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What if you don't get a return offer after your summer internship?

It’s the last week of your Investment Banking internship. After a crazy summer, you are slowly packing your personal belongings together. You are preparing for your final review with your Managing Directors or VPs. And then, you are hit:

“We really appreciate your effort and everything you did for us over the summer. After careful consideration, we have decided not to give you a full-time offer at this point.

Now, don’t take this personally. This is not a judgment of your skills. We are already fully staffed for this year. Best of luck with your efforts to find a position.”

Your heart sinks. All the tears and sweat for this? What could have gone wrong? Was there something you could’ve done better? Or was it not your fault at all? Your frustration is understandable. You’ve been working extremely hard the entire summer and now you have nothing to show for it.

Here is a dirty secret: your internship was an extended job interview. The bank gets to test drive you for 3 to 6 months. This gives the bank an excellent picture of how well you would fit into the company. A full internship will reveal all of your strengths and weaknesses – better than any superday or case study. After the summer, the bank gets to choose who receives an offer.

All Investment Banks prefer to hire full-time Analysts from their former pool of interns. It’s almost like you have to have an M&A internship to get hired.

The worst thing in recruiting is that a new hire quits after 6 months for whatever reason. The firm has spent all the money to recruit, pay and train that person, who is now leaving just like that. That’s why Investment Banks are so conservative when extending offers.

Why banks don’t give interns return offers

Ok, Investment Banks hire conservatively. But why didn’t you get your return offer?

There are multiple reasons why someone would not receive an offer. Some you can control, some you can’t.

For example, did deal activity fall dramatically and hiring activities stopped or are they already completed for the year?

Did you screw up by constantly arguing with your Analysts and Associates or by making politically incorrect comments?

Did you have too many typos and careless errors in your work? Do you need to be more proactive?

You need to figure out why you didn’t get the return offer. And be honest with yourself. It’s ok to make a mistake once. Just make sure it does not happen again. If you repeat the same mistakes during your next internship, it might kill your chances of landing an offer with that bank as well.

Here are a couple of suggestions you can consider whether they apply to you:

Bad luck / no seat left for you

Investment Banks, especially boutiques, only hire so many full-time Analysts each year. Meaning the slots are limited. Maybe the bank does not have enough business to support an additional full-time Analyst. Maybe they just hired a new full-time Analyst, either from their pool of interns or a lateral hire.

You may have been a suitable candidate and the team may even like you. But the bank has already hired somebody else to fill that position and hiring activities are closed for the year. You are just out of luck.

In that case, there is not much you can do. All the chairs are taken. It’s best to add the experience to your CV and move on. You can try and keep in touch with them next year. There is a lot of randomness in recruiting.

Soft skills – You need to work on your attitude

Maybe you did not get along with your Analysts and Associates. Maybe you “knew you were right”, had “better ideas” and were one or two times too combative. If that’s the case and they even tell you during your final feedback, you need to work on your attitude.

Let’s go from the worst to the least bad behavioral errors:

Displaying arrogance and being overly combative. Yes, you just came from university and are eager to apply your knowledge and “make an impact”. Yes, you may also be top of the class with flying grades and have just won multiple offers. But you DO NOT know it all. Humility goes a long way.

Whether it’s within your team or even more importantly, in front of your client, always be humble, willing to learn and never attack the client or other team members. As an Intern, you don’t know how this industry works. Your Analyst has been doing his stuff for 1-2 years full-time. Your Associate for 2-5 years. You are not going to tell them anything new. In other words, you are not the smartest person in the room.

You are not there to show how smart you are and to prove everyone wrong (implicitly telling they are stupid). Your bank is there to help the client with their problems. They pay the bank and that’s why you have a job. You are supposed to help your client do what they think is right, not what you “feel” is correct. So, focus on their needs, not yours. That’s what being a professional is about. You solve other people’s problems without judging them.

