How to Prepare for Investment Banking Summer Internship Recruiting

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Investment Banking Summer Internship RecruitingWhile I’ve written lots of summer internship tutorials, most of them focus on what to do once you’re actually working, or how to prepare for the internship.

Even back in the dark ages (in Internet time, 2-3 years ago) one of the most asked questions here was “OK, but how do I get a summer internship in the first place?”

And since then I’ve gotten many more questions on the timing for summer internship recruiting, how it’s different from full-time recruiting, what to focus on, and what happens when – so let’s get to it.

Who?

I’m assuming that you’re an undergraduate or MBA – or that you’re graduating but are starting a Master’s program right afterward.

Summer internships are only available if you’re in school.

Yes, you could still apply if you’re graduating or you’ve already graduated but that has a very low success rate, especially at large banks.

You don’t have to be at a “target” school, but you will have to rely heavily on networking if you’re not. You are at more of a disadvantage at the MBA level if you’re not from a top school, because there are fewer spots available and the competition is much savvier.

What?

You know, investment banking summer internships. Haven’t we been through this before?

“Internship” is just another word for an 8-10 week interview at a bank: if you pass, you get a return offer at the end. And if you don’t, you don’t get a return offer and have to look elsewhere for full-time work.

You perform tasks similar to what full-time analysts and associates do, but you’re always supporting them and you’re given more grunt work since you don’t know anything.

It’s different in sales & trading because you’re not allowed to trade as an intern, so it’s more of a shadowing experience there.

Why?

Summer internships are important because having one will dramatically increase your chances of getting full-time interviews and offers.

If the economy is bad, you might not even have a shot at full-time interviews if you haven’t had an internship – and many bulge bracket banks fill their entire analyst classes with summer interns.

Even if the market is frothy, an internship still gives you a big advantage, and even more importantly, gives you more options than someone without an internship.

When Do You Get an Internship?

I’ve been writing “summer internships” throughout, but banks do occasionally offer autumn, winter, and spring options as well – more so in Europe than the US.

But the other internships are not much different aside from timing and summer internships are the most common ones, so we’ll focus on those.

Recruiting begins in December or January and concludes sometime in February. The internship itself starts in June and finishes in August, lasting anywhere between 8 to 10 weeks.

Before you reply and say that you heard of a friend who interned longer or shorter than that or someone who did not follow that exact timing, yes, there are exceptions and the sentences above just give approximate guidelines.

Some banks may finish later – especially boutique and middle-market firms – and sometimes recruiting starts in November, especially outside the US.

Prep Time?

More important than the specific dates is when you should start networking and preparing for recruiting.

A long time ago when I interviewed readers who broke into banking from non-target schools (no, that special offer is no longer active because the courses were released a long time ago), most of them reported starting 6 months in advance.

They networked through the summer and started with weekend trips in the fall before interviews began in the winter.

If you haven’t already done all that and recruiting is underway, it’s not the end of the world – although you will have to approach things differently (see the networking section below).

How to Get a Summer Internship

Summer internship recruiting is not dramatically different from full-time recruiting – you still get in via networking, having a solid resume, and then acing your interviews.

But there are some differences and special considerations:

Networking

Ideally you will have started at least a few months in advance with contacting alumni, setting up informational interviews, and figuring out your story.

This is more necessary if you’re at a non-target school than if you’re at a top school and already have a competitive profile: networking always helps, but if you have perfect grades and 2 internships at Goldman Sachs you will get (at least some) interviews anyway.

If you have time to start in advance, you know the drill: start with informational interviews over the summer, continue with weekend trips in the fall leading up to recruiting season and make your “ask” just before interviews begin.

