Anyone who is seriously considering a career in investment banking should already know that it’s a competitive industry to break into and preparation should begin as early as year one of university, if not before. Haydn, an economics student at the London School of Economics, realised this within days of starting university. ‘It came as a surprise that having been at university for only a couple of weeks, people had already started applying for spring weeks and insight days; the first time I heard of these programmes was during the second week of my first year of university,’ he says. ‘While I had given some thought to graduate careers, I hadn’t fully considered the best path to getting a job.’ Haydn knew then that if he wanted a graduate job in investment banking, he’d have to apply for spring weeks and insight days in the coming weeks too.
Experience gained in college can help you get onto an insight day or spring week
Now in his third year at university, Haydn has a string of spring weeks and insight days under his belt, with big names across the financial industry including ICAP, RBC Capital Markets, BlackRock, PwC, BDO, HSBC, Bank of England, UBS, Deutsche Bank and Barclays. He admits that one of the most significant hurdles he faced when he was applying for these programmes in his first few weeks of university was ‘being able to differentiate myself at the initial application stage from an equally qualified and knowledgeable peer group’. Making yourself stand out may seem difficult, but there’ll often be college or school experiences that first-years can draw on to make themselves more attractive to recruiters.
‘At college I was involved in a number of extracurricular activities including being chair of the student union, during which I helped a group of 20 students implement a number of projects and resolved issues that the student body was experiencing,’ says Haydn. ‘I also undertook an extended project that involved investigating a topic that interested me. As part of this process, I conducted interviews, collected primary and secondary research, did a presentation of my findings and wrote a 5,000-word dissertation. I didn’t realise it at the time, but these skills are highly transferable and relevant to investment banking.’ Not entirely sure what insight days and spring weeks are? Find out more here.
Insight days and spring weeks will help you to get an internship in investment banking
Haydn was offered an internship in Barclays’ investment banking division on the back of his spring insight programme at the bank. The two-month placement proved an excellent opportunity for him to deepen his commercial awareness and gain more practical experience. ‘While the spring programme provided a more general overview of Barclays, the internship allowed me to experience life as a new analyst for two months,’ he says. ‘After a week of formal training, I joined my team and was immediately given the opportunity to shadow colleagues when they spoke to clients. I also spent some time at the beginning of the internship with my line manager, outlining the responsibilities and longer term projects that I would be taking on over the course of my internship. While many of these responsibilities continued throughout the duration of my internship, I was also given further responsibilities as the internship progressed. I was impressed by how early on analysts were able to interact with clients.’
Internships will help you to get a graduate job in investment banking
‘Doing an investment banking internship provides an excellent foundation from which to apply for graduate schemes,’ says Haydn, who will join Barclays’ investment banking division in September. ‘It also provides an opportunity for students to experience the culture of the bank, and to consider whether a particular team or department is a good fit.’ Haydn explains that he chose Barclays because he felt a strong sense of community at the bank. ‘I was impressed by how generous both senior and junior bankers were with their time during the spring programme, often giving up a number of hours to talk to students about their experiences, help us with case studies and give us practical financial careers advice. The sense of community was not only present in the full-time staff, but also in the student cohort I was placed with.’
Investment banking work placements also help to prepare students for the recruitment process, giving them real-life examples to talk about, for example. ‘If you decide to apply for an internship programme or graduate scheme, after completing a spring or summer programme with the same organisation, you will likely find yourself better equipped to answer the motivational interview questions, due to having a clearer understanding of the goals and objectives of the team that you are applying to,’ says Haydn. ‘Having done work experience with a range of financial services employers I have a clearer appreciation than I otherwise would of how the different roles in the financial services industry fit together. This perspective of the roles of asset managers, brokerages, investment banks, accounting firms and other professions has helped me throughout the interview process and during my internship.’
Other things you can do to get your first year of university off to a good start
There are other actions you should take at the early stages of your degree to increase your chances of getting hired when you graduate. Haydn says: ‘If I was to go through the process again, I would make greater use of the university careers service. Visit the careers team at your university as soon as possible; they can suggest the best modules to study, discuss the different departments and roles at investment banks and the opportunities open to students. They will often have an exhaustive list of all spring week, internship and graduate scheme deadlines, application links and programme descriptions. In addition to this, they are often happy to review CVs, covering letters and may even offer mock assessment centres and interviews.’
All is not lost if you don’t follow Haydn’s footsteps in finance
Reading this article in year two or three of university? Think you may have missed the spring week or internship boat? Some students who haven’t got any direct work experience under their belt might wonder how they can compete for graduate jobs with students who have. Haydn offers reassurance: ‘There are several things you can do to improve your chances of getting a graduate job. If you haven’t already, give some serious thought to getting involved with your student union or running a society. The skills necessary to be successful in these roles lend themselves to most careers; being an effective communicator, leader and negotiator are desirable to most firms. Another option worth considering is finding an opportunity to volunteer; for example, there are a number of universities that have societies set up to allow their students to use the skills developed during their degrees to help local businesses. Not only will you be adding experience to your applicant profile, you will also have a number of interesting projects to discuss in interviews and covering letters.’
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