- Alexander Akinbile
How to Convert a Spring Week into a Summer Internship
Congratulations, you have secured a position on an illustrious spring week at an investment bank. Usually this is the first stage of the pipeline process to a career in investment banking, which is ultimately the aim for many individuals but for some of you, you just want to spend time in an institution and get a feel for what the industry is like. In this piece I am going to provide the top tips and tricks to best prepare you for an in person or virtual spring week as well as some advice to help you convert these mini-internships into a longer summer internship or placement. Having secured 3 insights weeks in my first year, I was able to convert one, got rejected from another and the third was not offering a conversion. So, I feel well placed to provide some insights for those facing any of the 3 outcomes of an insight programme and debunk some of the major myths that are often stated.
How you are assessed
Understanding how you are assessed is the single most important part about banking, at any level of the organisational hierarchy. It plays a big part in how your bonus is determined as a managing director and will make a difference to whether you convert your spring week or not. Spring weeks are essentially a blend between a weeklong insight day and a weeklong interview and standing out is crucial. Now from my experience, it is a lot harder to quantify your performance as they can with a trader on a trading floor, so HR teams often create a framework within which candidates are judged. This is often a subjective framework but, given your nascent professional career, it is hard to base the decisions on much else. This framework often includes prompts like ‘how engaged you are’, ‘how well you network’, ‘how well you work with others’, ‘how well you fit in with the organisation’ and ‘how much you have learnt’. As you can tell, these are difficult to assess and this ambiguity can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It can partially explain why so many successful spring interns do not convert their summer internships the year after, but more importantly, it is why the framework is often not the only way you are assessed. In many firms, there is also an interview at the end of the week.
Technical knowledge and commercial awareness
It is commonly stated by HR teams that no prior knowledge is required when starting at the firm, and they often give a spiel about all the other qualities they are looking for and how it is really a level playing field. But often from experience this is not the truth, and I’ll explain why. Throughout the whole experience you will be judged on activities that are focused around finance, and at the end of the day you are at a financial institution (even if you work in technology). This makes it all the more important to show that you have an understanding of what the firm does on a day to day basis. You can illustrate this when asking questions, networking, or during group projects. So, it is integral to develop a basic understanding of all the divisions of that bank, this includes what they are called (they often differ from firm to firm), what they offer to clients, who their clients are, working conditions and common characters in each division. This can all be found on the company’s website or social media sites. This is more important for general internships where you will be given a holistic view of the entire bank. But if you are in a divisional internship, like those offered by Goldman Sachs or Barclays, it will be essential for you to have an understanding of the subdivisions that you are working within.
Once you understand the firm and how it operates the next stage is to have a technical understanding of the work. So, if you work in M&A it would be pertinent to understand different valuation techniques, what goes into a pitch book, determining synergies, and the process of a transaction from start the finish. This is useful for those on specific internships as well as those looking to convert a generic internship into a specific area.
Once you have this understanding you need to make it relevant to the world we live in and constantly prove you are hitting some of the targets in their framework. This is where commercial awareness becomes crucial! It is necessary to understand what is going on in the world and how it is going to impact the division, the firm or the industry. Being able to combine your commercial awareness and technical knowledge when asking a question is one strategy I always looked to do when participating in sessions. I aimed for around 1 question per session and I would tie in commercial awareness specific to the division of the presentation, I would then find a way to link to the firm or the individual. An example could be:
“I recently read in the financial times that US stimulus packages are causing yields to rise, and this will subsequently have an impact on the price of bonds and rates trading business, how are you as a fixed income salesman adjusting to this? and how has it impacted the firm’s ability to do business?”.
This is an almost perfect question, I have demonstrated commercial awareness simply by stating I read the financial times and showing how it will impact the division. It is then linked to a basic technical understanding of fixed income before tying it all up and connecting it to the firm and the individual I am speaking to. These are the types of questions that will get flagged by HR or a business representative and if you have an understanding of a few different areas they will conclude that you care about finance and are interested in the firm. This allows you to tick off those crucial points in the framework. Furthermore, you will learn in the process because what they say can be digested and used to impress at an interview or just be used to build up your knowledge base. It is advisable to state your name, course and university as well. There is no point asking an amazing question and no one knows who asked it, there is no one to flag and no one to assign the credit to. Internships are all about “talking your book”, so make sure you project your voice and state the above clearly, especially in virtual format where we all know it is easy to mishear someone.
