Getting an S&T Return Offer - A Survival Guide for Future Interns

Heya folks. Wanted to write this while the memory's fresh and give a little back to the WSO community, which has been of invaluable help whether during recruiting and also while interning - and also because all the "trading is dying" content is frankly getting a bit stale and depressing ;)

I want to preface this by saying that there is no set way to obtain a return offer as being in the right place at the right time trumps all else. However there are things that I think could help establish an intern as a “rockstar”/”the guy/girl”. I’ll try to skip the basics e.g. be first-in-last-out, knowing product etc. as I think these have been regurgitated many times in this forum. I'll try to provide a more of an "ex-intern POV" while the memory's fresh. Enjoy

Quick background: Did SA this summer in an APAC office, both WFH and also in the office, received a return offer. Experiences may vary from EMEA/NA

1. You’ve got to want to be a good intern/top performer to become one

With everything that's going on, chances are there isn't a lot of headcount available, especially in Asia where headcount is notoriously low (2019 and 2020 offer rates have been abysmal for APAC - 2019 was 0-60% across the street I believe and this year was largely the same if not worse) barring Citi and Bofa giving free handouts - which, they'll probably trim down from the next SA class anyways.

What does this mean? Jobs are few and far between, as an SA you should want to establish yourself as the top guy in your class. If you set your mind to be a “top” performer, you’ll work twice as hard, observe better, take more initiatives etc and all these things trickle back to the Ds and MDs who’ll make the final call in terms of who to hire back.

In short – Most people ask “What’s the return offer rate like?” while very few actually ask “How do I get a return offer?” – Although this seems to apply more for recruiting lol

2. Assume every intern is just as smart as you

Feeling pretty good about yourself for getting ahead and scheduling coffees with MDs straight away in week 1 while the others are stuck in training? WRONG. Chances are everybody else in your class is doing the same thing. Never get cocky, never think you have an “edge” over other interns, never think other interns are stupid, and you’ll push yourself twice as hard and be half as complacent. Same goes for taking initiatives, tasks etc. Conversely, don’t sell yourself down – just because some guy went to [insert big, prestigious target school] with a MSF/MFE degree or whatever doesn’t automatically make them a good intern.

3. The best way to compete is to do your job to the best you can

There’s a sizeable chance you’ll be competing with another one or more intern(s) on the same desk/product group. Don’t fuck others, don’t deliberately lie just to get a “leg up” over others, don’t take credit for shit you didn’t do. Be a good guy, help others, cooperate and collaborate if necessary, and let your work speak for itself – The full-timers will notice who’s good and who’s not. Instead of “How can I beat this guy?” think “How can I add value/do better for my desk?” Subtle difference but does make a big change to your attitude (by extension, your work product).

4. Be able to tell your “story” and “why S&T/why this product” in your sleep. And make sure it’s good

Chances are if you’ve landed an SA gig you already have a good answer to these questions. Practice them to the point that you can tell it in your sleep. Everyone from Analyst to Senior MD will ask you these questions the first time you meet them. Nailing these questions is imperative for even a tangible shot at landing a return offer.

5.  Be in sync with your desk

IMO this is the most important part being an SA. Knowing how your desk operates (aka make money), what does a day look like (in detail, not in broad strokes), how they interact with other desks, understanding product/market lingo – All these go a long way in establishing yourself as the “go-to” guy for the desk. A good way to test this is to see if you can comprehensively explain what your desk does in layman terms. Tough to put “how to be in sync” into writing, but I guess if you’re plugged in enough, sit with people, digest information and ask good questions, it only becomes a virtuous cycle from then on

6. Sound good on the phone

Not sure how this works in NA/EMEA but in APAC chances are you’ll have to get to know people who sit in other offices. E.g. If you-re based in Singapore you might have to get on the phone with someone in Hong Kong, Tokyo, India, Aussie etc. And these will probably be people you have to impress e.g. desk heads, senior sales/traders (aka decision-makers). Not sounding like a zombie on the phone goes a long way in making a good impression!

7. Initiatives

Instead of just asking “anything I can do to help?” (Which you should anyways, perfectly valid question), actually do shit that you think helps the desk. Potential payoff for brownie points is far greater if you do stuff, unprompted, that makes everybody’s lives a little bit easier. Having said that, don’t just copy&paste a bunch of shit on BBG and pass it off as “work”. Have seen dudes send out a bunch of stuff that’s not actually relevant to the desk/product. I guess it also varies desk-to-desk but there’s no set way to do this, just gotta use some judgement I suppose.

