Big and Small Questions to Ask When Choosing an Internship
Jaimi Goodfriend, Director of the Point72 Academy, took us through the key questions she encourages prospective interns to ask before joining a program.
Summer internships are important—they’re a first step that can have a huge impact on the trajectory of your career. I can say that with certainty as someone who screens intern candidates, hires interns into full-time roles, and as a former professor who coached and counseled undergrads on how to earn internships they hoped would turn into long-term careers.
Internships are also important because the summer before your last year of undergrad is really when you begin shifting your focus from academia to your career. A summer internship gives you the opportunity to build a network, gain experience, and have an inside track on earning a return offer after graduation.
As important as it is to earn the internship offers you want, it’s even more important to be selective when deciding which opportunity to take. To that end, I tell undergrads to ask a handful of questions to help them select the best opportunity.
Does this internship set me up for success?
First, think about the internship in a vacuum—what do you want to know at the end of the summer? Is there a formalized curriculum to teach you that? Will there be hands-on work? Will you have a chance to network with your peers and more experienced people at the firm?
Then think about it longer-term. What does the internship prepare you for? What are return offer rates like? Have previous interns succeeded in the organization? How many employees in your department went through this program?
What does my role look like if I return full-time after graduation?
If you’re working hard all summer for a return offer, it’s natural to ask questions about what comes next. Are there growth opportunities for employees? Is there a ceiling to what you can achieve there? Will you have access to tools, resources, and/or coaching to help you develop as a professional? Are early-career employees cultivated or commoditized? What are retention statistics and how do they compare?
What’s the culture like?
This one is important, but tricky for people just beginning their careers—it’s hard to differentiate between company cultures when you’re in your first internship or full-time role. Ask people who work there—how does the culture compare to other places you’ve worked? How are people treated? Are there opportunities for growth? Is this a place that values collaboration, networking, mentorship? Is it flat and entrepreneurial or rigid and hierarchical? Do departments interact?
What’s the tone from the top?
Leadership sets the tone at every company, and it’s worth asking how they talk about and interact with junior talent. Ask about what they’ve said in the past, and how they view the program.
I can’t speak for other firms, but I can tell you what we say here. Steven A. Cohen, our founder and president, participates in several Academy events a year, and has gone on record about our Firm’s commitment to talent:
“I want people who want to become an analyst, who want to have their career in the hedge fund community, to come here because they know we care about them. To know we care about their development, we care about giving them feedback. I’m excited by that.”
Access to leadership is also important. Our interns enjoy a speaker series with access to leadership at the Firm, and we have a culture that discourages hierarchy and encourages collaboration. To borrow another line from Steve, “I always tell people go walk up to somebody you think is interesting and say, “Let’s have breakfast. Can I ask you a question?” Ask them anything, because there’s so much talent here. If I were starting in this business today, I’d be like a kid in a candy store. I’m just so amazed by the talent we have here.”
The internship program I run—the Point72 Academy Summer Internship—is eight weeks of training as a long/short analyst, with the aim of preparing students for our 10-month, full-time Point72 Academy program and then an analyst seat at our Firm. To date, we’ve put over a hundred grads in analyst roles here since the launch of the Point72 Academy program.
A lot of those analysts’ careers started in our summer internship program, but there are many great opportunities out there. I hope this helps you choose the right one for you.
Jaimi Goodfriend is the Director of the Point72 Academy, Point72’s initiative to recruit and train new college graduates as long/short (L/S) equities investment professionals on an accelerated schedule.