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Four lessons learned from a summer on the Street

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Aubrey Chapnick is an MBA student with a focus on finance and strategy at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver. He previously worked as a consultant at the global leadership development firm Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge and has experience in business development, sales and project management. He also worked this summer as a capital markets rotational intern, focused in mining investment banking and Canadian consumer products/retail equity research. This is his fourth entry for MBA Diary.

Landing a great internship is one of the best ways for MBA students to test drive the industry they might want to break into after school. As an intern, you are (hopefully) able to gain a good sense of a new industry or job without the pressures and complications that come with being a full timer.

A good internship can teach you a lot (especially about yourself). This summer, I had the chance to intern in investment banking and equity research and wanted to share a few of the things I learned (outside of technical matters) from my experiences. They might help those who are looking to learn more about the capital markets industry.

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Be resilient and don't give up

Working in capital markets, you must be aware that your work will require a high level of accuracy and attention to detail. No matter what you deliver to someone (whether it's to an analyst, associate or vice-president), you must be aware that what you are producing sends a signal to others.

Are your spreadsheets easy to follow and formatted properly? Do you proofread your writeups and e-mails? Are the margins on that document correct? Are you using the right font size?

Where is your thesis coming from and what are the assumptions that you are making in order for that to be true? Is everything you mentioned sourced and fact-based?

Such an emphasis on detail usually means that the first few drafts of work will likely need to be tweaked, rewritten or redone. You can't let this frustrate you. Ultimately, the only way forward is to persevere and keep working to get better. The learning curve is very steep but progress comes with time.

Ask, "Does this make sense?"

Numbers are often misleading if you don't know what is behind them. They always tell a story, and many times these stories are deliberate.

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I quickly learned that being truly analytical doesn't just mean being able to run a model and examine financial statements. It's more about connecting the dots between data points (quantitative and qualitative), searching for outliers and making sure all the ducks line up. If they don't, something is off and you need to figure out why.

If things do align, you need to dig deeper, validate assumptions and create hypotheses to build a compelling thesis on companies, transactions and trends. Going through this process is also very important with internal documents and resources. Never taking information as gospel is a core skill and developing a healthy sense of skepticism is needed (also true for other businesses and industries).

Details are vital but never forget the big picture

Having your head buried in financial models, annual reports and MD&As (management discussion and analysis) for hours a day can transport you into another world, one that is made up primarily of micro-level idiosyncratic details.

While attention to detail is one of the most important things one needs to be successful in capital markets, there is always a bigger picture driving things along.

Often, taking a step back and doing a sanity check on what is really happening on the macro level is needed to generate better insights and understanding. For example, telling a story around comparing a company's market share and revenue growth rate relative to broader industry growth trends and overall dynamics is a good way to start.

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Once complete, drawing stark contrasts between what is going on above and below the EBITDA line can move the process along when analyzing an income statement.

Be insatiably curious – school can only teach you so much

Leading up to starting my internship, I did everything I could to prepare. I took extra courses at school, added to my discretionary reading list and put in a lot more hours on Excel to try and be as ready as possible to hit the ground running.

What I came to realize, however, is that no matter what kind of prior training one has had before going into a new role (to a certain extent depending on seniority, of course), one will never be truly fully prepared.

As boxer Mike Tyson once said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face," and starting a new role in a new industry is no different.

Preparation is vital, but pairing a genuine thirst for knowledge, along with adopting what Stanford professor Carol Dweck describes as a growth mindset, will do a lot to bridge the gaps between what you know, what you don't know and what you don't know you don't know.

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