In “cutthroat” Singapore, summer internships are no longer enough to get you a banking job

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I faced a dilemma late last year. I’d been offered an internship at  a European bank in Singapore, but it would run from January to April, so I’d have to put my university degree on hold. Moreover, I’d already landed a summer analyst job staring in May, so would it really be worthwhile to work as an intern for around seven months straight, delaying my graduation date in the process?

After some initial hesitation, I soon came around to the idea that my so-called ‘spring’ internship (not that we really have that season in Singapore) was not only worthwhile, but it could even be critical to my chances of working in investment banking after I graduate in 2019.

Singapore has a small and cutthroat job market for graduate investment banking jobs, so you have to keep up with your peers (i.e. other Singaporean business and finance students at both local and foreign universities) if you want to stay competitive. In the recent past, that just meant doing as many summer-holiday internships as possible. Now it increasingly also means doing at least one term-time off-cycle internship (many of which are in spring).

Spring internships in Singapore are much more popular than they were just two years ago, but they’re not particularly easy to plan for. Unlike summer internships (where banks hire dozens of students every year and have standardised recruitment timescales), spring internships are more random. They typically come about only when there’s an immediate or impending need for staff, so you must be vigilant in order to hear about them.

I found out about mine via my university’s career advisory centre. But unlike the 20 or so other people who went for the position (there was only one), I didn’t apply via my school, I just sent my application straight to the bank. You have to ‘play smart’ in Singapore’s ruthless intern job market and my assumption is that going direct helped my CV stand out. The bank may have even looked at it first, because it’s likely that the careers centre just sent all the other resumes together in one big chunk.

I did my interviews in November and December, based on the bank’s need for extra manpower from January. There were only two interviews, one remote, both with directors – it was an intense process. With my summer internship, the hiring timeline was, of course, a lot more spread out.

'Real work'

But while the needs-driven nature of a spring internship may lead to a more stressful hiring process, it has a clear benefit on the job: you’re always doing ‘real’ work! Your team hasn’t hired to meet a pre-set internship quota, but because they genuinely need an extra pair of hands to deal with rising workloads.

I was doubly lucky at my bank because I came in at an ideal time from my point of view: the execution phase of a large deal. Other spring interns I’ve talked to have joined at an earlier stage of their team’s transactions. They learned a lot, but their worked mainly focused on research and KYC.

I wasn’t stuck doing pre-marketing and due diligence like my friends were; I had lots of back-and-forth with the actual client. Moreover, because my team was small and I was its only intern, I had a lot of contact with directors at the bank.

This in turn meant I had great mentors and didn’t just learn about the technical side of banking. For example, the director I mainly worked with prides himself on being transparent with clients. He lets them know which products are in their best interests and always explains the other options clearly, even if those options aren’t with his bank. That focus on building strong long-term relationships isn’t something you learn at university.

My technical skills did improve. For example, while I’d studied securitisation at business school, seeing it in action in the real world gave me much better insights.

I worked pretty much as full-time members of the team did – there was no pressure to stay later than my boss, but the work was enough to keep me in the office until about 8pm (or until 10pm, if there was an intense period of work), like everyone else.

In summary, off-cycle internships are now rapidly being a must-have on student CVs in Singapore, as I think they have been in larger markets for a while now. But they won’t just help your resume look pretty and boost your chances of getting a graduate job – they will give you an experience that you might not get during a summer internship.

Josie Lei (not her real name) is a student in Singapore who's just finished a spring internship and is currently working as a summer analyst.

Image credit: stefanschur, Getty

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