Entering the financial industry - undergraduate internships

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"Internship" is the US word for work experience. Accordingly, internships in investment banks provide experience of investment banking.

For undergraduates, most internships last between six and 12 weeks and occur during the summer holiday of the penultimate year of a degree course, providing an opportunity for candidates and employers to peel back the façade of the CV and graduate prospectus and assess each other.

If you're an undergraduate, there are two principal reasons for undertaking an internship. First, banks are increasingly seeking to recruit graduates through internships and graduate places are offered to interns in the first instance.

Second, you will be looked upon favourably for having shown enthusiasm for the industry, even if you are not offered a graduate place as a result.

Simply wanting to be an intern is not enough. Competition is fierce: candidates often outnumber places by more than a hundred to one.

Unless you are forecast to achieve at least a 2.1 then you have no chance of success. 'A' level grades are also taken into consideration. Many banks specify a minimum of 24 UCAS points. In fact, a raft of 'A' grades is the norm.

Providing you meet these rigorous academic standards, banks are relatively ambivalent about subjects studied.

Quantitative degrees can be preferred, but most find a forecasted first in Ancient Greek as appealing as a first in Economics and Finance. Languages can also be a bonus, but only if the graduate is properly fluent - ordering a coffee and croissant has little relevance to analysis or deal-making.

Prospective interns should conduct research into banks and the activities of the various divisions. Invariably you will be asked to select a division when applying.

Most banks are unwilling to let interns move between areas given that eight weeks will be spent in the selected division and graduate offers from one division are often not transferable, the initial choice has important consequences.

Investment banking is often the most popular department because candidates assume it encompasses everything - but this is not always the case. Department titles vary between banks so it's worth ensuring you know exactly what the name entails before applying.

Assuming that you're successful in your application, what can you expect? The short answer is: hard work. It may be the summer holiday, but there will not be much chance for relaxation.

Investment banking is not for those who want to work from 9-5. In departments such as corporate finance, interns invariably start at 8am and finish at 8pm if a deal demands it, they may even work at the weekend.

For some it is too much - occasionally people pull out.

However, if you're attracted to a career in investment banking, it will be worth it. Internships offer an incomparable opportunity to sample the profession. After a week's introduction to the fundamentals, training is usually on the job.

Interns are quickly assimilated into teams of investment bankers and given real work. Quite how real will depend upon the department.

Interns in sales and trading, for example, are not FSA-regulated and so are constrained in the activities they undertake.

Realism does not preclude special treatment. Banks lavish attention on interns. The selected group of desirables are given access to senior investment bankers who give weekly talks on the activities of the organisation.

Hard work does not preclude fun: Deutsche Bank held a party for its interns at Madame Tussauds JP Morgan took its trading interns to the University of Reading's trading simulation centre.

In return for sacrificing a summer spent on foreign beaches, an intern gains the pleasures of real responsibility, good money (around 550 a week or Eur908) and, if offered a graduate place, an invaluable aid during his/her final year.

While compatriots are doing the milk round, the successful intern can focus on getting a good degree. Some banks even allow candidates to defer graduate entry for a year, so the lost summer can be more than recovered when exams are over.

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