Doing an internship at a Chinese investment bank was once a sure-fire way to land a job-for-life at the firm after you graduate. But interns at the likes of CICC, CITIC and Bank of China are now increasingly applying for full-time positions at Western banks in Hong Kong and China, despite the potentially less secure long-term employment prospects they offer.
“It’s a great idea to do your first internship in a Chinese bank because their businesses are still developing and expanding quickly, so you can get more hands-on experience, but with less work pressure than at a global bank,” says Nigel Jiang, a recent intern at ICBC and BOC.
“After that you’ll probably know whether you really want to dedicate yourself to the banking industry – and if you do, I’d then recommend applying to a Western bank,” adds Jiang (we’ve used pseudonyms to protect interns’ identities).
“These days, just because you intern at a Chinese bank doesn’t necessarily mean you want to work in one after you graduate,” says Hong Kong-based Archie Yap, an analyst who’s worked for a mainland and a global bank.
Despite senior job cuts this year, most Western banks in Asia are not trimming their 2018 graduate intakes. And while the students we spoke with admit that European and US firms may not provide stable jobs in the long term, they still want to work for them – at least during their early careers.
“Even though Western Banks are suffering huge problems, they do have prestige,” says 2017 BOC intern James Wen. “If I were allowed to choose between a multinational or a local bank, I’d still go for the former. The Chinese Banks still don’t have the reputation that Western Banks have.”
US and European banks hire most of their analysts from their previous year’s intern class. But when they do recruit graduates externally, how to they rate people who’ve been interns at Chinese houses?
Wen says interns from mainland firms only stand at a slight disadvantage. “But when you’re required to select past employers on an online application, some Western Banks don’t even have Chinese banks as an option. You have to fill them in as ‘others’.”
As global banks increase hiring from Asian universities and attempt to boost their Mandarin-speaking ranks, attitudes to Chinese-bank internships are starting to change. “Western banks now value internship experience in Chinese investment banks more than they used to,” says Yap. “And ultimately, it’s how you present your internship experience to the interviewer that matters.”
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