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How many internships should I do in college?

You just started college. You know you need summer internships. But how many internships do you need to land a full-time offer? How much is enough? The short answer:

  • Most land a full-time offer with 2-4 internships. In other words, you need to be doing internships every summer

  • You will not be competitive with zero internships. There are no excuses to spend a summer doing nothing. You should be busy building your CV because your competition is doing so as well

  • Your first internship will probably be the most difficult to land because you need internship experience to get more internship experience

  • Every internship you do should be a building block toward your desired career path. The more finance internships you have, the more likely you will get finance interviews. So, choose carefully

Internships are an essential stepping-stone towards a full-time offer. Most students who end up as Investment Banking Analysts have done two to four internships before landing a 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 to other interviews.

How many internships should I do in college?

0 internships – Not competitive

Having zero internships is just not competitive. Your stellar grades alone will not make the cut. They are one part. You need relevant internships. You need to build your CV around real work experience because everyone else is doing so. It's competitive pressure. The candidate with a competitive GPA plus internship experience will always be picked over the obscure candidate with stellar grades but no work experience. So, go ahead and update your cover letter and CV.

If you are new to Investment Banking recruiting, we recommend you apply early (about 1 to 1.5 years) and apply a lot (about 20-50 applications per recruiting cycle). Don't fall for the common misconceptions about Investment Banking recruiting. Investment Banking interviews are very predictable. They need a lot of prep work to avoid the most common mistakes.

1 internship – The bare minimum

One internship is the bare minimum. This is the stepping stone for everything that comes after. This is the first employer of your long career. Your first internship is probably the most difficult one to land because to get internships, you need internship experience. We all have to start somewhere. If you don't get an Investment Banking internship on your first try, don't despair.

For your first internship, aim for a finance-related internship. You will probably have a hard time with actual Investment Banks as they prefer to hire sophomores and juniors for their intern slots. But there are other options you can apply for, such as smaller boutiques, Big4 transactions services, controlling or Big4 audit. These are all relevant roles to build your CV for a first internship.

You will most likely not land a return offer with your first internship. Except you are very talented and start with all the correct information out of the gate (since high school). You are most likely transitioning from university work (substance over form) to actual work experience (form over substance). Don't worry if you don't land a return offer after your first internship. You still have enough time.

2-4 internships – This is the sweet spot

This is where you are starting to hit your strides. Getting your second and third internship is easier. You have done it before and now have the experience to build up. Your CV is a blank slate anymore. By your fourth internship, you know what you are doing.

Your second and third internships are critical turning points. Pick your second and third internships very wisely. This is where specialization happens. To get into Investment Banking, you need to build your CV and keep gunning down that M&A internship. As a counter-example, if you have two Management Consulting internships, you will have an easier time getting interviews in Management Consulting. On the other hand, if you have two finance-related internships, you will have an easier time getting Investment Banking interviews for your third internship.

You will also see developments in your performance on the job. Thanks to your first and second internships, you know the game. By your second to third internship, you hit the ground running. You have a better idea of what to pay attention to and what people expect from you. Getting a return offer is still challenging and not easy, but it becomes more realistic than your very first internship.

In general, 2-4 internships are the sweet spot. All internships are happening throughout your academic career. The first and second internships happen during your undergraduate studies. The third internship happens between undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Lastly, the fourth internship is part of your postgraduate studies. Every internship falls within your academic curriculum.

5-7 internships – Why no full-time offer?

Starting with the fifth internship, we might ask ourselves why you didn't land a full-time offer with your former employers. If you see somebody with 5 internships, thereof 4 M&A internships, you will ask yourself, why another internship? Why not a full-time position? Why didn't you land a full-time role at those employers?

It's not a deal breaker. You will get interviews. But it's just something to keep in the back of your mind. Slowly but surely, you are outgrowing the internship role. You should be prepared to answer why not the other five shops on your CV at this point.

Internships become problematic if you don't have an academic study program to justify them. After completing both undergraduate and graduate studies, you need to land a full-time job. That's when you don't have any excuses anymore. Then you are forced to enter full-time recruiting.

Why do you need so many internships?

Because it takes time to become proficient in the job you aspire to. The big goal of the internship is to land a return offer. To get a return offer, you must perform on a similar level compared to a full-time Analyst. The talented ones manage to do it with two internships. Others might take four internships to learn the ropes.

This is what the learning curve looks like:

  • Beginner intern – As a beginner intern, nobody trusts you. Everything you do needs to be thoroughly checked. You most likely need to work on your attention to detail. Learn to hold your emotions and don't complain even if things get tough. You don't need to give people your attitude. Always be happy to help

  • Good intern – You have learned to check your work multiple times. You are a reliable contributor for basic tasks. However, errors happen on more complex tasks. That's when careless errors surface. You are good, but not good enough for a return offer. Something seems to be missing

  • Stellar intern – You master all the above. You do not complain. You are always happy. You never make mistakes. You take complete ownership of your items and do things without being told to do so. You prioritize efficiently by talking with your team. The team starts to like you because you are a reliable contributor. Eventually, the team votes for your full-time 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.

Where does it leave us?

You need to do summer internships to be competitive with your peers. Most manage to land a full-time offer with 2-4 internships.

Every summer, you need to be doing internships. There are no excuses to spend a summer doing nothing. Internships are an important stepping-stone towards a full-time offer. Everyone who ends up as an Investment Banking Analyst usually goes through 2-4 internships until they have learned the craft. It's almost an unwritten rule of how to get into Investment Banking.

The first internship is probably the hardest to land because you need experience to get more experience. Then, you slowly start to hit your strides with your second and third internships. Internships only become problematic if you don't have an academic study program to justify them. After completing both undergraduate and graduate studies, you need to land a full-time job. That happens around internship number 5 and above.

Additional resources

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