"Absorb as much as you can, ask questions and put yourself out there. Offer help to the managers with additional projects."
Degree: Computer Science, University of Southampton
I’m attracted to the finance sector because of how important it is in a global context. Everybody has some form of contact with it. I felt like a job in the finance sector was right for me because I could be working across different cultures and geographies.
When I started my eight-week internship I was surprised by the scale of operations in finance. There are so many people involved: it’s not just computer software. Client information can go to 10 or so teams before an account process is finalised. Getting a snapshot of different teams collaborating in finance was a crucial deciding factor for my career.
There was a question on the online form about the biggest challenges facing the industry: I elaborated on my interest in how digital and technological advances will continue to affect finance. There were standard psychometric tests and a competency-based telephone interview. The most daunting part was the assessment centre. What surprised me was that there was no testing of technical knowledge. I was told that I would learn this on the job. Questions focused more on how you react to situations and how you reason in different scenarios.
I worked on a project in our stock transfer process for investment. It was essentially a review of how we handle customer assets when they want to move to a new provider. Some of the services provided needed updating. I learned how to deal with customers directly: communicated directly with those who had gone through this process so I could collect feedback. I also developed public-speaking skills: I presented a report to the head of wealth and a few senior managers, suggesting ways to improve usability and flagging up immediate problems. In addition, I received training in project management, people management, product knowledge and customer service. I gained experience in handling this project start to finish, which felt great because I was trusted with an important job.
If interns perform well here, they will be given a job offer to return as a graduate trainee for the following year. Usually these are in the same streams as internships, but you can discuss with hiring managers the possibility of moving into a different business line. I was glad to accept a job offer.
In the graduate scheme you rotate in four different departments and locations. I first worked in a contact centre, where I spoke directly to customers to help solve issues. I then moved onto insurance work as a transformation analyst, which involved moving the business to a more streamlined digital model. After this I worked in European procedure improvement, reusing my internship work and skills; I was based in Malta and the Channel Islands. I’m currently on the last rotation, working in our M&S bank division where I look after change and operations management. This means I help oversee continuous improvements to the efficiency of procedure across 130 currency bureaus, 29 branches and 30 satellites.
At the beginning I was very nervous about having loads of tasks on the go, but now I feel more capable. My manager says we should try and keep all the plates spinning, but if you do have to drop less important ones you should put them down gently. There’s a good work/life balance kept in check by managers as well, and great support networks. When I started I was given a business mentor with 25 years’ experience. I also partnered up with a graduate buddy who was on the scheme the year before me.
I was really stunned by one project on my insurance placement. I was brought on to a partnership selection tender, which means I was part of the process to select insurance partners for the next 10 years. Seven companies that wanted to be our partners sent us proposal documents. We were looking for 10 or 15 indicators of what they could tangibly bring to HSBC in terms of digital innovation, which meant sifting through vast quantities of data to see who had the competitive edge. I started as an analyst but then senior managers bumped me up to the role of key stakeholder. It was a confidence boost when I realised that my input was valued by chief executives at HSBC.
A brilliant candidate is differentiated by their desire to go above and beyond. Don’t just treat the job as a line in a CV. Ask yourself: ‘What are the things I want to achieve?’ You should challenge yourself twice as much as normal.
Be a sponge: this is what I tell current interns. Absorb as much as you can, ask questions and put yourself out there. Offer help to the managers with additional projects. Tailor your internship and use opportunities to be inquisitive.