Finance is a great field to work in, and promises intellectually challenging work combined with well-paying prestigious names. The best way to learn finance is through experience, and the easiest way as an undergraduate/MBA to find experience in the field of finance is through an internship. In finance, summer internships often turn into full-time offers, assuming that you did a reasonably decent job.
I was lucky enough to have secured three internships in finance: the first internship was corporate finance for a charcoal manufacturer, the second internship was at Citibank Indonesia’s corporate and investment banking division for top-tier local corporate clients, and the third one will be at Blackstone’s New York office. Based on these experiences, here are some advice that I have given for friends who are trying to get an internship in finance.
1. Do your research and know what roles you want: Finance is a very broad field with very different jobs, despite what people think. The easiest way to start thinking about it is whether you want to be on the sell side or on the buy side. The sell side provides research, advice, and securities to companies and investors. They are generally investment banks, commercial lenders, and corporate banks. The buy side purchases large quantities of securities and manages this investment to align with the investors’ risk and return profile. They are generally asset managers (traditional & alternative), and institutional investors, including private equity, hedge funds, mutual funds, pension funds, endowments, and insurance firms. Sell side analyst/associate (entry-level employees: analysts are from undergraduates and associates are from MBAs) tend to work for a diverse range of products and clients, but often work long hours due to demanding clients. On the other hand, buy side analyst/associate work to maximize a client’s money by making the right investment calls. This may mean shorter hours, but it also means that there is less structure and possibly less diversity in products/industries (unless you work for a multi-strategy investment firm, but even then, they specialize their employees). Once you have narrowed this down, start looking at various positions – a great resource to start is efinancialcareers.
Here are some other resources that I have also used in the past to research:
- Mergers and Inquisitions: Blog of a former investment banker who interviews many people in various fields of finance
- Wall Street Oasis: Forums with people interested in finance jobs
- Vault: Guides on careers in various aspects of finance and how to interview for them
- Wetfeet: Similar as Vault, but also has a section dedicated reviewing each of the large investment banks and financial firms
2. Know the timeline: Finance has a very clear recruiting cycle, which means you need to stay on top of the deadlines. Summer internships generally target students in their penultimate year of studies. There are some internships for freshman and sophomores, but they are not abundant and can be difficult to get. Here is the timeline for junior year internship for various regions:
Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa: Recruitment starts in October with information session at target schools. Resume submission is in November, and first & second round interviews should occur in December by phone or by Skype. Super days (last round of interview, usually with 4-5 consecutive interviews in the office nearest to you) should occur sometime in January, and offers are given out by the end of January.
North America and Latin America: Recruitment formally starts in January with information sessions, but some companies have been known to hold events at schools in the fall semester to spread awareness. Resume submission is in January, and first rounds of interviews should happen at the latest by mid-February. Following the first rounds of interviews, you should be called back in 24-48 hours for Super Day. Super Day happens around a week to three weeks after first rounds depending on your school’s schedule, and you should know by the end of the day on whether you received an offer or not.
Note that this is a general timeline, and that you should always check the company website first. Buy side firms often recruit earlier or later than this timeline, so it is always prudent to confirm with the company when the timeline for recruitment is. In addition, students under the quarter system have the opportunity to apply for winter internships, and students with co-op requirement can use off-cycle internships to satisfy their co-op and gain experience. I cannot stress the importance of research in the internship search, especially given today’s technological development.
3. Prepare your resume and cover letter: I won’t talk too much about this, just because it has been covered well by the list of resources I have listed earlier. The most important thing to remember is that resume readers only glance through resumes for approximately 30 seconds. Their eyes will glance to very few things: GPA, education, work experience at household names, interests, and anything you have that is in common with the readers. Only if any of these sections pique their interest, will they even bother to read your entire resume. For undergraduates, most of your resumes will end up looking the same because you will not have much concrete experience. The best way to differentiate yourself is often by making your resume interest section very fascinating. The interest section should detail fun things that you do outside of your education, extracurricular, and work experience. For example, in my resume interest section, I talked about how I used to work as a television reporter, sing for a rock band, and spend my free time watching How I Met Your Mother. Readers of my resume can easily relate to this, and end up asking me in interviews to learn more about it. Remember that your goal is to make them interested enough to want to put your resume in the interview pile, instead of the “he or she is good, but I’m not sure if he or she is someone personable” pile. Another simple rule to live by is to never lie in your job application process, only embellish. This will come back to haunt you during interviews; you do not want to be that person who claims to speak Mandarin fluently, but can’t say “Goldman Sachs” in Mandarin.
