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Vania Chow: On landing an internship in finance as an international student

interstride logo by Interstride
March 15, 2024

Vania Chow is an undergraduate international student at Stanford University studying computer science and economics. She grew up in Hong Kong where she first became interested in finance. Vania talks with us about her journey as an international student and landing opportunities in the US in the finance sector including an internship at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco.

What was your first finance internship and how did you get that opportunity? 

My first finance internship was last summer. I worked at a private equity firm focused on enterprise software. That experience was helpful for figuring out if this was something that I wanted to pursue long-term. At that company, I got a full scope of what a private equity deal looked like including:

  • Finding a company that is a good investment prospect
  • Doing due diligence and trying to see if we’re buying at the right price
  • Thinking about how a private equity company can improve the business
  • Working closely with some of the partners and managing directors of that company

How I got that as my first internship was kind of a stroke of luck. One of the managing directors at the firm went to Stanford, and he was on campus to hire a few interns. I did my interview in person with him there, and shortly later got the job. 

How difficult was it to find companies willing to hire international interns?

Most firms that are not willing to sponsor international full-time employees won’t sponsor international interns either unless they’re smaller companies. Their incentive for providing internships is ultimately to find talent to build out their future team. 

To figure out which firms sponsor and which firms don’t, there’s a Reddit-style, anonymous forum called Wall Street Oasis. People ask questions about finance and talk about which firms are sponsoring this year and which firms might have sponsored last year but aren’t anymore. A lot of finance firms change practices often. Another resource that I found helpful was search engines. If I wanted to work at Morgan Stanley, I would search for “Morgan Stanley H-1B Visa”, and there are websites that show how many visas they’ve sponsored in the past year.

How did you land your upcoming summer internship at Morgan Stanley?

I interviewed for this position in May 2023. The interview process was firstly an online resume drop. I didn’t know anyone at the company, so I didn’t network. They had HireVue, which is a one-way video interview where they would ask me a bunch of questions and I had to record myself. Shortly after that, I received one phone screen and one interview via Zoom.

Most finance companies will also do what’s called a super day. It’s two to three hours of interviews back to back. That day was quite stressful. It was on Zoom for me, but I know companies are beginning to fly people out again. I got my offer a week later.

What is the timeline for finance recruiting for internships?

Finance recruiting for big companies like Morgan Stanley is getting pushed earlier each year. For people looking for summer internships, the application period will be April or May of the previous year. I wanted to work summer of 2024 after my sophomore year, so I applied in April of my freshman year. You want to apply about one and a half years in advance.

Smaller companies have more irregular hiring cycles, so check LinkedIn regularly or Handshake, if your school uses it. For my role at Briga Stage Mount, I got the offer in March, which was three months before my start date. That was much later than the traditional recruiting process. 

A lot of people ask, “Do you apply as soon as possible or do you apply only when you feel ready in terms of your technical interview prep and things like that?” My advice is to apply as soon as the internship application opens. Most of these companies fill the roles on a rolling basis, so if you wait to start your process, some of the roles might already have been taken and it gets more competitive. 

What should international students bring to the first meeting with a recruiter? What talking points should they prepare?

When there’s a recruiting event at your school, ask the recruiter if they’re open to sponsoring people with H-1B visas or who need sponsorship in the future. It might be helpful to bring a resume and have it in your backpack. I’ve never given my resume to anyone at a recruiting event, but it could be beneficial if someone asks for it or if you want to keep in contact. Always be prepared, and show that you’re interested in the company. Ask them about the recruiting timeline and the responsibilities of the role to figure out if you’re a good match for it.

How did you prepare for your interviews? 

There were three rounds of interviews. The first round was mostly behavioral and personal questions:

  • Why are you interested in finance?
  • What are you studying in school and why? 
  • Why do you want to work for this company? 
  • Why do you want to work for this specific division?
  • Tell me about a time that you overcame a challenge. 

In these interviews, show your interest in the industry. They might ask you “What’s a sector you think is interesting” or “Is there a recent piece of news you saw that was interesting?” Be prepared to talk about one or two businesses you like or trends that you’ve been seeing.

The second type is technical interviews. These are mostly banking-related questions. They might ask you: 

  • Accounting questions 
  • Questions about general business acumen
  • Scenario questions such as how would you go about trying to figure out how much a company is worth

In my Morgan Stanley interview, there were mostly generic banking questions. There’s a resource online that I used to help prep called 400 Investment Banking Interview Questions. It’s a free PDF, and it covers most of the basics.

The third type of interview is a case study. There are different types of cases you can get. My Morgan Stanley interview was relatively informal. The case question I got was, “How would you value a coffee shop and a big software company differently?” But, I know there are cases in other companies that are more granular. They might give you an example of a company, and you have to answer questions based on what they say. Some might send you materials ahead of time or give you a few minutes to read something and then discuss it in the interview.

Do you have any other advice for international students looking for finance internships or full-time positions after graduation?

There are different possible streams in finance such as accounting, corporate development, mergers and acquisitions, and investment banking where you’re in charge of a process. On the buy side, people invest in the private and public markets across all types of different assets. Each role will have a different interview process and they’ll look for different things. Think of a couple of roles that you are most interested in and focus your prep on those streams. 

For small to medium-sized companies, be proactive. Email their HR or the contact info on their website. Also, leverage the network around you. Go on Zoom coffee chats with people to ask them what they like about the job, their experiences, and the recruiting process. This helps you figure out whether or not you want to do the job. In the interview, when someone asks you why you want to work for their specific company or team, you’re able to say something like, “I want to work here because I met so and so, and they said amazing things about the culture here.”

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