Getting a summer internship while at university

Most university students are clueless about the strange world of summer internships.

Applying to them can be overwhelming, especially if you are already struggling with pressing deadlines, assignments, coursework, university commitments and so on. Is applying really worth the effort? Short answer: yes.

Many firms, whether they are multinationals, banks or consulting firms, tend to hire the majority of their graduate intake (i.e. after graduation full-time positions) from their summer interns. Why is that? Why do they offer internships in the first place? After all, internships are short and expensive programmes. As someone said, these opportunities are “long-term interviews”, given by employers with the purpose to thoroughly evaluate a candidate who could be a potential full-time hire and therefore have an impact on the organisation.

The key is preparation, but what is the average recruitment process leading to an offer? Usually it depends on the firm, but most of the times it follows a standard timeline:

  1. Online application: it can vary but usually companies ask for some contact information, a CV, Cover Letter and/or competency questions (e.g. why this company?). Make sure to check and proofread your application more than once.
  2. Psychometric tests: usually these tests are not hard, however they require a lot of practice. Don’t be tempted to cheat since most of the companies require to retake the tests during the Assessment Centre phase. The list below comprises the most common types of tests, however bear in mind that some companies may only want you to take a single test while others require more than one test:

    A: Situational Judgement Test: this test will put you into a scenario and you will be asked to describe your reaction to different situations. Not timed.
    B: Numerical: this involves basic math, ratios and statistics. Usually this test is timed, without enough time to complete it.
    C: Verbal: you will be required to say if a statement is true or false based on a short passage. Once again, the test is timed.
    D: Logical: you will have to find particular visual patterns from a series of images. Timed.
  3. First-round interviews which comprise (either one):

    A: Face-to-face interviews: usually they last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Most of the times is conducted by Human Resources managers or junior-level employees. Make sure to research the company you are interviewing for, read the Financial Times or a similar newspaper, and be aware of what is going in that specific industry (e.g. publishing industry for Pearson).
    B: Phone interviews: usually shorter than a normal face-to-face interview. Most of the times is conducted by an HR manager who has a strict time schedule, so do not be offended if you get interrupted you during your answer. It does not get longer than an hour and the aim of it is to evaluate your match with the position you applied to. Do not expect technical questions, in fact, the majority of the questions at this stage are competency based.
    C: Video interviews: this is a pretty recent addition to the recruitment process. It can be live or pre-recorded. The format will be similar to a phone interview but make sure to practice beforehand since it takes a little bit of practice to smoothly articulate your answers while talking in front of a webcam.
  4. Assessment Centre: if you make it to this stage, congratulations, you are almost there. Once again, different firms have different names for it and different processes. In general, an Assessment Centre lasts one day (from 9 to 17) or half-day (morning or afternoon). There will usually be many interviews with HR, junior and senior staff, make sure to be prepared since the interviews at this stage will be in-depth and will require extensive research on the company, recent events, industry and market knowledge. The second part is a variety of exercises. The company may want to recheck your psychometric tests (prepare, once again, for these). There will also be group discussion with or without a given topic where you may or may not have a teammate and last but not least, in-tray exercises, which will put you into a scenario and ask you to do different things, such as writing a report or sorting a list of emails; group discussions with or without a given topic where you may or may not have a teammate. Most firms will let you know the outcome of the assessment centre within a few days.

This pretty much sums it up. Make sure to stay on the top of the game. Try to keep track of the different deadlines, be timely and professional. You will have to be proactive and depending on the industry, the recruitment window goes from Early august to late February. Most employers recruit on a rolling basis so make sure to send your application as soon as possible (preferably within one month from the position opening).

If you do well, you will have the chance to get an offer even before graduation so will be able to lay back and enjoy your final year of university.

Good luck!

Portrait of Ruben Ferretti

Ruben Ferretti

Accounting and Finance, University of Kent