Get a taste of investment banking

Internships are a great way to find out more about a career in finance. Lucy Mair asks three students what they gained from giving banking a go

First year schemes

Investment banking opportunities for freshers go by several different names, including spring weeks, insight programmes and first year schemes. But they all give first year students a chance to spend a week at an investment bank during the Easter holidays to find out more about the bank and the work that goes on there.

Saadman Sayed studies electronic engineering at Imperial College, London. Here he tells us about his week in the technology division of an investment bank...

Why I applied

I'm interested in software engineering and computer science and I wanted to know how they can be applied in a financial context. I was also really curious about what investment banks are like and I thought an insight week would be a great way to find out. I didn't know anything about investment banking, but I did some research before making my application.

What I did

On the first day I was more excited than nervous. The week started with a welcome lecture and several talks about what an investment bank does, so it didn't matter that I didn't know much about finance. Then, there were some technical lectures about what kind of technology the bank uses and why.

We had a meet-up session with the graduates at the bank to find out more about what it's like to work there. They gave us a tour of the bank and the trading floor. We also sat down with the graduates to see what they were working on, which was very interesting.

Then we spent two days working on a coding challenge, which was a lot of fun! We were split into teams and given financial problems to solve. We had to work together to write algorithms and codes to find solutions to the problems.

On the last day the bank organised a treasure hunt competition. We went all over London in teams looking for clues - it was a nice way to end the week and a chance to do something a bit different.

What I learnt

The coding challenge gave me an opportunity to put the theories I've learnt at university into practice to solve a real problem. It also showed me that when you work as a team you can achieve anything, no matter how difficult the task seems. Nobody is expected to know all the answers. It's important to work together to solve problems.

I also learnt that I'm not at a disadvantage because I don't have a finance-related degree. I now know that I want to work in financial technology when I graduate, but I'm considering doing an MSc in computer science first.

Summer internships

Most City firms offer graduate roles to their brightest interns, so doing an internship is an important step on the recruitment ladder if you want to work at an investment bank.

Internships are usually eight to ten weeks long during the summer of your penultimate year of university. They start with some training followed by either a rotational programme around different departments, or a longer period of time working with one team at the bank. If you enjoy your internship and get an offer you can go back to university with a graduate job already in the bag.

Deepka Rana is going into her final year of a physics degree at Imperial College, London. She did an investment banking internship this summer and has been offered a position for when she graduates...

Why I applied

I enjoy studying physics but I've known for a while that I don't want to go into academia. I toyed with the idea of working in PR, but finance is a better match for my numerical skills. Investment banks always have a big presence at careers fairs, so I thought I'd explore that option and apply for an internship.

What I did

My internship lasted nine weeks. In the first week all the interns had general financial training and an introduction to the bank together. Then we had more training that was tailored to the division we'd be working in.

I was assigned to the real estate industry team in the investment banking division for the next eight weeks. But there's a pooling system for interns, so I ended up working with a huge variety of teams and it was really good to get a taste of each one. I worked on pitches, presentations and models for clients. Initially some of the work was a bit tedious, but as the internship went on I was given more responsibility and it became very interesting.

I liked sitting in on client meetings and seeing how the managing director handled conference calls. It was exciting to see where my work was going and how the top level executives were looking at our information and using it to make a deal.

What I learnt

I learnt how to balance a big workload. Managing people's expectations was difficult because I was juggling work for several teams at the same time. Initially it was hard to know what to prioritise but it became easier by the end of the internship.

I also found that the job is right for me. Investment banking is very tough and you have to work long hours. If you don't enjoy it, you won't last long. I liked the environment, the people and the work and at the end of my internship I was offered a job by the technology, media and telecoms team.

James Simpson studies computer science at Imperial College, London. He did a spring week in his first year followed by an internship this summer...

Why I applied

I didn't know what I wanted to do. I considered lots of different jobs but nothing really appealed to me. One of my friends suggested I try investment banking. I did a spring week and really liked the atmosphere of competition and collaboration in investment banking, so I followed it up with an internship.

What I did

First, all the interns had a week of general financial training. A lot of the information about financial products such as equities and derivatives was new to me despite having done a first year scheme, so it was very interesting.

Then we were assigned to our teams. I was in a business analyst role in the technology division and I was given my own project to work on. I had to find out how communications could be improved throughout risk technology, which involved interviewing people within the division.

We also did a team project during the internship. We designed and created an app for Facebook to help the HR team to recruit graduates. At the end of the internship we delivered presentations about our app. My team won the competition and the head of investment banking technology gave us some really positive feedback.

What I learnt

I expected people at the bank to have a poor attitude and be fed up of working there because investment banks get a lot of bad press. But I found that everyone was very friendly, positive and proud of what they do. We had at least one networking event each week (with lots of free alcohol!) so I made lots of contacts and got to know people well.

The internship has given me a better understanding of what I want to do when I graduate. It was good to try out the business analyst role but I've learnt that I'm more suited to a developer role because I enjoy creating new things.

Why do a first year scheme or an internship?

  • If you're certain that investment banking is right for you, insight programmes and internships are part of the recruitment process and doing them will help you to get a job.
  • If you're uncertain about what you want to do when you graduate, gaining some experience will help you to weigh up your options.
  • They're the best way to test the water and find out if the job, environment and long hours are right for you.
  • You'll receive training, learn something new and spend the holidays doing something challenging.
  • You've got nothing to lose. You should be interested in a career in finance if you apply, but there's no obligation to take on a graduate role at the end.

Top tips

1. Research

"I think it's important to find out about all the different programmes offered by banks so you can choose one that will be the most interesting and the most beneficial for you," says Saadman.

2. Reach out to people

"Don't be shy about getting in touch with people who have either already done an internship or who work at the bank to ask for advice. It's so easy to reach out to people these days and everyone is incredibly helpful. Before I started my internship I exchanged a few emails with a friend of a friend who is an analyst at the bank. It put me at ease because I knew there would be a friendly face if I had any problems," says Deepka.

3. Have confidence

"The best advice I can give is to be confident. You'll meet lots of new people and work on challenging projects but as long as you approach everything with confidence and enthusiasm you'll form relationships and perform well," says James.

How to apply

The application process varies from bank to bank.

First year schemes usually require you to complete an online application or submit a CV and cover letter. You may also have a telephone interview.

Summer internship application processes are slightly longer. As well as completing an online application form you may be asked to answer competency questions and take some online tests. If you're successful at the first stage, you're likely to be invited to an assessment centre. Assessment centres usually involve a mixture of written tests, interviews, group work and presentations.

The process sounds daunting, but remember it's like applying early for a graduate position. If you do well on the internship you could be fast-tracked into a job!

For tips on the application process and for application deadlines and more visit