If you have not started in advance and this is a last-minute effort, here are some tactics to try:

  • Go to all the information sessions you can – these are held right before the application deadline, so you still have a shot even at the last-minute.
  • If you’re at a non-target school, go to another school’s information sessions and sneak in if you can get away with it. Don’t kidnap someone and steal his/her student ID, but see if you can “borrow” a friend’s or otherwise talk your way in if security is tight. Some bankers frown on this, but others will be impressed that you were hungry enough to get in.
  • Look up alumni on LinkedIn or in your alumni database and still set up informational interviews – but be more direct and ask how you can position yourself for a formal interview at the end of each conversation.
  • Cold-call aggressively – this works better at boutiques and you should do it only if you have no other options and/or you made it through recruiting season without any offers.

It’s not ideal to start networking at the last-minute, but it is slightly less of a deal-breaker than if you went into full-time recruiting with minimal networking.

And if you already started months in advance, you’re well ahead of the game because most aspiring bankers don’t read this site and are still going to information sessions asking what it’s like being an investment banker.

Resumes / CVs

First, download and use this university student resume template if you’re an undergraduate or this MBA-level template if you’re at the business school level.

Using one of those templates helps you avoid the most common mistakes like poor formatting, impossible-to-scan text, the temptation to be “creative” and make a video resume (please don’t or it will be forwarded widely and your life will be ruined), and so on.

But much of your resume is beyond your immediate control: bankers place a heavy emphasis on your school name, where you’ve worked, and your grades – and you can’t change those at the last-minute.

But you can control how you present your experience and what you focus on:

  • At the MBA level write about the 2 or 3 full-time positions you had before going to business school, focusing on whatever was closest to finance; just 1 full-time position is OK if that’s all you have, but you may want to include an undergraduate internship or an activity you’ve been involved in for the sake of variety.
  • If you have limited work experience as an undergrad, pick the 2-3 activities, sports, or competitions you’ve been most heavily involved in (see this tutorial and resume makeover for more). Hopefully you’ve held a leadership role in these.

For example, you could write about a student investment fund that you’ve led, a nonprofit you’ve been volunteering with, and a case or investment competition you won.

They don’t have to be finance-related, but it certainly helps when it comes time to tell your story and prove your interest in the field.

If you’ve had a rotational internship or you’ve had actual finance experience, then devote at least half your resume to that and don’t write as much about unrelated activities.

The specific format for each entry is the same as what’s in the tutorials above – pick a project-centric or task-centric structure depending on the experience and be as specific and results-oriented as possible.

As usual, cover letters are mostly useless but there is a cover letter template right here if you need it – there are no differences for internships.

Interviews

For full-time interviews bankers focus more on your most recent internship, but for internship interviews you haven’t had as much experience – so they will ask more about your background before university or business school and the activities you’ve been involved in.

You still need a solid story and then 2-3 mini-stories (see The Banker Blueprint for an explanation) that you can use to answer the usual questions about leadership, teamwork, strengths and weaknesses, and so on.

The only difference is that you may rely more on your activities as an undergrad, or on your pre-MBA experience at the business school level.

Going back to the example above, the interviewee might talk about where he’s from (the “beginning”), then use the case competition as his finance “spark,” and then talk about how he started the student investment fund for his growing interest (see the story tutorial for definitions of all these and the overall outline).

The key challenge will be to convince bankers that you want to be in the field without sounding TOO certain and coming across as unrealistic – it is just an internship, after all.

So rather than saying you want to be a banker for life, say that it’s what you’re most excited about doing and what you want to do full-time after graduation. You know it depends on how you perform in the internship, but that is what you’re most looking forward to right now based on your past experience, networking, and everything you’ve learned on your own.

Technical Questions

The “bar” for technical questions is definitely higher than it was in, say, the 2000-2005 period.

Back then, you might have gotten in with little technical knowledge, but these days you pretty much have to know accounting, valuation, and how to answer basic questions such as how changes to line items affect the 3 statements.

And often you’ll get asked a lot more than that – it is not unheard of to get questions on merger models, LBO models, and so on even if you haven’t had banking experience and are going for summer internships.

Generally you will not get as difficult questions if you don’t have a finance background and haven’t had previous internships, but there are no guarantees.

You may get overwhelmed if you try to cram in everything at the last-minute, so this is another area where you want to start prepping at least a few weeks to a month in advance.

