How Networking Can Get You Into Investment Banking… Even If You Don’t Attend a Target School (Detailed Step by Step Guide)

Hello Wolf Pack!

In our last blog post, we talked about the three different ways you can break into investment banking, and which one may be the most appropriate for you. If you haven’t read that one yet, I suggest you check it out first before reading this one. Otherwise, if you are here, it’s probably because you’d like to learn how to network like a pro. So let’s get started.

Who You Are

Honestly, every candidate should be doing at least some networking, regardless of what school you go to or how qualified you may think you are. However, the ones who ABSOLUTELY need to network like their careers depend on it are the non-target school candidates. The investment banks are not going to come to you, so you need to find a way to get in front of them and make them notice you.

Ideally, not attending a target school is the only major thing you have going against you. This means you have a resume that is good enough for your network to vouch for; you have at least a 3.5 if not 3.7 GPA, and you have at least SOME relevant finance experience. I say this because usually, strangers are unlikely to stick their neck out for someone if they think it’s going to make them look bad. Vouching for you is a lot easier to do when they don’t have to explain multiple red flags on your resume to their team. If you currently have a low GPA, your #1 priority is to get your grades up, as quickly as possible.

When You Should Start/How Long Does It Take

This is a tricky question. The real answer is you should start as early as possible, because not only will more time allow you to network with more people, it will also allow you to do more with each person that you network with, and nurture the strength of that relationship.  However, if you start too early, you risk having the contact “go cold” if you don’t find reasons to check in periodically leading up to the start of the official recruiting process. In an ideal world, I would start at least 6-12 months before you need to make your “final ask” (more on this below, see step #8). However, if you only have less than 6-12 months, that’s totally fine too. There are ways to remove some of the “nice to have” steps and shorten the cycle from your “initial contact” (more on this below, see step #3) to the “final ask.”

Keep in mind that when you calculate the 6-12 month lead time, you need to make an educated guess about when official recruiting is going to start. In recent years, it’s been moving up earlier and earlier every year, so prior years’ recruiting timelines may not be indicative. Given this dynamic, it may be good to add in a month or two of additional buffer just in case.

Another factor that affects how much time you’ll need to network effectively is the quality of your network, because this is your starting point. For example, in the most extreme example, is your dad a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is frequently courted by investment bankers who want his business? Or is your uncle actually a managing director at Goldman Sachs already? If so, they’re going to be able to introduce you to the right people with ease. In that case, networking won’t take you very long at all. In the opposite extreme scenario, you come from a tiny rural town where nobody you know even knows what investment banking is. If this is the case, you’re going to have your work cut out for you, and you’ll need to spend a lot more time than the first guy.

Yes I know, life is unfair. We all gotta deal with it.

Now before we move onto the finer details of how to do this, have you claimed our free all-in-one recruiting toolkit yet? If not, we’ve included some helpful resources for your networking efforts in there, such as cold call/email scripts, a list of questions to ask and not ask bankers, as well as a contact log you can use to stay organized and track all of your contacts. Make sure you click the picture below to grab this before reading further.


OK with that out of the way, let’s dive into the the step-by-step tactics.

Step #1: Brainstorm Your Sources

Brainstorm all of the potential sources you should tap to find investment bankers that may be willing to talk to you. Here are some ideas just off the top of my head (you may have more):

  • The alumni directory of your school
  • The alumni directory of an organization or club you’re in (your fraternity/sorority, business club, etc.)
  • Your professors who may have industry contacts
  • Your friends and family who may know investment bankers
  • Information sessions either at your own school or a target school nearby
  • Human resources representatives at the investment banks (ask them to refer you to a banker)
  • Paid websites like www.thelobby.io (disclaimer: I’ve never used this myself, and on average a 30 minute call can cost ~$60)
  • Linkedin

Speaking of Linkedin, it’s an awesome tool that you should really utilize. It wasn’t this robust back in my days when I tried to recruit (yes I’m old), but technology is constantly improving and all I can say is… what a time to be alive. If you haven’t added every single person you know on Linkedin yet, that would be the first step. Linkedin actually is very good at stalking you and will suggest people that they think you might know. Just go through that list and start adding everyone. You can also import and invite your email contacts. So even if they’re not currently on Linkedin, you get them to join and it’ll expand your “network.”

Why is Linkedin useful? Because you can search for people with certain keywords in their profiles (i.e. “investment banking”), and you can also filter by the company they work at (i.e. “Goldman Sachs” or “Morgan Stanley”). Furthermore, Linkedin tells you if this stranger on your screen that you’re stalking is a 1st degree, 2nd degree, or 3rd degree connection. 1st degree means you are already connected with them on Linkedin. 2nd degree means you and that person have at least one mutual connection. 3rd degree means that person knows someone who knows someone you know. If you believe in six degrees of separation, then you know that it should be quite easy to find at least a couple of investment bankers who are within 3 degrees of your network. If it’s a 2nd degree connection, you can almost always get your mutual connection to make an introduction for you. Even if it’s a 3rd degree connection, it becomes slightly more difficult, but is still quite possible.

