A foot in the door...

President of the Durham University Investment & Finance Group, gives a short guide to spring programmes.

Given the effects of the recent market turmoil, it will be inevitable that firms will not be recruiting a large number of inexperienced graduates over the next two-three years. Competition for places is increasing by the year and Spring Programmes present themselves as an essential tool and opening for aspiring students to get ahead early within financial services. From my experiences, they have provided an invaluable foundation to build your graduate profile and I would encourage those eligible to apply.

What is a Spring Programme?

The Spring Programme although branded and formatted differently from institution to institution are aimed at first year undergraduate students (second year students on a four year course) offering a comprehensive introduction to financial services within the Easter break. They are open to all degree disciplines exemplified by the backgrounds of my fellow interns which ranged from classics to physics.

The programmes generally consist of a week based in London offering either a unique opportunity to experience key areas of the differing companies (Investment Banking, Sales Trading & Research, Asset Management, Risk and Technology, Operations, Finance & Business Management) or are focused on offering a more comprehensive insight into your specified area of interest.

Are the Spring Programmes right for you?

Spring programmes are tailored for those individuals who have a keen interest in current affairs and financial markets within a business and entrepreneurial setting; hungry to learn from professionals who are the best within their field. Top candidates will be self motivated high achievers who express their ambition both through their academic studies at university and extra-curricular activities. Being a strong team player and communicator is essential to succeed and those who demonstrate such abilities unquestionably obtain the most out of the programmes.

The application process?

The application process again differs from place to place but generally follows a standardised format of an online application consisting of a CV, cover letter and sometimes a few core competency based questions. Most deadlines close between January and February 2009, however, I would encourage those interested to apply as soon as possible given the competition for places.

Post the application stage and screening, most institutions invite candidates to the online tests stage. This presents itself as an excellent opportunity to get used to the standard of screening processes used for both penultimate year internships and graduate roles. The key is to understand the time parameters set and not to get phased by the various different tables and graphs presented. Before undertaking the tests, preparation is paramount and I would recommend using www.shl.com/ and www.efinancialcareers.com/ which both offer practice tests and examples for those with no experience of the process.

From there, given you meet the benchmark requirements on the tests you will be invited for an interview either in person or on the phone which may also be combined within a small assessment centre. The interviews are not there to test you intricate financial knowledge and understating, rather to test your general enthusiasm and drive to explore the industry. Be genuine and passionate and you will succeed.

What do you do on the Spring Programmes?

The key purpose of all the programmes is a two way relationship. They are there to demystify any preconceptions and stereotypes surrounding the industry, whist acting as an early recruitment source to spot potential talent.

The programmes are arranged through a number of talks, interactive presentations, work shadowing opportunities, skills sessions, case studies and a variety of social events which provide the opportunity to watch, learn and understand the various business processes. This allows candidates to form clear opinions on aspects of the industry and more importantly if the industry and roles could be for them.

All my peers who have had the opportunity on a variety of programmes I know all felt the experience was most constructive igniting their enthusiasm to enter the industry. Patrick Colville a Spring Week intern at J.P. Morgan 2008 highlighted the week as one of the most important period within his personnel development providing an essential stepping stone to secure a fast track offer within investment banking division in 2009.

The key things to take from the programmes?

The Student Network - the programmes create a proactive environment where you are surrounded by likeminded individuals from across the United Kingdom and Europe. This provides you with the opportunity to test yourself against the aspiring banking community of the future, allowing you to form strong links and contacts. Furthermore, it enables an in-depth insight into the competition you face within the graduate job market to secure that coveted role. It is essential you maintain this network after the programmes finish and start building your business ties and contact base for the future.

Exposure - All the programmes through organised networking activities and interactive exercises provide the opportunity to talk and importantly listen to those who have an invaluable experience of how the industry operates. Listening to such people can be so inspirational for an aspiring graduate breaking down any hierarchical misconceptions. Improving your ability to network within the business environment, a setting one may not be used to.

Soft Skill Development*- *The numerous presentations, case studies and exercises create a podium for all interns to improve their public speaking, presentation and team work skills in a variety of different scenarios. This allows you to work with different nationalities, cultures and academic backgrounds creating refreshing solutions to quite intricate problems whilst exploring different perspectives.

Fast Track Opportunities - The week allows both the graduate recruitment teams and the business divisions to highlight candidates early. Many of the programmes offer fast track summer internship interviews based on the spring programs allowing candidates to enter their penultimate years no having to apply to all the respective institutions. Making an impression and standing out really do make a difference. The more effort you put in and how your embrace this unique opportunity the greater the rewards.

Overall, as I have found out myself, Spring Programmes are essential for the aspiring modern graduate to differentiate themselves early as candidates who have the passion and vigour to enter the industry.

The openings they provide, if harnessed correctly, can provide you with your first steps into a career within financial services. I can name numerous peers who have materialised Spring Programmes all the way through to full graduate offers; creating a strong testament for the importance they represent to undergraduates.

If you apply with intent, research efficiently and embrace the application procedure, irrespective of the outcome, they programmes will provide an excellent constructive learning curve for the future. What is there to lose? Get Ahead.

Edward Joudrey participated in the J.P.Morgan, Morgan Stanley & UBS Spring Programmes in 2008.

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