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The ultimate guide to investment banking internships in Hong Kong

The latest batch of interns are about to start their stints at various investment banks in Hong Kong in the coming few months. If you are a student in Asia with aspirations make it in Asian investment banking, this is what you need to know.

1. Local Asian vs International, play to your strengths

Asian and non-Asian students possess different skill-sets. Asian students have local language skills, the cultural background and the networks, while the international students have an international outlook which appeals to global investment banks. Different jobs are more suited to these two different groups. For example, sales or marketing roles that face the Greater China region surely require more Chinese language skills and local networks, but international students might be favoured for roles coming with a more Hong Kong focus.

In reality, though, it's the people who have the "east-meets-west" skills who end up being the most favoured, concludes Gary Lo, head of marketing and admissions for MBA programs at the School of Business and Management of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). "Some of the American-born Chinese students in our program tend to be the hottest students amongst the employers, "he adds.

2. Take initiative

Juenn Chan, the Hong Kong-based executive director of HR & Admin at Chinese securities firm Guotai Junan International, thinks that it's crucial for students to take initiative. She says that she would be most impressed by those who proactively get in touch and ask questions that they have clearly taken time over.

3. For Mandarin speakers, learn both simplified and traditional Chinese

This is particularly the case for students from the Greater China region. We've already reported that Mandarin is fast becoming a  must for front office roles in Hong Kong as a result of a surge in Chinese deals. In fact it's not only about speaking the local languages, but also an ability to write because for many Mainland-based Chinese companies, the internal documents are all written in Simplified Chinese now. That will be a pain to students from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, who have been brought up in a Traditional Chinese environment.

So what to do? Juenn Chan of Guotai Junan suggests there is no other way but to learn it as soon as possible. However, it's not a one-way traffic. She also reminds the Mainland students who study in HK that it will be good for them to learn some Traditional Chinese as well.

4. Network, network, network

Internships in Asia are very different from Europe or U.S. In Asia, campus recruitment may only fill about 5% of the summer internships at a bank, according to Benno Jaeggi, head of business management for North East Asia at ANZ bank. The rest comes from connections and networks. "You can't just sit down and expect internships to be advertised, " warns Benno. "You have to find them".

Once you find them, stresses Benno: "Demonstrate your value to the actual business people, not to the HR".

Gary Lo of HKUST agrees. He points out that it's easier to network in HK because the city is close and very international. "Sometimes best internships do not come from regular recruitment," he says. "So be proactive in terms of networking and find those people".

5. What if I don't have a finance background?

Let's be frank, working in banking is financially lucrative, and that's why it attracts a lot of quality candidates. But it's exactly this financial return that often blinds candidates. Benno of ANZ has interviewed lots of people over the years. One issue he has noticed, particularly with Mainland Chinese applicants, is that "they don't know what they are really getting themselves into".

He uses traditional investment banking and trading as examples. "They are just so different in terms of personality, and skills and attitudes, " he says, "That there is almost no way somebody is fit for both". But his observation suggests "a lot of Mainland Chinese seem to have a very generic view on these roles".

The reason? "I think it's driven by the fact that they recognize that these roles are lucrative, and they just go for it without doing their homework to figure out what is fit for them," suggests Benno.

6. Think clearly, find the gap and tackle it

At a business school, Gary has seen countless students aspiring for a role in the financial sector, regardless of the previous experience. But that doesn't always work out well. "First of all, think about why you want to do finance, why you want to come to Asia and to HK," reminds Gary.

He also reckons that not all students have the necessary financial background to secure an internship with a bank, so he also asks the students to have a "really honest self evaluation in terms of what are the major gaps in your skill sets" and then be really focused tackling those gaps.

7. Get into the right university

Juenn Chan of Guotai Junan reveals that they normally recruit interns from the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong. A few from HKUST as well.

This information is of course from just one firm, but our own data recently shows that University of Hong Kong is the one you want to attend if you are looking for a new banking job in Asia. Something to heed, perhaps?

8. Make sure your body language is right

This comes from Benno's years of observation of how Chinese candidates generally behave in interviews. They are "very conservative in body language", notes Benno. While he understands that effusive body language may not be a habit that Chinese people are used to, he insists "it's what you are expected to do in an investment banking environment".

AUTHORThomas Zhang

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