Navigating group work
The above framework can easily be applied to group projects or case study work that you may be required to do. I always avoided taking centre stage in these competitions because then you are solely responsible for the outcomes, good or bad, of the entire group. Whereas if you operate like an individual working in a larger group you can demonstrate your qualities whilst showing you are a team player. I remember once HR told my cohort that if we are uncomfortable presenting, we do not have to talk during the presentation. My instant thought was no matter how much work I do behind the scenes if they do not see me demonstrating my contribution, they may think I have not made one. In the world of work this is simply how things are. You need to ‘talk your book’ which basically means if you want recognition, be it a bonus or promotion, you need to constantly show what you have done. In this circumstance this means ensuring you at least talk for one slide or at least make a verbal contribution to the overall presentation. I would always aim to make my contribution a technical aspect, so I could really demonstrate my understanding of the task, again tying in commercial and firm specific awareness in my answer. You ideally do not want to be the person who does the introduction and conclusion.
Being a lone wolf can actually work against you at times, so you have to show you are willing and able to support others, this means doing small things like providing research for the other members of the team, helping them structure their scripts, or ensuring your work is deeply connected with that of someone else’s so that you are almost forcing them into name dropping you or stating that you guys worked together when concluding X. At first it seems like a lot to remember but it will eventually become second nature.
This is probably my favourite and least favourite part about banking or the corporate world in general and I am going to avoid talking for days about the types of suits men and women should wear (because I will if someone lets me).
The way you dress is the first thing anyone will notice about you, in banking when you are talking to multi-millionaires who have spent thousands on Saville Row suits turning up in the wrong attire can make you stick out like a sore thumb. Even virtually it is important that you have the correct attire for work.
For men this is usual business formal attire involving a full suit with a white or light blue shirt (never pink or grey), a smart formal tie down to the belly button, with the appropriate oxford lace ups, monks or loafers being the least common.
For women it is often a female suit, with slim fit trousers, never skinny fit. Or a knee length skirt and nice blazer. I would pair this with brightly coloured blouses to offset the darker tonnes of a suit if you are planning to stand out a bit or simply white will do. Close toe pumps for shoes and avoid anything too loud in terms of accessories. Nails are fine but I would advise them being no more than half a centimetre past your fingertip and nothing crazy with the colouring or patterns as well.
This is a quick guide on what to wear, in virtual formats you get away with not having all the items, but if you need to make the investment, do it! It will be worthwhile in the long run and will give you that new clothing confidence you get from wearing a new item. Crucially you get away with not having a fresh haircut/hairstyle, but as things get back to normal this is again another essential. In another conversation I can discuss my opinions on the nature of work attire and how it limits individuality etc, but at this stage in the cycle this is not worth the fight.
Working from home
More so now than ever having a good home set-up is important to your success on the internship. This will vary depending on your financial situation but you should aim to have the basics in place, this involves a laptop, the ability to do video-conferencing and downloading any required software well in advance and having it operational before the first session. In addition, you should try to ensure you have a stable and consistent internet connection, even if that involves buying Wi-Fi boosters or ethernet cables. You also want to make sure that your background is clean and proper and your room is clean. Remove any provocative or political posters (it would be horrible if someone created a bias against you because you’re an Arsenal fan). The most important thing I would say is to make sure everyone you are currently living with understands what you are doing and the magnitude of it. I cannot think of anything worse than being on a one-on-one call with a managing director and having your sibling or parent burst into your room over a trivial matter.
