Diary of an Intern, Episode 4: A New Hope

12/12/13 3:00PM

Last week we had our last general meeting of the year – ending 2013 on a high note with a lovely lunch and good news across the board. I may be only a humble intern, but the staff here really treats me like part of the company family. As we wrapped up the year’s remaining business, I built up the courage to suggest we try using mail merge to more easily communicate with our clients. It took only a few seconds for my colleagues to respond, but I was petrified with anxiety; could an intern really be so bold as to suggest such a change? To my surprise, they actually liked the idea and commended me for suggesting it. That was a relief and felt quite empowering.

Just as the general meeting began to wind down, my supervisor invited us all to a company holiday party – a chance for all levels of staff to mingle and unwind over fine dinner and wine. Sharing alcohol with my supervisor? That practically sounds taboo, I thought. Plus, I would have to be mindful of what to say and how to behave so I don’t make a fool of myself in front of my colleagues.  Would I need a suit? How late should I stay? How would I handle personal questions thrown my way? These questions ran through my mind and caused no small amount of anxiety. Still, it is a unique experience to look forward to.

I am very excited for the holiday party and hope that everyone enjoys the holidays and has a great new year.

Happy Holidays from the SCDC

Baruch College’s Starr Career Development Center would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season and winter break. For the first time, Starrlights captures a few end of year wishes and reflections from the center’s staff on video.

Please remember to take advantage of the Starr Career Development Center’s services. See here for more details: http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/careers

Also, check back with Starrlights often for more exciting articles from fellow students and SCDC staff!

SCDC End of Year Reflections on YouTube
SCDC End of Year Reflections on YouTube

Career Corner: Make the most of your winter break

By Yahya Khan, Peers for Careers Correspondent

(As orginally published in the Ticker, http://ticker.baruchconnect.com/article/career-corner-make-the-most-of-your-winter-break/)

Baruch College’s winter break starts when finals end, and includes multiple holidays. Your ultimate goal should be to ensure the winter break is used in a productive and imaginative manner. For accounting majors, this is a time to gain some hands-on experience, in the form of an internship or part-time position.

January is considered a busy month for both audit and tax practices.  As a result, several large and regional accounting firms recruit winter interns. One of the benefits of interning during this time is securing the opportunity to be exposed to substantive work with real deadlines. In contrast, the summer season tends to be much slower. There are many opportunities posted in STARR Search, especially at small, local firms.

The Starr Career Development Center provides all student’ access to Focus 2.  This system includes personality assessments that can allow students to get a good sense of their core strengths and how they might fit into a prospective career. The On Campus Recruiting (OCR) Internship tutorial is another potentially helpful tool. It is a web-based tutorial —easily accessible through the SCDC website—which provides information about how to apply to and interact with employers during the internship recruiting process. Completing this quiz is a mandatory step for students who want to participate in internship OCR.

Although deadlines for the upcoming intersession have already passed, another opportunity that winter break grants is studying abroad. AIESEC, a global youth leadership development organization with chapters in over 150 countries and 30,000 universities offers a chance to intern abroad in a host of different countries and disciplines with a focus on personal development.

The Baruch chapter is hosting information sessions and is a good resource to learn more about these opportunities.

Apart from structured internships or study abroad tours, simply traveling to different countries and exploring different cultures can be a rewarding, relaxing use of the break. In conjunction with traveling, it could be helpful to use the time over break learning or brushing up on a foreign language.  In today’s world, where globalization is the norm and bilingual candidates the standard, it is important to demonstrate knowledge of or willingness to learn another language.

For those of you staying in or around New York City, SCDC will be open through the intersession and will provide its traditional resume and cover letter review along with mock interview and counseling services. This is a great time to attend workshops and focus on the career skills you need to navigate the job and internship search.

Many finance majors will use this time to prepare for the spring recruiting season.  Be advised many employers will be collecting resumes during the break and interviews will kick into high-gear once classes start. Thus, the winter break can be used to brush up on technical questions, internship applications and interview practice. A resource to use this is Vault, which can be accessed free of cost through STARR Search and has a wealth of information such as technical guides, popular interview questions and employment statistics for all major career paths.

