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How many internships should I apply to

The recruiting cycle is in full swing and you are asking yourself: “How many internships should I apply to?” How much is enough? You are getting rejections and interviews and it all seems a bit random. You know that you need an internship for the summer. But just how much work will it take? Is it better to focus on a few companies you are really interested in or is it better to cast your net wide and take the shotgun approach?

How many internships should I apply for?

The short answer: Aim to submit 20-50 applications per recruiting cycle.

Yes, some of you may get lucky and land your dream internship with 10 applications. You somehow got lucky and weaseled yourself through the application process. But hope and counting on luck are not repeatable strategies.

Why do you need to send out so many applications? Because there are many stages during the recruiting process where you can get rejected:

  • CV screening – Your profile might not be competitive enough or the bank already has enough candidates in the pipeline

  • First-round interviews – You might have a bad day, the interviewer might have a bad day or other candidates are just a better fit. With every interview round, it’s always a 50/50 chance to get a recall or not

  • Second round interviews – The final round interviews are often called “superdays”. Even at this stage, you’ll still be competing with 2-3 other candidates for every single spot

Suppose you have a relevant degree and solid grades. You send out 20 applications. You can expect 2-4 banks to interview you. That gives you a chance of landing 0 to 2 offers. That’s how the interview funnel works. Further, this case assumes you’ve met all the application deadlines and are reasonably competent with Investment Banking interviews and don’t fall for the most common interview mistakes.

A lot of things can go wrong. Sometimes, you never hear back after an interview. You are not in control of the interview process. You don’t get to decide who receives an offer. That’s why you need to cast your net as wide as possible. You need to apply to as many banks as possible to increase your chances of getting interviews.

20-50 applications per recruiting cycle is a good benchmark. 20 applications are the bare minimum. This is how to work spreads out: you submit 5 applications per week and after 4 weeks, you are already at 20 applications.

If you are running out of Investment Banks to apply for, we recommend researching smaller boutiques. There are a ton of them spread throughout the country. Besides the obvious bulge brackets and elite boutiques, you just have to look closer. Also, consider other viable alternatives to Investment Banking.

Why are internships so important?

Internships are an important stepping-stone towards a full-time offer. Most students that end up as Investment Banking Analysts have done one or two internships before landing their full-time offer. It’s almost an unwritten rule of how to get into Investment Banking. An Investment Banking internship dramatically increases your odds of getting invited for other interviews. That’s how you build your CV over time. The big goal of a three-month-long summer internship is to land a return offer.

Yes, most of the tasks you do as an intern in Investment Banking do not require rocket science and are rather mundane. The work hours are long, but there are plenty of reasons why people become Investment Bankers.

Common mistakes to avoid when applying for internships

If you’re applying for internships, there are a couple of mistakes to avoid:

1. Not realizing that applying comes on top of your coursework

Maybe it’s your first year in college and you are enjoying life. You have good grades and think: what’s the fuss about internships? This is so much work. Well, understand that nobody will care about your career on campus as much as you do. Applying and interview prep comes on top of keeping your grades up. There are a bunch of myths and misconceptions about Investment Banking recruiting. Yes, you have your classes, papers and exams you need to attend. And after that, you work on your career. You learn more about Investment Banking. You optimize your cover letter. You slowly put your story together. Because if you don’t take responsibility for your career, nobody will do it for you.

2. Hesitating and waiting too long to apply

Don’t put off applying if you are looking for a summer internship. Yes, you are very busy with your classes and papers, but recruiting comes on top of that. Investment Banking recruiting cycles move quicker than you think. Larger institutions open their applications as early as February for summer internships the following year. If you are a freshman, you have to start researching companies and job postings the day you start your semester in September.

Don’t wait until the last minute. This is not a university deadline where all on-time submissions are equally considered. Recruiting happens on a rolling basis. If there are suitable candidates early on, they will get hired and the slots will be filled. Usually, most summer internship slots at larger institutions are filled by November. This means you need to move fast. The earlier you submit your applications, the higher your chances of getting considered.

Suppose you have missed the deadlines, research smaller boutiques. Their recruiting processes are less structured and may not have strict cut-off deadlines. Besides that, you need to start thinking about backups to Investment Banking.

3. Sending out too few applications

We get it. There are so many industries and companies you can apply for. They all do different and exciting things on the recruiting website. You are probably researching league tables and imagining yourself working for the most prestigious institutions.

Here is a hint: just get the application out. Make a list of companies where you would want to intern. Pick one and submit the entire application. Then, you move to the next one. You can research more about the specific company once you get invited. Don’t waste your time ruminating about whether you want to work at XYZ bank based on something you read online. Sent out the application. If the bank wants to talk to you, you can start researching more about that bank specifically. It’s just another horse in the race.

As we pointed out at the beginning of this article, you need to send 20-50 applications per recruiting cycle. You must pass the CV screening, first round and second round interviews until you land an offer. Many things can go wrong along the way and you are not even in control of the interview process. Internship recruiting is a competitive business. Your best bet is to cast your net as wide as possible. Apply to a bunch of different banks and see what comes back.

4. Applying to too many different divisions

With that said, don’t go overboard and try to apply to multiple industries at the same time. Pick two industries max and go deep within that industry. Each sector requires specific interview preparation. Investment Banking is about knowing the ins and outs of accounting, financial modeling, valuation and corporate finance. Management Consulting is about learning the mechanics of case interviews. Both require a different approach.

Now scale that to 4-5 different industries and you are setting yourself up for failure. Imagine jumping between M&A, Management Consulting, Asset Management and Enterprise Sales interview prep. You will never get proficient in one industry with so much industry knowledge to get a hold of.

At some point, you have to choose and specialize to gain an edge. The quicker you make that decision, the more time you have to out-prepare your competition, who are still undecided.

We recommend picking two verticals at max and then focusing on landing internships. With an internship, you can then decide whether this job is something for you.

5. Sending out generic applications

Drafting and sending out applications is not fun. It’s tedious. But you have to do it if you want a summer internship. Just don’t make the mistake of sending out the same application repeatedly. Don’t send out the same generic cover letter to every company.

Here is how you do it right: You can use the same resume. You don’t need to update this one. However, you need to customize your cover letter. Don’t draft a brand-new cover letter from scratch every time. That takes too much work. It’s more efficient to update a few sentences to make the cover letter match the company you are applying for. Only update a couple of sentences. This is a good middle ground. Your cover letter will be somewhat customized, but you don’t lose too much time drafting everything from scratch.

And please, proofread your applications. We have seen applications where company names have not been updated. This is just embarrassing. So, please, check your work.

Where does it leave us?

How many internships should you apply to?

The short answer: 20-50 applications per recruiting cycle.

Yes, some of you may get lucky and land your summer internship with 10 applications. It’s possible, but you have to think in terms of probabilities. You need to send out so many applications because you don’t decide who gets hired. You are not in control of the process. There are a lot of points during the recruiting process where your application can get rejected. You must pass the initial CV screening, first-round and second-round interviews to land an offer. Every step along this process is a potential point of failure. Remember, during final round interviews, you are most likely competing with 2-3 other candidates for that spot.

Getting started early and submitting as many applications as possible is the way to go. But don’t go overboard and apply to multiple industries. Each industry requires specific interview preparation. Investment Banking is about knowing the ins and outs of accounting, financial modeling, valuation and corporate finance. With Management Consulting, it’s about learning the mechanics of case interviews. Both require a different approach. Pick two industries at max and then go deep instead of wide.

Additional resources

Feeling inspired to break into Investment Banking? Are you up for the challenge?

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