M&A Advisor and Internship Program Director, Garrett Monroe, shares his insights on how to get the most out of your internship experience.
Internships, especially in competitive industries like M&A, Investment Banking, and Private Equity are more than just an experience to put on your resume.
“A small percentage of people in the U.S., and even on this career path, end up finding a place in the financial services industry,” remarks Monroe. “There’s a lot to M&A that can’t be learned in a classroom, which is where internships come in. It’s a chance to learn the industry and to get as much exposure, opportunities, and facetime with professionals as possible to absorb the intangible, personal dynamic side of things and to be remembered.”
But it’s about more than simply being remembered–it’s a matter of being remembered favorably and standing out. With only a few permanent openings coming up every few years within the industry, you want to make sure that you’re a candidate worth hiring. Especially in a tightly knit business community such as West Michigan’s, everyone knows everyone. How you show up in your internships can mean the difference between a soft reference and a strong recommendation.
This competitive industry/landscape becomes its own small world, so it’s important to stand out. Pulling from his own experience in multiple industries, Monroe has some solid advice for how to do just that.
“I did internships at four different companies/firms, and eventually met Max [Managing Partner at Calder Capital], and came on board at Calder as an analyst full time. Along the way, I completed a lot of technical and soft skill work – financial analysis/modeling, buyer list creation, market research, CIM writing, organizing due diligence data rooms, cold emailing/calling, etc.” Now an M&A Advisor, Monroe still falls back on his technical skills and soft skills quite a bit, acknowledging the foundation that began in his college internship experiences.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Internships
Be open to challenges–even if it’s uncomfortable. Coming into the new world of M&A, Investment Banking, or Private Equity can feel pretty intimidating. Don’t let this stop you from getting to know the people you’re working with and for. They know that you’re in this space to learn, and they want to see that you’re curious, interested, and engaged. “In fact,” stated Monroe, “one of Max Friar’s secrets in picking out future hires is acting a bit aloof and waiting for interns to seek him out. He knows it’s uncomfortable for them.”
The relationships that you make at this point in your career can significantly influence it going forward. So take advantage of every opportunity you’re given in the context of your internship – whether that’s networking events, sitting in on meetings with the higher-ups, or trying your hand at a project you’ve never done before.
Stay competitive. Your peers and fellow interns are your collaborative teammates, but they’re also your competitors. This can be a fine line to walk, but, Monroe clarifies, “I’m not saying you need to be cutthroat and conniving. You’ll likely be supporting each other and working together a lot. It’s important also to remember that ultimately, you want to stand out.”
“There may be times when you and your fellow interns are pitted against each other,” says Monroe. “Like, ‘Alright, you’re all going to do cold calls with investment bankers (or private equity groups) for the next week, and whoever gets the most legitimate prospects wins.’ There’s groupthink among interns. You may feel like it’d be in bad taste to outdo your peers or to work after hours when the other interns are at the bar. But this type of work ethic is what’s going to give you a favorable reputation among the managing partners and leaders in the firm. Whether you know it or not, the people you’re working for presently are paying attention to your involvement, growth, and performance.”
Be overly communicative. Even a quick email goes a long way. For example, if you finish a project, make sure that you’re communicating with whoever is waiting on it, not only to let them know you’ve finished it but also to convey that you’re open to feedback.
To take that one step further, make sure you ask what project you can take on next. Again, showing that you’re eager to get to work and you’re not just twiddling your thumbs waiting for another task to be handed to you will go a long way.
“If you don’t have the writing or typing skills or you’re awkward on the phone, being overly communicative is still better than being bashful,” says Monroe. “The more touchpoints you have with people in the firm, the more they’re going to feel like you care, like you’re working hard, and you’re engaged.”
Leverage your skill sets. Remember that no one is an expert at everything. “If we were all A+ at every type of task, we’d all be robots,” comments Monroe. “It’s important to play to your strengths–if you’re great at financial analysis, or you’re great at interfacing with clients, you can carve yourself a space based on those strengths, so it pays to know yourself.”
At the same time, he emphasizes the willingness to put yourself through trial by fire. “You’re in these internships to learn the hard skills. You should be honing your soft skills–sharpening your work ethic, your communication skills, etc., already. But don’t be afraid to take on projects that you’re going to stink at at first. If there’s an area you know you’re a bit weaker in, do your best to challenge yourself and sharpen those skills.”
“One thing you learn in the internship world is that you’ve just got to do whatever the heck you’re assigned. What you have to have confidence in is that we’ve all done it, even the crappy, tedious tasks. Many students come into the M&A, Investment Banking, or Private Equity space because it seems like a shiny world, and then when they find themselves grinding through buyer lists, they think, Wow, this isn’t what I signed up for. But even the managing partner at a given firm has done this work at one point in his/her career. If you can get that work down and show that you’re willing to do the hard and tedious work, you’re going to receive opportunities to advance and grow in the firm.”