Undergraduate vs. MBA Differences

There aren’t many: networking and interviews are similar, and your resume may look different but the basic idea is the same.

The key difference is that bankers expect more polish if you’re at the MBA-level: they know that you’re good at BSing and talking your way into situations if you’ve made it that far, so they will ask more probing questions.

An undergraduate might get away with a generic answer for the “Why investment banking?” question, but you will not: they will ask more detailed questions to see whether you’re being relatively truthful or you’re just good at making stuff up on the spot.

Everyone else will also be networking, since that’s arguably the true purpose of business school – so you need to get started before you even arrive on campus.

Technical questions in interviews may also take the form of case studies – whether written or informal discussions – more often at this level.

Instead of asking how to value a company or the trade-offs of the different methodologies, bankers may ask about a specific company and walk through an imaginary scenario where someone else wants to acquire them, and then frame all the valuation questions in that context.

So be prepared and read up on case studies – the private equity case study tutorial is also applicable here.

Internationally

The main differences:

  1. In addition to CVs and cover letters, you may also have to submit written answers to competency questions (more common in Europe).
  2. The interview process will also consist of an assessment center and case studies that you complete there (mostly Europe and Australia).
  3. In emerging markets, the recruiting process will be more unstructured and haphazard.

For #2, see the existing guide to case studies and assessment centers.

For #1, just pretend you’re answering interview questions but condense what you say into 200 or 300 words, or whatever the word limit is.

Just like with cover letters, if you say something stupid it could come back to haunt you – but amazing answers won’t help you that much.

Answer each question with a definitive statement (e.g. “My top 3 qualities are my work ethic, leadership, and ability to work in a team.”) and then give a specific example or two to back up what you say.

Banks claim to pay attention to these questions, but overall they are less important than your CV and interview skills so don’t lose sleep over them.

Offers

Good news travels quickly: if you get an offer, you’ll probably hear back right away. If you don’t get an offer or you’re on the wait list, you won’t.

And yes, before you start panicking, there are exceptions and banks don’t always do this.

If you get an exploding offer, you pretty much have to accept it unless you have another offer lined up.

For internships it is much better to take something – even if it’s at a boutique or middle-market bank – than to turn it down and take a chance on getting an offer at a much larger bank.

Even with a lesser-known bank on your resume, you’ll still get interviews at bulge bracket banks for full-time recruiting – so the risk of not accepting an offer outweighs the potential upside of waiting and taking a chance on a better offer.

You could renege on your summer offer but that has its own set of risks.

And for summer internships it is arguably more risky than with full-time recruiting, because you may have to interview once again after your internship – if someone remembers that you reneged on an offer, that’s bad news for you.

Plan B Options

What if you go through recruiting and end up with no summer internship offers?

Just take a look at the Plan B options here and here and cut out the ones that don’t make sense (e.g. business school or a Master’s program).

Get as close to banking as possible – outside of PE/HF/VC the best options are probably corporate finance/development and wealth/asset management.

The back office is not necessarily the kiss of death as it is for full-time work, but it is a step below client-facing / revenue-generating options.

If nothing on that list works for you, start your own project, your own student club or investment fund, or something similar.

Whatever you do, don’t just sit around or only take classes or study for exams and certifications because you’ll put yourself at an even bigger disadvantage.

And don’t even think about the Best Buy option.

Any questions?

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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271 Comments to “How to Prepare for Investment Banking Summer Internship Recruiting”

Comments

  1. Ron says

    I don’t know if this has been answered before. But can a person still get a summer analyst position if they have already graduated from undergrad? I’ve already graduated for some time and have recently been interested in getting in the industry. I know summer analyst positions are geared for juniors only and would be almost impossible to get one after graduating. Is this true? Who could I speak with to get the facts straight? Thanks!

