For the past couple of weeks, we have been speaking with Goldman Sachs managing directors in different divisions about summer internship advice and how to turn these summer-time stints into a full-time job offer from the bank.
For our final instalment , we spoke with Stratford Dennis, a vice president in Goldman Sachs securities division.
Dennis told us the biggest mistake an intern can make on the trading floor.
He explained that there’s a tendency for some interns to group together and not engage other senior people on the floor.
He admitted that the trading floor can be intimidating, but interns who isolate themselves with other interns prevent senior people at the firm from getting to know them and seeing their talents and abilities that would add value as a full-time employee.
Dennis, who interned at Goldman during college, also told us what an intern can do to impress him and how they can prepare for an internship.
We’ve transcribed our full Q&A below.
JL: First off, can you give me a little bit about your background and how you go to where you are today?
SD: I grew up in Connecticut. I went to an all-boys high school and then went to the University of Pennsylvania where I majored in philosophy, politics and economics with a concentration in economics. I actually interned at another bank in between my sophomore and junior year and then interned at Goldman between my junior and senior year. I’ve been here since 2004. I started off trading equity options on the S&P and for the past four years I’ve trading emerging market equity options.
JL: OK. So we’re going to talk about the securities division today and internships. I can imagine the securities division is pretty broad, can you talk about just briefly some of the jobs just to give our readers an idea of what they do?
SD: If we had to talk about all of them we’d be here quite some time. The groups that we could use are sales and trading and other. You know sales people are spending their days talking to professional money managers, pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds and working with them to come up with strategies to better their performance. And, trading is managing the firm’s risk and providing liquidity for these clients. In the other group, there are probably countless other types of jobs ranging from working with lending or things like that to support for the sales and trading function.
JL: Can you describe the typical day for an intern in your division? What sort of responsibilities do they have?
SD: Again, it kind of varies by desk. If they sit on a sales or trading desk they are limited in what they can do given that they don’t have their licenses, so they are not exactly sitting here actually trading or actually selling. They get in any where between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m., which is when the full-time professionals get in as well. They are working with them, you know, they might be doing things like helping with putting together presentations or things like that. Once they get ramped up they could be doing analysis for the desk or helping out in ways that you obviously have to have some insight to do so.
JL: How do you decide how much responsibility to give an intern?
SD: You start small and you see how much they can chew. Like I said before, you start off with something that’s a bit more simple and you see that they can do that and they prove that they can do that, you give them a little more and give them a little more and give them a little more. And you can see kind of what their bandwidth is, which is quite frankly is very similar to the way that it works on the full-time side.
JL: Do you mentor an intern at Goldman?
SD: I mentor, it’s funny, I mentor quite a bit of interns. I’m involved with working with our diversity program, so some of underrepresented diversity I’m looking over their performance, seeing how they’re doing, helping them out where I can and things like that?
JL: So what sort of advice would you give an intern? What would be the best piece of advice or couple pieces of advice?
SD: What I tell them is that your job as an intern is to do two things. One is to prove that you have the aptitude, the ability to do the work. Given that our recruiters do a great job on choosing talent, you know nine times out of 10 the interns absolutely have that. Then, the next step is proving that you have the desire, the hunger and that you’re assertive and you can perform well on a trading floor environment.
JL: You mentioned before that you interned, did anyone ever give you a piece of advice that stuck with you during your career?
SD: There are so many. I think one of the great things about this place is that you do have a lot of senior people willing to help you. I would say that one that has been told to the interns recently in a room that I was in that resonated with me was, ‘Tell your story.’ It might sound simple, but I think a lot of times these interns are extremely impressive. They’ve done a lot of things. Some of them have started small companies already, some of them have spent time overseas already, learned different languages already, some of them have worked and paid for their own college. Often times, that story doesn’t get vetted and the advice that was given was just ‘tell your story and make sure people understand all the great things you have done and can do.’ I think a lot of time people don’t want to come across a certain way so they don’t tell their own story.
JL: That’s good advice.
JL: What’s something that impressed you about an intern?
SD: There was an intern who was telling me a story about how he was in a business competition and the business competition had like 5,000 people who entered into it. He gave his pitch and he came in third out of all 5,000. I thought that was the end of the story. I thought ‘Wow, that’s a great story. You’re obviously a very sharp guy.’ And he said, ‘I was so disappointed because I came in third. I didn’t come in first. I wanted to come in first.’ Again, I thought that was the end of the story and that he had learned a lesson. Then, he went back the next year with an even better presentation and even better product and ended up winning. Again, out of 5,000 people. That may not be the exact number, but roughly. It was an example where he had kind of persevered and come back and triumphed. I thought it was interest because 1.) In my mind, you know third place was pretty strong and 2.) That he was able to come back and win the next year was pretty impressive.
JL: What’s the biggest mistake an intern can make?
SD: Outside of the obvious — coming in late or not giving the maximum effort, things like that — I think there can be a tendency amongst interns to do what feels comfortable and what feels comfortable is to you know congregate amongst each other and to not necessarily engage other people who seem very busy. The trading floor is a loud place and it can be intimidating, but if you curl up in your shell then some of those things I mentioned earlier like telling your story and making sure people know your skills those things don’t happen. And at the end of the summer you could be in a situation where you have all the talent in the world, but a lot of people aren’t aware of your potential and the things that you can do.
JL: Let’s talk about advice you would give to someone who wants to turn their internship into a job. What should they do? And how should they do it?
SD: Well, again, I think make sure your story is heard. Make sure you prove that you have the intellectual capacity and make sure you prove that you have the desire and that you have the work ethic to do this. I think what I’d add to that is be direct. Make sure people understand what you want. Make sure people understand that ‘I want to work for you. I want to work for you in this group. This is my top choice.’ Be very forward. Again, the trading floor is place where there are a lot of assertive people. If at the end of the summer you did a good job, but if I don’t really know that you want to work with me then that’s not a good thing. So be very open about what you want.
JL: We have a really competitive job market out there, so what are some of the details which make a difference in an interview or on a resume?
SD: I’m going to assume that you have good grades and things like that already because ultimately that is kind of a prerequisite of sorts. I don’t know the exact details of what you have to have, but people want to see that you’re working hard towards your academics. Outside of that, you want to get your name in the small pile somehow whether it’s international experience, speaking another language or ‘hey, I started my own business’ even if it wasn’t necessarily you know the next Apple, that’s OK, but ‘hey, I tried at this. This is what I learned.’ Things like that can kind of separate you from the people that are just 100% academics and maybe not as well-rounded is certainly important.
JL: Any advice on preparing for an internship in this division? Anything that they can do beforehand?
SD: Absolutely. The one thing is to contact any desk that you think you want to be on or think you will be on and find out what books you can read. You know I trade options and we tell our interns to read a certain book before the come in if they ask. That’s a book that we’re going to ask them to read during the internship. So to the extent that you can, get a head start on it.
JL: What’s the book?
SD: It’s a book called Options Pricing and Volatility by Sheldon Natenberg. It goes over the basics of options.
SD: Then I would say reaching out to people that you know within the firm. Mentorship and sponsorship is key. You know, you want someone to kind of teach you the lay of the land before you come it. That’s certainly going to give you an advantage.
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