Another great way to ensure that you spend your vacation in a productive manner is to volunteer your time and effort to improve local communities. Winter, and the holidays that fall within this period, often allow us to reflect on how blessed most of us are.

Volunteering gives us the opportunity to do some good in the world. Thus, the winter break is the perfect opportunity to give back to the community.

There are limitless volunteer opportunities for you to take advantage of, whether it be serving food at a soup kitchen or donating blood at a blood drive. Some organizations that offer great volunteer opportunities are the New York Blood Center, City Harvest, Meals on Wheels and New York Cares. An additional benefit of volunteering is that it rounds out a candidate’s profile and provides something meaningful and interesting to talk about in potential interviews.

Soon—almost too soon—the fall semester will be over. Whether your winter break is spent traveling, visiting family and friends, in the final throes of graduate school tests and applications, or even in the simple pleasure of reading that book trilogy everyone is talking about, it should be looked on as an opportunity to gear up for the year to come.

Finance Recruiting Step 4: Technical Skills

By Michael Jimney, Financial Leadership Program (FLP) Correspondent

Technical skills have a special place in every finance student’s head.  They are the core skills you develop once you land your dream job; yet, at the same time, students live in fear of having these skills tested in an interview.  The perceived difficulty associated with technical skills can dissuade students from various positions because they do not feel prepared to have their skills evaluated.  Thus, the purpose of this post is to demystify technical skills and to point you in the right direction when developing these skills.

Many students misuse the term “technical skills.”  Students tend to think of technical skills as a catch-all for any skill that involves numbers, formulas, or math.  When preparing for interviews last year, I read the largest technical skills guide I could find.  My strategy was to understand everything in the guide and then I would be ready for anything.  The mistake I made, along with many others, was presuming that technical skills meant the same thing across positions.  When evaluating which industries to initially target for an internship (see Step 1 HERE), one of the goals is to identify what an analyst, for example, does on a daily basis.  You can also get the scoop by asking a professional good questions about his or her role (see Step 2 HERE).  Now is the time to convert that knowledge from “Can I see myself doing this?” to “What do I need to know if I want to do this?”  Each position has a different set of technical skills required, so it is important to identify what they are.  For an investment banker, this includes understanding concepts related to valuation, financial statements, and the deal process.  For a trader, technical skills are more about understanding the markets, macroeconomics, and tools like Bloomberg.  Diving into a huge textbook of everything finance can be time consuming, confusing, and intimidating.  When you are trying to decide which skills to develop, be specific and clear about which role you are targeting.

Another thing to realize is that technical skills do not necessarily have to be quantitative.  Math and logic problems tend to be feared because they can be “tested” in an interview.  However, many of the skills you would not consider technical are actually very relevant.  I have found a few core skills that are a must for any job in finance, and none of them are based in mathematics.  They are:

  • Following the News/Markets
  • Reading and Summarization
  • Written and Verbal Communication
  • Attention to Detail
  • Problem-Solving

If you only do one thing to prepare for a technical interview, I recommend following the news and markets.  Doing so is the best way for students to learn about finance, end of story.  As I listed in Step 1 (HERE), there are many periodicals and news sites which are great resources.  By reading the news every morning, you will have a greater grasp of industry trends, the economic situation in the US and abroad, current deals, investing ideas, and topics to use when asking insightful questions.

Related to keeping up-to-date with the news is your ability to read.  Any analyst role you work in will require you to read a large amount of material.  Thus, keep an eye on how much you are actually retaining.  The more efficiently you can translate words into information which you can use or explain to others, the better you will be at your job.  Breaking down documents or news into a few key points is what separates a mediocre analyst from a great one.  For example, investment banking analysts are responsible for reviewing 10Ks.   If you cannot articulate why you are using certain numbers in your model or why a company made a certain decision, in either an email or conversation, no one will trust that you have done a good job.

Attention to detail is another prerequisite for any position in finance.  Because you will be dealing with money, everything you do needs to be precise and accurate.  Especially if you are in a client-facing role, a mistake in the details can have a negative effect on both your analysis and your reputation.