Try different internships, even if it means ruling out career paths you don’t want to take. You may already have an idea of what you’d like to do or where you think you want to be. But don’t be too quick to rule out opportunities that come your way.
Monroe reflects on his own internship experiences, recognizing that the larger corporate environments were less appealing to him. Still, he acknowledges his experiences in larger companies/firms being just as instrumental as the smaller ones in getting him where he is now. “No matter the internship, you either learn you don’t like it, or you learn capabilities you didn’t know you had. Test yourself every day.”
Finding out where you don’t want to be is an essential part of the process, and during your student/internship years, you have the freedom to lean into that process.
How Monroe’s Experiences Shaped His Approach to the Calder Capital Internship Program
Having gone through a few internships himself, Monroe has done his best to tailor the Calder Capital Internship Program into a unique experience. Three main components set it apart from many other programs.
Transparency within the firm. Especially in internships at bigger corporations, Monroe found that it can be easy to get lost in the monotony. Often, interns are assigned repetitive tasks, and they complete these tasks ad nauseam without seeing any direct impact or results throughout the company. At Calder Capital, Monroe strives to give the interns that come through a full picture of what Calder Capital and M&A are all about.
“In some of my past internships, I would complete a project, hand it off where it was due, and then never saw it again, and certainly didn’t see the results or how it contributed to the bigger picture,” says Monroe. “This was challenging, and it wasn’t great for morale. Through the Calder internship, I try to give our junior analysts time and exposure to real-life projects. For example, once they’ve completed a valuation analysis, they can participate in the call with the prospect to present the valuation, interact with the business owner, and gauge their reaction and feedback.”
This transparency doesn’t just involve the valuation of a prospective client, however. The Calder Capital interns get a chance to see the M&A process all the way through, from prospecting to a closed transaction. They may not see the whole process with an individual client, but they’ll still have touchpoints at every stage of the process.
“The interns that work in this space will know exactly what M&A is and who Calder Capital is by the time they’re through.”
Supportive and collaborative culture. Regardless of whether you’re an intern, a full-time analyst, or an M&A advisor, you want to be able to come into work and say you enjoy it. Remarks Monroe, “If you’re miserable in your current situation, there’s something else out there you could at the very least enjoy more.”
In addition to trying to keep morale high through satisfying work and good exposure, he also includes them in plenty of other networking opportunities and activities. The firm hosts casual mixers with other firms in the West Michigan area that give participants an excellent chance to network. In addition, Monroe takes the interns on golf outings to unwind and interact outside of work. Calder interns can also have periodic one-on-ones with Max, Calder’s Managing Partner, to discuss their career goals.
Calder Capital strives to be a mentoring firm, so in addition to learning the hard skills of M&A, interns can get a well-rounded experience in the industry that will ideally set them up for a bright future in the space.
More open and diverse vetting criteria. When recruiting and considering internship candidates, Monroe recognizes that there’s much more to a candidate’s qualifications than the name of their university.
“The M&A, Investment Banking, and Private Equity world do a lot of vetting from big, #1 universities,” explains Monroe. “While there is some validity to that, to think that students from smaller schools don’t have the ability to keep up in this space is flabbergasting to me. Just because you’re cut from a Choice One university doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in this space.”
Monroe himself is from a mid-tier West Michigan University, and he points out that others within our firm have similar backgrounds. However, there are other qualities to consider, and Monroe is more interested in a candidate’s work ethic and desire to grow in this space than he is in the prestige of their chosen school.
A Few Traits that Monroe Looks for in Internship Candidates
While you come into an internship to learn a set of hard skills, there are a few specific soft skills that Monroe feels are an essential foundation in finding a great fit.
Solid communication skills. As we touched on earlier, a willingness to communicate is important. While ghosting has become commonplace in the world of dating, it won’t get you far in the business world.
“Especially as a summer intern, you can afford to make the firm one of your highest priorities,” says Monroe. “If you go radio silent for a week or even a couple of days, you’re not going to last. You have the flexibility to do that in later years when you’ve got maybe a mortgage, a spouse, etc., but as an intern, there’s a bit less leeway. Always be in communication with your peers, colleagues, and higher-ups.”
A strong work ethic. Your ambition is something that the people you’re working with will see and notice. “In my opinion, being hardworking is a choice. In a bigger corporation, you can afford to be the weak link in a team because it is much easier to blend in. However, at small firms, in competitive industries, you have to work hard to achieve success.”
A willingness to get out of your comfort zone. “Remember that you’re here to learn. Take on projects that involve tasks you’ve never done before. You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s the only way to learn. Start pushing yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” says Monroe.
Follow Calder Capital on Linkedin to stay up-to-date on our internship opportunities.