If you are unaware of your attitude because nobody told you in your face, you may get “mysteriously” dinged in your final review. You are just let go without even knowing what happened. You may get a slight hint, but if you are still combative, no one will care about you. So, be honest to yourself. When in doubt, always veer to the cooperative and non-combative side.

Complaining or having a bad attitude. Don’t act like something is beneath you. Everyone is doing grunt work. The VP checks the Associate’s work. The Associate checks the Analyst’s work and the Analyst checks the Intern’s work. Yes, as an Intern, you will be tasked with boring items like printing and binding as well as ordering late-night food. Yes, we understand that you can do more. But you will not get any sympathy with complaining. We all started out like that.

If you don’t help with the mundane tasks, you will have a disgruntled Analyst who stays longer and does it instead. On the other hand, you want to work on interesting stuff with your Analyst but are unwilling to help him out with the grunt work. Guess who will not be voting for your full-time offer.

On that note, complaining in a professional environment is never a good idea. You never know who will throw you under the bus for some meaningless comment. This is also part of being professional. Learn to hold your emotions. Everyone gets bombarded with 100 emails and an endless stream of Slack messages while your phone is ringing. Everyone gets unhappy and complains at times. It is your job to learn to hold your emotions better than your peers. Always respond in a political and happy way – even with zero hours of sleep. Keep a smile on your face and always be happy to help. This will get you way further. If you have to complain and vent, do it to someone completely unrelated to your job.

Displaying low drive or being disengaged. In the eyes of your higher-ups, you are young, inexperienced and you should be happy to be in this environment to learn. This is exactly what you should convey. Always be happy to help. You don’t have to go overboard with your enthusiasm, but you should project a baseline of being engaged and excited to be at the bank.

On the other hand, if you are too passive and disengaged, people might ask themselves whether you want to be there. You did nothing wrong. No mistakes were made. It’s just that you don’t convey a lot of enthusiasm to what you are doing. This becomes a problem if your higher-ups expect you to ooze excitement for your job. If you are not the happy-go-lucky type and tend to be an introvert, the quality of your work needs to speak for itself.

Again, you did nothing wrong. This is more of a soft reason to let you go and only if the bank has better candidates. It’s not about how good YOU are. It’s more about how good you are and how well you fit in COMPARED to other interns.

These are the reasons how a lack of soft skills might contribute to you not getting a return offer. Now, if you are not that enthusiastic all the time because of the work hours, that might not be your deal killer. But if you exhibit extreme behaviors of being combative or complaining, you might want to work a bit on your soft skills. Nobody wants to work with a disgruntled Analyst 16 hours a day.

Hard skills – Your performance was not on par

The last reason for not getting an offer may be that your performance was not good enough. That does not mean that you are not smart enough or not capable enough for the job. It just means that the perception of your performance was not good enough for a return offer. The main reasons here are making too many careless errors and not being proactive enough – both can be fixed with more effort.

Most Interns are let go because of hard skills. For the bank to extend an offer to an Intern, they usually need to perform just like a full-time Analyst. You typically have more wiggle room for soft skills for junior roles, but your hard skills need to be on point. Your primary job as an Analyst is to churn out error-free and client-ready documents.

Attention to detail and making repeated careless errors. Here, we are talking about typos, formatting errors, wrong names, currencies and denomination of numbers in your PowerPoint and Excel output. You do it once and we have a good laugh. Everyone starts somewhere. However, if you keep repeating the same careless errors, this might kill your return offer. How can we trust you with more important items if you can’t get the simple items consistently right?

If you forget to update from USD thousands to EUR millions, you and the bank will look bad. If you forget to update company names and the name of the CEO, the entire bank will appear unprofessional and might lose that client for good. That company is looking for an M&A adviser for a multimillion-dollar transaction. And you can’t even get the basics right. How can you be entrusted with more important matters?

It is easy to make mistakes and forget to switch out a company name, currencies or wrongly linked numbers. That’s why attention to detail is so important. You should be treating your first draft as your final draft. This should be your highest level of work product.

