Wall St. CEO: Here are 20 things every intern should know

Jefferies CEO Richard Handler (center) with the bank’s 2017 intern class. (Source: Instagram/@HandlerRich)

School is out, and that means a new crop of interns will be starting their 10-week summer programs on trading floors, investment banking divisions, and research desks across Wall Street.

To mark the occasion, long-time Wall Street CEO Richard Handler, who runs investment bank Jefferies and its parent company Leucadia National (LUK), sent a memo outlining 20 things he wishes he had known when he began his finance career.

While the memo is directed toward the 163 Jefferies interns, it has advice that can be applied across Wall Street.

For starters, he reminds the new intern class to be proud of their achievements and grateful for those who helped them get there. He also encourages them to view the experience as if it were their job.

“Regardless of whether you think you just want to give finance a try, think you want a certain stamp on your resume or aren’t even sure why you were offered and accepted this internship, act from day one as if this is your chosen career and apply yourself in a manner that is reflective of someone who is striving for a 40+ year career on Wall Street,” Handler writes.

“You may hate it, love it, consider it a stepping stone or just want to live in NYC for a summer,” he added. “But if you treat this job as if it is the beginning of your chosen career versus a ‘try out,’ you will get much more out of your experience. By the way, it might be the start of your 40+ year career, so why not start right!”

Handler also advises them not to be intimidated by their superiors at the firm and to seek guidance.

“We are all fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and/or daughters,” he writes. “We were all interns at one point in our lives and we all felt the insecurity and unease with trying to find our way in the early days of our career. We all remember the mentors that made a difference and the jerks who did not. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and make the outgoing effort.”

That said, he cautions that they be conscientious of people’s time.

“Remember that we are all incredibly busy at Jefferies, so there are times to make the effort to meet people and there are times to politely stay away and let us do what needs to be done. Pay attention and be aware and sensitive.”

The memo also dives into the importance work-life balance. This is a topic that has come up in recent years for the finance industry as some of the junior employees across the Street have been known to put in long, grueling hours. Long hours is something that goes with the territory in the industry, Handler notes.

He reminds the intern class that when they have free time to use it and get out of the office.

“Facetime is bull$—,” he writes. “We don’t want people who are proud that they have no life outside of the office.”

He adds that they need to exercise, eat well, and sleep. Importantly, they shouldn’t neglect friends and family either. He also asks them to speak up if someone is making “unfair demands.”

Handler is among the longest-tenured investment banking CEOs. He’s led Jefferies since 2001 and is the bank’s third CEO in its 50-year history. In November 2012, Leucadia acquired Jefferies and Handler became CEO as part of that transaction. He is Leucadia’s second CEO in its 40-year history.

Below is the full memo:

It is that special time of year again when our Jefferies’ offices swell with super talented, ambitious, hard-working and youthful interns from college and graduate schools.  This year, we hired 163 potential future superstars from thousands of qualified candidates.  Thinking (way) back to our intern days just a few years (decades) ago, we thought we would share with all of you some of the wisdom and perspective we wish we had back then.  Yes, the financial markets, technology, and the entire world has changed tremendously since then, but we believe that the more some things may change, the more other things may stay the same.  By the way, you might not need to be a summer intern to perhaps pick up a useful tip or two.

What We Wish We Knew When We Were Summer Interns On Wall Street (Yes, a long, long time ago, but still relevant):

1. This is not an easy internship to get. You have worked really hard for many years and made many sacrifices to get to this opportunity. Give yourself a moment to congratulate yourself and be proud of your many accomplishments.

2. Be appreciative of your family, friends, mentors and all loved ones who supported you throughout your youth and helped you get to this milestone. Nobody gets here alone. You are still youthful, by the way.

3. Regardless of whether you think you just want to give finance a try, think you want a certain stamp on your resume or aren’t even sure why you were offered and accepted this internship, act from day one as if this is your chosen career and apply yourself in a manner that is reflective of someone who is striving for a 40+ year career on Wall Street. You may hate it, love it, consider it a stepping stone or just want to live in NYC for a summer… but if you treat this job as if it is the beginning of your chosen career versus a “try out,” you will get much more out of your experience. By the way, it might be the start of your 40+ year career, so why not start right!

4. This is a very demanding summer position. You will have an enormous amount of work to do and much of it will be brand new to you. It will feel at times that you are drinking from a fire hose. One of the most important things you can do while working so hard is to also take the time to step back, reflect on what analysis/task you are performing and ask yourself (and others) why you were asked to perform this analysis and what important conclusion you should be learning from the final product.  Hard work just for work’s sake is not good enough. You need to step back and THINK and UNDERSTAND what you are doing and what it means.

