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 likely will be intense, but the good news is that there are certain things 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. If you know the approximate career path you want to take, why not get started as quickly as possible? 

1. 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 the built-in spell check program on your device and, if possible, have someone else read it too. Correct any spelling, style, or grammatical mistakes. Then, check it again. You can never proofread your resume too thoroughly.

Check 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 Panera; or the job that shows you as holding a position in the entertainment industry, which actually was the job of a movie theater ticket-taker. If a prospective employer uncovers a lie on the resume, application, or during the interview process, your candidacy could be revoked. Or, if you've already landed a role, then you could be fired.

Further, would-be interns should make sure that they're including the information that employers frequently want to know about, preferably toward the top of their resume, or in some other prominent place. 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. Highlight Related Experience

It should be emphasized and, if possible, inserted in a highly visible place on the resume if you have

  • Been part of a school's mock investing club
  • Taken special economics classes
  • Scored high marks in finance or statistics classes
  • Worked in a fast-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 your writing ability. Writing experience and a proven ability to communicate effectively are both qualities that are desirable in finance, where professionals and clients work together every day.

3. Year-Round Internships

Often, internship candidates don't give much thought to the internship they are trying to land during certain parts of the year—thinking that they happen only in the summer. But some universities and companies offer co-op positions throughout the year, and many encourage fall and spring internships, which opens up the time that students can be applying and landing intern positions. So, be open to year-round opportunities. An internship at a good firm at any time of year could potentially lead to positive letters of reference, a much more impressive resume, and perhaps even a future job offer. 

4. Apply Early

It should go without saying, but you should know the deadline for submitting an application, then make sure that you send it in on time. What's more, when working on your application, you should pay attention to its details; read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly. Your writing should be neat and easy to read; and preferably, you'll be typing into a computer form. Remember that employers receive a plethora—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. Ace That Interview

It also should go without saying that you should be presentable—which generally means conservatively dressed—and on time for your interview. It is a good idea to visit the company's website to gain basic knowledge about the firm and to come prepared with some questions about topics that interest you.

You could, for example, ask about the company's strategy, what the employer expects from the intern, or about some of its products or services. Asking intelligent, thoughtful questions during an interview could convey the message that you are a thinker and are truly interested in the position and the organization. You also should be prepared to answer questions, and not just about the nuts and bolts of the internship itself.

Some of the more popular open-ended interview 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. Demonstrate 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, you should make it clear that you are willing to do grunt work and can be flexible based upon the organization's needs.

7. Ask About Full-Time Roles

There is usually no guarantee that an internship will lead to a permanent placement at a company. In some cases, though, it may not hurt to ask about full-time roles either during the interview or once you land the position. In fact, it may be good to ask because it conveys your interest in joining the organization, and gives the company some time to consider the possibility of hiring you full-time or creating a new position for you.

Searching for internships

You may want to consider taking time to visit the assigned guidance counselor at school to learn about the many different types of financial services firms, and the number of slots they have available for internships.

It also is important to visit the websites of major firms, such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, directly as sometimes they carry listings that some colleges won't. There are also a number of other websites that cater to would-be interns.

Internships.com and similar sites can offer general advice to prospective interns, and even help you to search for openings. You also can search for "intern" or "internship" on any of the major online job sites to find a wide range of opportunities in your area.

It would be worthwhile to try to determine which firms might interest you the most or might be most consistent with your envisioned 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.

The Bottom Line

Landing an internship doesn't need to be an overly stressful experience. These seven tips are practical guidelines that can help you to land a position, but it is the act of practicing them repeatedly—the search, itself—that is most valuable, as it will add to your reservoir of experience that will become your career.