There is no way around checking your work multiple times after you think you are done. Print out your work, take a marker and mark down any comments you have completed. Mark down the paragraph and slides you’ve already checked. This is how you efficiently check your work and track your progress without re-reading everything again.

Next, take notes of all of your observations. Have one master Word file where you drop all of your observations and feedback. That’s how you keep track of your most common errors. This is the place where you come back to. After some time, you will know what to pay attention to. Put it all in a checklist to not forget anything important.

Not being proactive enough and not displaying task ownership. Once you have a strong grip on your work quality and consistently submit error-free work, it is time to step up your game. You want to position yourself as an autonomous operator. You do so by taking ownership of your tasks.

If you have touched an item, you are responsible for it. “But the template was set up like that” is not a good excuse. “But the Intern did it” is likewise a bad excuse for full-timers. You touched it; you are responsible for it. So, do everything to make the deck client-ready. Iron out any kinks and careless errors – without being told to do so.

That brings us to the next point. You prepare items ahead of time without being told to do so. Think 1-2 turns ahead of the item you are working on. That’s how you save your team time. Don’t just wait until you are told to do so. Anticipate the work that will be handed down to you. This is how you position yourself to assume more responsibility when the time is right. Suddenly, your Associate is tied up in more important tasks and you are left with drafting an entire presentation vs. just a few slides. And suddenly, you are left with more responsibility. That’s how the game works.

For entry-level roles, hard skills are more important than soft skills. Meaning you would pick a slightly autistic but error-free performer over a happy-go-lucky guy who consistently has typos here and there. Junior roles, such as Interns and Analysts, are meant to save the team time. You do so by delivering error-free work with the least oversight. That’s when the entire team can go home earlier and get some sleep. Over the long run of your career, you want to converge towards a happy-go-lucky guy who makes zero errors. That’s how you gradually step up into client relationship management.

Suggested plan of attack

Now it’s your time to take an honest look into the mirror. Do any of these points apply to you? Think long and hard about it. Sometimes your colleagues will not be as blunt or direct to you. Instead, they would just give hints that you have to notice. If you find something useful, write it down and make sure it does not happen again. If you find some weaknesses, don’t beat yourself up. We all start somewhere. It happened, admit it, make sure it does not happen again and move on. Was it your soft skills? Maybe you need to work on your attitude and be less combative. It does not matter how smart you are. You are supposed to do the job how your client thinks it’s right. Was it your hard skills? Maybe you need to check your work more often (attention to detail). Maybe you need to be more proactive and demonstrate task ownership. Was it just bad luck? If there is just no seat left for you and they hired somebody else, there is nothing you can do about it. Whatever the reason is, write it down. When you start your next internship or full-time job, make sure those errors never happen again. Making a mistake once is fine. But repeating the same mistakes over and over again can get you fired. With that said, let’s look at your options at this point:

  1. Get yourself another internship next summer

  2. Consider a Finance Master, Business School or a gap year

  3. Enter full-time recruiting

1. Get yourself another internship next summer

With a three-year bachelor program in Europe, you have two summers to collect internships. Suppose this was your first shot, no worries. Get yourself another internship next year. Update your CV and use this internship as a valuable addition to your profile. In case you didn’t get an Investment Banking internship, no worries. You are just entering your second year of university out of three. So, you still have enough time to figure things out. You still have enough time to build your CV. Keep gunning down those relevant internships while keeping your GPA up – that’s how you get into Investment Banking.

You can start gunning down more prestigious institutions since you now have a relevant internship under your belt. If you have interned at Big4 Transaction Services, you might want to throw in some more M&A shops in your application list. If you have an M&A internship, larger institutions might be more willing to look at your CV. It’s about M&A job function and brand. If you struggle to get into Investment Banking, start with an internship at Big4 Accounting or Big4 Transaction Services and then move into smaller M&A boutiques.

