Most internships will improve your post-graduation marketability, but a finance internship with a Fortune 100 company will give you special cachet in the marketplace.
In the Minneapolis area, headquarters to some of the world’s largest firms including Target and 3M, Paul Stephan, director of college recruiting for UnitedHealth Group, values job seekers who’ve done internships at other Fortune 100 firms. “That makes someone look attractive, because you understand the experience they have,” he says.
All Internships Are Not Equal
While many of the country’s largest firms have formal, structured internship programs, not all companies focus their internship energy on finance students. And not all internships are equally beneficial to students. While some companies hire interns to crunch out low-level work, the best internship programs expose students either to high-level executives or a variety of niches within the finance sector.
“Some companies have internships that are mini-rotation programs,” explains Kent Burns, a partner with MRINetwork of Indianapolis -- North. “Those are very good for students, because they give them a chance to assess whether they’re going down the right career paths.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment puts about two dozen undergraduate and MBA interns through an eight-week internship program that includes networking classes and weekly lectures featuring high-level executives sharing their personal take on the business. “They do get nice exposure,” says Laura Rowe, Sony vice president for staffing and diversity. “They’re not siloed or cocooned behind their desk.” Halfway through the internship, Sony interns choose another department and spend a day shadowing there, she says.
Sony has a variety of internship opportunities each summer. “This year we have openings in finance, accounting, corporate and business development, as well as marketing, sales, advertising, etc.,” Rowe says. “The number of applicants we receive varies from 50 to 250-plus, depending on position.”
Another hot finance internship is one where you have an analytical role, such as merger-and-acquisition analysis, capital expenditure analysis or even something as simple as buy-versus-lease analysis. “The ideal analysis internship would be running scenarios for a senior manager, VP-level or C-level executive,” Burns says. “That provides an opportunity to connect number crunching to the actual strategic decision-making process, which is much better than crunching numbers for just anyone in a cubicle.”
At UnitedHealth, interns are hired into several areas, including analysis, business risk and control, operations, internal audit and healthcare plan accounting. “So when you’re ready to move up and around, we have a diversity of opportunity,” Stephan says.
Build a Bridge
The right internship will also build a bridge from the campus to a corporate office. “What a finance intern gets from UnitedHealth is an opportunity to build a relationship that could last longer than the internship with a Fortune 25 company,” Stephan says. “We do our internships with the hope that those individuals will join us long term.”
Sony ends up hiring some of its interns after graduation, too. “If we haven’t hired them, they’re still in contact with us,” Rowe says. “Sometimes they go to an outside firm and come back a few years after graduation, especially the MBAs.”
Sell Your Extracurricular Self
Competition for the best internships is tough. What makes candidates stand out is having a passion for the industry, excellent grades in finance and accounting courses, and experience working in a team during extracurricular activities or other internships. For Sony internships, that passion might be demonstrated by taking media-based classes or through an extracurricular activity such as being the business manager for the school newspaper or theater.
Most companies want to see at least a B average, but a lower GPA isn’t a death sentence. “Some students have very compelling stories,” Stephan says. “They work 60 hours a week financing their education and can get great experience at the detriment to their GPA.”
The majority of UnitedHealth’s internships are available over the summer (to coincide with student availability); the best time to get in touch with these opportunities is in the spring.
Look Past the Obvious
When searching for internships, look beyond the surface impression of Fortune 100 companies, Stephan advises. “On campuses, we are sometimes simplified down to a big insurance company, but there’s no aspect of healthcare delivery that we don’t get involved with,” he says. “With us, you’ll have the opportunity to move up and around the organization. Finance talent is involved in big decisions around here.”
Find the right finance internship, and you could not only land a front-row seat to the meetings where those decisions are made, but you could also end up with a ticket to a great job.