By Jim Toes
Sitting in O’Hare Airport last Friday for what turned into a 10-hour flight delay, I had plenty of time to catch up on lots of reading. One article that caught my attention was by Sarah Butcher of eFinancialCareers on the experiences of college students who just completed their summer internships. Ms. Butcher’s column included both the good and not-so-good experiences of certain young adults who were fortunate enough to land a much-coveted internship in the financial services industry.
As one would expect, the good experiences were nice to read about, but it was the bad experiences that seemed more likely to grab a reader’s attention. One story that particularly stood out was about an intern who, after just six weeks, came to a decision that the financial services industry was not for them and went so far as to say, “I don’t want to grow up to be fat, depressed and lonely.” To that intern, let me say that if a brief encounter with me over the summer caused you to come away with those three impressions, please know that I am not lonely.
On a more serious note, the financial services industry is not for everyone. Just like other professions, it has its own unique pace, demands and rewards that some people find attractive and exhilarating – and that others find dull and oppressive. If your experience this past summer has caused you to rethink a career in financial services, I will not try to tell you that your feelings are wrong. However, I would recommend that you put the experience in perspective.
Your internship was just a few weeks, spent at one firm among a small group of professionals in only a few departments. It is very difficult to understand an industry to any meaningful degree based solely on such a limited experience. There are hundreds of industry firms, many of which you may have never heard, and all of which have different specialties and cultures. So, if the internship was in your desired field, such as equity trading, and things did not go the way you imagined, there are other equity trading firms out there that may provide a springboard to the career you envision for yourself.
Also, there is more to financial services companies than financial services alone. Despite popular sentiment, there are a wide range of job descriptions. Technology, law, compliance, advertising, government affairs, research – these are just a few of the other areas that might be of interest. Please don’t let the actions of a few lonely people with weight and emotional issues be the reason to change your career path.
Reconciling that passion, whether by exploring it or burying it, cleared their minds of any regrets and allowed them to focus on their new career with clear eyes and full hearts. So, if you have a passion for something, coming to terms with it before you enter our industry is a good idea.
This recommendation to put things into perspective also applies to those who had a positive experience with their internship and now feel confident that the financial services industry is right for them. Continue to research and learn about our industry and ask yourself if this is what you want at this stage in your life. Many individuals with long and successful careers in this sector did or tried to do something they were passionate about before entering the industry. Reconciling that passion, whether by exploring it or burying it, cleared their minds of any regrets and allowed them to focus on their new career with clear eyes and full hearts. So, if you have a passion for something, coming to terms with it before you enter our industry is a good idea.
Summer internships are wonderful opportunities because they provide an experience and data for students and early-career professionals to base decisions on. If you secured an internship, you’re most likely a talented person who will have a long career in whatever field(s) you go into. However, that experience, no matter how positive or negative, is inherently limited in that it is a short window of time spent within a small part of a large universe. Therefore, while the experience may have been an invaluable one, please do not base a final decision solely upon it.
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