 

Step #2: Create Your Target List

Next, go through all of the sources you just came up with, and compile a list of all the investment bankers that you can possibly try to connect with. Leave no stones unturned, and cast your net as wide as possible to start. If your list becomes too big, that’s actually a good problem to have, as you can always use some filters to narrow it down later. Try to have at least one person from each bank that you plan on applying to. If you have multiple contacts at one bank, then other criteria you can use to rank the quality of your contacts are:

  1. What group do they work in? Do you want to work in M&A but they work in Capital Markets? If so, is there someone else in M&A you can talk to? If not, that’s OK because they can still help you get your resume through and even potentially put in a good word with the group you’re interested in. Alternatively, you may choose to take the safe route and apply for a group that’s not necessarily your top choice, but you have a higher chance of getting into. You can always try to switch groups once you’re in; it’s a lot easier to do that than to apply cold.
  2. What is their seniority level? You would think that senior bankers have more pull during the recruiting process, but that is not necessarily always the case. Often times, junior bankers are the ones handling the resume screening process and can have more of a say in who gets an interview. Sure, after you actually get the interview, the managing director’s opinion will matter more during deliberations, but right now you’re just worried about getting your foot in the door first. On the other hand, if you are considered more of a “risky’ candidate (meaning there are multiple red flags on your resume), a managing director is going to be more likely to get the group to make an exception and grant you an interview. You have to make a judgment call on this one.
  3. What is the connection level? This is perhaps the most important criteria. You should categorize all the bankers you could potentially network with into one of the following three buckets:
    • Cold connection: these are people that you don’t know at all (usually 3rd degree connections on Linkedin)
    • Warm connection: these are either acquaintances that you know but aren’t very close with, or people introduced to you by a friend (usually 1st or 2nd degree connections on Linkedin)
    • Hot connection: these are people you know personally, and you know them at least decently well (usually 1st degree connections on Linkedin)

The reason connection level matters are two-fold:

  1. The better the connection, the more likely they are willing to go to bat for you. Even when bankers agree to help you out, there are varying degrees of help they can give you. Some will simply pass your resume along to HR (not that useful). Others will pass your resume along, and put in a brief but good word for you (slightly useful). Some will put your resume in the “yes” pile if they have the ability to do so (useful). And the best ones will literally fight for you to get an interview, even if you don’t really deserve one on paper, and then pound the table for you during final deliberations (super useful). Your goal in networking is always to convert a cold connection into a warm connection, and a warm connection into a hot connection.
  2. With that said, nurturing the relationship takes time, and you need to know what type of connection it is and then consider how much time you have left. You may not have time to nurture a cold connection all the way into a hot connection, in which case you need to adjust who you spend time with accordingly. In general, I would start with your hot connections first and work through the steps I’m listing down below. If you’ve made it through your hot connections and still have the bandwidth to handle more, move on to your warm connections. You get the gist.

Step #3: Initial Contact

Generally, the way I prefer to make the initial contact is to have a mutual connection send an introduction email and copy me on it. That way it’s a warm intro, and you’re not just some random person reaching out. You’re much more likely to get a response this way. Sometimes the mutual connection will want to ask the banker first before making this intro. That’s totally OK, you should respect that as they are doing you a favor.

Once the initial introduction has been made, do some research on the banker and find out as much as you can about them. Are there articles about them on Google? What’s on their social media profiles? Once you’ve learned everything you can, email the banker and introduce yourself. Give a quick 1-2 sentence background on yourself, tell them how you found them (especially if you haven’t been introduced by a mutual connection yet), and try to build rapport through any commonality you can find (I also went to this school, I was also in that fraternity, my family is also from this hometown, etc.) without coming off as super stalkerish (hopefully the commonality you listed is relatively public information). Then, ask for 10-15 minutes of their time, either over a quick phone call or offer to buy them coffee. Don’t ask for more than this since this is just the initial meeting, and bankers are very busy. You want to lower the barrier to entry as much as possible. Along the same lines, you need to be very flexible about the time and tell them that you’ll be happy to work around their calendar. Move what you need to move on your own schedule to make it happen.

Extra credit: if you are able to find something the banker really cares about through your research, even better. Technically when people talk about “networking” they’re talking about a mutual exchange of value. Unfortunately in most cases, as a student you’re usually going to have nothing of value to offer the banker. That means the banker is spending his or her time with you without getting anything in return. If you are able to somehow add value for the banker, the human tendency of reciprocity kicks in (see: Robert Cialdini’s Influence), which means the banker will be more likely to go out of their way to help you. For example, you see on the banker’s Linkedin profile that he sits on the board of a local nonprofit. You can safely assume that is a cause he’s passionate about. You find a way to support that nonprofit, whether it’s by raising money, making useful introductions, or simply spreading awareness about the organization to more people. You then use that as an excuse to connect with the banker. It’s not easy, but I never said it would be. And it can be done!

