As one of the most sought-after roles in finance, securing a full-time graduate job in investment banking can be a challenging proposition. An internship with a leading firm is a big step in the right direction and can make all the difference come final year applications.
With competition for places on many internship programmes intense, it pays to have an idea of what the people making the all-important hiring decisions are really looking for.
We spoke to a number of recruiters from the graduate recruitment team at one of the world’s leading investment banks, Morgan Stanley. They gave us an insider’s view on what makes a good investment bank internship application, starting with some general dos and don’ts for prospective applicants:
- Take the cover letter seriously. For Morgan Stanley, it’s arguably the most important part of the application process and not to be underestimated. It’s soon apparent which candidates have thought about the structure of their letter and the message they want to send.
- Research the firm thoroughly. Rather than just regurgitating information from the company website, take the time to really understand the firm you’re applying to and what makes it stand out from its competitors. Perhaps read up on its social responsibility policies or a recent deal the company has worked on.
- Let your passion come through. A genuine interest in finance is always a big positive when it comes to screening potential investment banking interns. Don’t hold back: we want you to tell us what excites you about the industry and why you want to work here.
- Be proactive. Recruiters like to see people who’ve gone the extra mile to find out what investment banking is about and who’ve sought out people in the industry to speak to. Attending finance events on campus is an excellent place to start.
- Rely on scatter-gun applications. A quickly rehashed cover letter or application form is an immediate reject for recruiters, especially when a candidate accidentally leaves in the name of a competitor. Your application should always be specifically tailored to the firm and (ideally) the division you’re applying to.
- Undersell your experience. As an internship applicant, your employment experience doesn’t have to be exactly in line with the role you’re going for. Working in a shop or restaurant shows that you’re proactive and have good customer service skills. You can also demonstrate a wide range of skills and qualities by including other experience you may have, such a charity work, involvement in a society at university or travel. It all adds up and helps us to build a picture of you and your skill set.
- Try to be the candidate you think we want. We want to understand who you are as an individual and not what you think the perfect internship candidate might look like. Some candidates make the mistake of trying to hide behind a persona and it very rarely works.
- Exaggerate your abilities. Be careful not to oversell yourself or to exaggerate your skills or experience. There’s nothing to stop you describing yourself as a fluent French speaker – but be prepared to be tested on your language skills during the interview process.
As you will have discovered by now, investment banking is a multifaceted industry that encompasses various different strands and business lines.
As well as heeding the general advice offered above, it’s essential that you understand the specific demands and requirements of the division you’re applying to. You then need to think about how to tailor your internship application to meet these.
Here’s what recruiters from four divisions at Morgan Stanley, Investment Banking, Operations, Technology and Sales & Trading – had to say about applying to each of these business areas.
“Each area of finance brings its own challenges, and much of the work that the Investment Banking Division (IBD) does is project based, meaning the demands can often vary greatly from one day to the next.
“There are often intense periods where teams will be working on a number of projects, which are interspersed with slower intervals. It can be a demanding schedule, so resilience is one of the most important qualities we look for in potential interns.
“It’s important to show that you’re able to work under pressure, often to tight deadlines, and to be able to back this up with real-life examples. You should be prepared to answer questions about difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced and show how you’ve overcome these.
“Interviewers will adjust their expectations of a candidate based on their degree discipline and previous experience. However, regardless of your degree discipline, most firms will expect you to have at least done some reading around the subject of corporate finance. Having a grasp of the key concepts, such as the different ways you might value a company, is a great starting block and will give you something to talk about at interview.
“We also advise you spend some time reading up on notable developments in the industry, including recent M&A deals the bank might have been involved in. Publications such as the Financial Times and the Economist are a good place to start.”
“When it comes to Technology, what we’re really looking for above all else are people who are passionate and have a genuine love for what they do.
“Your application should certainly mention experience you’ve had with using core programming languages such as C++ or Java, however, be careful not to base your application too heavily around this, particularly as many of these skills are taught during the internship itself.
“Instead, try to focus on things you’ve done that are a bit different and make you stand out. Perhaps you build websites for your friends, or have taken courses or additional classes outside of your university studies.
“Problem solving and other soft skills are also important attributes for potential Technology interns. We’re looking to see how candidates approach a problem and work towards a solution, ideally as part of a team or group, so having examples of this can go a long way.
“While we don’t expect technology students to have an extensive understanding of financial markets, we do expect you to be able to articulate why you want to work in an investment bank. It’s a question you’re going to get asked so it makes sense to have a good answer at the ready.”
“The Operations division is an extremely diverse area within an investment bank and it’s often one of the areas students know least about.
“Before applying, it’s essential you spend time learning about the different areas of Operations and how they fit together to support the investment bank. One way to do this is to go to a talk or careers fair on your university campus, which is a great opportunity to speak to people about the work they do.
“There is no such thing as a standard ‘Operations employee’, Analysts experience different teams to broaden expertise and business knowledge, which means the range of skills and competencies we look for tends to be broader than for other areas of the bank. A position in Operations Risk & Control for instance, can be very analytical or project based, while other roles may be more process related or client focused.
“It’s important that, in your application, you demonstrate a good blend of different skills, including ‘must-haves’ such as time management and organisational skills.
“Finally, the importance of asking questions cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to the interview stage. We are always impressed by candidates who show a natural curiosity for the work we do and who are constantly looking to find out more.”
Sales & Trading
“Sales & Trading is ultimately a people-focused business. “There’s also a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, so we’re always impressed by people who gravitate naturally towards being in a team environment, perhaps as part of a sports team or as a member of a club or society.
“As you might expect, the trading floor is a fast-moving environment. It’s a place where you have to react to new information and process it as it comes in, so being good at thinking on your feet in a logical manner is essential. Try to think of how you might demonstrate this in your application.
“Whilst you don’t need to be studying an Economics or Business degree, of course, strong numeracy skills are also important, which is where the psychometric testing stage of the application process comes in.
“While we wouldn’t necessarily expect internship candidates to have a detailed understanding of how the markets work at this stage, you should be able to talk about some of the key global exchanges such as the FTSE. You might be asked what level the market is currently at, for example, or some of the factors that are involved in sending equity prices higher or lower.
“Reading publications such as the Financial Times or the Economist is a good way to build up this knowledge base. You could also look at joining a finance or investment society on campus, which will give you access to finance events and talks by guest speakers.”
To find out more about opportunities at Morgan Stanley, click here or view our full list of investment banking graduate programmes.