Financial services and insurance
Work experience and internships in financial services and insurance

Getting work experience and internships in retail banking, insurance, regulation or actuarial science

Your chances of getting a graduate job in retail banking, insurance, regulation or actuarial science will be boosted if you get an internship in the industry while at university. Here we answer your work experience questions and give you tips on how to apply.
You typically apply for a specific vacancy, so you'll need to have some idea of what you want to do before you apply.

Why is it important for me to get finance work experience/internships?

  • It’s an opportunity to try out the financial services industry and see whether an employer and/or a type of job role is right for you.
  • It’s an opportunity for you to network and make contacts that could help you in your future career.
  • It could smooth your way into a graduate job with the employer: most financial services firms – from insurance companies to banks – aim to hire 60–90% of their interns. At some employers you’ll skip most of the recruitment process and go straight to interview. At others, you might be offered a job straight away.
  • Even if you don’t get (or don’t accept) an offer from your internship company, your work experience will boost your other graduate job applications. Graduate recruiters love candidates to have industry-related work experience: it provides evidence of your commitment to the sector and suggests that you have made a considered career choice, based on the experience of having worked in the field.
  • In this competitive graduate market, most of your graduate competition will have finance-related work experience.

What types of retail banking, insurance and financial services work experience are available?

The work experience options at retail banks, regulatory and insurance firms include:

  • Insight programmes: these are usually for first years. Some retail banks, such as Barclays Retail & Business Banking, have started offering ‘taster’ days for first years (and second years on four-year courses) to try out the work.
  • Industry placement years: targeted at those who take a year-in-industry as part of their degree, which is a 12-month contract offered by most financial services employers.
  • Summer internships: these are usually for penultimate-year students and typically last for six to 12 weeks during the summer holidays. Most financial services firms, including the Financial Conduct Authority,  Aon, HSBC and Nationwide, offer these.
  • Ongoing internships: some retail banking and insurance organisations, such as Aviva, will provide internship opportunities as and when there is a business need for them.
  • Ad hoc shorter periods of work experience: some employers, including Aviva, offer some more informal work experience for a week or two. This type of opportunity may not be paid.

When should I apply for financial services internships?

Vacancies for most work experience opportunities open around September/October and close in December the year before you want to start work experience. A few firms have closing dates in January and a few more will advertise vacancies on an ad hoc basis, so keep an eye on and employers’ websites. Aon is among those that close applications for their internship when the vacancies are filled, so apply as soon as you can once the programme opens for applications.

How do I apply for retail banking and insurance internships and placement years?

Typically, would-be interns apply via the same application system as applicants for graduate vacancies – although it may be a little shorter. Bear in mind that you will typically apply for a specific vacancy in a specific department, so you will have to have some idea of what type of job you’d like to do.

Any tips on applying for internship vacancies in finance?

Although recruiters won’t expect the same amount of knowledge or experience as they do of candidates for their graduate schemes, they will be looking for the same skills, attributes and application techniques as they do from graduate candidates so follow the graduate application advice on TARGETjobs Finance:

Think about your skills and how they might be relevant to the role you’re applying for. These can come from any part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. Recruiters like to see applicants who have done their research and can explain why they are interested in a career in this sector. Academic qualifications alone won’t get you a place – it’s important to show that you have an aptitude for the business. Make sure you keep up to date with what’s going on in the world by reading the business press and not just on the day of your interview. There’s no point in saying ‘I’m passionate about retail banking’ and then not being able to answer a question like ‘What's the current base rate?’

What does an internship involve at retail banks and insurance firms?

Internships and placement years are structured and purposely designed to give you an insight into the work. However, the work you will be given to do will also have real benefit to the business. Internships usually begin with an initial training programme or induction. Then your tasks may include some analysis work, IT testing or researching a market, depending on the division you’re in.

It’s also likely that you’ll be given a project to work on jointly with other interns and asked to present your findings to senior members of the firm at the end of your internship. At Aviva interns are typically given a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project, in which they have to help charities, whom they are expected to treat like valued clients. The Financial Conduct Authority also run a CSR project day as part of the internship.

How can I impress while on my finance internship?

  • Remember that you’ll be working in a professional environment: make sure you’re on time and dressed appropriately. View the internship as an extended interview.
  • Maximise the variety of different experiences you get while you're there. Be sociable and get to know lots of people within the organisation. Don’t be afraid to volunteer for more work if you see something that needs doing and you’ve got time to do it.
  • ’Ask for feedback on your performance from an early stage,’ advises Joy Lesslie, graduate recruitment manager at Standard Life. ‘You need to do your absolute best during the short time you are with the company.’
  • Recruiters look for interns who can work as part of a team and get along with their colleagues, so don’t be tempted to ‘do another intern down’ in an attempt to make yourself look better. It won’t.

What if the internship shows that it's not for me?

If you find that the area of work or the organisation isn’t right for you, remember that it’s much better to discover this during an internship than after you’ve graduated and accepted a permanent offer.

If you still want to work for the employer, your internship can still point you in the right direction. ‘It could be that another area or department within the organisation appeals to you more,’ Joy comments. ‘You may be able to negotiate a different role if you are offered a permanent job.’

If you want to work in financial services but not for that company, you can use the experience in your applications to other companies to explain why you are applying to a different division – again, this shows you making the considered career choice recruiters like to see.

If you’ve decided that you want to work in another career area entirely, your experience is still valuable. You can talk about how what you didn’t like about financial services has guided your decision to apply to them. The transferable skills you gained in the internship will also boost your application: teamworking, communication, being in an office, time management and meeting deadlines will all look good.

Follow us on Twitter @TjobsFinance.