Racing to Grab an Internship
We’re a fortunate group, in a great many ways. Our class of about 450 has, before coming here, populated some of the best jobs people our age could aspire to, and upon leaving, we’re only going to improve our position. By and large, we’ve done satisfying work, perhaps even lucrative work, and to borrow an old cliché, the world may be our oyster still. However, no adage about shellfish could prepare us for the maelstrom that was our internship search. Despite being a group of highly proactive people, there was a pervasive sense of inadequacy of preparation for many of us, and looking back on the experience now from a better vantage point, I’m still trying to get a grasp on how all this unfolded.
September / October
I suppose the grandeur associated with working in finance carries with it the onus of starting the career search very early, but amid a flurry of exams and papers and presentations and club meetings, this connection didn’t seem quite so apparent when the first batch of Wall Street firms showed up in late September. In fact, for the very first time at school, I became conflicted, and realized that it’s only when time is in short supply that prioritization becomes essential. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but having a little time to do a lot of work seems to be the defining characteristic of a career in finance, so perhaps this was an appropriate vetting process. All the same, we went, we listened, we ate, and we conversed; for a lot of us, despite the certainty we had displayed in our career choices on our applications, we still needed more evidence to make a commitment, and these bankers were there to show us the ‘it’ that kept them coming back for so many years. By the time Week on Wall Street rolled around, we were ready to be professional interviewers for a few months.
Informational interviewing presented with it a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. Perhaps it was a question of defining the right balance. For someone interested in a career on Wall Street, informational interviewing entailed frequent travel to New York, but these jobs also counted a high GPA as a precondition, and achieving this without attending class proved to be an uphill battle for most. Maybe it was the altitude, but as we boarded our flights back to Durham, weary from days of racing up and down Manhattan’s avenues and enduring cancellations and rescheduling, there was an implicit sigh of relief that we were successfully demonstrating our interest and acumen. The posturing and the persistence, we knew, would pay off handsomely come December, but in the meantime, with stale peanuts and one free drink in hand, it was time to study corporate finance.
For many people, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a serene time; it is a time for family, for recollection, and for gratitude. For those of us pursuing finance careers, it is also a time of nail biting and last minute efforts, for it is also during this most festive month that close lists and finals converge for an imposing early winter storm. With interviews looming in early January, the post finals reprieve was very brief – a slew of technical questions and grillings awaited, and no one wanted to be caught off guard. And so, if you had to come by Fuqua during the wee hours of the morning during the break, there was still a good chance you’d find a friend there, anxiously preparing for an interview.
Months of dogged preparation came to a crescendo in early January, as a slew of banks and other financial entities descended on Durham to wine, dine, and whittle their list to a select few that would be invited to intern. A popular sentiment was that hiring decisions were more or less made by this point, that the informational interviewing process had distinguished the contenders from the pretenders, but even for the most persistent of us, this notion did little to allay our concerns. We went in, doing our best to effect a façade of total control and confidence, when many of us were really just trying not to faint during the interviews.
And Beyond …
Even as most Wall Streeters collectively celebrated their early victories, there was still a lingering uncertainty. It is said that the internship, what we’ve been so coveting for the last several months, is itself a 10-week interview for a full-time position, and so it seems, our work is still not complete. But, while there were some modest preparation efforts to be made, and GPAs to be maintained, the second semester would take on a decidedly different form than the first one: it would now be a time to enjoy being a student again.