5. Don’t be intimidated by anyone you meet at Jefferies. We are all fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and/or daughters. We were all interns at one point in our lives and we all felt the insecurity and unease with trying to find our way in the early days of our career. We all remember the mentors that made a difference and the jerks who did not. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and make the outgoing effort.

6. Remember that we are all incredibly busy at Jefferies, so there are times to make the effort to meet people and there are times to politely stay away and let us do what needs to be done. Pay attention and be aware and sensitive.

7. If there is one thing that will matter in your career, it is your integrity. There are no short cuts.  You will get caught. You know within your body if you are even thinking about doing something wrong.  Everyone in our industry (and all others) is judged by their character, honesty, and morality.  Embrace this reality and live by it, and you will be unstoppable.  Bend the truth or mislead by omission or commission and you may get away with it at first, but the end will be imminent and you will regret your bad decision for the rest of your life.

8. If you do make a mistake or even think you might have (we are all human), bring it to your supervisor and the compliance department immediately.  The cover-up is always worse than the crime.  People can survive and thrive after mistakes if they are handled properly.  If you dig the hole deeper, you might as well lay down in it.

9. Your career is not a zero sum game.  Your fellow interns are not your competitors.  Teamwork and getting along with your peers is as important as hard work and smarts. You never know who the peer working in the bullpen next to you may be. They may become:  Future bosses, employees, partners, clients or lifelong friends. If you help make them better, you will do better. We can extend full-time job offers to everyone in the class if you all deserve it, or none of you if you don’t. Get with the teamwork program from day 1 and live it for your entire career. You will advance faster. You will also be a lot happier.

10. We deal with big numbers and small mistakes multiplied by big numbers can create real problems, especially since the numbers all have dollar signs before them.  Accuracy is very important and you need to check and re-check your work.

11. It is OK to make a mistake and learn what you did wrong.

12. It is not OK to repeat the same mistake.

13. If you don’t understand what is being asked of you, get clarification.  It is always good to ask all the questions you need to have answered to accomplish your task.  Don’t nod and act like you know what is needed when you don’t.  You will save an incredible amount of time for yourself and have a quality work product if you ask all the questions up front.

14. Our clients are our lifeblood.  You will get exposure to them whenever possible.  Always treat them professionally and with respect.  Our future depends on them.  So does yours.

15. Our firm has made it a priority to improve the diversity of the Jefferies team.  We need everyone’s help, including yours.  You are either helping us through your actions, intentions, and behavior, or you are making it harder for us.  We will notice.

16. Be smart, thoughtful, and mature about your social media posts.  You never know who may be “following” you. (We never had to worry about this one but you do).

17. Hard work and long hours, unfortunately, go with the territory in our industry and at Jefferies.  You will be asked to make sacrifices and some days you will run out of hours to get important work done.  Here is what you should remember:

a. Sometimes you will need to make significant sacrifices to achieve objectives and it is what it is.

b. If you have free time, get out of the office.  Facetime is bull$—.  We don’t want people who are proud that they have no life outside of the office.

c. You must take care of your health. Exercise. Eat well. Get enough sleep. You must find balance, as hard as it may seem.  Prioritize.

d. If anyone at Jefferies is making unfair demands of you, we want to know – our emails are open 24/7.  We always answer our phones and our doors are also always open if there is a problem.

e. Don’t neglect your family and friends.

f. Don’t burn yourself out.

g. We fully understand balancing all of these demands is hard and unavoidable conflicts will arise.  That said, you need to work on this and we want to help.  This is important.

18. If you think you have a product, industry or geographic preference—speak up. We cannot promise we can make it happen, but we want to know and will try to accommodate as many people as possible.  There are no bad “assignments, groups, or geographies.”

19. We greatly value and work hard at our culture at Jefferies and are very proud of it.  Add to it by bringing your originality, personality, humor, passion, smarts, and hard work.

20. We are not doctors or nurses in the emergency room triage center.  We are not soldiers in the line of fire to protect the American way of life.  We are not firemen or policewomen putting their lives at risk to save innocent people.  What we are doing (while very important and personally satisfying) is not life or death and there are many other positions that are more vital to humanity.  We are just saying to work hard, be serious, but have fun and keep things in perspective.

We look forward to meeting every one of you and welcoming you as a member of our 2017 Summer Intern Class.

Rich and Brian

Handler is on Instagram and Twitter @HandlerRich.


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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