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Completing an internship is a great way to get your foot in the door of a company you wish to work for long term. Investment banking is no different. It is, however, arguably more important to complete these internships for a role in investment banking than it is within other career paths. 

There are a magnitude of reasons for this – one of them being the intense competition that stands to secure a permanent analyst position in this highly-regarded career. Typically pursued during a student's penultimate year of university, these internships offer a gateway to long-term career prospects. However, navigating the application process requires strategic planning, a diverse skill set, and a strong academic foundation. 

From utilising extracurricular activities to mastering interview techniques, this is a Freshminds guide which outlines the essential steps to help individuals secure coveted internship opportunities in investment banking.

When should you start thinking about an internship? 

Investment banking internships are commonly completed in a student's penultimate year of graduating from their undergraduate degree – and the bulk of the interns will often be students from this timeline. 

It is possible to be accepted into an internship program at an investment bank at a different point in your university timeline; however, this is definitely less common. This puts pressure on university students as you may have to decide what career pathway you’ll take early on. Nevertheless, if you do decide to pursue investment banking, there are a few tips and tricks to help secure your initial internship.

1) Building your extracurriculars

As a student, your CV may be looking a bit bare. To up your chances of securing an investment banking internship, it’s important to note that banks look for students who have multiple extracurriculars under their belt – whether that be from their high school days or during university. 

The reason for this isn’t what you may think – it isn’t because a bank cares whether you can compete in an ice hockey or handball team or whether you can play Claire de Lune by heart on an electric keyboard. The reason why extracurriculars are important for recruiters is because they showcase an over-achieving individual. A student who, throughout their schooling career, has been able to achieve top marks (we’ll get there later!) while managing other extracurriculars. These activities could include: 

  • Participating in a sport

  • Fundraising for a charity

  • Being accomplished in a musical instrument

  • Being a member, or better yet, head of a relevant club or society  

This shows that the individual has good time management and resilience. Therefore, if you’re thinking of a career in banking – make sure you’re making an effort where possible to get involved in activities outside of school.

This doesn’t have to include extracurriculars that cost any money but can involve things like volunteering, committees at school, community outreach projects, and side projects like entrepreneurial ventures or tutoring.

2) Focusing on your academics

To secure a role in Investment Banking, you also need to ensure that you stay on top of your academics throughout high school and university. 

Contrary to popular belief, many banks don’t mind whether you read Economics, Mathematics, or Art History at university. In fact, banks often welcome individuals with unorthodox degree choices because it brings a different perspective to the role. This being said, if you are choosing to study a degree at a university that doesn’t link with investment banking – make sure you are contributing to the interest in another way – be that a society at school, an investment club with friends, or an online course on the side.

Building this knowledge is important because you’ll need to be able to showcase your understanding of corporate finance and the banking industry throughout your application. 

In a recent internship applicant survey Freshminds conducted, we found that just under half of the applicants understood the difference between boutique advisory firms and full-service banks.

However, joining clubs and expanding your knowledge will ensure that you learn the basics of corporate finance - giving you enough knowledge to speak on in interviews. Moreover, doing this will ensure that you are actually as passionate about investment banking as you thought and that you will actually enjoy the work!

3) Consider your motivations

It might go without saying, but understanding your motivations and desires behind applying for an investment banking internship is crucial.

You'll find that at some point during the interview process, you will be asked questions about why you've chosen a particular bank, your preference for boutique vs. bulge bracket, and more. Therefore, it's important that you have a good answer as to why you are applying for each individual role and the nuances between them. 

While it’s tempting to give generic answers, especially if you’re hoping to apply for multiple banks, from an interviewer's perspective, it’s easy to spot broad and general replies. Bear in mind members of the recruitment team are an extension of their banking client and so will have their best interest at heart. 

Keep in mind that your internship is not only about securing a role - it’s also about matching yourself with a company that aligns with what you want. Interning at an investment bank is therefore a great way to find out what kind of environment is right for you and your career.

To help you work out which investment bank might be right for you, you can: 

  • Research investment banks (considering culture, reputation, and employee feedback). 

  • Consider your own personal drivers; what do you want from a role, and where do you want your early career to take you?

  • Talk to others, whether that be online or within your own network, who’ve had exposure to the world of investment banking and take note.  

And don’t forget the application date!

Applications for summer internships will open at various times throughout the second half of the year. It's up to you to keep an eye on your target banks’ websites and their recruitment platforms so that you are aware when applications open. Regardless of how the bank has structured its applications (i.e., through an external AI-based platform or with attached screening questions, etc.), it is imperative that you spend time and prepare your answers carefully and truthfully! 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking no one on the other side is reading your answers. Lastly, while it is great to stand out, make sure you are answering the questions with a true reflection of your work ethic, interests, and personality.

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