Internships are getting even more important in order to secure attractive entry-level jobs. A lot of the time, finance students think landing their dream internship is an impossible task that requires perfect GPA scores, faultless resumes filled with fancy sounding extracurriculars and attending every business fair and lecture under the sun. The aforementioned trifecta can go a long way, but sometimes there are some easy to implement systems and tactics you can use to land your dream internship. For this article I interviewed 4 Capitant alumni with various internship experience, from being interns themselves to being interviewers for interns, to share insights on the process.
Network, network, and network… Even with your classmates
Finding internships online and through the school career center is ok but good old-fashioned networking is even better. Whilst in university, it’s fine and dandy to meet people that you want to go partying with but this should not be the end goal to all your interactions. University acquaintances can go a long way in landing your dream internship as Antoon van Clemen, former President of Capitant Brussels and currently a Management student at ESCP says “Connecting with people in your class can really be invaluable and I speak from experience. I got my first auditing internship through my best friend’s father which I’ve been able to leverage for my incoming internship as an M&A analyst at ING”.
In addition to establishing and nurturing in-class connections, student organizations help in finding high potential individuals who’re looking for the same opportunities you are and probably have access to those networks. Gaëtan Valcke, who’s currently an Analyst at Kartesia and former Vice President of Capitant Brussels says “student organization networks are very useful. For me, Capitant was special. Through Capitant I was able to connect with a fellow alumni Michael Wouters, a colleague who knew about an opportunity at Fortino which later became my analyst intern role”.
Join a student organization aligned with your career prospects
Apart from the networking advantages that being in a student organization gives you, there are also career specific and profile building advantages available too. Lucas Stoops, Investment Manager at Force Over Mass, founder and former president of Capitant says “It’s all about extracurriculars. Being from a renowned university is good but the main thing I was able to leverage was my experience as President of Capitant, especially at interview stage, to land my internship in the investment banking division as an analyst at JP Morgan. I was able to have a conversation about what was happening in the markets. Spending so much time with like-minded people in Capitant can really prepare you well for interviews.”
The importance of extracurriculars when it comes to landing internships was also reiterated by Alexandra Gschwind, Associate Account Strategist at Google, founder and former Capitant Brussels President as she said “For Google, you really need a great story to tell. Academic achievement is the minimum qualification needed to get in. Having student organization experience, where your impact is quantifiable, goes a long way in building a story about you. If you’re interested in tech, join a tech student organization. If you’re interested in finance do the same. It also gives you a basis to justify what value you’ll bring to a company because of the skills and various scenarios you’d have come across in your student organization work.” Gaëtan even goes further in saying that “…it’s almost impossible to get an internship without relevant extracurricular activities”.
Be prepared… Like seriously.
Preparation goes beyond looking at the company website one day before submitting your application, as Lucas says “…sometimes it can take up to two years for you to land what you want” and even then, you may get disappointed. So how do you get prepared?
Firstly, you’ll need to plan ahead. As Alexandra states, “For Google, timing is one of the most important things” because if the company finds who they’re looking for early on, that person will get the spot. If you want to do a summer internship internationally, you’ll need to start looking in January at least, for Belgium the dates are more flexible, March would still be ok to apply. The earlier the better. Google’s summer interns were hired somewhere in October/November the year before.
Secondly, you have to cast your net high and wide. Antoon suggests applying to as many as 15 internship openings because it’s a “numbers game”. He suggests organizing an excel file to keep track of the company name, the position being applied for and deadline dates.
Thirdly, read, read, read. Speaking on what he did to stand out from the rest for his finance related internship Lucas says “I read a lot about finance. I was well aware of what was going on through sources like the Financial Times and CNBC. If you’re fortunate enough to make it to interview stage, you have to know what deals are happening and be able to talk about it.” Additional reading for finance students looking for internships was provided by Antoon as he suggested “Breaking into Wall Street”.
In addition to doing the reading, Lucas suggests having an industry-specific mentor to help you prepare your motivation letter and interview questions. Antoon had Lucas as his mentor. In addition to mentors, Lucas suggested talking to as many people connected to that opportunity as possible. Gaëtan gives a detailed approach at this; “Meet as many people as possible in the industry because it helps especially with getting referrals. So grab a coffee with them! You’d be surprised at how many people would say yes to sharing their time with you.”
However, with preparation one has to be careful about being “over prepared” as Alexandra highlighted. Having interviewed intern candidates, she noticed how some students appear to not be genuine and ultimately get stuck saying something “they think is smart” but in actual fact sounding like something they recited their response 20 times prior to the interview. There is a sweet spot between showing preparation and showing your personality.
“It’s always good to keep the line hot,” Antoon says with reference to follow ups because sometimes, as Lucas adds, “Companies don’t keep to their own deadlines and may need some reminding”. Antoon adds “You should push as much as possible but not do it too much. Just an appropriate amount that allows you to be satisfied with having done everything you could have done to land the internship opportunity”. Alexandra echoes Antoon’s sentiments as she says “you shouldn’t push recruiters too much. Use your assigned points of contact and follow up appropriately.” This can be done through thank you notes which Alexandra says are much appreciated from the recruiting end of things.
Just do it!
In conclusion, ambitious finance students are encouraged to apply for internships and do as many as they can during their studies. Even when you don’t land your dream company, if you still get into a similar role, as Antoon puts it, “you’ll learn pretty much the same things” across all M&A internships, for example. Not only do you learn more about the industry where you’ve chosen to work, you also learn more about yourself as Gaëtan says “…there’s nothing like first-hand experience to show you what you really want to do and what you really like”. Not only do you learn, internships may be your route into the company on a permanent basis as well, and that’s pretty great.