    • Ron says

      Nicole/Brian/or anyone else know the answer the question? SA is recruiting is coming up and I’m not sure who else to ask who’d know the answer.
      Thanks

      • M&I - Nicole says

        Thanks for the follow up. Most banks don’t allow graduates to apply for summer programs though you can always try to speak with HR/head of division and see if they’re willing to make an exception. Otherwise, you may have to go through the experienced hire route. Perhaps speaking with boutiques, 3rd tier banks may help because they are probably less likely to be as structured and may allow you to intern/work there

  2. Benjamin says

    Hi, I have been following your site for a little under a year, when I first realized I wanted to go into IB. I don’t go to a target school and my grades are not the best (I’m a sophomore)I have read that smaller banks/boutique’s are more forgiving. Is that true? And is there somewhere that lists all or most of these banks ?
    I kind of screwed myself over by having lousy grades before I knew what I wanted to do so internships are hard to get.

  3. Mike says

    Hi Brian,

    I am currently a sophomore at a small liberal arts college with the goal of breaking into investment banking in the U.S. after graduation. I’ve received offers in both sales/trading and asset management in China, and was wondering which one to accept for this coming summer.

    Details about the offers:
    1. Sales/Trading at a relatively well-known group in mainland China. Pros: Learn to follow the market, active deal flows every day, location (think Beijing/Shanghai etc). Cons: ?
    2. Asset Management at a top four AM group in China which works with non-performing assets in state-owned commercial banks. Pros: More technical projects, more prestige(maybe)? Cons: Location

    Thanks in advance for the inputs!

    Mike

  4. George says

    Hi Brian, I am a final year undergrad from a target school in the UK, and recently got an IBD summer internship offer with a bulge bracket in HK. I was originally thinking of doing a Master’s right after undergrad, but I’m now thinking of working through the analyst years to earn some money and get work experience. I was wondering if the bank will allow me to start working immediately after the internship instead of the following year? Many thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It depends on headcount, hiring needs and interview review. I’d suggest you to speak with HR and your team regarding your change of plans. It is quite possible that you may have to go through another round of interview for full time recruiting.

  5. John says

    I got a few questions here, and would really appreciate some advice.

    My questions are (for London IB):
    1.Should I apply for summer or off-cycle internship, if my primary purpose is to maximise the probability of getting an internship (at a top-tier IBs)?

    2. As a BA Finance graduate, would you still recommend me to apply for internships? or apply for full-time positions? I have been networking with lots of people. HRs tend to say I should apply for full-time as I have graduated, but analysts tend to say I should always apply for internship positions. After researching on LinkedIn, it seems 90% of current analysts started as an intern.

    And here is my brief background:
    - I’m in UK with Finance degree from a Russell Group uni
    - S&T Internship in 2nd year from a boutique
    - M&A Internship in 3rd year (that is after graduation) from a boutique (with no visa sponsorship) as I landed no full-time job from a top-tier IB
    - Another M&A Internship from a boutique firm with healthy deal flow (but name is unknown).
    - Though I never wanted to study masters, I applied for MSc at top Bschools (LSE, CASS etc) for 2014-2015 (maybe helpful in some ways), and received offers in April.

    I should have realised the importance of doing an internship at a top-tier IB. When making my first applications to IBs, I thought I could leverage my S&T Internship to get some interviews from top-tier IBs for full-time positions, so I mainly (wrongly) applied for full-time positions. Where I managed to get about 3-4 interviews from MM IBs, unfortunately I messed up during interviews + competition was severe I’d say (other interviewees were JPM and GS interns with masters).

    Thank you for reading and providing some answers to the questions above!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. I’d apply for summer internships
      2. So in your case, you’d going back to school in fall I presume since you’ve already been accepted to a top program. I’d explain that to HR and go for internships first to get your foot back into the door and gain some experience in the next few months.

      You can try for full time roles (without letting them know of your intention of going back to school) though I believe this can be more challenging.

      • John says

        Thanks Nicole for your comments. As a follow up question, I would have about 10 months IB internship experience. Would you still suggest I apply for internship (which will be after I graduate from my Masters). I’m just worried that HRs might discard my application due to the fact that they generally “state” they look for penultimate students for internship positions. Given this, I believe Off-cycle Internships would be more feasible to me. Do you have any comparison between the number of places for Summer vs. Off-cycle internship? It’d be really helpful.

