If you’ve clinched an internship with a large investment bank in Asia this summer, the pressure is on – now more than ever – to perform.
A successful internship will help give your career a secure start in an increasingly insecure sector. Global investment banks have been making redundancies and scaling back their hiring in Hong Kong and Singapore over the past three years.
“As an internship may lead to a possible offer for the bank's graduate programme, so this is the time for you to work smart, be yourself and shine,” says Sze Ming Ho, head of graduate recruitment, Asia Pacific, at Deutsche Bank. “Use the opportunity to get to know the firm, its people, culture and the work – as well as allowing the firm to get to know you.”
If this sounds easier said than done, read on as we reveal our top tips for internship success in Asia.
Most global banks have reputations for a particular type of company culture and budding interns often apply to organisations where they think they will fit in culturally. But don’t embark on an internship in Asia expecting your new colleagues to conform to online stereotypes that were probably forged in the US or Europe. “Instead, be prepared to adjust to office culture as you find it, which usually consists of different mindsets, levels and nationalities,” says Paul Pozarowski, a recruitment consultant at Matthew Hoyle Financial Markets in Hong Kong and a former research analyst at BBVA.
In an Asian office environment, it’s generally bad form to leave for the day while you boss is still beavering away. If you have finished your set tasks, find something else to do which keeps you at work for longer. “If you are in corporate finance, or somewhere else in the investment banking space, be prepared to work the same long hours as your manager,” advises Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “Remember: these extra hours are an investment for your future career.”
Respect for authority comes naturally to many interns who’ve been brought up in Singapore or Hong Kong, but don’t agree to an unfeasible task just because your boss commands you to do it. “It is easy to say yes and take on too much, but over-promising and under-delivering isn't a good look, even for a seasoned professional,” says Ho from Deutsche Bank. “Something managers look out for in top interns is strong communication and influencing skills, so be open and realistic and manage your colleagues' and managers' time and expectations. Provide appropriate updates on your work progress and seek feedback. Your manager and team will appreciate the communication at important milestones.”
A common failing of interns in Asia is that they think asking for help will be seen as a weakness. “An internship is an opportunity for you to learn from some of the brightest minds in the industry and a key part of this is asking questions, and especially asking for help if you need it,” says Ho. “Be resourceful when trying to resolve any work challenges – don't be afraid to draw on the skills of various colleagues, mentors, product champions or trainers for their guidance in navigating any roadblocks.”
Away from work stresses, there’s one thing that keeps senior bankers in Asia up at night: their children’s education. It’s fairly common for bankers to ask interns (who are supposed to be elite students) for advice about where and what their kids should be studying, says ex-JPMorgan banker Alex Wong, a student career coach at EntreNet in Hong Kong. Don’t just answer on the spot if this happens to you – do some research and pass on any additional advice.
One of the keys to a successful internship in Asia is getting the balance right between being too loud and too submissive. If you’re too talkative and domineering, you risk your quieter colleagues losing face and you being marked down for bad team-working. “Also try to build up ‘sponsors’ – senior people in the bank. Answer their questions in training and give 120% if they ever give you a task,” says Wong. “But don't overdo it so your team feel that you are not focused on them and loyal to them.”
While showing respect (or giving face) to heads of departments typically goes down well at banks in Asia, don’t just focus on building relationships with senior staff. “In the induction they might tell you it’s your team leader who will do your evaluation, but in reality the whole review might be written by the associate that you directly work with,” says Wong.
Hong Kong and Singapore both have strong food cultures and employees tend to leave the office for longish sit-down lunch breaks. Eating at your desk won’t show that you’re a hard worker, it will show that you’re not a team player. “Try to accept as many invitations to lunches and coffees as possible,” says student-coach Wong. “Be interested in others’ conversation and participate actively during casual lunches.”
Boozing with colleagues may not be as important to internship success in Hong Kong and Singapore as it is in London, but it still matters. “As an intern in HK you might need to practice your dance moves as you might need to go clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong from time to time,” says Wong. “If you don't dance, at least drink. You don't want to be the boring person sitting at the table and not drinking – you won't be invited next time. And make sure you have something interesting to say during the Monday morning conversation in the kitchen about the weekend.”
If you’re interning in Hong Kong, beware that investment banks there increasingly want to hire Mandarin speakers – especially for capital markets roles – as they seek to boost revenues from mainland Chinese clients. Even if you can get by with English and/or Cantonese during your internship, make everyone aware that you also know Mandarin.
Once the internship is over do everything you can to maintain the contacts you have made, says Ho from Deutsche. “Not only may they be future colleagues, but you could well encounter them later in your working life. Your network will become one of your most valuable career assets.”