If you are in college and hoping to use an internship to get your foot in the door of the financial industry, you are not alone. The competition for such slots is bound to be intense, but the good news is that there are certain things that you can do to enhance your chances of landing a position that will provide you with the skills and experience necessary to succeed in a variety of finance-related fields.
This article will highlight some of the important considerations to check off the proverbial list before going after that internship. After all, if you know what career path you want to take, why not get started as quickly as possible?
1. Double- and Triple-Check Your Resume
First things first, you need to have a clean and clear resume. Proofread your resume for any spelling errors. Don't just trust your computer's spell-check program - and, if possible, have someone else read it too. If there are any spelling, style or grammar mistakes, correct them.
Also, search your resume for any inaccuracies or situations where you may have stretched the truth (like where it says that you worked in "cash management," but the job really entailed working the register at McDonald's; or the job that shows you as holding a position in the entertainment industry, but the actual job was movie theater ticket taker). It is important to make these corrections because if the employer uncovers a lie on the resume or application, or during the interview process, you could be discarded from the list or (if you have already landed a position) out-right fired.
In addition to making sure that the resume and application are error-free, would-be interns should make sure that they're including the information that employers frequently want to know about, preferably toward the top of the document or in some other prominent place. Namely, you should describe all relevant experience you have in the industry, as well as any special knowledge you may have acquired in the field thus far.
2. Experience Comes in Many Forms
It should be emphasized and, if possible, inserted in a highly visible place on the resume if you have:
- been part of a mock investing club,
- taken special economics classes,
- scored high marks in finance classes,
- done well in the CNBC's Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge,
- worked in a high-paced sales environment.
If your practical job experience or participation in finance-related clubs or organizations is lacking, you might consider either attempting to garner that experience or else emphasizing your other marketable skills, such as writing ability. Writing experience and a proven ability to communicate in an effective manner are both qualities that are desirable in finance, where professionals and clients work together every day.
3. Summer Internships - Not Just for Summer Anymore
Often internship candidates don't give much thought to the internship they are trying to land throughout the year - often thinking they only happen in the summer. But some universities and companies offer co-op positions throughout the year, which opens up the amount of time that students can be applying and landing intern positions.
Students should give these positions a great deal of thought and attention before submitting their applications, because an internship could potentially lead to positive letters of reference, a much more impressive resume and perhaps even a future job offer.
With all of that in mind, students also might consider taking time out of their schedule to visit their school's guidance counselor and learning about the many different types of firms that are out there, as well as how many slots they have available for internships. While a school's guidance office may be a great source for internship information, prospective students might also peruse the websites of the major firms, such as Merril Lynch or Morgan Stanley, as sometimes they'll carry listings some colleges won't. There are also more general websites that cater to would-be interns that might be considered as well. InternshipPrograms.com and similar sites can be quite handy for interns looking for direction, schedules and general advice.
As a tip, internship-seeking individuals should also try to determine which firms might interest them the most or which might be most consistent with their planned career path. For example, if your goal is to become a broker, a position at a retail brokerage might make sense. If you are ultimately hoping to become a fund manager, a position at a large mutual fund company might be appropriate. Gaining relevant experience in your field of interest early on means you'll be prepared when the ideal job opportunity comes around; and though it might be interesting to work in a brokerage field, unless you want to head in that direction you may waste your time by losing valuable experience in your field.
4. Get Applications in on Time
It should go without saying, but you should find out when the deadline to submit an application is, and then make sure that you get it in on time. What's more, you should be fastidious in your efforts to complete the application. The writing should be neat and easy to read. Remember that employers often receive dozens, and in some cases hundreds or even thousands, of applications for their internship positions, and making a great first impression is of the utmost importance.
5. Bring Your "A" Game to the Interview
It should also go without saying that you should be presentable (generally, this means conservatively dressed) and timely when going to your interview. You should also consider asking questions. For example, consider asking about the company's strategy, what the employer expects from the intern, or about some of its products or services. Why? Simply, this might help convey the message that you are a thinker and are truly interested in the position and the organization. You should also be prepared to answer questions as well, and not just about the nuts and bolts of the internship itself.
Some of the more popular open-ended questions include:
- What do you want to do with your life?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why did you choose the major you did?
- Why are you interested in this profession?
- What do you bring to the table in terms of skill sets?
- What makes you different or special?
6. Emphasize Flexibility
Interns may have set job duties. That is, their task might be simply to enter data into spreadsheets all day or to make cold calls. However, many times interns are used as "gofers" (as in go for this, or go for that) and are given tasks that nobody else in the office wants. As such your assigned tasks may vary frequently and may not be known by the employer at the time of your interview. For this reason, interns should consider making it clear that they are willing to do grunt work and that they can be flexible based upon the organization's needs.
7. Ask About Full-Time Positions
There is usually no guarantee that an internship will lead to a permanent placement at the company. However, in some cases it may not hurt to ask, either during the interview or once you land the position. In fact, it may be good to ask because it not only conveys your interest in joining the organization on a permanent basis, but it also gives the company some time to consider the possibility of hiring you full-time or creating a new position for you.
The Bottom Line
Obtaining an internship doesn't have to be an overly stressful experience. These seven tips can help a student not only obtain the position they want, but also the experience that can help land their career.