Sales and trading is one of the most coveted roles within the finance industry, which makes landing a summer internship very difficult for many Cornell students.
Three undergraduates offered their best tips on how to break into and succeed in this exclusive career path.
Johnathan Epstein ’20 is a senior studying policy analysis and management and minoring in business. Epstein interned at Citigroup for the summer and is returning full time. Ethan Geller ’20 is a senior studying economics and minoring in business who interned at Deutsche Bank for the summer and is returning full time to the Foreign Exchange Structuring desk. Josh Thomas ’20 is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and interned at JP Morgan in the Interest Rates Derivatives team for the summer and is returning full time.
Below are excerpts from the interviews, lightly edited for clarity.
What are some tips for interviewing for an S&T internship?
Epstein: I think the biggest one is following the markets. The best way to do that is to read The Wall Street Journal markets section.
Geller: For S&T you need to keep up with the markets. In terms of valuation and modeling, they don’t really ask about that. And I think it’s also kind of a little icing on the cake if you know about different types of securities as well.
What does an effective recruiting strategy look like?
Epstein: I think networking is very important. S&T is largely a relationship business just like banking is. Going out and meeting people at information sessions, reaching out to Cornell alumni cold, that sort of thing helps. Speaking to people about their own experience at a certain firm before you interview with that firm was pretty helpful too.
Thomas: The other thing is knowing your story and why S&T makes sense for you. You’ve got to figure out what your X Factor is, in the sense that you want to come off as a candidate who can bring something new to the table, and be able to convey that in your story.
What advice would you give to a freshman considering a career in S&T?
Epstein: Something that’s pretty important would be trying to grasp the difference between banking and S&T and the role that S&T has in a bank. Another important point to understand is the difference between S&T and asset management, as there’s some overlap between the two as to what both sort of groups would look at in a prospective intern. If markets really interest you and you’re actually really interested in understanding how different political events or different news will affect consumer sentiment or the way that investors react to hearing different things I think S&T would be a good path to follow.
Finance in general has a reputation of prolonged hours; have you experienced long hours and if so, how long were they?
Epstein: S&T varies, depending on what desk you’re placed on. If you’re working in the equities market as an analyst, you will probably be looking at roughly 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours. But if you’re working on the credit market, like high yield or distressed credit, or an FX or rates market, where the exchanges may be open and traded on 24/7, you’ll be looking at a little bit longer than that. I’d say over the course of my summer I averaged probably between 55 and 80 hours a week. I often stayed late to learn and optionally work on projects. But that’s not to say that you could do it with less or more depending on the desk, but I’d say overall S&T is slightly less than banking.
Geller: I think it very much depends on the desk. For FX, I would wake up around 5:30 a.m. and then get into work. If you’re on a FX trading desk, since FX markets are primarily dominated in Europe, around 4 p.m., it slows down a lot. So my boss would normally be out around 5 p.m. For other desks it would probably be around 7 p.m.
What skills — that you haven’t learned through classes — do you think were important on the job?
Geller: Learning how to talk to adults is the most important thing, and not being afraid to talk to them. Learning how to talk to people in a professional setting, while still having a good time and conveying yourself as a strong individual is definitely the most important thing.
What was your favorite memory from the internship?
Epstein: I was on the U.S. rates trading desk, and it was the first time this year the [Federal Reserve] cut rates, and to [coworkers] it was like the Super Bowl. And for me, I was fresh on the desk and I had no idea what was going on. They started playing hype music, everyone was going crazy. People were even joking about placing side bets between each other. I thought it was hilarious.
Geller: I was on the public side, so I was pitching FX derivatives trades to clients, and my end of rotation project was to come up with a trade idea around the G20 summit back in the summer. I ended up pitching it and gave it to my boss and they ended up thinking it was good enough to give to a client and a client bought a ton of it and I made them a bunch of money. So I was like, “Wow.” I was going in expecting that S&T would just be me asking questions and to have an immediate impact and make money for the bank three weeks into an internship is amazing.
Thomas: Catching up with all the interns once the analysts have left, grabbing coffee with them, sharing the ups and downs of each day-those are the memories I won’t forget. With S&T it can sometimes be competitive. After week three, they told us we don’t have spots for everybody and you have to compete for the full time offer. Yet, the interns got along really well with each other. We always found the time after late night to just sit around and just talk through kind of what craziness we went through that day. I still keep in contact with them and I’ll always remember those moments.
What are some common misconceptions about S&T?
Epstein: The biggest common misconception is that computers are going to overtake all S&T. People don’t realize that a lot of S&T is actually trading things that aren’t traded via an exchange. So, for example, a swap is essentially a derivative of the U.S. Treasury, where you swap between a fixed rate and a floating rate, and it’s basically a contractual agreement between two parties to exchange a series of future cash flows. That’s something that needs to be priced by person and it’s very difficult to do it by computer, and there’s no exchange that’s giving live quotes on that. One unique thing that I should also mention about S&T is that over the course of the summer, you’re not actually licensed to do anything. So the majority of the S&T summer internship is working on side projects and networking.
Thomas: One is that things will get automated within a matter of years. The second misconception is that your job is very fast-paced and you’re constantly trading. Some desks make four or five trades a day, but those are very large trades. On the other hand, in FX and rates, those asset classes have little increments, so those desks make several hundred trades potentially in a week. So it really depends on the asset class.