The five most important lessons that I learned in my recent internship at Credit Suisse

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Yanlin Duan's picture

As some of the community members may know I recently finished a five-month internship at Credit Suisse in their Hong Kong office. It was an awesome experience, and there is so much to share with you – but for now I would like to focus on five key takeaways that I learned through my internship. I hope I can give you some insights that prove to be valuable for your future internships.

Lesson No.1: Deliver first and learn along the way

This lesson definitely deserves to be the No.1 of the list. As my manager put it, it is difficult for interns to get themselves well-adjusted from their previous university life—where your primary goal is to learn and you are encouraged to dig as deep as you want on an issue to get the whole picture. Interns must be sure to strike the right balance between building up their knowledge and finishing the tasks they are assigned for. During an internship, your primary responsibility is to deliver, and feel free to learn along the way.

Being curious and being persistent are by all means good personal traits as an intern, especially in an industry like finance. But always remember that you are part of a team and people are counting on you to do your job well and deliver on time: missing a whole bunch of deadlines with the reason of “trying to think more and understand deeper” is not likely to create a good impression.

Lesson No.2: Close up things before taking on anything new

I know many students (myself included) have a really impressive ability: doing nothing throughout the semester, becoming a multi-tasking guru in the revision week and working on all final exams at the same time. While that sounds cool, ‘over multi-tasking’ can be a warning sign in most cases as it suggests that you fail to close up previous projects before taking new ones: to put it another way, people trust you and give you some work to do only to find that you cannot manage your time well and get too much on your plate—Very likely you cannot finish any of them well. Try to focus on less things—take myself as an example, my supervisor has taught me to keep on at most two things: one ad-hoc issue, one long-term project. This would allow you to put efforts on urgent and important issue, while not making yourself idle when it is done. Using this technique, I accomplished more than 9 long term projects and assisted with more than 20+ ad-hoc support cases.

Lesson No.3: Think about how to communicate your results

During my internship, there were many occasions where I needed to communicate what I have found during testing/debugging to other people. The challenge here is: how to convey enough information to the other parties while avoiding writing a super-long email and overwhelming them. This can be extremely important when you have outcomes that include lots of data. In that case, stop for 30 seconds and think as if you were the one receiving this email: what do you want to see: a table? a chart? or just a line of result? It only takes 30 seconds, but it is unbelievably useful: the first few times when I didn’t do that, my emails tended to be long and contained too much unnecessary data and were less effective messages; after I applied this 30 second rule, my emails shortened, with relevant and appealing information, and the overall message became more convincing and succinct. People love well-presented content, so don’t forget to make sure your results are well presented, especially given the hours of work needed to get them.

Lesson No.4: Help people, but in the right way

The functionality of my team was across front to back offices: We were responsible for helping traders with any pricing model related questions, as well as helping with explaining some of the unexpected numbers in the back office risk management system in a quantitative way. This usually meant whenever there were questions, people turn to you for help. This was actually one of the characteristics that I loved about this job, because I enjoyed the sense of achievement and respect gained when I helped others out. However, at the same time I was learning how to help people in the right way by saying ‘No I cannot help’ when it was appropriate. Yes, this did happen as people came to me when I may not have been the right person to ask for. At the very beginning I found it hard to refuse people, but I soon understood that it was simply a waste of both of our time if I cannot help and did not turn down the request.  Later, on many occasions I would first make sure that the question is an ‘appropriate’ question for us to answer, and if not, redirect them to the right group.

Lesson No.5: Enjoy your journey

I will keep this one short and sweet: Don’t put too much stress on yourself! This is, after all, an internship and not your whole life. Enjoy your work by exploring the great opportunities around you: make friends with people, show up and mingle at business dinners, join the events held by the firm, etc. Utilize your opportunity to see what else you can get from this internship. As for me, I have tried a few free working out sessions arranged by the firm and also joined an English practicing pen-pal program with children from rural area of China. Of course, I also made friends in and out of my group and it is amazing to work with so many nice and smart people.

I would never regret my five months at Credit Suisse, as I have learned these five important lessons that could benefit me throughout my career. It was indeed a very positive, interesting and rewarding journey!