        As a separate question, would you know any forum or anyone that we could contact regarding London recruitment questions ? (I’m not talking about general HR stuff, but very minutiae ones). Besides all, I have visa matters as well, and it is really a pain, as it disqualifies my application for countless firms due to not having the work permit.

        Thank you!

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Yes, they may do so since you aren’t a penultimate student. I don’t have the comparison.

          Regarding London recruitment questions, we don’t have any partners on that front. Other readers may be able to give you suggestions, especially if they have worked with such recruitment agencies before.

  6. Sam says

    If I complete a summer internship at a BB in front office-risk management role, and I want to move into a full time IBD role in the future at another BB, should I apply to another round of internships despite graduating, or go straight for graduate applications? I am not sure if not having an IBD specific internship would hold me back on a graduate application.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I am not sure if you can apply for internship roles after graduation; you may have to apply for graduate roles directly. Yes not having IB experience can potentially be a challenge.

  7. Jonathan H says

    Hi,

    Thank you for your helpful and great advice!

    My questions are:
    1. I am doing MSc in Finance Imperial (class of 2014/2015). Where banks accept both masters & bachelors students for internships (JPM IBD Europe), should I apply for masters? Credit Suisse HR said they hired, if not all, most of analysts from internships and I was advised to apply for off-cycle positions for 2015 intake after master graduation (though I am skeptical there are as many off-cycle positions as SA or FA). I surely want to start as a FA, but well its hard without an internship in the firm.

    2. What might be good reasons for applying for Internships when graduating from Masters? Shall I just honestly say things like “I understand most analysts come from internship program..” or “I want to do another masters (a complete lie)”?

    I hope your answers to the above questions can serve to help many others with similar questions. Thank you!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. Yes a masters can help you open more doors and give you more opportunities for jobs. I’d really focus on the alumni network and career services center
      2. They have internships for Masters students. However, you may not be able to apply for internships *after* you’ve graduated because internships are for students in breaks over the summer (before they go back to school). I’d actually apply for full time roles in this situation.

      • Jonathan H says

        Thank you Nicole for your suggestion. However, I fear the whole HR system might be slightly different in Europe from the US. On LinkedIn, I see a large number of Masters students who completed their masters and then apply for internships in the year they finished the master course (e.g. 2013 Master guy Graduated in September, doing Off-cycle internship from October 2013)

        It is really confusing and hard to decide, given IB firms only allow 1 application per year. In UK, I see that nearly 90% analyst are those who did intern at the firm, and only a few analysts (at BB) come from other BB Internship pool.

        Would you still suggest I apply for FT? Thank you so much for your suggestion Nicole!

        • M&I - Nicole says

          If banks are willing to take you on as an intern after you have graduated, then yes go for the internship. I am not sure if banks are willing to do so though, because some banks are strict re. this policy. Otherwise, yes I’d go for a FT role.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I don’t think the MD can 100% guarantee an internship, unless he is very very senior at the bank.

  8. J Hall says

    After reading quite a few articles on the site, it is clear that I need to be reaching out to professionals I find on LinkedIn and in alumni databases. What do you suggest I say to them? I can’t imagine a random person I have never met before wanting to take the time out of their day to talk to me.

  9. Matt says

    Hi.I am currently in a target MS Finance and given the way that the program is structured, I would be able to take off the whole summer, if necessary, to do a full-time IB internship, and then resume/finish the MS the next fall or spring after that. I’m not sure, though, if I would have a chance at getting bulge bracket internships for that summer, since I’m technically a graduate, but have only been in the workforce, full-time, for about 10 months between my undergrad and masters. Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You have perhaps 50/50 chance since you’ll be competing against people from target schools who have had industry experience, but I may still take the summer to gain some sort of finance experience, even if it isn’t in IB, if you want to break into the industry

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