Recruiting for a position in the financial sector is an intensive process and something that many Vanderbilt students are interested in. According to the 2015 Graduating Student Survey, 15.9 percent of the Class of 2015 was employed by a finance, real estate or insurance firm.
In order to graduate with an employment offer at a financial firm, there is a common path that most people take. It begins with business or finance experience in the summer following their sophomore year, and then an internship the summer following their junior year that will hopefully result in a return offer of full-time employment post-graduation. This timeline, however, has been moving rapidly forward over the past few years. Four years ago, firms were recruiting for junior year internships between October and December, with some firms recruiting early during the spring semester. However, this timeline has been propelled forward by firms in a “race to the bottom” where companies attempt to undercut each other at the possible cost of sacrificing standards held by the firm.
“Each bank would try to be the first bank to recruit and then give what they call exploding offers very aggressive timelines, usually one to two weeks,” said Tom Carroll, a founding member of the Finance Development Program.
Often times, students attempt to accelerate interviews at other firms, but that is not always a possibility. Advancing the interview timeline has been an effective strategy for many firms, and each consecutive year, the timeline has been pushed earlier and earlier, with the majority of firms recruiting for junior year internships in the spring of sophomore year. This early recruitment process means that students have less experience going into the recruiting season and are less prepared for crucial interviews. This was where Tom Carroll and his fellow program directors, Jennifer Pema, Josh Abreo, Olivia Cherry and Gloria Liu stepped in.
The Finance Development Program (FDP) was started by a group of students in the fall of 2017 with the intention of leveling the playing field for Vanderbilt students interested in working in the financial sector after graduation.
“In investment banking, there are three things that you need to do to get an internship,” explained Carroll. “You need academic performance, you need business experience, and you need somebody to advocate for you.”
Carroll and his peers noticed that Vanderbilt students excelled academically, but many were lacking in the second and third requirements. For students without connections in business, it can be difficult to receive an internship after sophomore year because many of these positions are found through informal means. This also plays out in a lack of personal advocates when applying for junior year internships at large firms. FDP steps into the networking challenges many people face by introducing members to Vanderbilt alumni in the finance realm and by encouraging members to seek out meetings with professionals in the field. Additionally, Carroll hopes that alumni of FDP will be instrumental in providing a path to internships for future FDP members. FDP also prepares students for internship interviews.
The members of FDP meet weekly and come prepared with a news article that they have read about an issue that would move financial markets. Student advisors will then ask members follow up questions, similar to what would happen in an interview setting. Students also have weekly technical homework assignments, as well as questions designed to make them reflect on their interest in finance.
“I’ve gotten tons of FDP participants come up to me after their interviews and say, ‘I got that exact question I did in the homework assignment’ or ‘I had to pitch a stock and I pitched the exact same stock I wrote about in my assignment and they asked me to send my assignment because they wanted to see the in-depth analysis’,” said Carroll.
Without a formal business major at Vanderbilt, these are things that many students have not been exposed to by the time recruiting season comes around. FDP also provides its members access to firms when they come to Vanderbilt.
The Financial Development Program at Vanderbilt is not the first of its kind. The founding directors studied the success of programs at the Kelley School of Business, UVA and Duke amongst others. They decided what facets of the various programs would be successful and most beneficial for students at Vanderbilt. In creating FDP, the program directors decided to ask the Career Center to decide who would be accepted into the program in the hopes of avoiding any partiality on the parts of the directors.
“We have this pool of high quality applicants and we can pitch them to firms. We have had exclusive information sessions and resume drops with large investment banks, asset management firms, you name it,” said Carroll. “We’ve seen tremendous success in that respect.”
FDP is also actively trying to improve Vanderbilt’s recruiting prospects in terms of the quantity and quality of firms which recruit on campus. One of the roles of the directors is to advocate on behalf both Vanderbilt and members of FDP with large investment firms and banks. Due to the reliance on networking in finance recruiting, placement of Vanderbilt graduates in firms will serve as a great advantage to future Vanderbilt students.
“If we place more Vanderbilt students on an absolute level into these firms, then eventually Vanderbilt will have greater placement in the financial services industry and more firms will realize that and want a slice of the Vanderbilt talent pool,” said Carroll.
The directors of FDP plan to evaluate the success of the program in the long term by looking at the job placements of their members. According to Carroll, their goal is not 100 percent job placement in the financial sector, but 100 percent satisfaction on the part of their members with the jobs offers they receive.
“We have some of the smartest students, some of the most ambitious students,” Carroll said. “There is no reason we should not be placing them into these excellent opportunities across the globe at the same rate as some of our peer institutions.”