International Students – How to shine in internship interviews!

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My Background

In the fall of 2011 I decided to attend College in the U.S., and leaving my Scandinavian country. I began my college career at a City College in the U.S. with no idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but that I wanted to major in Economics. Through research, and countless hours spent reading WallStreetOasis, I soon figured out that I wanted to work in the financial services industry in New York. With this realization came the added anxiety of realizing the amount of work and perseverance that the goal would require.

In the interest of keeping this part short, I’ll try to sum my initial experiences up. I spent two years at my Community College, got a high GPA, involved myself in relevant extra-curricular activities on campus, and stocked up on Economics, Accounting, Finance, and Business classes.

I eventually transferred to an “Ivy League” school as an Economics major in the fall of 2013 and I’m now attempting to break into the Finance industry. I managed to get an unpaid internship at a capital placement and advisory firm in NY, and I’m now trying to rack up some relevant internship experiences before I graduate.

How to benefit from an international background

Through this article I intend to focus on how to efficiently utilize your background while interviewing for internships, by displaying a certain element that I believe is highly valued by recruiters.

While interviewing for summer/semester internships, two questions frequently appeared in all my interviews, more specifically, “Tell me about yourself” and “Tell me about a time when you had to take a risk”. These questions might appear informal and trivial at first, yet this provides you with the opportunity to “hook” your interviewer and display that you are a person that possesses the specific characteristics they are looking for.

As an International Student you have something to offer that sets you apart from your competition; the story of how you decided to leave your comfort zone and brave the unknown by moving to another country. In answering this question, I suggest that you attempt to highlight what I like to call “Thoughtful Risk-Taking”

Thoughtful Risk-Taking

By “Thoughtful Risk-Taking” I refer to how you weighed the pros and cons of attending College in the U.S. You want to highlight that you considered the risks and benefits you run by leaving your country, a trait which recruiters has actually praised in my past interviews.

For example, the risks might include that you could have a hard time developing a social network, encounter cultural differences, not liking life in the U.S., and running the risk of feeling alienated. However, you need to clearly articulate that you believe that the benefits outweighed the perceived risks.

Some possible benefits you can name are the possibility of meeting new and interesting people, acquiring a quality education, grow as a person by forcing yourself to face an unfamiliar situation, and having the opportunity to work in the U.S.

By clearly demonstrating your ability to practice “Thoughtful Risk-Taking” you are implicitly suggesting that you have a highly developed sense of “Critical Thinking”, something that appears to be key in most finance careers in my view.

It suggests that you evaluated your decision to:

  1. Study in the U.S
  2. Attend your current school
  3. Choose your particular major
  4. Seek a career in the financial services industry
  5. Apply for an internship at this specific company

Most importantly, by displaying that you practice “Thoughtful Risk-Taking”, you show the recruiter that you are committed to your choices despite the perceived risks. It tells him or her that you dont make decision based on a whim but rather that you carefully analyze your choices.

I genuinely believe that displaying this trait greatly benefited me while interviewing, and that it was one of the underlying principles that granted me my current internship.

My Blog

Through this blog, I intend to create a series of posts aimed at giving advice to International Students who share my interest in finance. I’ll give my view on how to benefit from an International background in recruiting/interviewing and tips on how I have been able to succeed despite starting out without any connections in the U.S., coming from a City College, and having no relevant finance experience.

Although this blog will be focused on international students in the U.S., the content may very well benefit those studying outside of the U.S.


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