Whether you're an aspiring auditor for a major accounting firm or hoping to break into the investment banking world with a Wall Street megabank, a college internship (or several) can make a big difference. Not only will you gain experience to add to your resume, but you may also enjoy a competitive edge if you apply to those firms after graduation. Here's what you can expect from a finance internship and how to make yourself a prime candidate for one.

Key Takeaways

  • Finance internships during college can help you gain experience and put your classroom learning to work in a real-world setting.
  • A good internship program will allow you to spend at least 50% of your time using and developing your professional skills rather than simply doing grunt work.
  • Participating in an internship program can also give you a competitive edge if you apply to that company for a full-time job after graduation.

Finance Internships: Expectations

The best internships provide an opportunity to apply and further develop the skills you've learned in the classroom in a real-world setting. Ideally, more than half of your internship will be focused on professional duties (analysis and project management, for example) and less than 25% on grunt work like making photocopies or fetching lunch for your bosses. So if you're spending almost half your time doing challenging, rewarding work, your finance internship is on the right track. However, you'll also earn points for doing whatever grunt work you're assigned capably and cheerfully—and not acting as if it's beneath you (even if you think it is).

Average hours

College interns working in banks, brokerage houses, and other financial services firms should expect to devote between 200 and 400 hours to their internships. Why? Because that's what hiring firms look for in terms of on-the-job interning experience.

Average pay

Finance is one of the most lucrative industries, especially for summer analysts and interns. For example, according to salary data collected by the website Wall Street Oasis, a summer intern working at one of the top 10 investment banks will be paid at an hourly rate equivalent to an $82,000 annual salary, on average. These were the average salaries at the top 10 investment banks based in New York, again expressed as an annual approximation:

Average Summer Analyst Salaries (2020)

Firm    

Average Salary, Summer Analyst
Citigroup   $82,000
J.P. Morgan  $78,000
Credit Suisse    $78,000
Barclays $78,000
Goldman Sachs $77,000
Morgan Stanley $75,000
Deutsche Bank $73,000
UBS $64,000
Wells Fargo $64,000
Bank of America Merrill Lynch $58,000

Of course, many internships will pay less than that, and some don't pay at all.

Should You Consider an Unpaid Internship?

While many students won't have the luxury to accept an unpaid internship—especially if it's located in a high-cost city like New York—some more affluent ones will. If you're in the latter situation, an unpaid internship may be better than no internship at all. The work experience and networking opportunities can still be of value, whether you're earning a paycheck or not.

Signs of a Good Internship Program

In addition to being a match for your skills and career ambitions, these are some indicators of a good finance internship program:

  • A direct internship coordinator, whose full-time job is managing interns. 
  • A written blueprint from the company explaining its policy toward interns and its goals for its internship program.
  • An emphasis on challenging, not menial, work.
  • Opportunities to network with and learn from staffers and management at meetings, seminars, company dinners, and regular training sessions.
  • An opportunity to speak with former interns from that company, to get their perspective on the internship experience.

Recognizing the need for more diversity and inclusion in the finance industry, some companies are adapting their internship programs to provide greater opportunities for women and members of minority groups to gain experience the field. These are some of the best diversity and inclusion programs, according to Investopedia.

Landing a Finance Internship: A Checklist

Obtaining a worthwhile internship at a bank, insurance company, or other financial services firm is all about preparation. Here are three important items that should be on your checklist:

Tailor your resume

Make sure your resume calls attention to the courses you've taken and skills you've developed that are most relevant for each company you apply to. This may mean 25 slightly different resumes for 25 different employers, but it will help your resume stand out from the competition. For more detailed advice, check out Investopedia's "How to Write a Great Investment Banking Resume."

Develop some extracurricular credentials

Write a blog on finance and investment issues, host a podcast on stock market risk or the state of the U.S. mortgage market, or start an investment club (or at least join one). Financial firms love intern candidates who delve deep into the money management industry in ways that go beyond pure academics.

Check your online persona

Banks and other financial firms are, understandably, very cautious about who they bring aboard to help handle clients' money. In fact, most big banks and Wall Street investment firms will insist on a background check, and frequently a drug test, before they hire. That's also why it's important to take a hard look at how you present yourself online. Check for any inappropriate pictures you might have posted on Facebook or Instagram or any Twitter comments you've made that someone might deem crude or offensive. Your potential employers will be on the lookout for anything that might signal poor judgment or risky behavior. So remove any material that could be embarrassing before you apply and, of course, be careful in the future.

During and After Your Internship

Once you land an internship, you'll want to begin filing away the names and contact information of the professionals you meet. That could be the person who interviewed you for the internship, the broker or analyst you've been assigned to help, or the internship coordinator at the company. All can come in handy when you're looking for a full-time job, especially at that organization.

When the internship ends, remember to write personalized thank-you notes to all the people who helped you. Interpersonal skills count for a lot in the finance industry and can make a difference in which candidates are ultimately hired and promoted.