effect' came into full swing, and the second he uttered those words, all the traders on my floor were up in arms throwing stress balls at the screens, and phones at each other. Then those hefty twin mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, plunged to levels not seen since the early 1990s. Goodbye yachts, Bentleys and trips to Monaco, hello my old buddy Recession!

The week began slowly, with me helping out other interns rather than doing anything mentally stimulating. I was quite amused though at how utterly dense some of the interns from the 'top-tier' universities are.

It baffles me how people can start an internship without doing any preparation at all. I mean if you have never seen Excel or PowerPoint before, at least use the Help function and find out how to insert a formula or edit a slide. The same interns who walk around with their noses in the air, wearing their pinstripe suits and coiffure haircuts were the same interns who didn't know the difference between a bond yield and a bond coupon! Some advice, potential interns: use Google or Wikipedia before asking the VP on the desk, unless you want to be made the butt of the jokes at Thursday drinks.

I was getting to the point where I was so exasperated that my aggressive streak was beginning to rear its ugly head. I began to daydream of ways to impress the other interns' desk heads, by flaunting my financial knowledge and IT skills whilst inadvertently showing up their interns.

I was later engrossed in reading academic papers, to cure my boredom, when I heard someone scream, "Do you want to be pregnant?" I jolted from behind my desk and as I began to wipe off the coffee I had just spluttered out in shock on my beloved four screens I couldn't help but be intrigued by the conversation that was taking place between two traders.

I quickly remembered my encyclopaedia entry from last week and realised they were talking about holding such large positions that they were slightly uncomfortable, hence the association with being pregnant. They had also latched on to some American phrases such as "Let's get more colour on this," and "Let's ensure that the baby gets thrown out of the bathwater."

"Call social services," I hear you cry, but don't worry, they were just talking about getting more information on a security and getting rid of a position because the market was very dangerous.

The week finished with a charitable event working with schoolchildren from an deprived area of London. It was a great opportunity to feel like you were really contributing to something greater in the community. Nevertheless, some of the 'toffs' thought that it would be smart and funny to voice their shallow and ill thought out opinions with HR, by insisting they be provided with stab-proof vests before working with the four to 10 year-old children! Again, where do they find these people? I guess Oxbridge and LSE don't teach the arts of tact and non-stupidity!

Well, readers, let's hope next week brings more tales and more learning. Until then.

Week 2: Paper pushing and caffeine.

At the beginning of this week I began to liaise heavily with the trading desk, and what started as a stint in research ended up as an introduction to trading. It was another team of faces and names to remember, but thanks to a colossal amount of coffee I was stimulated and alert to all the market turmoil of the week.

As a woman on the desk I was slightly intimidated at first, particularly with the swearing and brash comments from the traders, as brokers and clients began to 'pull a fast one' on them. But after about two minutes, I brushed it off and worried more about deciphering 'trader code'- a mix of financial terminology and, for want of any other word, gibberish. Frantically noting the alien terminology down into my online wiki-buddy, I began to collate a mini encyclopaedia for reference.

Like most other interns, I've been given some paper pushing. This includes data entry and completing work for the sales team that they "don't have time to do". I don't feel like my brain is being utilised much so I'm making the effort to hang around the team, sit with them and ask for reports and further information about the desk so that I can learn as much as I can. I'm waiting for a project to do so have been asking my MD if he needs help with anything; at least he knows I'm keen!

I have been assigned a buddy, who's a graduate analyst and has been very useful in helping me to transition into the firm. He verifies that proactiveness is the key, and as mundane as some tasks may be, doing them well and putting the effort in will help me receive a good evaluation.

The most enjoyable aspect of the internship so far seems to be the people. Most of the interns are very friendly. Of course, you have a minority of rude and arrogant students who are, in fact, more vacuous than anything else! The firm encourages a lot of socialising and this week we had another networking event - which I am convinced was a cover for testing our social skills. The people here are all very hardworking and at times the floor is so quiet that you forget you are in the front office.

The week finished as it began and by 7pm I was the last to leave the desk and was looking forward to spending some time away from my four screens. I never really understood how precious my weekends were as a student but now I revel in those two days of freedom to shop, socialise, and sleep!

Week 1: No question is stupid.

My first week began with a very civilised 10am start and an orientation day to get us all up to speed on the various departments in the business. There was a lot of information to take in but it was generally very useful to prepare students, particularly those from non-finance backgrounds.

The panel of analysts proved enlightening, with their albeit daunting take on capital market hours and the steep learning curve that would ensue. At the end of each talk, a select group of students seemed to be asking all the questions just for the sake of it. After multiple long-winded introductions before each question, the audience started taking bets on which irrelevant question would be asked next!

Lunch at the Wharf was slightly intimidating. That doe-eyed look set apart the interns from the bankers, and we could be spotted a mile away. The afternoon involved more talks, including an overview of the portfolio management task that we were all going to complete in pre-allocated groups. And then after a tour of the building we were free to leave.

Most of us headed straight for the proverbial thirst quencher: a beer! Talking to others, it was evident that there's going to be a lot of competition over securing the holy grail of a graduate position. You can see the cogs working as you speak to people and strategies evolving in their eyes. This isn't going to be an easy ride!

Tuesday began with a 6.30am start, which was a shock to the system. It quickly became clear that my new best friend would be the coffee bar a few 100 metres away. Some interns on other desks were lucky enough to start at 8am, which I never thought I'd see as a 'late start'!

The rest of the week involved lots of reading on the product area and getting versed up on finance, while trying to concentrate amidst the buzz of the trading floor. Everyone seemed to be very understanding and we were told on numerous occasions that "no question was stupid".

There was also a lot of mingling, meeting mentors and buddies and just sitting in on desks to watch sales and traders and get a feel of the markets. The bank was very hospitable and we were taken to dinner one evening in order to network and get to know all the others in the intern class. The bank explicitly outlined from the beginning that having a social balance was important and this was refreshing to experience.

By the end of the week the hours were taking their toll on most of us and we were all looking forward to catching up on our sleep. I left the office at 7pm and was planning plenty of rest before next week!

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