Find out why work experience in the banking industry can make a huge difference, what kinds of work experience are available to you, and what to do if you’ve left it too late.

Many firms in the banking sector will fill a significant portion of their full-time places with interns from previous years. In fact, internships, spring insight weeks or work experience are often considered a prerequisite to finding a graduate role within the sector.

Internships & placements

From your perspective, the only true way to validate your career choice is by trying it out for yourself. The best way is in the form of a spring week, placement or summer internship. These are normally aimed at first year and penultimate-year students, but some firms also accommodate graduates on their schemes.

Spring insights offer you the opportunity to gain a broad understanding of an organisation and where you might fit in, whereas 9–10 week internships allow you to prove yourself in a chosen area of a bank, in the hope of you returning the following year as a full-time
graduate. Securing a spring insight or internship is an ideal way of getting a real flavour of what the work is actually like and, importantly, whether the culture of the organisation is really for you.

Summer internships or off-cycle internships (September–November, January–March) offer participation on a structured programme for penultimate-year students. Internships can be up to ten weeks in length but off-cycle internships can be up to nine months, providing a real
in-depth understanding of an organisation.

There will usually be a mixture of financial markets training, on-the-job experience, project-based activities and networking opportunities for you to learn more about the people you may work with. Typically, most organisations provide some sort of appraisal during this time to ascertain whether you would be a good fit for a graduate role. Similarly, by participating in such a programme, you can decide whether this is the career or organisation for you.
Testing each other out in this way has proved so effective that it is now seen as one of the most reliable routes to a graduate role within the banking sector. You should therefore expect a rigorous application process, which is likely to include business simulation tasks, a telephone/video interview and an assessment centre. You are expected to be focused and to have prepared as thoroughly for the interview process as you would for a permanent role. The good news is that internship schemes are often paid very competitively.

Insight courses

For students typically within their first year, or for those who missed out on an internship, there are still options. Though not as in-depth, you can gain a broad understanding of certain roles, firms and their people through insight days/weeks and workshops. These provide you with an overview of the kind of work you will potentially do as a graduate.

They could involve a range of activities including trading games, case studies, presentations, work shadowing and panel discussions. All are aimed at giving you a realistic insight into some of the opportunities available and are great for clarifying the main differences between various departments. Although you’re unlikely to be working on ‘live’ projects, the exercises are designed to be as authentic and interactive as possible.
In recent years, the banking industry has started to offer insight weeks or structured spring programmes. These are usually, but not exclusively, for first-year students and often act as a feeder to summer internship opportunities.

Some firms offer shorter versions of the
week–long programme (1–2 days) which are run on a more frequent basis throughout the year. These allow you to build networks and meet people doing the jobs that might potentially interest you, without taking up too much of your time, maybe in order to choose a shortlist of companies to apply to for internships.

Employers normally ask students to submit a CV and covering letter and due to the large volumes of applications received for a limited number of positions you are likely to be asked to participate in a telephone or a video interview. This will help employers understand your suitability for the programme, academic background, career motivations and extra-curricular activities. You won’t get paid for attending an insight event, but could get your travel expenses and accommodation reimbursed.

None of the above

So, if you have left it too late, did not realise that you could do an internship or have only just done enough research into finance to decide it’s the career for you, how is it best to proceed? People with previous experience will have an advantage – they can often demonstrate more clearly their motivation and knowledge of the industry. This is especially true for those applying for more technical roles. However, if you have done all your research, been to the company presentations, followed the financial press regularly for the past few months, come up with your own opinions and ideas on the markets and are really committed to a particular career, you can still succeed.

Look to differentiate yourself with your enthusiasm and passion for your chosen career path and remain open to other opportunities in similar fields. Demonstrate that you have an active interest in the area through research or an interest in a particular financial topic or company. Some organisations offer online games on their websites which can help build your commercial awareness or other important skills and can help demonstrate your interest and abilities. Know the ins and outs of major financial news, but also be curious and think around subjects to develop your own ideas.

Any work experience

In order to show you have the transferable skills employers are looking for, you should aim to show work experience of some kind. This may have been a part-time job in a hectic call centre, challenging voluntary work you undertook at home or abroad, a treasury role in a university society or discipline displayed in sport. If you feel you are equipped to be in trading, for example, it is up to you to demonstrate this to your assessors by showing you can apply what you have learned elsewhere to the role they are looking to fill. Work experience of many kinds can help you develop these skills. It conveys motivation, an ability to deal with practical scenarios and potentially commercial acumen. Preparation is vital for any assessment event, especially if you are competing with people who do have relevant experience.

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