Also, aside from the day-to-day tasks, the best kinds of initiatives are longer-term projects that you can present to the wider product group e.g. a comprehensive trade idea(s). Work with your managers/mentors – and make damn sure the work product is impressively good. It’ll be tough and you’ll want to quit halfway through, especially since there’s a good chance you’re jammed between shadowing folks/desk work/social events, but if you can pull it off, it goes a long way in convincing the guys on your desk that you’ve got the hunger/desire to be there, puts you in a really good shot (if not pole position) for FT.

8. Always ask for feedback

Pretty self-explanatory but apparently not everyone does this (or properly, at least). Schedule feedback sessions with your manager – but only if you have something specific to ask, e.g. “I’m doing X and Y every day now, am I on the right track, how can I do better?” Some brown-nosers schedule “catch-ups” every couple days, I think it’s a bit excessive but obviously someone more senior can chime in. Personally I scheduled one halfway through the SA program and once again before the last week.

9. Social events

Never turn down an event, don’t leave early, handle your liquor well, don’t do anything funny like hitting on the opposite sex (just not worth the risk ya know). Take trips to the bathroom whenever you have a window to freshen up and wash your face. It’s fun to get wasted but know your limit – Try to stay sober. If you have to vomit do it discreetly and never publicly. Last but not least, have a boatload of fun, make conversation, be a cool and pleasant guy (or girl), and get to bond with people. They’ll look after you and be much more receptive in helping you.

10. Build a support network that you can trust

This is super important. Leverage on. Mentors, Buddies etc. and build on those relationships. If you show people you’re hungry to learn and do better, they’ll be much more receptive to helping you out, coach you, and take an interest in your development (read: vouch for you come decision time). Mentors are also important for extracting information (who’s hiring, who’s not etc.) and they’ll have a much better grasp of how the hiring decision is actually made i.e. who is the decision-maker/the “grading scheme” (aka what work is looked at most – desk work or final presentation or smth else)

That's about all I can think of, would absolutely love if senior folks could chime in below.


Most Helpful

As a VP BB Trader who trains and picks interns....i'll add something to this post that you are missing...on a trading desk, yes all the above are necessary...but this does not get you the job...this is just the bare minimum.

1) accept the fact that you are not special, and that you really know don't know what product you want to trade, or if you'd be good at could you possibly know. be willing to learn everything

2) the desk is trying to evaluate if you have raw intelligence...we do this by watching how you perform miscellaneous can't really fake this...either you have it or you don't.  yes, you'll have to work hard....but whatever your best is..thats can't do "better than your best"....we are wondering "what is your best"?  show us your best, and trust that we wil judge appropriately.

3) if you don't show us your best effort, that's stupid...and we don't hire stupid

i've had interns from MIT, Duke, Harvard, Princeton and Yale...and you'd be surprised how many appear dumb as rocks, even tho they have a 4.0 a deer in headlights...don't let that be you

it depends on the desk...on some desks interns will be given a project to do that automates something, and can be built into an excel spreadhsset with VBA macros..and provides real benefit to the desk with the result being a tangible thing (the spreadsheet with code that works)...while on other desks the interns don't really produce anything tangible...

it totally depends on whether either the traders on the desk have ideas for the interns to do/build....or...and this is a biggie...if the interns themselves can come up with an idea and then build something from that idea and turn it into a usable thing with benefit.   This requires understanding the business and the extraneous factors that affect the business, as well as knowing how to code and being able to build things quickly.   Most interns never get to this point...but the few that do generally get return offers.  This was how i got mine when i started, and i've seen numerous interns hired along the same lines.

As an example, one our interns was commentating one day about how the market was reacting to a specific news release (i think it was the 10am Philly Fed report) and came up with an idea to build an AI to analyze the report and predict market reaction based on the reports content, and the market price action going into the report release.  This was an actually useful thing (he built it using Excel as the front end....and python on the backend)...took him 3-4 weeks to build /write the code...we hired that kid.

Now, if you end up on a desk where this isn't feasible....or you don't have the programming chops to do this....then idk..."be really fucking smart"?


As an example, one our interns was commentating one day about how the market was reacting to a specific news release (i think it was the 10am Philly Fed report) and came up with an idea to build an AI to analyze the report and predict market reaction based on the reports content, and the market price action going into the report release.  This was an actually useful thing (he built it using Excel as the front end....and python on the backend)...took him 3-4 weeks to build /write the code...we hired that kid.

Now, if you end up on a desk where this isn't feasible....or you don't have the programming chops to do this....then idk..."be really fucking smart"?