Step #4: Follow Ups

Always wait and give the bankers time to respond. Do not be that annoying person that that pings them again just because it’s been a day and you haven’t heard from them. Bankers get tens to hundreds of emails a day, and you’re not exactly their highest priority. Wait for a week, and then follow up if you still haven’t heard back. If you are short on time, it’s OK to shorten this wait time to 2-3 days. Keep following up and be persistent. Some bankers might think you’re annoying, but you have very little to lose. Often times they’re not ignoring you on purpose. Other times even if they were ignoring you, they will respond after seeing your persistence and how serious you are. I myself have had numerous instances where the other person only responded on my second or third email. Don’t give up too early.

Step #5: Be Prepared

Once they agree to an informational interview with you, make sure you’re 100% prepared. An informational interview is just as important, if not more important than an actual interview. Remember that you’re being evaluated at all times. Make sure your story is well crafted, and have your resume with you just in case they ask for it (but don’t offer preemptively).

The day before the scheduled meeting, send an email just to confirm that you’re still meeting tomorrow. Sometimes things change, meetings come up, and a banker has to reschedule. This is common courtesy, and even if you do this there could be a last minute “fire drill” on their end that causes them to cancel on you.

Step #6: Attend the Meeting

Make sure you show up 10-15 minutes early so that they’re not the one waiting for you. Dress appropriately; you don’t need to be wearing a suit and tie, but it’s OK to dress nicer than you would normally or even wear a dress shirt to show that you’re taking this meeting seriously. Ask about their story and let them do most of the talking. Keep the conversation casual, don’t ask really “fake” questions that make you seem like you’re trying too hard/being over eager. Do ask for their advice on how you can best improve your chances at getting into banking (how did they do it themselves?).

At the end of the scheduled time, ask to stay in touch and ask if it’s OK for you to reach out with questions in the future. They will say yes. Go home and connect with them on Linkedin if you haven’t already, and then shoot them a thank you note through Linkedin to open that channel of communication (it feels more like text messaging than emailing and is slightly more casual I find). Then every 3-6 months (adjust the timing as needed based on how much time you have), actually follow up with them so that they don’t forget you. Depending on the reason you come up with, use the appropriate channel as you see fit.

Step #7 (Optional): Take Networking Trips

After you’ve made enough connections remotely (assuming you don’t go to school near one of the major financial centers), you can plan a trip out to the relevant banking hub that you’re hoping to work at (i.e. NYC, SF, LA, etc.) to meet the bankers in person. Plan it out in advance, try to fit in anywhere from five to ten 30-minute meetings in a day to get the most bang for your buck. Be courteous and offer to meet at a location that is convenient for them, and try to sequence the meetings in such a way so that you’re not going back and forth from across town repeatedly if possible. When you do need to travel, make sure you allocate enough time in between. It’s a good idea to try and take Friday and/or Monday off and go for a long weekend – some bankers may prefer to meet you on the weekends when they don’t have work, others may prefer to protect their weekends and meet you on a weekday. If the opportunity comes up, ask for them to give you a tour of the office. If you can meet others in the office, great. If not, then at the very least you can talk about how you got a tour of the office and how it made you feel during your interviews. If you have enough connections to do this, you can also have some people ready as backups, so that you can contact them if one of your meetings fall through (again, things come up last minute for bankers all the time). As usual, I would start with your list of hot connections and work your way down.

This weekend trip is really a “nice to have”, and most people won’t do it. If you have the time and money to be able to do this, it’s a good way to show initiative and stand out. While you’re out there, also take the opportunity to be a tourist and check out the city during your downtime. After all, if you’re going to be living there after graduating, you want to make sure that it’s a place you can see yourself living in. The only note of caution is if you decide to enjoy the nightlife in the big cities (and you should), make sure you don’t get so trashed that you show up to your informational interviews hungover the next day! That will completely defeat the purpose of your trip. Keep your eyes on the prize!

Step #8: Make Your Final Ask

If you’ve done all of the steps above and gotten this far, congratulations! That is honestly quite the accomplishment and you will have done more than 99% of your competition out there. That’s how you become the top 1%, right?

When it’s time to apply for the job, reach out to your contacts at each of the banks and make your final ask. Thank them for all the time they’ve spent with you throughout the past several months (or years), and tell them you would love to have the opportunity to work at their firm. Ask if they would be willing to pass your resume along to the right person and put in a good word for you. Let them know that there’s no pressure and that if they are not in a position to be able to help you, to please let you know (you want to know if that’s the case so that you can reach out to other contacts if needed). Tell them you’d also be open to any advice or feedback if they have any.

That’s it! Now sit back and hope for the best! Just kidding, now you need to study for your interviews!


Hope you enjoyed this super long post that was jam-packed with good stuff. One last reminder to click the image above to get our FREE all-in-one recruiting toolkit if you haven’t already. As always, if you’d like more hands-on and personalized help, you can check out our services here. If you have comments or questions, please drop a line down below. Otherwise, remember:

THE STRENGTH OF THE WOLF IS IN THE PACK

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