At all banks, only a very small percentage of people who apply for an internship will achieve one of the much coveted places. Academic qualifications aside, most of the people who are rejected are rejected for similar reasons. If you want to ensure you're one of the successful candidates, avoid the following -
1. Poor manners in the interview
Keep in mind that most firms include their senior personnel in graduate recruitment. Stand up when someone enters the room, shake hands firmly, and make eye contact. Actively try to win over your interviewers. Write a thank you letter afterwards, referring to specifics of the interview. Check it, at least twice, for accuracy.
2. Writing "I launched a start up company in my gap year" on your CV
Don't over-promise on your CV and then under-deliver in the interview. You need to present yourself in the best possible light, but don't overstate your accomplishments so that they fail under closer inspection. Working on neighbours' lawns is a good activity to note. It shows a willingness to work hard, the ability to organize a small business and sales skills. The experience is very valid; the exaggeration is not.
3. Using "I'm a people person" to describe yourself.
Think honestly about what kind of person you are, and what kind of person would be suitable for the position. Reference experiences as evidence that you have successfully developed relevant skills. Being a "people person" is both simplistic and vague. Instead, if you are good at working in a team (relevant skill) and you were elected captain of the debate team at university (evidence), then say so.
4. Stating "I like to travel" as an interest.
To the people who will be interviewing you, this is indistinguishable from, "I like to go on holiday." Instead, mention your interest and facility with foreign languages or something you did while in another country. Share your outside interests with the interviewer and stress your accomplishments.
5. Asking, "Is it true that your company is about to start a 5% reduction in force?" as a question.
Do your research and have questions prepared about recent events and strategy at the company you interviewing with. However, this negative question is naïve and possibly, annoying. Instead ask about repositioned businesses which are focusing on key strengths - if you must - or, better still focus on the positive (e.g. expansion in Asia).
6. Asking, "What am I likely to learn by working for your firm?" as a closing remark.
While the thought behind this question is good, the phrasing sounds overly demanding. Focus on a positive outcome and how to achieve it. Better to ask what kind of skills or background the ideal candidate would have in order to profit most from the internship. And then reiterate how well suited for the position you are.
Diana Godding a former managing director and head of US equities for Europe at Bank of America. She worked in Institutional Markets for several large investment banks before retiring from the business in April 2008. She established her consultancy firm, Robinson Godding Associates late last year and is currently writing a book, Anglophilia, or London as the Zeitgeist of the Noughties, to be published in late 2009.