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I want an internship, but they say I’m too young

The Question:

I am entering my second year at the Schulich School of Business, and I am passionate about finance. This year I wanted to land an investment banking summer internship and learn about the industry to the highest degree possible. I tried to create relationships with bankers but every time I tell them I am entering my second year, they literally ignore my presence. I am not being taken seriously just because of my age. Professionals tell me "it's never too early." To what degree is that actually true? Should I give it up, and try again later?

The Answer:

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I like to hear your enthusiasm and passion for finance and investment banking. I am sorry that you have not been getting the reception you desire from the bankers you have spoken with. No, you should not give up trying to find a position now. Don't get caught in thinking you are too young.

You need to be strategic in your approach to locating and landing a position in investment banking. The following are suggestions on how to approach your search:

Many business schools have co-op programs where you get to work in the field of your choice for three months or longer. Check to see if your school has a co-operative program. If they do, then find out with which banks or companies they have relationships and co-op placement programs. Speak to your faculty adviser and tell them of your interest in the program. Ask your faculty advisers for references to speak to at those institutions.

If Schulich does not have a co-op program, or if it is not available for second-year students, then you will want to follow another course of action to secure a position with a bank. I am pleased to hear that you want to learn about the industry 'to the highest degree.' You will need to do your research on the various banks that you are interested in working with. Check out their websites, annual reports, stock portfolios, special reports and their organization charts.

Develop networks of contacts that you know in the investment banking industry through faculty members, family, friends and colleagues. Ask who these people know in management or human resources positions at various banks and investment companies. You want to get as many hot leads as possible where you either have a direct connection to a bank official or at least someone who knows some key bank officials who will be a reference for you. Bank officials are much more likely to speak to you if they know the person who suggested that they meet with you.

Set up information interviews with key bank officials – whether you have direct references or not. Have a list of prepared questions. Ask what most interests them about their positions and their bank or company. Ask them about their career development and path. Ask them what they would recommend for someone starting out. Ask what they would do differently in their career.

Have a polished résumé and cover letter. Dress professionally. Show up on time. Practice your interview and presentation skills. Listen attentively during the conversation with the bank officials. Reflect what you hear them saying. Be polite, respectful and courteous. Tell them what you know from your research. Ask them how you can be of greatest help to the bank. Indicate your desire to work with them.

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Make sure that you follow-up with a thank-you letter or e-mail after the meeting. Reiterate some of the main points that you have heard and what you can help them with as an intern or in an entry-level position.

Be flexible and willing to start out in a teller or clerical position so that you get to know the bank from the ground up. Be open and flexible around the hours that you will work.

Show your interest, passion, drive, maturity and your flexibility and follow through to these key banking officials and you will land the internship or entry-level position that you want.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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