This week, Daily Intel is taking a peek inside the lives of summer interns. First up, the Future Master of the Universe Who Secretly Wants to Be on Broadway: Male, 20, finance major from the New York suburbs working a (generously) paid internship at a hedge fund.
8:42 a.m. Crap, just woke up. First day and I’m already late. Not the best way to make a first impression. I hope I can take a cab and still make it to my office in midtown on time.
8:55 a.m. I ask the cabdriver to stop and let me get out ten blocks short of my office. Going to have to sprint over. Every step I curse myself for thinking a cab would be faster, for oversleeping, and for staying up late the night before.
9:07 a.m. Finally get through security and up to the office just as my supervisor is getting in. He doesn’t seem to notice I am late. Or if he does, he doesn’t seem to care. I was told this group was laid-back. We exchange a quick hello before I am whisked away to my meeting with HR.
9:45 a.m. The HR director goes through the perks of the job with me. I will be working a strict 9 to 5, which is better than my poor friends pulling 100-hour weeks in investment banking. In addition to getting a very generous paycheck every two weeks, I learn that I will have a daily $25 lunch account. Breakfast, in-house-gym membership, and paid transportation are all included, and I will be eligible for overtime and New York Mets box seats. I have a feeling I will like this internship a lot.
10:30 a.m. I order my first free lunch (shrimp quesadillas and a bag of Doritos) and am escorted to my desk. I am told the other interns will start tomorrow or Wednesday. My desk seems to be (purposefully?) isolated from the rest of my team. A hedge-fund setup is a bit different from the standard office. My “desk” is a four-foot section of a long table that stretches about 100 feet or so from one end of the office to the other. Clearly, socializing is not encouraged at this firm. I am told to sit tight until my supervisor gives me my first task.
12:30 p.m. Lunch time. I get an e-mail that everyone’s lunch has been delivered, but I’m not exactly sure where to go. I look around nervously until I see a friendly looking face walk by. She points me toward the kitchen. I grab my food and eat a quiet lunch by myself as the constant hum of the computers and clacking of my peers’ keyboards sing me a strange melody.
1:15 p.m. My supervisor comes by to discuss the internship. I will be responsible for helping the team in a group called Product Control. Under the Risk Control department, we would ensure that the various portfolios and financial services we offer are meeting their goals and returning the yields that we expect them to. This will involve end-of-month reporting and various mathematical modeling. I know what this means. For the next twelve weeks, my life will be all about Excel spreadsheets and Bloomberg terminal. While this seems boring, I know this is what it takes to nab that coveted investment-banker job. Time to pay my dues.
4:30 p.m. After spending the past three hours researching different financial products and markets, a colleague lets me know that the team is taking off for the day and that I can too—just make sure to fill out the time sheet as if I worked till 5 p.m., he tells me. I grab my things and head out to see if I can get lottery-rush tickets to Broadway’s Newsies.
8 a.m. My alarm clock rings. I didn’t win tickets last night, a bummer. My love has always been the performing arts, and I try to see musicals, concerts, and plays as often as I can. My friends always ask me what a creative person like myself is doing in finance. Try as they might, they will never understand my passion for numbers as well as the arts. Still, as I am taking a shower and getting ready for day two, I find it difficult to convince myself that this internship is the right move for me while my friends are acting in regional-theater festivals or music-directing local theater.
8:45 a.m. Arrive at the office and sit down to enjoy my complimentary bagel, iced tea, and a yogurt. I look around and notice that I am one of the first three people in the office. I scan the headlines in the Financial Times so I don’t sound like an idiot when my colleagues discuss the European markets or new U.S. regulations.
10:30 a.m. My boss casually strolls in and tells me he will definitely have work for me at noon. I don’t want to harass him, but I feel stupid just sitting at my desk doing nothing, especially when they are paying me.
11 a.m. Other interns begin to trickle in. I am told that the old intern will also be in today to train me. Well, at least this gives me something to do. The other interns seem cool: One is a grad student studying financial engineering, and another is about to leave for his first full-time job as a trader for Barclays. They tell me to get used to the down time. Facebook and Gmail are blocked, but they tell me I will learn to enjoy my daily scoop of Yahoo News and the CNBC that streams live on our computers.
12:20 p.m. I decide to check back in with the boss to see if he has anything for me to do. He tells me that he is a little tied up, but Sarah, the old intern, should be in to train me at one. I really don’t understand how we can manage literally billions of dollars coming in so late every day.
1:12 p.m. Sarah arrives, introduces herself, and promptly beings gossiping with the other interns. We are supposed to go over some of the month-end reconciliations that I will be doing in the coming weeks, but she seems much more interested in discussing her infatuation with our supervisor. She also explains some of the lesser-known perks of the job. Like how you can go shopping for four hours in the middle of the day. Just make sure to leave a cell number in case someone needs you. WTF is this place?
