Guide to Insight and Exploratory Programs in Finance (2022/23)
Understanding the early programs targeted at 1st- and 2nd-years to explore firms and their associated internship opportunities
Prepared by the WCM Outreach Team.
With firms across the board committing to integrating diversity into their practices, early Diversity Programs have been created to provide a platform for applicants who have not been traditionally represented in finance and subsequently support a more diverse talent pipeline. Firms will often provide opportunities for prospective applicants (often 1st- and 2nd-years) to become engaged with them prior to the formal recruiting cycle (2nd-year Spring/Summer), most commonly in the form of a conference, competition, networking event, mentorship program, or even through an accelerated recruiting process.
For prospective candidates, the benefits of participating in these programs might include any of the following:
- Learning about the industry and/or firm
- Building connections with industry professionals and peers you can personally identify with
- Getting an opportunity to hear senior leaders speak from prestigious firms
- Gaining access to an accelerated recruitment process and scholarship opportunities, or having your resume flagged for the regular process
- Building practical skills useful for the recruitment process (e.g., interview workshop, stock pitch competition)
The benefits and robustness of such programs vary across firms, but nevertheless, prospective applicants are encouraged to seek out all opportunities available to them.
Finding Programs to Apply To
One of the main reasons prospective applicants lose out on opportunities is that they aren’t aware of the opportunities in the first place, thus missing out on deadlines. This is especially the case for Early Insight and Exploratory Programs, as many programs occur far in advance of the regular recruitment cycle (which is already highly accelerated). To prevent this, we’ve included a fairly extensive list of available programs. However, in no way is it exhaustive, and deadlines and prerequisites are ever-changing — as such, it is recommended you take a systematic approach to the application process:
- Create a List — Use our list of programs available as a baseline, then flag the programs that you qualify for and add on any additional programs that you find on your own (let us know so we can update future resources).
- Stay Organized — Populate a spreadsheet and include columns for the historical application timeline, this year’s application deadline, and the application requirements (e.g., resume, cover letter, essay, stock pitch).
- Be Vigilant — Set a consistent schedule to check company websites and Google Search the firm for updated application deadlines as well as new programs.
- Network — Connect with upper years and ask what their experiences have been like / what programs they applied to.
An evident consideration is that many programs are meant for underrepresented groups in finance. While this may be the case, firms hold different definitions for who qualifies across the board (e.g., those studying STEM), while some also have programs available for all (e.g., GS Early Insight Series), so it is recommended for all to conduct an exhaustive search and to carefully read the description of the prerequisites.
What you can expect in the application process for each program varies to a great extent — some are simple resume drops, while others include extensive cognitive assessments and interviews with a recruiter. As a result, the selection criteria are also highly variable.
Generally, processes with a more significant “payoff,” such as an attached accelerated recruiting process, will screen applicants more thoroughly as they are more selective and require candidates to have a degree of preparedness. This is in contrast to insight series that are meant to just provide 1st- and 2nd-year students their initial exposure to the firm. It is recommended to understand why the firm is hosting the program to inform your preparation and positioning of your application.
Another common question is whether prior finance experience must be considered. This also relates to the purpose of the opportunity in regards to whether it is for exploration or recruiting purposes. Our assumption would be that most firms would be somewhat more open-minded to candidates from different backgrounds (e.g., internships outside of finance); however, given how competitive such programs are, the presence of these programs should not be viewed as a substitute for gaining strong experience.
The difficulty in the selection process also depends significantly on the firm and geographic location, similar to a regular recruitment process. For instance, for diversity opportunities based in Canada as well as US firms for which Ivey is a target school (e.g., Evercore), Ivey is a recognized name and strong experiences alone may carry you past the resume screen. On the contrary, other US opportunities may be restricted due to requiring visa sponsorship, while those who are open to sponsorship still require greater effort, such as networking with industry professionals or achieving outstanding cognitive assessment results for hedge funds.
The takeaway here is that to be seriously considered for the more competitive processes, prospective applicants should take the same steps to stand out as a regular interview process and still build a strong resume, network, and prepare for what’s required of applicants of the firm (e.g., stock pitches for hedge funds, technical knowledge for investment banks). The upside is that even if your application for these programs does not get accepted, you’ll be more prepared for the summer recruiting process if you’ve done the networking and technical preparation in advance. The degree of preparedness and thought required depends on the purpose of the program.
What To Expect
The length of the program ranges from an evening day-trip event which is typical for Toronto-based opportunities, to a 2-day conference, to a long-term insight/training program. For 2-day conferences — typically to the US — travel and accommodations are provided.
Common elements of the program include:
- Keynote speeches from senior leaders
- Panels with junior professionals
- Networking breakfast, lunch, or dinner where you can have longer conversations with people
- Networking with refreshments similar to a firm info session
- Case studies or hands-on activities with other participants
- Mini-educational (e.g., technical skills, investing fundamentals)
- Mentorship or “Buddy” Program
While the program structures vary, you can expect to be exposed to professionals at the firm either directly or indirectly by hearing them speak. There will also be opportunities to meet other students through icebreakers and group activities. The experience should hopefully provide a holistic picture of the firm and provide you with personal anecdotes from people at the firm.
From our personal experience, here are a few To-Do’s we can recommend:
- Determine whether you will informally or formally be assessed at the event and prepare
Select opportunities also come attached to a formal recruitment opportunity either during or after the event. These interviews will typically replicate the regular recruiting process, consisting of a mix of behavioral and technical questions. If you want to benefit from these opportunities, it is therefore important to be prepared well in advance as these processes happen earlier than the regular process.
- Maintain a professional image
No hiring decision is made purely based on your “networking” or how you act at the event. However, like all networking events, treat each interaction you have as part of the overall interview process. It’s quite often to have senior professionals mixed in at these events, so it’s important to be extra cautious and consider this when conversing and asking questions.
- Diligently take notes
The events are often relatively compact and dense, so while remaining engaged, try to note down everything that is said by the speakers and panelists at the event in as much detail as you can so you can refer to it later in the recruitment process.
- Follow-up and keep in contact
Send a follow-up email to anyone you formed a strong connection with. Although it may often not materialize into anything, some firms will actually debrief and assess the interactions with the participants, so it doesn’t hurt to help build your overall image. It is also great to have additional contacts with people at the firm in case you do end up being recruited for them.
- Reflect on the experience and summarize key takeaways
The most valuable parts of the experience are helping you figure out whether you are genuinely interested in the firm and forming a unique and personal “Why do you want to work for [x firm]?”. Moreover, many diversity processes may also ask about your background and what diversity means to you, so be ready to share personal anecdotes and make your story memorable to the interviewers.
- Prepare for interview questions related to the event
If there is an interview process that follows the event, be prepared to speak to questions related to the event to demonstrate your critical thinking and environmental awareness — “What were your key takeaways?”, “Who were your favorite speakers? Who did you speak with and what did they say?”, “What can be improved about the event?”
Our view is that Early Insight and Exploratory Programs, also commonly known as “Diversity Programs,” are commonly misunderstood. They should be seen as a supplemental resource in the learning process and an alternative way for banks to reach a more diverse applicant pool rather than a substitute for being a qualified candidate, especially considering the competitiveness of such programs.
While these programs are not the end-all-be-all, if you do want to fully utilize these opportunities as a resource, the key is to be well-organized, thorough, prepare early, be diligent, and be reflective. In addition to the list of programs we provided — we recommend keeping in touch with us as we will share any opportunities we come across in our Facebook Group and WCM Member Mailing list!
We’ve created a fairly comprehensive list of available opportunities that we’re excited to share with you.