Spring Weeks - It’s Who You Know
Harrison Woodin-Lygo explains the Spring Week finance application process, highlighting the benefits he drew from the experience but its flaws in failing to connect with state-educated students and so growing more in its elitism.
At the time of writing this, I am a third year, State Educated Economics Student at the University of Edinburgh.
This article expresses an opinion on UK-based Investment Banking Spring Weeks; it should not be considered objective, nor absolute. A Spring Week, also known as an Insight Week, is an official introduction to a firm and a role, offered by most major Investment Banks, Law Firms, Consultancy Firms, and others. It is the first stage for a career in Banking; followed by Summer internships, and then Graduate Analyst Positions. Many Springs convert directly into Summers, locking you into a firm at an early stage. They are highly competitive, with some programmes receiving over 5000 applications for less than 30 places. I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in a few Banking Spring Weeks; therefore, my opinions in this article are a reflection of my experience and peer sentiment.
Despite Coronavirus, I gained a lot from my Spring Weeks. Virtual coffee chats, group pitching projects, and introductory sessions all provided a wealth of insight into the firms. I met great friends and ultimately solidified my aspirations to work within the Investment Banking industry. I even received a hoodie to flex on campus. Win. The opportunity to ‘convert’ all my Springs to Summer internships at assessment centres was offered, to take place before the general Summer application window was even open.
As a concept, Spring Weeks are invaluable for a student pursuing a career in Banking. They introduce the firm, the industry, the day-to-day, but they also act as a week-long networking event. One can mingle with students at other Universities and build relationships with bankers already employed at the firm. As the saying goes; It’s not just what you know; it’s who you know. Having someone in your corner come Summer application time is powerful, and whilst networking can result in this opportunity, Spring Weeks provide you with the chance to demonstrate your value to Senior Bankers first-hand. It is the possibility of networking benefits in parallel with those already having access through cronyism, or nepotistic contacts.
For most; one would apply for a Spring Week in their first year of University, and to be considered a strong profile they should probably attend a specific set of Universities known as ‘Target Schools’. Target Schools have a legacy of on-campus recruitment for Banking, and as such, they are a target for HR. Edinburgh is considered a semi-target – Prestigious and sufficiently ‘elite’ to allow entry into the firm’s culture, but on-campus recruitment is limited to a select few banks. It is, therefore, proportionately more difficult for an Edinburgh student to be recruited into Banking than it would be for a target student (Oxbridge, LSE, etc.). Of course, one could argue that this has already been considered by those who were genuinely passionate about Banking from a younger age, as they would apply to Target Universities for these career prospects. However, this would not rationalise the disadvantage of those who decided to pursue a Banking career after applying to University. In more recent years, you can see a more concerted effort by Banks to recruit from outside targets, but I noted that during one of my Assessment days I was the only student out of 8 not to attend Oxbridge or LSE. Perhaps this will improve with the current transition towards online recruitment.
To get an interview, one must pass a capricious evaluation of a candidate’s prospects, based solely on a 300-word cover letter and a one-page CV. Most applicants are ~18, and many 18-year olds don’t know what they want to do, let alone already have the relevant experience for a strong application. This is the fundamental concern; the system favours ‘the connected’ as they have greater access to experiences. Unfortunately, ‘the connected’ are generally a select group tending to be privately educated. A 2014 Boston Consulting Group study, on behalf of social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, shows that for a lot of British-educated students from state schools, a career in financial services remains out of reach. 70% of those hired into the sector went to a top-30 University, with a large proportion of these going to Oxbridge. Around 42% of Oxbridge students are privately educated, yet they make up 65% of those securing a job in financial services. It is difficult to determine if this fault is inherent to the industry or the result of a systemic flaw.
A solution, though only for domestic applicants, is a more concentrated effort to introduce A-Level and Highers students to prestigious careers such as Banking and Law. Some companies (upReach, Generation UK, SEO London, etc.) are already actively offering social mobility platforms for those seeking these careers. Still, not enough is being done to raise interest in the first place. Equality of opportunity is somewhat maintained at the University level if all parties are in the know when starting. The greatest injustice is the pressure of a full commitment from students to a career in Banking within the first two months of starting University. Internships become a metric of success, with many students falling trap to a cultish obsession with Banking. Early exposure to alternate careers paths relieves some of the pressure, but given their social prestige, Banking internships will always be competitive. Spreading the introduction to careers over two years, contrasted with the present 2-month standard, should cultivate a more inclusive, meritocratic internship system.
The primary oversight in the above solution is to expect this availability heuristic to be exclusive to UK students. Edinburgh has a broad international student body with many also pursuing a career in the finance industry. From conversations with friends, students do not know the specific sector they wish to work in, and therefore easily miss crucial opportunities to gain exposure. Tunnel vision for Investment Banking leaves other roles unexplored, so students are not only pursuing the most competitive division on paper, they may well be doing it in vain. To be educated on the differences is to return the power to the students applying. Correct exposure is the solution.
Spring Weeks are a fantastic platform for a successful career in Finance. Direct conversions and formal introductions are two clear benefits. I do not have any issue with the programmes and content, in fact, quite the opposite - I am very grateful for every opportunity I have had so far! Yet, we must recognise that the current application system is not sufficient. Banks have the responsibility to connect with more schools, especially state schools, using expertise, influence and prominence to create tangible progress towards building awareness of a possible career in Finance.
Note: When discussing this article with friends, there were several suggestions for content to include. Popular examples include video interviews (‘Hirevues’) and Minority Programmes. I decided not to comment on these as I do not have sufficient knowledge nor opinions on the matter. It would be interesting to see a follow-up to this article discussing alternate themes.