4. Network hard and be professional: Networking is 70% of the effort in landing an internship in finance. Find people within the company who are willing to help you in your internship search. The best way to do this is to look at your school’s alumni list and email them asking for an informational interviews with them. An informational interview is an informal 30 minutes to 1 hour chat, where someone explains their career and experience in a company. Double-check your grammar and spelling in your correspondence, and please have a professional online presence. Please don’t be that person whose email is mocked for horrible grammar & spelling, forwarded from one investment bank to another, and somehow landed in my inbox (true story). People in finance can be very picky about this, and that is because they are very strict about professionalism and attention to details. If you can’t be trusted to write a decent email for networking purposes, how can you be trusted to communicate to your billion-dollar clients?
5. Polish a story for your fit interviews: Always have a story to tell for the “Tell me a bit about yourself/walk me through your resume” question. Think of it like a short storytelling session where you are trying to sell yourself to the interviewers. In any good story, there is always a narrative structure: a setup, an inciting incident/catalyst, and a resolution. The same principles apply to your fit interview. Your setup is your beginning: where did you come from and which university did you attend. Your catalyst is what got you interested in finance. Your resolution is what you did to follow up your interest in finance and how that got you to applying to the internship today. A great reference for this aspect of the fit interview is Breaking into Wall Street.
6. Practice technical interview questions: Unfortunately, unless you are someone who spends all of his or her time making financial models and looking at the Bloomberg terminal, chances are you need to brush up on your finance knowledge. The best way to learn is to read the guides available online (Breaking into Wall Street and Wall Street Oasis are the ones that are most often used by Wharton students). Do not blindly memorize, as you will get in trouble when it comes to unconventional questions. Think really thoroughly about each concept and why it matters in the grand scheme of things. Follow the financial news by reading Wall Street Journal and Dealbook. Working on one or two financial model should also help you visually understand corporate valuation and accounting. I recommend two things for this: take a corporate valuation/security analysis/financial modelling class or read Damodaran’s book “Investment Valuation” and try to build your own model for a pure play public company with a simple business model. As for the level of difficulty of questions, based on personal experience, expect harder questions from buy side firms and boutique investment banks (e.g. Blackstone, KKR, Silver Lake Partners, Evercore Partners, Moelis & Co).
7. Be confident in your interviews: If you got to this stage, congratulations! That means the company is eager to meet you and learn more about you. Dress properly in your best business formal attire, and be a friendly & smart version of yourself. People in finance are looking for someone who is smart, capable of working long & hard, and enjoyable to be around during stressful times. Do extensive research on the company, especially on deals, worker’s lifestyle, and recent developments. Always have one or two questions to ask the interviewer after the interview, and write thank you letters at the latest 24 hours after the interview. Also, if you have a Skype interview, please interview in full formal attire. I have heard of someone who wore his blazer and shirt, but didn’t wear pants to his Skype interview because it was inconvenient. Well, that person ended up forgetting he was only in boxers, and stood up in the middle of the interview, leaving the interviewer in aghast.
8. Keep calm and carry on: All of this can seem daunting and overwhelming, but the most important thing is to try your best and not give up. You only need one job offer!
To conclude, I would like to tell you how Ken Moelis, the founder of Moelis & Company, landed his finance internship. Moelis was not the top student at Wharton, and got rejected by many companies. Every time he got a letter of rejection, he stuck it to his dorm room wall as a reminder; it eventually covered up a large area of the wall in his dorm. He did this to remind himself to keep going and to never give up. Late in the game after everyone has already accepted an offer, Moelis found out that Drexel Burnham Lambert, a small investment bank with a lesser-known reputation, has given him an offer. Moelis accepted this offer, only to find out the next day that his friend, the top student at Wharton, is going to Lehman Brothers (equivalent of today’s top investment banks – this is back in 1980). Moelis ended up having a fantastic career at Drexel Burnham Lambert under the tutelage of Michael Milken and even had the opportunity to advise the famous Steve Wynn of the Las Vegas’ casino scene. He continued his way to opening his own investment bank today. His friend, the top student, ended up tangled in the collapse of the Lehman Brothers during the financial crisis of 2008. Moral of the story: Don’t give up and choose a firm for the people who can guide you through your career.
That’s all from me. Good luck with your internship search! Drop me an email if you need clarification, and come visit if you happen to be in New York City in the summer.
Photo Credits: Flickr, user Ma_Co2013, used under a creative commons license