An internship is not absolutely necessary, but it is an extremely important part of the process when trying to secure a full-time position. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in finance, an internship is a good way to find out more about the day-to-day of the job. It also gives you the opportunity to network and show the firm you're interested in that you can handle the work.
Perhaps the most important part of an internship is how it relates to you telling "your story". If you're aiming for investment banking, but get an internship in private wealth management, this is by no means the end of the road for you. This has at least shown that you have an interest in finance. The downside is you haven't worked in investment banking so you don't know exactly what it entails and the person looking at your resume doesn't know if you can handle that particular position. Your job now is to pull your academic record, extracurricular activities, and any internship experience you might have together to show the recruiter or interviewer that you are not only interested in finance, but also that you can handle the workload.
Overcoming No Internship
If you are not able to secure a relevant internship, you can still overcome the odds by having an otherwise very strong resume. However, we would not risk this -- all of the most competitive finance positions expect you to work in at least some internship remotely related. If you've missed all the deadlines for the major banks, for example, look at small boutiques and offer to work for free. You can also look for Fall/Winter/Spring internships (also known as off-cycle internships). While these internships are not generally looked upon as favorably because you are not working full time, it's a lot better to have some experience and demonstrate interest than to have no relevant experience none at all.
- Relevant WSO Guides: WSO Networking Guide, WSO Internship Guide, and A Look Behind the Wall: A Guide to Six Wall Street Career Paths
- Relevant WSO Services: AnEx Finance Internships
- Relevant WSO Forums: Get A Job