2:30 p.m. The last intern, a young man from NYU, finally arrives. Mike seems unusually skittish, the kind of kid who is uncomfortable even on vacation. He explains that he is late because he thought our midtown office was in Hoboken. I can only imagine what this poor man’s home life is like.
4:15 p.m. Sarah gives a yawn and proclaims it is time to leave. She is excited to be going out for drinks to celebrate her last day with our supervisor. Her tentative plan is to get him drunk enough to accompany her home. I wish her luck on her quest, but I am secretly delighted that I will never have to see her again.
9:15 a.m. I get an e-mail from my boss marked URGENT. The text read for me to find him as soon as I get his e-mail. I hustle over to his office to find a very relaxed-looking supervisor casually chatting with one of his co-workers, Andrew. We make eye contact, and he says “Oh, thank God you are here! We just learned today is National Doughnut Day. We need you to go get us some.” Well, that’s great. My first “real” task is to pick up doughnuts for the office.
9:37 a.m. As I stand in line picking up the office’s Munchkins, I remind myself that I’d be doing the same thing if I was working in the arts. The life of an intern is not glamorous. Still, it takes an ego bruising to go on the infamous coffee runs. I just hope they don’t make me pick up their laundry.
10 a.m. I return to the office, doughnuts in hand. Sensing an opportunity for small talk, I ask my boss if he watched the NBA game the night before, as I know he is from Boston. Andrew puts a stop to that real quick however, as he exclaims loud enough for the whole office to hear, “Alright, Intern, back to your desk.” Not to be intimidated, I give a quick “Nice to see you too, Andrew” before I shrink away.
10:45 a.m. Dave, one of the other members of our group, comes to my desk. Time to get down to business, I think. He has a big grin on his face. “Loved your comeback with Andrew,” he says. “Listen, Andrew’s has been having a tough time getting his work done recently, so I want you to go out and find a plunger. I want to get it wrapped up all nice and give it to him as a prank, because he’s so backed up. It’ll be great.” I delight at the opportunity to win some points with my new peers, and I’m still a little sore over Andrew’s razzing, so I excitedly accept.
11:15 a.m. Where on earth do you find a plunger in New York City?
11:30 a.m. Manage to find a plunger at a Duane Reade and bring it back to my desk, along with some gold wrapping paper I bought. The other interns ask why I have a plunger on my desk. I explain the prank, but they seem skeptical. They suggest that the prank may just be on me, to see how long I will sit with a plunger on my desk. I am willing to suspend my disbelief for the moment.
3:30 p.m. Four hours later, I am beginning to think they may be right. Here I am, looking like an idiot, trying to explain why I have a golden plunger on my desk to the various staff and perplexed-looking interns who walk by.
4:15 p.m. Dave swings by again, tickled at the final product. He instructs me to deliver my “present” at 4:45 p.m.
4:45 p.m. I walk over to Andrew’s desk, and I can barely contain my excitement. “Hi Andrew, Dave had told me you were a little backed up, so hopefully this will help.” Andrew’s face goes the deepest shade of red I have ever seen. As he stutters over his words, I know that I have entered a world of pranks at this office. But I also know that means a sense of camraderie. I may have had the last laugh today, but my day will come. I’m okay with that—it will at least keep me on my toes.
9 a.m. Time sheets are due today. Mike explains to us that he stayed at the office until 9 p.m. last night. I begin to wonder if I am doing something wrong. How could he possibly have that much work while my department regularly comes in an hour and a half late?
9:15 p.m. Mike’s supervisor comes over and explains to him that he cannot elect to work overtime; it must be preauthorized. Mike seems even more nervous now. After his boss leaves, Mike tells us that he thought he’d be able to rake in the overtime pay by just staying late, even if he had no work. The other interns roll their eyes. He is the stereotypical finance intern—here just for the money. I wonder if Mike has anything he is passionate about.
10:30 a.m. All of the interns have to go to a compliance meeting. We are told that for the remainder of our internship here, we will not be allowed to engage in the trading of any equities, options, futures, etc. This doesn’t surprise me: Insider-trading regulations are growing tighter, and they don’t want interns attracting negative press. Mike asks if he can still trade stock on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, as our firm is not involved there. Who is this guy?!
12:15 p.m. I am finally given my first real task. Well, sort of real. I am supposed to perform a month-end reconciliation for April, as a test to make sure I can do it for real once month-end rolls around in June. I was told Sarah could complete it in just over a day. I figure if Sarah could do it in a day, there is no reason why I shouldn’t finish it in half the time.