Diet and drinks
One of the biggest mistakes I made in the early stages of my student and professional career is that my diet was off. I would constantly eat a lot or have heavy carb-based meals to compensate for the long breaks before meals, and I was against caffeine-based stimuli. This often led to me suffering from afternoon slumps, feeling tired or losing concentration before meals, therefore impacting my ability to perform. By the time I got round to my third internship as a first year I had conversations with some senior mentors of mine, and I began to understand the importance of body language and nutrition. I began to have greener meals, using energy drinks if needed, and avoiding unhealthy snacks. I worked on my posture to prevent me from looking tired and subsequently being tired. I guess this is why coffee and salads are staple items for anyone working in corporate sectors and should definitely be of consideration for yourself as well.
Monitoring what you eat and establishing routines is a good way to understand how your body reacts to certain foods at certain times. It may seem excessive and there is some flexibility to this, especially if the firm is providing you with Uber Eats vouchers for dinner one night, but in general diets are a massively overlooked part of spring and summer internships.
Physical and mental health
This ties into another point I introduced to ensure that I remained sharp throughout the whole process. Exercising is naturally a big part of my life, but studies have proven that doing exercise is good for the brain and helps awaken the body to other activities. I always looked to walk, run or go to the gym if I was unable to partake in organised sports and I would heavily advise doing the same if you can, before or after work. It helps relieve stress, re-focuses your mind and breaks your day up, especially if you are working from home this spring. It is something I would advise everyone to incorporate in one way or another and getting out the house is great for just re-centring the body.
Approaching end of Spring Week interviews/Assessment Centres
Assessment centres warrant an entire piece of their own but for now I will focus on some tips directed at end of Spring Week interviews
Try and draw on your experiences on the program when answering firm specific questions
Always link your answers back to the firm or the industry
Always ask open ended questions at the end of the interview
Don’t be afraid to name drop if you have networked throughout the program
Focus on your breathing, clarity and calmness and don’t forget to smile
(Virtual) have a good background, internet connection and ensure you are logged onto the system 1-2 minutes prior to the interview commencing
What happens if you convert?
Let’s assume you become one of the lucky few that manages to secure a role for the summer internship the following year because of your performance throughout the week and in the assessment centre. You can finally rest, as you deserve, focus on your exams, book somewhere nice to fly out to in the summer (if Boris lets us) or do a whole year abroad. This is essentially the ideal position, but you cannot get complacent. I say this because the break usually goes from lasting a few weeks to a few months to the entire break. It is easy to take your foot off the gas. You begin to forget your already underdeveloped technical knowledge and you turn up to your internship underprepared reeling of simple outdated news stories from the previous year while those who secured offers in December or January are a bit fresher. This is because the framework used to judge spring interns is usually slightly weaker than that of summer internship assessment centres and dusting of all that rust is a lot harder than one may think. So, if you are fortunate enough to be in this position, do not rest just yet, the work has only just begun, make sure you do the little things to keep yourself sharp. I watch 30 minutes of Bloomberg news a day or read one article in the Financial Times, this is something I’d advise.
What happens if you don’t convert?
Now let’s assume you were one of the lucky few who did not convert and now you have to return to the trenches over the summer to reapply and go through the trauma of investment banking application season. Fortunately for you, you have completed spring weeks and will be able to leverage this experience to demonstrate little things such as ‘an interest in finance’. Which can all be displayed throughout your CV and cover letters even if you did not convert the spring. You can use some of the relationships you have made to gain mentors and receive guidance when re-entering the process. Most importantly, you can use the feedback received from the HR team to go back to the drawing board, refine your skills and come back as a better and more rounded individual. This is again not the end of the road; this is simply the beginning and with the right mindset you will have no issue securing another role if you put the work in. More often than not you will be more successful than those who did convert the spring when it comes to the summer internship.
In this piece I have tried to give some of basic tips and debunk some of the myths told to us in our first year. Spring weeks are often used as a pipeline to graduate programs via the summer internships. But this is not the objective for everyone, and some people’s paths differ from that of the perfectly looking flowchart HR will often provide you on the first day of the spring week. But these weeks for me have been great fun and I have been able to make some genuine friends for life, so as much as the pressure is on, make sure you enjoy yourself.