Opportunities in investment banking for first-year students

If you've only just arrived at university your graduate career will seem a lifetime away. But if there's a chance you might want it to start with working at an investment bank, then applying for a first year scheme is a no-brainer.
Investment banking

What is an investment banking spring week?

A spring week, insight week or spring programme, as they are variously called, is a week-long open event aimed at first year undergraduate students (or second year students on a four-year course) from all degree disciplines.

The week, which usually takes place over the Easter break, is an opportunity for you to get a glimpse life at an investment bank and to get a sense of whether it’s a good fit for you and a career you’d be interested in pursuing. 

In contrast to an internship (part of the official recruitment process and usually undertaken by penultimate-year students), you won’t be expected to have committed to a career in investment banking at this early stage. 

Nor will you be required to show an intricate understanding of the industry and the financial markets, though you should have done some reading around what investment banks actually do and be enthusiastic about the profession and curious to find out more.

If you tick all the boxes then the chances are you’ll find an insight week an extremely valuable experience. 

Even if you don’t end up getting fast-tracked into an internship role the following summer (which does often happen), you’re still likely to take a lot away from the week. The skills you learn and the commercial acumen you pick up are likely to stand you in good stead for whatever career path you eventually decide to go down.

As you can see, there is plenty to gain and really very little for you to lose by applying. 

Investment banking insight weeks are usually held at the bank’s offices in London. Employers will usually serve up a smorgasbord of the different departments and business units within the investment bank.

You’ll get snapshot of the main revenue earning arms of the bank, including Capital Markets, M&A, Sales Trading & Research, as well as “middle office” departments such as Technology, Operations, Finance & Business Management.

This is a great opportunity for you to learn about the different components of the business, useful insight if you’re still not quite sure where your long-term interests lie.

Alternatively, some firms will tailor their spring weeks around your interests. For example, Bank of America ask applicants to pick the two business areas they are especially interested in, with participants gaining additional exposure in these areas over the course of the week. 

These programmes are obviously more focused and they are a good option if you already have an instinct for the kind of area you’d like to go into.

If you’re applying for an insight week with one or more specific divisions, you should obviously be ready to talk about why these areas of the bank appeal to you. 

In either case, you’ll be expected to have done some reading into the wider investment banking profession and to have a general idea of the work carried out by different parts of the bank. 

Is a spring week right for you?

First things first, anyone can apply for a spring week. In spite of what you may have heard, you don’t have to be studying a maths or science-based subject, and students of all degree disciplines are usually encouraged to apply. 

And while enthusiasm and curiosity are important, there’s no law that states you should be 100% set on an investment banking career at this tender stage of the decision-making process. 

While some of you will already be thinking seriously about the profession, you’re just as likely to be only just starting to whittle down your options. It really takes all sorts. 

The application process

Spring week applications open at the start of the academic year and deadlines usually fall between between December and February. Competition for places is usually intense and you’ll need to start applying as early as possible to give yourself the best chance of success. 

The application process will differ from firm to firm. However, investment banks now conduct the majority of the process online, with most firms following a fairly similar pattern and structure.   

An electronic application form will usually be the first challenge you meet. You will be asked to write about your academic and extra-curricular achievements; some employers will also throw in a few competency-based questions for good measure.

If you make it through the initial screening stage, you may well find yourself invited to take a short online numeracy test and maybe even a verbal reasoning test.

These are commonly used by employers in many fields. The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can prepare for them –visit www.shl.com and www.efinancialcareers.com which both offer practice tests and examples.

Having successfully navigated these obstacles, you’ll likely be invited to take part in a telephone or face-to-face interview, with the latter potentially involving a small assessment centre. 

What do you do on a spring week?

Spring weeks are really about giving students a preview of life at an investment bank. The idea is to leave you and your fellow participants with a taste of what it would actually be like to work there.

By the end of the week, banks will hope to have assembled a pool of potential candidates for their internship programme.

Each bank will have its own way of structuring the week; however, typical insight activities include talks, lectures and interactive presentations, usually led by a combination of senior employees and the bank’s graduate recruitment team.

While work shadowing is likely to be an important item on the agenda, don’t expect to spend the week watching from the sidelines. Case studies, groups tasks and skills-based sessions will feature on most insight weeks, so be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.

At the end of the day, spring weeks are really there for your benefit, so it’s up to you to make the most of it.