Investment banks have an unwritten rule (a truce, so to speak) that they not start formal recruiting of first-year MBA candidates for critical internships until after the school year starts. Internships are important, because banks use them as the pool from which they will make full-time offers. Some b-schools, in fact, don't permit banks and consulting firms to approach students on campus until well into the first year.
Hence, banks do not do formal interviewing and recruiting at the Consortium Orientation Program (or other "pipeline" programs, such as Toigo or Jumpstart). They do, however, start sizing up potential candidates early, gauging whether candidates will "fit": Are they client-oriented, do they exude enthusiasm? Do they have in-depth interests or insight on banking topics? Can they "hold their own" in presentations, financial models, or debt-equity arguments? Do they bring something special to the table?)
At these summer sessions, there is no formal measuring of technical skills. But no doubt, they start checking intangibles right away.
The chance to prove technical ability will come later. Some banks presume a base level of technical competence from the sheer fact they are looking at candidates at top schools who have passed a first-level test by getting in. Some will interview carefully later to see how well candidates have learned b-school material in finance and accounting. Other banks put candidates through a tough technical drill, almost impossible to prepare for.
As the summer nears its end, first-year students start planning "informational interviews" with contacts at the banks they are interested in. Information interviews are not formal, but new students use them to create a "buzz" about their candidacy.
They don't entail a technical evaluation. Often they will will be with school alumni at the bank. HR people don't conduct them, but help arrange them. They are important, nonetheless. Banks will use those meetings to determine who will be placed on the preferred interview lists on campus.
In 2009, the environment is different. In a less-competitive environment (as MBA students explore other options and after the departures of Lehman and Bear), banks might spend more time this summer and early fall trying to convince talented students that corporate finance and sales & trading are still highly desirable and rewarding paths. They know they must sell students on banking, as they did in the early 2000's during and after the dot-com surge. Students should listen to the arguments and weigh them against their inclinations to try something else.
Well into the first year, banks will have formal technical interviews, but after they have selected students for first-rounds. Getting on that coveted first-round lists is sometimes the hardest step in the initial phases (not the interviews themselves, some will say).
Over the summer, it might not help to worry about being technically ready. Students instead should assess which banks might be a best fit and start preparing by getting into a rigid process of keeping up with what's going in markets and products, among top firms, among potential clients. To say the least, be informed, be up to date, be confident, show insight and have a plan when school starts.