You’re nearing the end of your internship, you’ve worked hard and expect to receive a full-time offer. There’s just one problem. For whatever reason, the bank didn’t win you over. You think you’d rather work somewhere else. What do you do next?
Admittedly, earning an offer at a bank at which you didn’t intern is a tougher road to hoe. If you’re smart and capable, it’s much easier to show off your skill set through 10 weeks of actual work than in a couple of interviews. Goldman Sachs told us earlier this year that if they can fill 100% of their hiring needs from their summer internship program, they will. So the number of full-time seats available will surely be limited.
When you shouldn’t say ‘no’
All things considered, it’s best to take plenty of time to think over whether it’s in your best interest to turn down a potential offer in the hopes of landing at another firm.
“In your first job, the most important thing is to gain experience, skills and knowledge,” says Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company. “If Bank X provides that opportunity, maybe you should reconsider staying.”
This is especially true in investment banking, where juniors often use the job as a platform to launch to a different career path after two or three years, once they’ve broadened their skills.
Think especially hard if you’re interning at a tier-one bank and may need to move to a second-tier player, Crowley added. And if money is all you’re after, “stay put,” she said. “Put your head down, learn as much as you can and make yourself valuable. The money will come.”
When ‘no’ is advisable
But all that said, there are legitimate reasons to look elsewhere, even with an offer on the table. The bank may have had layoffs within the upper levels of the group, your boss could have been let go or you just weren’t impressed with the unit, said Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
Or you may have access to better opportunities. Buy-side firms don’t offer many internships, for example, but they will hire some juniors with investment banking experience. The only problem there – and a legitimate one – is that investment banks and hedge funds tend to hire on different cycles, so you’re taking a risk.
But in situations where you can improve upon your situation, feel free, said Cohen, who points out that offers get pulled all the time. “It’s a two-way street.”
“If you get an offer and you have some room to make decision, you should be talking to other firms, unless you love every moment of your experience,” he said.
The problem here, Cohen readily admits, is the manner in which some investment banking offers are delivered. The “exploding deadline,” where banks purposefully give interns a tight window to respond, can limit any time spent shopping an offer. Know your window before making any decisions.
How to do it
If at the end of the day, after thinking long and hard about your career arc, turning down a full-time offer to become a free agent may be the best option. While it’s certainly a tougher climb, it’s not impossible.
While Goldman has a goal of all their interns becoming full-time employees, they do still hire outside of the program. A Goldman spokesperson told us the firm “doesn't hold any bias toward those who interned elsewhere and will consider them on their own merits.” Other banks didn’t respond to requests for comment on how they assess interns from other banks.
Still, you’ll need to work harder – and more strategic. If you have a good relationship with your internship manager, ask him or her for a reference, said Crowley. If not, don’t.
On your resume, highlight your internship but don’t bother explaining that you did or did not receive an offer, said Cohen. “It will look like you are either showing off or bringing up an issue that could cause confusion.” But be prepared to discuss your internship and why it didn’t work out at length.
Stay positive and never badmouth the bank where you interned, Crowley added. It doesn’t reflect well on you, even if it’s true.” Then, like in any other situation, network, network, network, she said.
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