Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems
If you don’t major in economics and go into finance, do you even go to Duke? This was a question I sarcastically posed to myself as I completed resume drop after resume drop for all the big banks. While I have chosen to major in something completely different, I still felt as if I was feeding into herd mentality by lusting after a coveted position on Wall Street (I would like to acknowledge that people don’t always have freedom of choice when deciding what professions they want to go into. Some have more flexibility than others, while some have more constraints—familial, social, monetary—that dictate their paths). I wanted the tailored business suits, the respect, the corporate credit card, and above all else, the guaranteed pay out. For years, my parents have invested time and money into my education, and I wanted a job that would, without a doubt, show to them and others that their investment had paid off.
So I dropped the resumes, asked questions in the presentations, and schmoozed at the events when the banks came to campus. I literally rubbed elbows (over finger foods and non-alcoholic beverages in fancy glasses) with VPs and analysts. I wanted their secrets. I wanted their jobs and they made it very apparent that I was going to have to earn it. By the time I had an offer from the bank I ended up interning at, I had undergone 20+ interviews taking place via a mix of in-person, phone, and video chat with that one firm. Exhaustion did not even begin to capture my sentiment at that point. I wanted to give the offer back if the application process hinted at all at the type of grueling atmosphere I would encounter on the job. I preface what I’m about to say with the acknowledgment that my experience isn’t the only one to be had in a corporate or even finance environment. The white-passing interns that were on the same team as me had a strikingly different summer experience.
I’m writing this to give a recount of Wall St. without the glitz, the glamour, or the candy-coated picture that gets painted at the information sessions. I interned in New York at one of the biggest banks. I sent the analysts on my team a minute-by-minute break down of how I planned to spend my day, as required. Despite knowing exactly how I was spending my day, and how congested it would be, they would heap additional things onto my plate at any given time. Sometimes they would give me the courtesy of asking whether I was “at capacity.” Regardless of my answer, another project, another due date, another timeline was added to my load. By the end of the summer, I had no idea what my capacity even was.
On an average day, after several rounds of security, I would get to my desk at around 7:30. I typically wouldn’t leave the office until about 9:30. Leaving at 8:30 was a good day. Leaving past 10 occurred often. From 7:30 – 6:00 I was typically in non-stop meetings about projects and events that the division was hosting. I was taking notes, scheduling conference rooms, and chasing on follow-ups from previous meetings. From 6:00 to whenever I dragged myself home, I was working on the 10 or so different personal projects I had been assigned to complete.
Twice a week I was placed in a room with other interns for an hour-long pop-quiz. We had to wear nametags so we could be picked on by name. We were given no way to prep and no heads up on what the topic would be. We never knew what was coming. When I was not being grilled on random things, I was presenting projects I had worked on to regional managers, people across the world, and CEOs of various divisions. After the big shots were gone, the analysts on my team would rip my presentation to shreds. I was criticized for everything from the length of my hyphen to the lack of a space on either side of my slash marks. God forbid I put a period on the end of a bullet point or have an oxford comma on one slide but not another. Sometimes, usually around 2 or 3, I made the short trek to the kitchen to get my lunch and then returned to my desk to eat it. While eating I would skim through my e-mails. In the span of a single meeting—about an hour or so—I could rack up 30+ messages and requests in my inbox. Every day was a fire drill.
This summer was hard, but it was also rewarding. I worked around the clock and my work reflected those efforts. I presented one of my projects to the CEO of the Americas offices and he asked for me to give it to all Regional Managers across the globe. I made bank and I learned how to always be prepared for anything anyone could throw at me. Would I ever do it again? No. I survived (barely) thanks to a combination of tearful calls home and because my boyfriend made sure I ate three meals a day. I’m proud I was able to complete the internship, but I know I would never be able to work in such an environment for any extended period of time.
It was a high-pressure environment to say the least, and I left the short, 10-week program feeling nothing short of burnt out. This is not to persuade anyone not to apply. Maybe that’s the type of environment you want to launch a career in. Maybe you’re one of those plants that thrive in the dessert. This summer taught me above all else what I want and deserve in a work environment. Namely, respect for my time and energy. I want co-workers who treat me like an equal, and work hours that don’t make me choose between eating, sleeping, and showering. I want—and demand—a work environment where I can seek personal development while also furthering the business. While I am grateful for every opportunity, this summer taught me that I am a valuable addition to any corporation I decide to work for, and should be treated thusly.