Jefferies CEO shares advice for Wall Street interns

This summer will see a new class of interns flocking to Wall Street to work for some of the biggest banks in the world.

Positions in New York City’s financial epicenter are some of the most sought-after opportunities for undergraduates—but landing the job doesn’t mean the challenge is over.

Rich Handler, CEO of investment bank Jefferies, is one of the success stories who rose through the ranks from intern to top boss at one of America’s most prestigious financial institutions.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, he shared 15 “real pieces of advice I wish I was given when I first started as an intern on Wall Street.”

Be an adult

Investment banks want workers who are mature and reliable, Handler said—so for those joining as an intern, it’s time to grow up.

“Welcome to the real world,” he said. “This is not college. You are an adult and we will treat you like one. There have been extremely rare and isolated incidents of interns not fully accepting this transition. They did not complete their internship. Such a shame, but only themselves to blame.”

He also stressed that interns need to realize “what we do is not a game,” and that they must protect their name “at all costs.”

“Showing off what you know to a close friend, even for no financial personal gain can have devastating ramifications,” he warned. “Your most precious asset you have today and throughout your life is your reputation. Every firm in our industry has seen an incredibly successful person reduced to uncontrollable tears knowing that they made a mistake that will cost them everything they worked so hard to achieve. Everything in life is fragile, especially trust. Never forget that.”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

“You will have a million questions,” Handler said. “There are no stupid ones…[but] please listen to the answers as people tire of answering the same questions repeatedly.”

Handler also said that speaking up to ask questions would help interns “dramatically increase the odds of a successful outcome,” because it was vital to spend extra time to grasp exactly what they were being asked to accomplish in an assignment.

“When being asked to do something [it] is not the time to be shy or afraid that your questions will be perceived as weakness,” he explained. “It will take a while to learn the ‘lingo’…Slowing us down until you understand what you need to do, if done right, will be viewed as a sign of your strength.”

Be a great coworker

According to Handler, the best interns are “the ones without the sharp elbows that connive to make themselves look good at the expense of others.”

“Firms look for the best performers who also make everyone else around them better,” he wrote, noting that those most likely to be noticed are the people who “selflessly” share information to help others succeed, are capable of admitting to mistakes, and are trusted by others.

He also argued that the most important part of internships—and business—was building relationships, and urged incoming interns not to be intimidated by anyone they meet in their new workplace, no matter how senior they are.

“The full-time people at the firm are all human beings, too,” he said. “Everyone has multiple priorities, strengths and weaknesses, and good and bad days. Learning how to navigate these realities in the real world (outside of school) is one of the most important parts of the internship.”

While he encouraged young workers to “get yourself into our world and lives,” Handler reminded interns that it is always okay to be yourself—even on Wall Street.

“You do not have to check your personality at the door when you join an investment bank,” he said. “People in our industry have a sense of humor, enjoy their coworkers and clients, and like to have fun.”

Work hard

“Our industry deals with lots of zeros before you get to the decimal point, so even small mistakes can quickly become big ones,” Handler advised. “Don’t make yourself neurotic or nuts, but always check your work before submitting it. Maybe check it twice.”

As well as taking the time to check the quality of their work, Handler said, entry-level employees could make themselves high performers by focusing on clients and learning a little about every part of the firm they’re working for.

“There are many different aspects to an investment bank, and you might find a different one suits you better,” he said. “Even if you are in the perfect spot already, knowing the other aspects of the company will always make you better at your job, and it is fun to understand how all the pieces really fit together.”

Handler went on to encourage interns to forget that their internship is a temporary position.

“If you act immediately like this is definitely your full-time career, you will have a much better experience,” he said. “Even if you wind up only doing this job for 10 weeks or a couple of years, you will be much better off, because your mindset was right and you gave it your all.”

Enjoy your downtime

While investment banking takes a lot of focus and dedication, Handler stressed that it was important to switch off at the end of a busy day.

“Work hard, and when your work is done, leave the office and go exercise, see your family and friends, explore a new city, or just rest,” he said. “The ‘first in’ and the ‘last out’ may not be viewed as the most dedicated, but rather as the one who wastes the most time.”

He also encouraged interns not to worry if their summer jobs don’t lead them in the direction they expect.  

“If you decide you really don’t like this summer job, or if you decide you love it but circumstances result in not achieving a full-time offer, neither is the end of the world,” he insisted. “Having youth, smarts, personality, experience, health, family, friends, and ambition will go a long way. Have confidence in yourself that if things do not work out, it is probably our loss and not yours.”

Handler’s 15 tips

Here are all 15 pieces of advice Handler shared on Sunday.


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