You are a student and you really want to be in a top paid position in a well-known bank. You know that you will probably have to find an internship first. And you are correct; most people working in the finance industry found their first job through an internship.
However, the fact it is an internship does not mean it is easy to get. Recruitment processes in banks are tough because there are so many candidates. You have to understand how they work or you will not maximise your chances.
Here are 5 common mistakes that students make when they apply for an internship in a bank.
1. Apply for the wrong type of internship
Banks have different programs for students, depending on previous internship experience and the number of years of study you have left before graduation. If you apply for the wrong one, your application will likely be discarded.
Usually you start with a spring or an off cycle internship if you have 2 or 3 years left before graduation. Doing this kind of internship is not mandatory, but will increase your chances of getting onto the next programs.
Then, when you have one year remaining before graduation, you can apply for a summer internship. This is really important if you want to get into finance. Banks use these programs to identify those that will enter their graduate programs the following year. If you skip this step, it will be much harder to get onto a graduate program.
2. Only applying for the bank of your dreams
Some students will apply only for the four or five top banks they really want to work for, thinking the others are not worth it. If you are serious about getting into finance, you should not do this. The truth is that you should enlarge the scope of your applications as much as possible. Everybody is applying for the top banks, they are bombarded by applications each year. Even if you maximise your chances with good preparation, it is still not enough to ensure that you will get an internship. There are enough good candidates like you for banks to choose from and sometimes between two similar profiles it can even come down to pure luck.
You also should not compromise what you want to do in order to get into a top bank. Believe me, it is a lot easier to settle for a good fitting internship in a medium ranked bank than an internship in one of the best bank that does not match what you want to do ultimately.
3. Believing that a deadline far in the future means you can wait to send your application
If you want to apply for a summer internship or a graduate program, you should send your application as soon as it opens (ie, usually September of the previous year). While it is true that most banks have deadlines set as far away as March of the year of the internship, you have virtually no chance of being successful with an internship application if you apply just before the deadline. That is because banks do not wait to review applications. They have several interview sessions throughout the year and once they are full they will not even look at other applications. You have to get into the first interview session (usually in October/November). This is when recruiters are most open to “non-perfect” candidates.
4. Thinking that filling the online application is enough
The online application is important and you should put a lot of efforts into it. However, it may not be enough to guarantee success.
There are so many candidates for bank internships that if you want your chances to be high, you need to differentiate yourself from others. Most banks organise events on campuses where you can meet and talk with people from the banks. It is essential that you go to at least one of these events, and that you talk with people there. If you make a good impression, they will give you their business card, then you will be able to tell the HR person that you met with this person and that you had a nice conversation. It will have a very positive impact on your application. If they really like your profile they can even recommend you directly to the HR department. If it happens, congratulations, you are certain to get an interview.
If there are no events on your campus, you can go to the bank career website and look for events organised near your location. Then you can send an application for the event.
5. Focusing too much on finance skills in your application
If you want to work in finance, you need of course to know at least the basics of your field (derivatives, interest rates etc for market finance, the usual valuation ratios for corporate finance). However, recruiters expect every candidate to be knowledgeable on these topics. You also need something that will differentiate your application: add something more to it, such as a technical skill. There are a lot of strong finance-oriented profiles, and a lot of good technical profiles. But there are so few candidates that can combine both skills and they are the favourites of the banks. Today, finance is all about automation and algorithm. Banks know that, and they want their future employees to be comfortable with the new digital age. So learn a programming language (or more than one) and put it on your resume.