12:45 p.m. This rec is taking me longer that I thought. I may have underestimated Sarah. I don’t want to ask my supervisor a dumb question, so I turn to a fellow intern.
12:50 p.m. Turns out a simple V-lookup in Excel was all I needed. I’m glad I didn’t ask my supervisor, because I definitely stretched the truth a little when I stated in my interview that I was “fluent in Excel.”
1:15 p.m. One of the department heads from upstairs comes by to introduce himself. He makes all the interns state their school and their GPA. I can’t understand why he cares. Then I recall that I was in fact asked for my SAT scores during my interview. I also was given a Rubik’s Cube and told to solve it. I can’t figure this place out. They seem uptight at times, yet never in a rush to do any work.
2:30 p.m. Dave comes by to see how I’m doing. Not wanting to admit how challenging I am finding the work I was just assigned, I lie and say I’m not too busy. “Great!” he says “ ’Cause I have this project for you. I want you to look up all of our stock positions and see if the price we have for them matches the historical price in Bloomberg for the date we bought them. We’ve been having some discrepancies, and I don’t have time to check them.” We have over 2,000 stock positions. I instantly regret saying I was not busy.
4:45 p.m. I duck out to rush the new musical Ghost. This time I win tickets. My girlfriend and I meet up for a quick dinner and relaxing evening.
8 a.m. I wake up with the songs of the show still playing in my head. I should’ve expected this. Every time I see a show, I leave inspired to finally write my own musical that I’ve been thinking of for months. My office doesn’t seem like the Broadway type, so I browse ESPN before I go to work so I have something to chat about. Celtics lost; my supervisor is not going to be happy.
9:15 a.m. I go to my supervisor’s office to ask him a question about my previous assignment. He is clearly hung over and is not in the physical or mental state to answer my questions. I take the hint and resume working on the project Dave gave me. Only 1,200 more positions to go.
10 a.m. As I sit typing away on Bloomberg terminal, rounding out stock No. 1,000, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. This is real work that I’m doing, even if it only is the grunt work. Bloomberg costs about $1,500 per month, and I know that not too many of my peers back in my university’s supercompetitive economics department will get to play around with its modeling software for at least a year or two. It’s hard not to feel important as I go through all of our positions and get a glimpse of our investing strategy.
10:20 a.m. I take a break from Bloomberg to watch President Obama’s speech in our conference room with the rest of my department. I get the feeling from the banter in the room that I am one of the few … well … the only pinko-hippie-liberal in the office. I am okay with that. However, I make sure to slip in a “Welcome to Obama’s America” as my peers discuss rising oil prices so I don’t seem different.
12:30 a.m. I break for lunch, finally finished with my first project. My supervisor has already gone home for the day to nurse his hangover. Andrew has also left, though he is flying out to Chicago, as he does every weekend, to complete his M.B.A. One of the old interns explains to me that summer Fridays are some of the best days to be a finance intern. It’s more laid-back, and you can get to know your colleagues better—the people I will count on for recommendation letters later on.
12:45 p.m. Mike asks if any of us are coming in on Saturday. No, Mike, no one is coming in on Saturday. He says he thinks he will come in anyway. There is no hope for him. I know that he will do well in finance though, especially next year at a JPMorgan or a Goldman Sachs, where this sort of willingness to give up personal time is not just rewarded but expected.
2:30 p.m. I strike up a conversation with one of the group members I haven’t met yet. Anthony also loves Broadway and has been trying to see Newsies with his wife since it came out. Turns out hedge funds aren’t filled with blood-sucking, non-creative assholes, as my friends like to believe.
4 p.m. The office is pretty much empty at this point. I have nowhere to go, so I sit checking some of the headlines in the Financial Times. I wonder if I could do this for a living. The work seems engaging enough, and I know that given time, I could succeed here. Unfortunately, I know this firm will not hire me without “paying my dues”—the obligatory three-to-five years in a big investment bank that most firms require as an entry-level qualification. It is perplexing to need three to five years of experience for an “entry level” position, but such is life, I suppose. It is no different in theater; you have to accept the crummy Thug No. 3 roles before you can get on Broadway as the next Mikehew Broderick or Joel Grey.
4:45 p.m. I head home. I am exhausted, even though I feel like I haven’t actually done anything. My dad tells me that sometimes work is just getting up, sitting at your desk, and looking busy. I don’t know where my career path will take me. Maybe to the stage, maybe to an investment bank. I tell myself that if I make my millions by 35, I can “retire” to a producing role at a small theater. For now, I will try to make the best of both my worlds. My singing lessons begin tomorrow; fall audition season is not far off.