If you want a career in investment banking, you really need to land an internship first. An internship provides hands-on experience, training and gives you the skills you need. It’s also the pretty much the only way of securing a full-time position and launching your career in banking. But first you need to apply for and land the internship.
What is an internship in an investment bank?
Investment Banks offer internship programs each year, hiring a number of summer analysts studying bachelors degrees and summer associates studying MBAs to work in their offices. These programs are usually between between 10 and 12 weeks in length but they can vary. Additionally, banks also offer spring or pre-internships, which are short programmes that take place over spring break and provide a flavour of what it’s like to work in a particular firm.
Banks offer internships across all of their divisions. In the front office of an investment bank, this includes global markets, which comprises sales and trading and research, and global banking, which involves working in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. Internships are available, too, across everything from risk and quantitative finance to operations and compliance.
As well as offering these summer programmes for undergraduates or masters students usually in their penultimate year of study, many banks also offer spring/sophomore internships (also called pre-internships or insight programmes) for first year undergraduates. These spring internships are a valuable way of getting early work experience, and are often feeder programs for second year intenships, so you really need to apply for one.
How easy is it to get an internship in an investment bank?
It's not easy. Goldman Sachs had 202,000 intern applications last year and an acceptance rate of 1.4%. JPMorgan says it had 270,855 applications for 4,604 internships globally, an acceptance rate of 1.7%.
Why do you need an internship in an investment bank?
The likelihood you’ll get a graduate job in an investment bank without any internships o your CV is close to zero. A very large percentage of all graduate jobs in banks go to summer interns who the bank ‘converts’ into full time employees. The bottom line is, if you don’t secure a job at a bank or some other relevant position over the summer, then your chances of getting a full-time offer when you graduate are definitely lower.
What to expect from your investment bank internship
Different banks structure their internships in different ways, and offer different types of internship.
For example, JP Morgan’s summer internship is between 10-12 weeks long, but the bank also offers longer and off-cycle internships depending on the region and business area.
Its summer internships are typically for penultimate-year undergraduate students looking to gain work experience, with some postgraduate and PhD level internships also available. JP Morgan’s investment banking internships will involve working on live transactions within the bank’s industry or product groups and also provides access to mentors.
Goldman Sachs offers a 10 to 12 week summer analyst programme. It also offers ‘off-cycle’ investment Banking Internships, which are three to six month programs for final year undergraduate students or recent graduates. The programmes are designed to immerse you in the day-to-day activities of the bank’s divisions and provides the opportunity to job shadow current GS professionals and work on case study assignments
Citi offers pre-internships as well as its 12-week summer analyst and associate programmes within its institutional securities business. It also offers longer term internship programmes of between six and 24 months. It is advertising six-month summer internships within its banking, capital markets and advisory business where you will be involved in a range of technical tasks such as building financial models as well as helping with client pitches.
Summer Internships typically start with a week’s online and classroom training followed by hands-on work experience with a particular ‘desk’ or team. In some banks (eg. Goldman Sachs), sales and trading internships will offer a ‘rotation’, where you work on different desks to gain broader experience. Goldman Sachs provides at least three rotations on its global markets programme. This will give you a broader experience, but it can also be exhausting. In a YouTube video one GS intern complained that she didn’t even get a desk during her three rotations and that interns were instead allocated a plastic stool. “The stools are a rite of passage,” says one GS trader. “At least one intern usually has it collapse under them.”
To have the best chance of landing an offer you’ll need to be in the office (rather than working remotely) and you need to be proactive and you’ll be expected to add value. If you’re starting a sales and trading internship, make sure you have a good knowledge of Excel, Python and VBA.
How much will you earn on your investment banking internship?
Interns in investment banks are paid the same as full time junior analysts, but without bonuses, and intern salaries are pro-rated for the length of the internship.
Investment banks’ salaries keep increasing all the time, but you can expect to earn £10k (or $20k if you’re on Wall Street) of mostly tax free income from a summer internship (‘summer analyst program’), although the money is not as important as the experience. This will vary from bank to bank, but as a general rule you should expect a combination of online and face-to-face tutoring, plus hands-on time on a particular ‘desk’ or with colleagues in the division you’ve applied to.
How to apply for an internship in an investment bank
You need to start applying for spring week internships as soon as you start university. You need to start applying for summer internships as soon as you return in year two.
The typical timeline is as follows. Internship opportunities are posted in September, followed by interviews and offers in October and November. The internships usually start in late May or early June.
Be sure to get your application in early, because there are limited places. Bank of America warns that interviews often begin before the deadline so it’s best to submit your application early as programs will close as positions are filled. It also allows you to only apply once each year – so don’t apply for multiple programmes in the same year in the hope that the law of averages will prevail.
If your application is successful, you can expect the first semester of your second year to be filled with digital interviews and online tests, which banks use to screen applicants before interviewing human to human.
