This is the first post in a series about rising college seniors who successfully navigated the summer recruiting process.
I have a week until my Investment Banking internship starts at a bulge bracket in NYC. As way of background, I'm a public policy major at a target school on the East Coast. I've been lucky this year - it's been puzzling why a lot of economics concentrators had a hard time while a few people with purely humanities / non-economics studies like me have landed internships. I'm sure luck was a part of it, but my hard work and knowing how to talk about my story went a long way.
A lot of people at school ask me how I got interested in finance. I've read the Wall Street Journal since middle school, and found understanding markets and knowing what's at stake in mega mergers to be exciting. I also knew that policy was a HUGE factor in the private sector (look at TARP now). I never thought about doing finance though - it was more of a hobby. Once I started college, I became interested in seeing how national economic policy was implemented at local levels. So I interned part-time at non-profits that dealt with homelessness and higher education, and also at a local representative's office. Over time, I received more responsibility and also had the chances to speak with people on the boards of these places. It happened that a lot of them had prior finance experience. I was curious why people working in the public sector - at non profits no less! - had started out at Goldman Sachs or Bain. From our conversations, I gathered that finance and consulting jobs are 'hot' commodities for people like me interested in social enterprise because beyond the technical experience at bulge brackets/management consulting firms, I would have access to not only develop my finance skills but also have:
- opportunity to improve public speaking
- a structured training program
- opportunity to network and learn from people who advise management of companies / policymakers
- understand the intersection of private enterprise and the public sector
Heeding the advice of my mentors, it made sense to really test out finance and see where it would take me in terms of public policy. I don't plan on doing finance long term, maybe not even past this summer, but I figure it's probably the last time I would have time for a summer internship in the field. At the very least it's a chance to see historic change in the entire financial system.
I think that especially in this economic climate interviewers appreciated that I had really pursued my interests. Some alums looked at my resume and told me that they found it was refreshing that I had applied my education in a socially beneficial way - I took on leadership and worked with other college volunteers in assessing policy. Knowing your own story is crucial - I think I was able to make a lasting first impression. As an avid reader of the Times and the Journal, I could speak about current issues: the effect of TARP, whether Geithner's plan was working, what Obama needed to do. My advice to people preparing for their interviews is to be able to really talk about themselves and about current events.
Now that I have the internship, I realize that my public policy background may not compare with others who have direct experience and formal study. I finished school 2 weeks ago and have been reading sites, talking to interviewers I kept in touch with, and speaking with past interns who go to my school. It's really important to be a confident (but not arrogant or entitled) when speaking with people. That way people at least respect you and don't find you annoying. Be likable - respect their time, be flexible, get to know them as people (not bankers or what have you), and ask questions that can't be answered from reading.
As I start my internship, I'll be describing how well I stack up against the competition, talk about the people I work with, give tips for what else I could have done to prepare. I'm looking forward to being in the city!