An internship guide for the finance sector for those about to begin university

If you decide to pursue a financial career don’t be surprised. At university, you will be making 40+ applications in your first year and that’s just the easy part. After the first year, once you have mastered the technique of applications the numbers just go up. But let’s rewind, all the way back to my first few weeks at university. I had no CV, no cover letter and more importantly no idea about how to apply to the places that I didn’t even know existed with the application techniques that I have not yet been taught. I remember during my A-Level I really wanted to get some work experience at HSBC but at that point, I couldn’t even find the right internship to apply to never mind having a decent CV. This all changed after I received my wakeup call at a ‘city careers’ presentation at university. I remember being told that the unofficial deadline for applications is at the end of October; the presentation was on the second weekend of October. This brings me to the main point of this article. To make everyone aware of the whole internship application system that is very rarely mentioned before going to university. However, getting a few applications in or even just preparing a ready profile for October can put you ahead of everyone else by miles.

If I could give myself advice, back in the summer of 2018, just after I finished my A-Level exams, the following is what I would say. You have to start applying to places now. Not in a few months and certainly not wait till the second year. It sounds crazy and almost impossible, but this is the reality of it. You have to get started much earlier than you think. First, I would recommend setting up your documents and professional profile. I would say 3 items need to be ticked to achieve this. First and most important is to have a flawless CV, second is to have a flawless cover letter and finally to have a near-to-flawless application technique. I’m going to break down what each involves but first I’m going to answer the question that might be burning in your mind. How the hell am I going to know how to write a professional CV and cover letter and where do I look for these internships. My answer is very simple: LinkedIn. In Economics there is a term ’There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ which refers to everything, even items that appear free, having a cost. Well, LinkedIn is a ‘free lunch’ when it gets to finding out where and how to apply to internships. The app allows you to find the people that can help you with your applications and can help you find internships that are currently open on the jobs section. What I found best was to find connections by searching for people who have previously gone to my school or university and getting in contact with them. You can also go on a firms LinkedIn page and see who is working at the company that you are thinking of applying to. These people you can message and get in contact with and furthermore I would even recommend asking to have a phone call with them to ask the questions you might have in words as that way, they are much more likely to remember you (obviously, also using google to find the answers can be helpful too). The best conversation I’ve had was with a quantitative analyst at Deutsche Bank, who told me the exact details of what they want on my CV, cover letter and on how to pass the testing that you have to endure when making applications at the bank.

I am going to outline the brief details of what these three items look like. The CV is one page. My mentor always tells us that your CV can flow into the other side once you’ve got 20 years of industry experience. At first, this sounded quite tight and it will be especially for those who already have some work experience to put on their CV. The cover letter needs to answer three simple questions; What qualities do you have for the role? Why this firm? Why this role? Finally, in my opinion, the more complicated and harder to master is the application technique. Firstly, you have to find the available internships. There are many filtering web sites which makes this easy, my favourites are LinkedIn and Bright Network. Once you have the firms you are interested in, you have to filter through the website to find the recruitment section. What I noticed is that the actual page that has the detail of every internship available is hidden. You have to first click apply on one of the described internships on the website. This usually takes you to a page which has the URL containing ‘tal.net’. I would recommend saving these as bookmarks so that you don’t have to filter through the firm’s complicated website to find the section for internships. Each application requires you to fill out a forum, some are unpleasant and can take ages where they ask you every detail about yourself. They ask you to write out your CV again and ask you questions ranging from what A-levels you have to what your sexual orientation is. Once you have completed this (and have not yet fallen asleep) then comes the online testing. Now there is a large variety of tests that the firms can use, they can vary from very complicated to as easy as calculating percentages. You can easily practice these for free. There is a wide range of websites that provided step-by-step guides on these tests, it’s only a question of practice as to how good you are at the psychometrics. Make sure you also ask for tips from the mentor you got in contact with from LinkedIn, as they usually have some good tricks they used to follow. Finally, a good tactic would be to apply to firms you are least concerned about and do their online tests as a practice so that when you are applying to the company that you want to join, you will already have had significant practice. If you are driven and make it past to a video interview, then you are doing very well. You can practice video interview very simply by finding typical interview questions online for your internship and recording your self-answering the questions with the camera and asking for feedback on your answers from the network that you’ve found on LinkedIn. These are much easier to master, as it’s a picked up new technique used by employers and thus there’s plenty of information about it online. Afterwards, the application stages are usually skype/phone interviews, followed by face-to-face and then finally finished at an assessment centre. However, I won’t have to go into detail here because once you are at university the careers team will be more than happy to help you with this.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what to expect you need to have a plan for the 3 to 4 years of university ahead. For all the firms that you are interested in, I would recommend going into their careers section under which you can find all the internships in the student section (sometimes called campus events). If I could plan my internship from the beginning I would start as early as June/July. Yeah, as soon as I have finished my A-levels, and start the activities as mentioned above for LinkedIn and practising online tests. This is because by the time it gets to the middle of August, I am already ready to apply to a type of internship called spring weeks. This is an important internship to get because once you can attend one it will give you a great advantage in the long run. Spring weeks are usually available at bigger banks but are so significant because they enable you to have a fast track to internships later on. At this same time, I would also recommend applying to the ‘events’ the firms offer. This is usually one day insight days, networking events or presentations where you can find out more about what the firm is looking for and get a few connections. This brings me into the second set of applications which is for summer internships. At this point, it is important to note that some firms allow a limited amount of applications per year and you might have to decide between applying for spring weeks or summer internships. Summer internships last much longer, 6-9 weeks, and are less competitive than spring weeks. Having one of these two lined up in the first year can get you high up on the list for the ideal job you will be looking for. When you get to September before the second year, you will already have a range of experience in application technique and a very prestigious CV. At this point, those who have a year in industry in the third year or are taking a year out after the second year can apply to placement internships. Now the applications should be easier, but the positions are still very competitive. Other options during this time include off-cycle internships, which usually take place during autumn or spring and maybe internships abroad (especially recommended trying if you can speak a foreign language). If you’re not on placement or going straight to the third year a second summer internship can be a good choice. Finally, it gets to September before the third year and you start applying for graduate schemes. This is possibly the most important internship to get right. By this, I don’t just mean passing the application process but getting into the firm and position that you know you will enjoy doing. This is important because the graduate scheme sets the course of your career after university and can define which firm you will start your career with. A graduate scheme usually ends in employment at a job that is ideal for you.

The world of internships is not talked about enough especially before joining university which is a significant flaw in the system. This means for those of you who want to get ahead can do so, with a bit of courage, in the summer before the first year to the end of November whilst the majority of people are clueless and party their first year away. If you want to take matters into your own hands and beat your competition, reaching that top percentage of applicants, then I hope this article is a start point for reaching that goal.

This article contains information relating to my experiences and recommendations only. Other applicants/ careers coaches can have differing opinions and advice. It is your responsibility on which advice you follow and execute.