Every year large banks hire hundreds of graduates globally into their operations departments – both in major financial centres and in 'cost effective' locations from Bournemouth to Bangalore.
A large proportion of those who clinch these back-office jobs have impressed during an internship the previous year. If you’re toiling away as an operations intern this summer, here’s how to make sure your bank ends up offering you a full-time role.
“Banking operations nowadays is all about cost cutting without control cutting,” say a former operations intern at a major European bank who now works as a project manager at another firm. “Show that you get this.”
Don’t limit yourself to discussing the running of the back-office – show an eagerness for the entire organisation. “What pressure is the front office under? And how does that influence the back office?” says Henry Chamberlain, a former head of selection at Standard Chartered who now runs a career consultancy. “I once took an intern to a meeting with some really senior people. But when I asked her afterwards what she’d learnt from it she said ‘the air conditioning was very cold’. No enthusiasm.”
You may be studying finance, but that doesn't mean you’ll know all the operations acronyms and other terminology that your more senior colleagues will be using ad nauseam. “Your boss won't expect you to understand all the jargon right away, so ask questions and use Google,” says the ex-intern.
Success in the relentless back-office, where global transactions are being settled 24/7, often depends on your ability to hit deadlines. “Demonstrate that you can be relied upon to deliver on time. That's where you'll be useful if you come back as a grad next year. 'I didn't know what to do' is never an acceptable response,” explains the former intern.
“You will attend a lot of training and networking sessions – inform your colleagues about them so they can make corresponding arrangements,” says Alex Wong, a former HSBC operations professionals who now coaches students to secure jobs at global banks. “Advanced planning is vital in operations because your work often has daily cut-offs.”
As an operations intern you will be given plenty of boring assignments – take them seriously. “If you develop a reputation as someone who gets repetitive tasks done well, you will earn credibility and your boss may invest more time in you and give you more interesting work,” says Wong.
Managers in operations want to employ people who don’t make errors when dealing with constant, complicated transactions and settlements – so they are sensitive to mistakes, even non-critical ones like spelling typos. “Discipline and detail orientation are highly regarded traits in ops – so always be on time and always double check your work,” says Chamberlain.
If you have doubts about a task, ask for clarification straight away, says a 2014 operations intern at a global bank. “People will appreciate the task being done faster and more accurately rather than you spending extra time trying to figure it out.”
“If your internship involves frequently dealing with regulatory compliance issues such as terror financing and anti-money laundering, be sure to research and read the regulations before you start,” says the 2014 intern. “This can be a very important part of your role and prior research will also allow you to complete any company-specific training courses with ease.”
“Having skills in Excel, VBA, Bloomberg and in-house trading systems like Sophis is a pre-requisite in operations, while product knowledge in a specific area (like derivatives) and industry knowledge (in prime brokerage, for example) are pluses,” says Chris Aukland, a managing director at recruitment agency Ambition. “So during an ops internship, take every possible opportunity to learn more and upskill.”
Your communication skills will be tested during your internship because banks want to hire operations staff who are at ease when dealing with other departments. “You need strong interpersonal skills to interact with finance, risk, IT and the front office,” says Aukland. “Use clear and precise communication to resolve issues with other teams.”
You can also prove your cross-department communication skills when networking at the various internal events you’ll be invited too – so don’t just mingle with your ops colleagues. “Networking outside the department allows you to make important contacts that could serve you well in the future,” says Stella Tang, a managing director at recruiters Robert Half.
The back-office is the scene of constant cost-cutting and “restructuring” initiatives, which open up opportunities for project-based work. “I was able to take on a project that no one else had completed before in my team and was able to set best practices. I believe this was key in ensuring my return to the bank this year,” says the 2014 intern.
Don’t just follow orders, try to figure out what’s motivating your manager. “For example, during an operations internship, if you see your supervisor take a particular trader very seriously, find out what the reason is,” say student careers coach Wong.