How to make the most of an internship

You've done fantastically well to secure yourself an internship... but what now? Finbarr Bermingham spoke to a host of City insiders to get some top tips on making the most of this opportunity

Speaking to The Gateway last year, the head of graduate recruitment for a Big Four professional services firm said: "90 per cent of people who do some form of undergraduate programme with us get a job offer." The firm in questions had 650 graduate jobs on offer in 2010, which emphasises the scope of the opportunities available to those undertaking internships this summer. As Fiona Hookham, Campus Recruiter for FICC and Equities at UBS says: "Our internship is a ten-week job interview, so act accordingly." The onus is on you, then, to make the most of it and it's important that you're adequately prepared to do so.

"Thoroughly research the team you're joining and how they fit within the firm," says Jane Clark, Head of Campus Recruitment, Europe and Asia at Barclays. Her suggestion is backed up by Jenna Follett, who works in Bloomberg's recruitment, marketing and events team. "I would encourage interns go in on the first day of their summer programme knowing as much about the company as they can."

But what's the best way to get clued up? Well, if you've been reading our humble rag over the course of the past year, there's a fair chance you'll have picked up a thing or two about your summer destination and remember, all of our issues are available online. Jenna advises you to "look more broadly than the company website and try to source industry-related articles featuring the company. The more knowledge you have, the more credibility you will build for your personal brand."

Why not watch some online interviews with senior members of staff on the likes of YouTube? That way, you won't be so daunted when you encounter them in the elevator on your first day in the office. Joanna Anafu, Citi's Campus Relationship Manager, recommends that you "familiarise yourself with the Financial Times and impress your team with thoughtful questions from day one". Your research should leave you with a fair understanding of what the company does, who's who, and what the current issues are. So before going through the door, arm yourself to the back-teeth with queries, suggestions and general nuggets of information to show you're interested (which, of course, you must be to have made it this far).

Back to basics

Once you're actually at your desk, the first thing to remember is to get the basics right. You've done brilliantly to get an internship, so keep focused on the task at hand. "Give yourself the best chance of securing a graduate role," says Fiona Hookham of UBS. "Deliver all the work set for you on time, participate fully in all activities and lectures which are organised for you and be punctual for everything." Follow instructions and learn from those around you. The tasks set may be challenging, but they're not impossible. They may be mundane (nobody likes photocopying), but the work you do will be useful to someone. Whatever it is you're set to do, make sure you do a sterling job - nothing will lose you favour quicker than a task shoddily performed.

Those interns that are seen to be showing initiative will leave a lasting impression. If you find yourself at a loose end, then go and look for something productive to do. Says Jessica Booker, Trainee Recruitment Manager at City law firm Freshfields: "Ask around the department to see who else you can help. By asking for work, you're more likely to receive interesting work and, in turn, provide evidence that you'd be a good trainee in the future. Your interest and eagerness will be noted - and could be rewarded."

Says Jenna Follett (Bloomberg): "I would recommend finding ways to offer constructive feedback and solutions to team tasks. Interns have the advantage of bringing a fresh perspective into the team dynamic, so don't be afraid to share your ideas." In fact, almost all of the people we contacted from the graduate recruitment teams of top City firms shared this viewpoint. "Be inquisitive about all aspects of the role," says Jane Clark at Barclays. "It will give you a better understanding of how the business runs."

Hit the schmooze button

It's difficult to get the hang of, but one of the most important parts of forging a successful career in the City is the ability to network. An internship is your chance to get a foothold on the skill at an early stage. "To differentiate yourself," says Fiona Hookham of UBS, "you need to network with as many people in your business area as possible. Managers can't make a hiring decision about someone they've not met. The networking must be meaningful though: if you're going to approach a senior level employee, think in advance about what you're going to ask or discuss."

Similarly, you must think about how you're going to use the contacts you've made. Joanna Anafu at Citi says: "After your internship, whether you've secured a full time position or not, make sure you maintain your networks and keep in touch with people you've met. You never know when you may need to get in touch again."

If it all seems a bit daunting, then remember that you've been selected to participate for a reason. Be positive and try to wear a smile whenever possible. Be courteous and respectful to your colleagues. If you play your cards right, you'll be seeing a lot more of them in future. But most importantly: enjoy yourself. Good luck!

Insider intern

Our mole is a second year trainee at a City law firm, so she's seen the world of internships and work placements both as a student and an employee. We asked her to recount some of her experiences...

I did two fortnight-long schemes. With law firms, some only last for one week, but for mid-sized to large City firms, it's usually two. Your first day is generally an induction day, where you're shown around the firm and get to meet everyone else on the scheme. I then sat in a different department each week. On my second scheme, I sat in corporate one week and real estate the next. I was assigned a buddy, who was a trainee, and I also had a supervisor, who was a qualified lawyer. They organised activities in the evenings and it was a lot of fun. We had a bowling night, a pizza night and quite often some drinks.

I think the work I did over the two weeks prepared me well for life as a trainee. I did a lot of administrative stuff - like sorting through bibles [a booklet containing all the key documents of a completed transaction], reviewing and flagging documents, doing some initial reviews. I did some research memos into new areas of law the department wished to know more about. When I started as a trainee, I was doing a lot of the same things. There was also quite a lot of informal activity like group exercises and group presentations on new geographies the firm is considering. It was a great insight - I got to see the how the office works and what the dynamic is between secretaries and lawyers.

Since I've started working for a firm, I've been able to see what makes a good intern and what makes a bad one. The ones who tend to do a bad job are either those that are too arrogant or too shy. You need to seem enthusiastic, but also come across as someone who is nice to work with. After all, these could be your future colleagues. Be confident to the extent that people want to find out more about you. Approach people and ask them about the work they do - try to build some rapport, but also be respectful. There's a balance to be struck.

My main advice to somebody entering a firm this summer is to act like you would if you were a full-time employee. It's not always glamorous and I know some people who've been chained to photocopiers for two weeks. Try to make the most of it regardless. Ask lots of questions, put yourself out there, and try to make an impression.