As a side note, what are relevant internships? The first category is a brand name M&A internship from a Bulge Bracket or Elite Boutique. Then you have M&A internships with lesser-known brands, such as Middle Market or Regional Boutiques. Then, you have Big4 Transaction Services, which is closely related to M&A. Then, you have Big4 Audit und Controlling, which is more accounting heavy. Management Consulting is a bit of a wild card. If it’s MBB strategy consulting, it’s on par with Bulge Brackets and Elite Boutiques. If it’s some niche IT or HR consulting, you are better off with Big4 Transaction Services.

When you start that second internship, make sure you know your weaknesses and work on them. Don’t waste your second summer internship by repeating the same mistakes. That’s why step one is so important.

2. Consider a Finance Master, Business School or a gap year

If this internship is already your second internship and you are close to graduation, you need to assess your situation.

If you were a strong performer and didn’t get the offer because of factors outside your control, we would wager to skip this option. Go all-in on full-time recruiting.

On the other hand, if you missed the full-time offer mark by a larger margin, it might make sense to consider a Finance Master or Business School to buy yourself some more time. This will allow you to add a more prestigious university to your CV. But mostly, this option buys your more time for recruiting and internships. That’s why it’s so important to understand your weaknesses and how far away your performance is from a full-timer.

If you feel that things are moving too fast, you might also slot in a gap year and do two long-term internships of 5-6 months. This way, you can collect more internship experience and build your resume. This also takes off the pressure to land a full-time offer during those internships. Everyone expects you to return to school. And hey, if things work out, you might not even need to return to school.

If you are coming out of a bachelor’s program, a Master of Finance or Master of Management program are suitable academic programs. If you already have some professional experience, an MBA might be the more appropriate program. Just understand that you are buying yourself some time to either up your interview game or work on your on-the-job performance. Your additional schooling and degree will not land you a job just like that. It will only get you interviews.

The downside of more schooling is more tuition and maybe even more student debt. Is that a bet that you are willing to take? This is essentially a bet on yourself that you can land that high-paying career you are eying for.

3. Enter full-time recruiting

This option makes sense if you don’t have any time left for more internships. You either can’t go back to school or you don’t want to. Meaning you either already have a Master’s Degree or you don’t want to take on more student debt. In that case, you are forced to recruit for a full-time position. Here, we recommend your cast your net as wide as possible because you got to find a job. We recommend you structure your long list like the following:

  • Brand name M&A Bulge Bracket or Elite Boutiques

  • Lesser-known Middle Market or regional Boutiques

  • Big4 Transaction Services

  • Restructuring Consulting

The logic is similar to building your CV. First, you want to give all the known Investment Banks a shot. Then you research lesser-known Middle Market and Regional Boutiques. Smaller boutiques are a great option to start your career. The recruiting process is more unstructured compared to larger institutions and they are more willing to hire a strong candidate with an unconventional resume. Those are your direct M&A options. If you are running out of M&A shops to apply for and need a job asap, you want to stick as close to the job function as possible. Big4 Transaction Services is the next best thing. They do the financial due diligence reports for the deals. Next, you are looking at Restructuring Consulting, which helps companies in distress. This means a lot more finance compared to your regular consulting gig. If you get drafted by MBB, please go for it instead. Those are full-time roles where you can still try to rotate into Investment Banking, with Transaction Services and MBB having the best chances. We wouldn’t recommend Big4 Audit or Controlling as full-time options to rotate into Investment Banking. These functions focus a lot more on accounting and less on deal-making. If you are stuck with those options, we recommend switching to Big4 Transaction Services and then to M&A.

How to explain why you did not get a return offer

You understood why you didn’t get a return offer (soft skills, hard skills or bad luck). You determine your best course of action. Whatever your best course of action is, it will involve more recruiting and more interviewing. The next issue you will be facing is how to explain why you didn’t get a return offer.

While Investment Banking interviews are similar, you will need to prepare for questions like “did you get a return offer?” or “why us and not them?”. These questions are a modified version of the “why us” or “why our bank specifically” question.

