Elitism and banking are like plastic toys and McDonald's Happy Meals. If you've got the right educational background, well-connected parents and a stack of internships, you'll be in. If you haven't, life is harder, but not impossible.
I didn't have the ideal profile for a French candidate looking for a banking job in the City of London. I didn't study in Paris. I didn't go to a Grandes Ecole and I didn't have parents who know about banking. In fact, neither of my parents went to university and I studied at a provincial college. However, I've managed to get a summer internship in a US investment bank by trying, trying, and trying again.
The advantage of a French education is that if gives you the opportunity to complete numerous internships while you're studying. These internships are unlike the 'summer internships' offered by investment banks in London because they rarely lead to a job offer. However, they can give you good experience on your CV. At university, I completed several such internships overseas - both in Europe and in Asia, some in finance and some marketing. It was during an internship in Asia that I came across some traders in a bank who told me that the opportunities offered by the banking sector are incredibly broad. Until then, I'd been interested in an entrepreneurial career, but I realized that banking could provide an opportunity to work on strategy and business development and decided that I wanted to work in corporate finance instead.
I therefore decided to complete Masters in Finance course at my former university. Around this time, I also my first round of applications for summer internships at major investment banks. The result? Zero. I was at a major disadvantage - I didn't have the right schools on my CV.
Realizing that something had to be done, I applied instead for the masters in finance at ESCP Europe, which is one of banks' target schools. When I got in, I started being a lot more proactive. I went to a lot of recruitment events. It helps to meet employees of the banks you're applying to at student events and it helps to maintain a dialogue by emailing those employees afterwards. Remember, you're one of 10,000 candidates.
At ESCP, I applied to banks' summer internships for a second time. Again, I was unsuccessful. However, I managed to land a six month study-internship with SocGen, which added to the experience on my CV. While I was at SocGen, I paid for one of the private training seminars that are on offer to students who want to work in investment banks. Everyone knows about these, but no one talks about them. This helped fill in the gaps in my knowledge and prepared me for the kind of specific interview questions I'd face at major banks. It also put me in contact with people who were already working for Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch. A good investment all round.
The following autumn, I applied for another round of summer internships. This was my third attempt. I made 10 applications to 10 top banks, and it took me around 30 hours. I became an expert in online applications, numerical tests and CV screening. The network I'd built up over the two previous years also came in helpful - it meant I could circulate my CV through a parallel network of bankers and recruiters.
It worked! I was contacted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) and asked to attend a marathon selection day. There were tests, a group exercise, breakfast with recruiters, individual presentations and a CV screening session. The next day, I received a call offering me a nine-month summer internship the following June. At last, it was over! Or, as I like to think, it had begun.
The moral of my story? Don't give up. If you don't get a response when you apply for a summer internship, look at the gaps on your CV. If you haven't been to a target school, apply to one. If you don't know how to answer technical interview questions, get some training. If you don't know anyone in banking, develop a network. Apply, apply, and apply again. But in between each application, make sure you address the reasons why you didn't get a response last time. Eventually, it will pay off
*Arnaud Dupin is a pseudonym