What is an investment banking internship?

To a far greater extent than spring weeks and other pre-internship or insight programmes, investment banking internships are an integral part of the recruitment process.

Roughly 75 per cent of graduate roles at investment banks are awarded to former interns, so they are very much a stepping stone for students looking to secure a full-time graduate role at a bank after university. 

Internships will typically take place during the summer break and are aimed at second year undergraduate students (third year students on a four year course) from all degree disciplines.

They generally last 8-10 weeks and usually take place over July and August at the bank’s headquarters in London.

An increasing number of firms, including BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, also offer off-cycle internships. These run at different times of the year and are often open to recent graduates, 

Depending on the firm you apply to, you will either rotate around different departments or spend the majority of time working alongside the same team. Both of these structures will be supplemented by occasional training sessions or lectures.

The larger investment banks will usually require you to select the specific area of the firm you are looking to intern with, for example the investment banking (IBD) division, Capital Markets or Asset Management.

The smaller, boutique firms (the likes of Greenhill and Lazard, for example) will typically have a single internship funnel, with participants given a chance to sample different areas of the firm. 

Is an internship right for you?

As we’ve seen, internships are very much aimed at students with a genuine and demonstrable interest in banking and financial markets. Recruiters want to hear from people who are thinking seriously about a career in the industry and who are likely to go on to work for the investment bank on a permanent basis. 

Competition for internship places is fierce and the application process requires a substantial time commitment, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. You'll need to give it your all to make it worthwhile.

While you won’t need to be familiar with investment banking theory or the intricacies of the profession (this is something you’ll gain from the internship itself, after all), you will need to be able to demonstrate a genuine interest in the finance markets, macroeconomics and current affairs.

Above all, you will be expected to be able to articulate your motivations for wanting to work with an investment bank.

An outstanding academic record is a standard requirement, while you will also need to provide evidence of strong numerical and analytical skills. If this sounds like you, then there’s no reason not to apply. 

The application process

Most investment banking employers open up the recruitment process for summer interns during the first term of the academic year, with the application deadline usually falling over November and December. Positions for off-cycle internships are typically filled at various stages of the year.

It’s always best to begin working on your application as soon as you see a placement listed. While you obviously shouldn't rush your applications, make sure you don't dawdle.

Some banks will offer a range of internship opportunities so it's important to make sure you're applying for the scheme that is the closest match for your own interests. For example, if you're hoping to join the bank as a trader, doing an internship in technology or operations won't necessarily be that helpful. 

The application process is typically similar to that used the spring insight programmes, so if you have experience of the latter you will already have a good idea of what to expect.

Having registered for the process, most firms require candidates to complete a short numerical test. Should they be successful, applicants will be invited to fill out an application form, where they will write about their skills and background and be asked to explain their motivations for wanting to work in investment banking.

Many employers will employ this standardised process to recruit candidates. However, some of the smaller, boutique banks (Greenhill, for example) still use a traditional CV + cover letter format. 

Applicants who make it through to the next stage will usually progress to an interview round at the bank’s offices, though in some cases this will be proceeded by a screening call with a member of the bank’s graduate recruitment team.

While you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, we’d also advise against spreading yourself too thin and applying to too many different firms. 

This might seem like the best way to improve your odds of getting an offer, but it also means you'll have limited time to spend on each one, diluting your chances of success. 

What will I do on an internship?

Make no mistake, as a paid intern you are not just there for the experience. You will be given real work to do and will be expected to pull your weight.

Most of the work you do will be very similar to what you would do as a first year analyst and you will be involved on live projects and business deals, supporting the wider team and division where you’re placed.

That said, most internship programmes begin with a intensive training programme of a week or more. This is essentially crash-course in financial markets and will bring you up to speed with the basic skills and industry knowledge that you’ll need to perform your role. 

Mentoring is also an importance part of the process. Banks will usually arrange for a supervisor to look after you throughout the programme, whose job it is to support you and to provide you with feedback regarding your performance 

Key things to take from an internship

  • A Clearer Perspective: Investment banking isn’t for everyone, but you’ll never know unless you give it a try. While the majority of interns go away from the experience convinced it’s the right career path for them, for others it’s just as useful to know which elements of the corporate world they enjoy and which they don’t. The work an investment banker will often overlap with other professions, such as trading, investment management or consulting, so the skills you acquire may serve you well when applying to other roles.
  • A Permanent Offer: The ultimate goal for many interns is to secure a full-time graduate position with their employer.  With 75 per cent of graduate positions filled by former interns, the chances of success are high for those who work hard and do their best to stand out. Even if your firm doesn’t make you an offer at the end of the summer, rest assured that having the experience on your CV will vastly increase your chances of success with another employer. 
  • A Well-Rounded Skill Set: The skills, knowledge and exposure you acquire on your internship will provide the tools to hit the ground running when it comes to starting your first job after university. In addition to having a basic grasp of competencies such as modelling and financial analysis, you are also likely to find yourselves picking up presentation, team working and other soft skills. These are often transferable across different roles and professions. 
  • A Contact Network: Regardless of where you eventually end up working or with whom, an internship is a great way to extend your professional network. Whether senior professionals or other interns, the people you meet over those two months will often prove useful further down the line when it comes to work and employment opportunities. Take down contact details and do your best to keep in touch.