Here are a couple of ways to handle those questions:

Don’t talk about it / Do not mention anything proactively – An interview is your opportunity to position yourself as a promising candidate. This is your chance to put yourself into the best light possible. So, do not mention anything negative about your candidacy upfront. You are there to sell yourself as a compelling candidate. It’s the hiring manager’s job to figure out why you might not be a good fit for the company. If they don’t bring it up, go with the flow and move on.

Say that Investment Banking or that specific bank is not for you – This works well if you are applying for roles outside of Investment Banking. Then, you can say that Investment Banking was not for you. You prefer XYZ (what your current option offers). If you are applying for roles with better work-life balance, you can say that Investment Banking culture is not for you.

If you are interviewing at other banks, you have to spin it with why not that bank, but this bank. It’s a modified version of “why us”. Here you have to highlight the differences between your old bank and the bank you are applying for. You need to be careful. You can’t say you didn’t like the Investment Banking culture. This will immediately raise eyebrows. Investment Banking culture is similar within the industry. You can pick something like location, type of transactions or industries. Bankers make lateral switches because they want to change cities, switch from ECM to M&A or change from industrials to tech.

Say that your team didn’t hire or already filled their slots for the year – If your team didn’t hire anyone for this year, that is not your fault. You can blame bad deal flow for you not receiving a full-time offer. Saying that your old shop already filled all of their slots for this year is an elegant way of explaining why you didn’t get an offer. This can mean everything. Other interns got hired, a full-time applicant got hired or they hired a lateral more experienced Analyst. That’s how you can twist yourself out a little bit.

If the interviewer keeps digging, you can say there were many qualified and competitive interns. But the company just hired so many. There weren’t enough seats for all of us. The firm had to let go of many good interns.

Where does it leave us?

After a wild summer internship, you didn’t get an offer. Yes, it’s not nice. It’s frustrating. But the world does not end. After you are done licking your wounds, it’s time to get back on your feet. Whether you want or not, you will have to go through the recruiting process again.

First, understand why you didn’t get a return offer. Was it soft skills? Maybe you need to work on your attitude. Was it hard skills? Maybe your performance was not on point. Perhaps you need to work on your attention to detail and be more proactive. Was it bad luck? Maybe no seat left for you. Take note and if it’s your fault, make sure it never happens again. If it’s out of your control, accept it and move on. Don’t dwell on things you cannot control.

Once you have identified your weaknesses and found closure with your old shop, you are left with the following options:

Get yourself another internship next summer – This option makes sense if you still have enough time within your academic program. You have one summer left to find another internship. In that case, get yourself another internship next summer. Don’t repeat the same interview mistakes and take your next internship seriously. Internships are extended job interviews.

Consider a Finance Master, Business School or a gap year – If you are running out of time and things are moving too fast, it might make sense to add a post-graduate degree or even a gap year. You are buying yourself more time to get your interview game and internship performance on par. A gap year is an excellent opportunity to slot in 6 months long-term internships to practice the craft. The downside is that you might want to the burden of more tuition and student debt.

Enter full-time recruiting – If you already have a master’s degree or don’t want to take on more student debt, this is your remaining option. You got to find yourself a job. Here we would structure the long list in the following way: brand name M&A Bulge Bracket or Elite Boutiques, lesser-known Middle Market or Regional Boutiques, Big4 Transaction Services and Restructuring Consulting.

Next, you need to adjust your story. First, don’t bring it up. Don’t proactively mention you weren’t given an offer. You will more likely get asked “why not your old shop” or “why us and not them”. These are all variations of the “why us” questions. If you are interviewing within the same industry, say that that specific bank was not for you, highlighting the differences. If you are interviewing outside of Investment Banking, say that Investment Banking was not for you. If the interviewer keeps digging, say that your old company already filled all their slots for that year and that it’s super competitive and many good candidates were let go. This will most likely satisfy your interview while not giving him an angle to dig even deeper.

This is how you dig yourself out of not getting a return offer. With some effort and luck, you still have a chance to land your Investment Banking gig.

Additional resources

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