I concur with everything ironnchef said (huge fan btw) - and I'd add that (at least on the sales side of things) it doesn't always have to be coding-related (although it sure as shit helps lol), as an intern anything that makes your team's lives easier is a huge W and sets you up well for getting that FT gig

e.g. when I was interning whenever I hopped on a call I'd type out a one-pager and distribute it to the team, just a small and minor thing but it ended up a big +ve component of my end-of-internship feedback (I became sort of the go-to intern for writing call notes/writeups). Friend of mine at a different BB got several desks (other than his own) reach out to him for FT because "he wrote good notes".

Doesn't always have to be super sophisticated if you show some thought into adding value/making yourself (relatively) useful

"They say money can't buy happiness? Look at the fuckin' smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!" - Boiler Room

Thanks for the reply! I would have definitely thought it wasn't possible. If you don't mind me asking I have couple more questions as I am seriously considering applying there. How rare is it to see someone of non-asian ethnicity in an HK trading floor (were all your friends who recruited for HK asians? Is there a bias against europeans/foreigners?) Are all the conversations among traders/quants/sales in english? I know that HK is officially bilingual and that locals often mix both languages/use them interchangeably but idk never met anyone who worked there

Good write up. I interned this summer in physical commodities at a top shop with a ~30% offer rate where most of my fellow interns had a strong knowledge base on the product/commodity trading in general. I had none. Throughout the internship, I would put myself in the bottom quartile in terms of trading knowledge among the other interns. IMHO, the reasons that I got the return offer are below

  • I helped out the other interns like crazy and didn't expect anything in return and I also did not tell anyone about it. Sounds backward to help out the competition, but in turn towards the end of the internship, a few of them also helped me out big time.
  • When I had to create an internal document, I formatted it perfectly to the point where it would be presentable to any outside client. Style matters when there is little to differentiate yourself.
  • Owned my mistakes and turned them around fast. A week and a half before the end of the internship I fucked up BAD. But I owned the mistake and turned it around by pulling an all-nighter and making my boss look good. 
  • Most importantly IMO, I didn't try to act like a know-it-all or hide that I didn't know a piece of information. Think: the best traders are right just over half the time. They expect you not to know anything. Someone 3 months on the job knows more than you, a person a year on the job knows 10x more than them, and so on.

In one word, attitude was the most important factor because if it were based on knowledge there is not a chance I would have gotten a return offer. 

I did the GS S&T summer internship a few summers ago, and one thing I haven't seen mentioned yet is the importance of understanding the personality of the desk you're interacting with, because desks recruit their own personality types. Some desks want more cerebral types (e.g. exotic equity/fx/rate vol desks). Others want more intuitive, fast-paced, headstrong types (e.g. liquid flow desks, like cash equity/credit/rates or agency MBS).

Be confident yet humble. Be eager. Own up to mistakes immediately. Shadow the more junior people and learn as much as you can. The more willing to help & learn, the more likable you'll be. If they like you, they'll polish you before you talk to the senior people on the desk who make the ultimate hiring decisions.

If you're a more quantitative type, vol desks are going to want you. Learn about finance & options beforehand, so that the desk thinks you're a fast learner.

Great post! I was eager to see this type of post as an incoming SA in BB at HK office(Since this page mostly deals with EMEA/NA). Just have some question though, especially about the question 2. I assumed D's and MD's really don't have time to have frequent coffee chat with just an intern due to their schedule. But I guess they are the ones who make final decision about the return offer though:) 

Does that mean I would have to reach out the D/MD's directly for scheduling coffee chats with knowing that I would get turned down a lot? Or I would just have to wait for them to talk with me and then give a good shot to impress them? 

Sounds like a stupid question though, networking with the above VP level was what scares me the most at this point, and would want to get any kind of solid idea about this.

Thanks in advance.

use common sense. for Ds you dont work with/senior MDs you wont be talking to them frequently. having said that you'd be surprised by how Ds and MDs appreciate interns reaching out - and needless to say your direct manager or his boss a rung above won't refuse to meet you.

also starting out you can have a close contact e.g. a mentor introduce you to people. safest bet IMO

figure out how the hiring process is made (don't assume, v dangerous thing to do), then work from there - not much point getting facetime with e.g. an MD from a diff desk if he/she doesn't have a say in your process

best of luck for the summer - hopefully its in-person for you all

"They say money can't buy happiness? Look at the fuckin' smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!" - Boiler Room

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"They say money can't buy happiness? Look at the fuckin' smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!" - Boiler Room

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