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Wall St. CEO lists 4 things interns should look for in their first full-time job

Julia La Roche
Jefferies CEO Rich Handler welcomes 166 summer analysts and associates. (photo credit: Instagram/HandlerRich)

It’s June, and that means a new crop of interns will be starting their 10-week summer programs on trading floors, research desks and investment banking divisions across Wall Street.

An internship is a great way to gauge whether or not a firm or career path is a right fit when it comes to selecting that first job after graduation.

Long-time investment bank CEO Rich Handler, who runs Jefferies (JEF), sent a letter to his firm’s 166 summer analysts and associates, offering them tips for that process.

“Your first full time job out of school is important for many reasons and in some ways, it can establish the foundation, direction and tone for your long-term career (and happiness),” Handler wrote.

He listed four key qualities to look for when making that decision. While these tips are focused on Wall Street, they can certainly be applicable elsewhere.

1. Flow: You want to be at a firm that has an enormous amount of action. Deals, trades, complexities, ideas, problems, solutions, commotion and liveliness. The only way to truly learn is to be plopped right in the middle of everything, which at times may appear to be a mess, but in reality is more politely referred to as “organized chaos.” You will be around people who are doing productive things at a fast pace. You should observe them. If you don’t understand a decision/strategy, ask someone (perhaps not in the heat of the moment, but once things calm down). You metaphorically should put yourself in the shoes of the people getting things done. You have the opportunity to understand motivations, reactions, strategy and goals. It is one thing to conceptualize all of this in a classroom or in a theoretical conversation, it is another to find yourself smack in the middle of the action and be required to figure out how to swim. By the way, you will get water up your nose and that’s ok. Learn to deal with it.

2. People: You have to be excited about the people you met during the interview process and all the ones you are going to work with this summer. Tremendous flow is wonderful and educational, but without the right people around you it will be very hollow. They don’t have to be your close friends or adopted parents. But you should ultimately pick a firm whose people: you respect, truly care about your career, spend the time to teach, are long-term committers versus short-term mercenaries, have a sense of purpose and direction, have true integrity, value relationships, value and appreciate life balance, are philanthropic, are fun and in many ways you would like to emulate in your future. You won’t get along with everyone and even the best of people have the worst of days. The bottom line is that you have to put yourself in a place with people you want to surround yourself with for most of your waking hours, because that is what you will do.

3. Mission: You need to pick a firm that has a mission and a purpose that truly aligns with your goals and excites you. You will be joining a firm and fighting in the trenches with the rest of the team in hand-to-hand combat to achieve difficult and complicated objectives. It’s great to have a strong flow of challenges with people you care about beside you, but you also need to believe in where you are going and what you are fighting to achieve. This is the special ingredient. This will make the needed sacrifices easier because you’ll be excited about staying up the extra hour or traveling the extra mile to help make sure your team succeeds.

4. Integrity: This was true in our day as well, but it is even more clear today in our fast-paced world of instant transparency — finding a firm with true integrity is a “must have” and not a “nice to have.” No matter how tired you will be when you put your head on your pillow after a long day’s work, you will only sleep well at night if you know everything you did to manage your tremendous flow with the people you respect to execute the mission you believe in was done with complete honesty and integrity. No fight is worth winning if you can’t win it fair and square. True pride comes with succeeding and being able to hold your head high knowing that no corner was ever cut or compromised. This is not only the core foundation that great careers are built upon, but it is the cherry on top that will result in pride, fulfillment, and true happiness and success.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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