Spring week in banks: Don't be annoying, suck up to HR
It's that time of year again: sometime soon, first year university students will turn up for the spring insight weeks that mark the start of the 'journey' into a job in an investment bank. If these weeks go well, they can lead to a summer internship and then to a graduate position. If they don't, they can lead to either a succession of other banking insight weeks or something else (like a job at the Big Four,maybe).
How to get onto a spring insight programme in finance
Getting onto an insight week can be a challenge in itself. Unvalidated figures from Bristol University's Banking and Investment Society suggest that anything from 1% to 7% of applicants are successful and that plenty of universities only accept 2% of the students who apply.
Finance firms tend to like the same people. While most applicants don't succeed, a minority end up with places on multiple spring week programmes. This is because they know the game.
If you want a spring insight place, you really need to apply as soon as applications open (typically September or October the year before, but sometimes even as early as July.) Getting onto a spring insight programme is all about early applications, says one student who's done five: most banks select people on a first come first serve basis.
The same student says getting a place on the programmes is all about playing the standard application process: first you have to pass the standard numerical and verbal reasoning tests; then you need to complete a Hirevue-type digital interview, then you need to vanquish the encounter with an actual human being. He says the first is about speed of simple mental arithemetic calculations like percentages; the second is about having 1-2 minute answers prepared (but not over-prepared as you need to seem spontaneous) for questions about your motivation and the third is about showing a bit of personality and commitment to the role. He advises that you brush up on the STAR interview technique, that you ensure you can answer interview questions like 'Why this bank?' and 'Why this role?' and that you know about things like recent deals (if you want to work in M&A), and why you think a job at a big bank is preferable to a job at a boutique.
You probably won't get highly technical questions in your spring week interview, says another student who's (successfully) been through the process. But you will need attention to detail and commercial awareness. "Understand why would companies merge how would you value a company," he advises.
Converting a spring internship in a bank
Once you're on the spring insight programme, you need to work it so that you get invited back for the summer internship. Bristol's Banking and Investment Society think that conversions vary wildly - while some banks intentionally convert hardly anyone at all, they estimate that banks like Citi and RBC Capital Markets ask all their spring interns everyone back the next summer.
Students who've been through multiple spring internships say there's an art to being in the repeat-group.
"It's ultimately an HR process," says one. "Being close to and visible to HR and asking intelligent questions once in a while should get you a long way. Being quiet won’t get you anywhere. It’s a people business after all. If HR know your name and face and like you, there's a high chance you'll be fast-tracked for a summer internship interview."
Another M&A analyst at a top bank and spring week veteran advocates showing up on time, asking questions without being annoying, and taking care not to seem arrogant by being polite to everyone - whether they're senior bankers or cleaners.
"Don’t ask annoying questions in a group setting just to prove you have knowledge of something that others probably don’t - ask questions out of genuine interest," she says. "It comes across badly when you use questions to mask an attempt to show off."
However, she adds that you do need to ask questions or you'll seem "disinterested and disengaged." - "Ask personal questions. ‘What are your views on when the [X] market will recover?"
Another former spring week participant (who didn't convert) advocates note-taking. "Take lots of notes and go back and do research on what you learnt at the end of the day so that you cement your knowledge and fully understand it," she advises. This means that, when you get to the assessment, you will know what you are talking about."
Spring insight programmes aren't just about the bankers and the HR staff
If you get a spring week place, it might be tempting to lavish attention on the people already working in finance who are in a position to help you get in. However, don't overlook the other students around you.
"Don't just network with the bankers, but with the other students," says the analyst. "You have no idea how useful these contacts will be to you in four or five years' time. You have access to a whole cohort of people who will end up in similar industries. They may one day become your clients, business partners, employees or boss..." ✨✨✨✨
Another spring week participant says you must not be scared by the students around you. Banish imposter syndrome. "You will feel like you are among really impressive and intelligent students, but you are one of them. Try not to compare your A-Level grades, which university you went to and which degree you are doing... because you all reached the same place!"
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