Road to an Internship in Investment Banking

Investment banking is a tremendously exclusive, but unbelievably exciting and rewarding industry which lures masses. Because the competition is fierce, landing an internship early can secure you a shot in the industry after graduation. This article tries to present how one could land an internship in the first place.


But first thing’s first: the followed options, opportunities and possibilities just reflect the authors opinions and might not be 100% complete and/or could be and probably are biased.


In the following, the two authors of this blog post talk about their experience of multiple application processes ranging from elite boutique to bulge bracket banks in multiple cities. To address some topics up front, we must be frank with the reading community.


  1. You need some prior internship experience in a deal-related environment, so you are able to speak freely and are not caught off guard by specific terminology or tasks in the interview process.

  2. It’s a long way to the top. Be prepared. Nobody is waiting for you and you really have to earn one of the highly demanded spots.

  3. Be natural, nobody wants to talk to a robot.


Be early:

The skillset and knowledge, which is required for Investment Banking is not being taught in class at uni. You will only learn the in´s and out´s of a deal process way better if you are involved. One should really plan in advance!

Typical intermediate steps start with a first internship in some finance related area such as …

  • Audit

  • A small commercial advisory firm

  • A small consultancy

… or something along these lines to gather some commercial intuition.


A second step should be to target a Big4 transaction services practice. Such an internship position takes you one step closer to an investment banking opportunity due to the fact that you usually work for banks, preparing financial factbooks and/or do some indicative modeling. Having two internships on you resume provides you now with the opportunity to get recognized by some banks. However, do not even try to break into the bulge bracket segment yet (with some exceptions).


Exception one: you might be able to fast track your journey into banking, while attending some network events from your desired companies (like the Brown Bag Lunch). If you ask good questions or might follow up on some topics in an informal networking session, an employee might be able to fast track you into an application process (but no guarantees).


Exception two: if you are studying at a target university you might be able to skip one step or two along the way.


Exception three: you apply for spring weeks at some banks in London. If you do not know what spring weeks are, please read up on the topic.


Now back to the regular process. Let’s say know that you have good enough grades (Switzerland: 5.0 or better; Germany: 2.0 or better; UK: 2:1 or better) in your first three semesters and have already completed ideally the two mentioned internship steps before and performed quiet well. Now is the time do really start planning your IB-application process.



Be prepared:

First decide what program you want to attend and in which city.


Summer vs. Off-Cycle Internship?


In Europe: London vs. Frankfurt vs. Zurich?


All cities and programs have their own pro’s and con’s, which are of course subject to individual opinions.





To keep it crisp:


London

Pro’s

  • Very International

  • Lots of deal exposure

  • Diverse landscape

  • Lots of opportunities (largest intern intake numerical wise)

  • Interviews more personal fit based

Con’s


  • Ultra-competitive

  • City lifestyle (also at the same time a pro for some folks)


Frankfurt

Pro’s

  • German speaking market (at the same time a con for some folks)

  • Great city culture (if you know where to go)

  • Deal exposure good but varies from bank to bank

Con’s

  • Very technical interviews

  • Probably longest working hours in Europe on an average basis

  • High Taxes


Zurich

Pro’s

  • Little bit more relaxed than Frankfurt, but really depends on the team

  • Salary and taxes

Con’s

  • Deal exposure varies a lot (usually more pitching and less execution)

  • Small market

  • Very technical interviews


The only major difference between Summer and Off-Cycle Internship is the great amount of training you will get during a Summer Internship, whereas in Off-Cycle Internship you will probably receive little to no training at the beginning of the internship. Nevertheless, Off-Cycle internship might not be as highly demanded as the prestigious ones in summer.


Be open and apply to as many options as you can. It is not uncommon to apply to 20+ banks in the first trial phase. Usually recruiting for IB in Frankfurt and London runs half a year to a year in advance. So the application window, which opened in August/September 2021, is for next year’s summer internship class (starting in June/July 2022). Keep this in mind!


What knowledge should I bring?


From a knowledge background, you should be able to know some accounting, valuation, modeling for London and dig very deep into all prep material you can get your hands on for Zurich and Frankfurt.


The last two cities are known for their very technical interviews and tough selection process for the few spots which are available. It might happen that short answers to some technical questions are not enough, therefore be prepared that the interviewer will dig two to three levels deeper for every technical question which is asked. It is not enough to memorize concepts - you have to understand them really good. The interviewer will notice right away whether you have learned something by heart or if you truly understand the concept.


A usual application process ranges between 5-10 rounds depending on the bank. Such steps include CV & cover letter screening, online tests, Hireview interviews, telephone interviews, video interviews and assessment centers. Getting into detail with these topics would expand this blog post into eternity. Thus, please read up on these topics.


Key takeaways

Having taken multiple online-test, assessment centers and participated in countless interviews, let us sum up the findings on personal character:


  1. Do not brag about achievements, your counterparty will have more experience and achievements under his/her belt.

  2. Do not try to mimic a person, which you are not. The interviewee will feel that you are not comfortable.

  3. Be a little bit funny; no one likes stone-cold people and IB is still a people´s business, but also be not the clown in the room.

  4. Don't sell yourself short. Don't try to flatter the interviewer too much, annoy him with countless emails or LinkedIn requests right after the interview, be patient.

  5. In this business, failing shouldn't bother you at all. Its OK to make mistakes. What isn't OK is not to learn from them. If you didn't notice what went wrong, ask for feedback, reflect in which areas you still need to improve.

  6. Don't bulls%#& the interviewer. If you are not sure about a question, say so up front. Don't give unclear answers if you don't know what you're talking about. Be honest.

  7. Just as you don't like everyone, other people also don't like everyone. Be aware that you cannot and should not satisfy everyone. Sometimes things go wrong that are not under your control, therefore focus on the things you can control.


Summing the application process into a key message is hard, but be early, be prepared and be natural!

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