Faced with hundreds of applications per job, most banks now use automated applicant processing systems incorporating Pymetrics psychometric games, HireVue digital interviews and HackerRank coding tests.
These can be daunting especially for applicants who do not come from a finance background. And those applicants may want intensive interview coaching in order to prepare for the behavioural questions in the HireVue process.
When it comes to the interview, one ex-MD with 20 years’ experience offers the following advice: “Think very carefully about what you are actually good at and passionate about, not what you think you should be good at and passionate about. Passion will get you the job. Ticking imagined boxes will not.”
To land an internship at a top bank requires tenacity, endurance and consistency. Keep applying, try different approaches and don’t give up.
Arun Nair, an accounting and finance student at the UK’s University of Kent, says he sent 750 emails before he landed an internship at a boutique investment bank. Nair is a BAME student from a British state school and Kent is a non-target university. “This is the extreme I had to go to,” he says.
It also matters where and what you study. Although banks are increasingly interested in hiring from a wide group of universities, it still helps to be at a university with a history of placing people into banking, so that it can coach you on how to handle the internship. Last year 97% of students at HEC in Paris with a finance major and pupils on the Masters in International Finance course received a job offer from their banking internships at firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Perella Weinberg and Barclays. “"It really helps for them to have a conversation with people who went through the application process and had their first steps in the job previously. It also helps them to understand more about the bank, the culture, the teams,” said an HEC professor who previously worked for Barclays.
How to turn your banking internship into a job
How do you get a full time job offer from an internship in an investment bank? The main answer is to work as many hours as you can, network like crazy, and show how much of a team player you are by helping out your colleagues and getting the coffee.
If you’re worried about how to stand out from your peers, Morgan Stanley offers a guide to all the questions you want answers to but don’t dare to ask here. It covers questions such as whether you should go out for drinks with your colleagues (yes but one or two drinks, not 22) to the importance of networking.
There are some general pointers to help you navigate your internship: get familiar with Excel and Powerpoint before your internship starts, get ready to multi-task, be prepared to network and go to the events that the bank puts on for interns. Also make sure you always respond to your emails and be swift but thorough when doing your job.
Don’t complain about the hours. Banks say they are keen to encourage a better work-life balance but you’ll still be expected to answer a request for help at 7pm, even if you were planning to meet friends.
Do try to make yourself useful. One successful intern on a trading desk says you might not be given any actual work, and part of your role is therefore to find something to do without being annoying. “You can't keep asking how you can help or what you can do. The traders won't have much time for you, particularly before 4pm, so you need to listen to what they're doing and establish what you can do to help.”
Don’t try to stand out too much – after these are training programmes aimed at determining if you’re the right fit. One technology graduate who worked at the same bank on multiple internships, but didn’t land a job says: “They want loyal and good but not great coders. You can’t be too innovative, but they will reward you. If they like you, they’ll also give you a job for life.” Think about your appearance – here are some fashion faux-pas to avoid if you want to have a successful internship.
Doing all those things may well be a successful ploy, but you’ll be exhausted and possibly burnt out before you even start your careers. There might be another way. One JP Morgan summer analyst says he landed an offer precisely because he didn’t follow this route.
Not everyone wants a job in banking after completing their internship. After completing her internship at UBS, 21 year-old Anhana Benerjee explained in a YouTube video posted last that while graduate jobs in banks have a few things going for them, she decided working for her own start-up was a better idea after completing her internship at UBS.
What happens if you don’t get a banking internship?
One of the main reasons why people fail to get a job in investment banking is that they lack the relevant internships and experience on their CVs. If you’re coming to the end of your sophomore year and don’t have an internship, then you should try some of these approaches to enhance your resume in other ways.
If you fail to land that internship as an undergraduate than there are still other routes to try. Banks also offer internships to students studying a Masters in Finance, especially if you’re interested in working in M&A. But make sure you find out which specific courses banks like to recruit from by consulting this list. You could also apply after completing a Phd or accountancy qualification, or after spending some time working in consulting. In some cases, banks will also hire interns who have already graduated.
If you don’t want to go down the internship route and you aren’t yet at university, it’s worth noting that banks also offer apprenticeships. Goldman Sachs offers a four-year degree apprenticeship programme in the UK, for example which means you’ll already be in the firm whilst studying for degree in Applied Finance. And if these options aren’t available, what then? If you have zero experience, there’s still a chance you can get into finance, but you’ll have to show initiative and determination and prove your passion for the industry. Show that you’re successful trading on your own account, or draw on your experience in other fields like sports to show your suitability. Network, network and network.
Finally, it's worth noting that you can still apply for internships even as you go into your final year. It's becoming increasingly common for students to complete internships during the summer after they graduate. "My intern group is pretty much split between penultimate and final year students," said one Goldman Sachs intern this summer (2022).
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