Finally, a more obscure but still technical skill is problem-solving.  This is your ability to break down a problem and identify the best way to resolve it.  This has nothing to do with how groundbreaking your solutions are, but how you actually identify what the problem is.  During your internship you will constantly be faced with tasks or materials that are completely new to you.  Your ability to problem solve will determine how you tackle these unknown challenges, almost like solving a puzzle.

While the above skills are required for any position, there are specific skills required for each role in finance.  For a position like trading or asset management, a lot of emphasis is put on understanding the market.  This includes giving a stock pitch and having a view of where the macro-economy is going.  Understanding how to analyze a security is also important, including using fundamental analysis (price to earnings, and other key ratios) or doing bond math.  Being able to do math quickly is also a must, so prepare to be able to do multiplication and division in your head.  I especially recommend knowing how to convert 1/8 into decimal form.

Equity research will require one to have some market understanding and security analysis, but it will also put a lot of emphasis on written communication skills.  This makes sense considering the main responsibility of the research analyst is to write a detailed report of their stock analysis.  Market risk positions also revolve around understanding the market but can be far more math-heavy.  Being able to speak about VaR, statistics, and probability is important.

Looking at the skills required for a position in investment banking or credit risk, you will find a very different set of requirements.  An understanding of accounting, specifically how to read financial statements, is an absolute must.  Knowing various valuation techniques is also important, so make sure you can build a DCF from scratch and understand what the inputs, including WACC, terminal value, and free cash flows, actually mean.  The different parts of the capital structure are also important to learn so you can accurately identify a how a company is funded.  The fork in the road is which communication skills are emphasized.  Credit risk analysts are required to submit reports of their findings, which means writing skills (while qualitative) are a technical skill.  Investment Bankers require more of a blend.  Verbal communication is important for interacting with clients, but written communication is just as important to produce the stacks of pitch books required from an analyst.

As you speak to professionals, you will gain a better idea of which skills are required for a particular group.  Once you identify which skills to focus on, it is helpful to use time-based objectives to ensure you are making progress.  Set up a series of checkpoints with specific goals you expect to reach by certain dates.  For example, I may have a goal to finish a book by December 1st and build my own VaR model by January 1st.  Please also note that you do not want to cram for an interview.  Yes, I understand it works for class, but interviewing is a different game.  Immediately following a test, your mind will purge the facts and definitions you crammed in.  When interviewing, you must presume there is always a second or even third round.  If you have Super Day a week after that first round interview, are you going to re-cram all that information?  What happens when you have an interview pop up with only 24 hours’ notice?  Memorized answers are too easy to forget and will be obvious to anyone interviewing you.  Committing to memory your walkthrough of a DCF will quickly break down if you miss a step, lose your place, or are asked to explain a specific part in more detail.  However, by actually taking the time to build a DCF, you will understand the steps through experience.  It will take time, but learning what each piece of information actually means gives it more permanence in your mind.  An interviewer’s job is to differentiate knowledge and problem-solving from memorization.

I am sure some of you are disappointed I did not just post a list of skills you must have for each position.  The truth is each job is unique in the skills required to be successful.  Many finance professionals will say “it isn’t rocket science.”  The reason for that is because factors beyond technical skills are also important to be successful on the job.  For example, the firm’s culture, its size, and the structure of the internship program will impact one’s ability to land that full-time job.  As a student, an intern, and even a first-year analyst, it is expected that you will be on a steep learning curve.  You don’t need to learn everything now.  Instead, estimate which are important skills to cultivate now but know this will be an ongoing process.  Once on the job, put yourself in your team members’ shoes and think about what skills they have developed.  Then, just as you did to prepare for interviews, create a new list of skills you want to target and set up your calendar goals.

The term “technical skills” can be scary if you think about it as an oral exam.  I prefer to think of them as tools in your toolbox, which you will need to demonstrate you know how to properly wield.  You cannot memorize how to swing a hammer; you must do it until you get it right.  Stay tuned!  I will discuss a few strategies to meet professionals in Step 5: Networking.