How to Network When Everyone You Know Has Been Fired: 7 Strategies to Embrace

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How to Network in Finance When Everyone's Getting Laid OffFive years ago, I could easily name over 20 people on Wall Street I could call up and ask a favor from.

Two years later, only two people from that original group remained in finance.

You might think that since I started my own investment firm anyway, it didn’t matter – after all, you don’t really need contacts if you’re not looking for a job, right?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You need to network for the long-haul no matter what your role is, what you’re doing, and what all your friends are doing.

And yet – whether you’re breaking into the industry now or you’ve already gotten in – you might be thinking, “Once I land my offer, I’m set! No more networking.”

Here’s why that’s wrong, and what to do about it:

Flawed Strategies 101

You always need to be networking because you never know what will happen in the future.

Yes, you might be flying high now… and maybe your contacts are as well. But in finance the job market can swing from one extreme to the other in less than a year, and sometimes even faster than that.

A few years ago most of my contacts had been laid off or had voluntarily quit the industry, so it would have been easy for me to say, “Well, that’s it, guess I can’t help them and they can’t help me now.”

But here’s what I did instead, and why it was essential:

1) I Kept Reaching Out to New People and Even Stayed in Touch with Those Who Left the Industry

The first part is self-explanatory. With the second part, my logic was that helping a laid-off person is one of the best things you can do to strengthen professional relationships.

I wasn’t in a position to get them job offers directly, but I made referrals to others and helped them with anything else they needed.

Even if you’re very junior or you haven’t started working yet, don’t discount your ability to do this: if you’ve networked with hundreds of people to get into the industry, chances are that at least a few of them would benefit from knowing each other – and would thank you for the introduction.

2) I Got to Know Them More Personally

If you only have your contacts’ names, firms, job titles, and work email addresses, you have NOT networked successfully.

You need to get to the point where you have their personal contact information.

Especially when Wall Street turnover is high, you need a way to keep in touch with people when they move or leave firms, and they may not always send out mass emails with new contact details.

Try to back up your work contacts to a personal spreadsheet from time to time in case you are suddenly laid off. If your firm’s rules prohibit this, make an effort to collect business cards – the firm can’t hold those captive.

This is the point of social events like golf outings and dinner parties – and sure, you may not have much free time to go to those as a junior analyst, but you can always keep up the relationship remotely and meet with your contacts quickly if they happen to be in town.

3) I Diversified My Network

Your network should be just like your portfolio: diversified.

It’s very, very easy to fall into the trap of sticking to people with a similar background to you – which is a big mistake, because a company doing mass layoffs doesn’t have time to cherry-pick who stays and who goes.

They pick a category, and cut everyone in it (with an extra high chance of being cut if you’re a rogue trader).

Think about the categories that are under and over-represented in your network and then balance them out.

Some categories to consider:

Seniority

You should already be building relationships with your superiors, but don’t forget that the junior folks will move up some day.

I know of one bank that laid off all its associates but the kept the analysts on – guess who was in a position to help when the bank started hiring again a year later?

Role

Traders, salespeople, research, M&A…. you should all get to know each other.

Sure, you may not be allowed to speak to each other during the normal course of business but they could be very helpful outside of work – whether you’re looking to make a career change, get referrals, or get advice about something you’re considering.

A friend of mine did equity sales but wanted to move to investment consulting for endowments.

While still a salesperson, she went to endowment investing events and organized a dinner group for endowment investment analysts. When her bank laid her off, she had no problem finding a new role in the field she wanted anyway.

The Middle and Back Office

I’m putting in this addition to highlight how valuable it can be to have support from the support staff.

On the buy-side, I’ve seen portfolio managers berate the middle-office risk management guys for “getting in their way.”

But those same risk managers probably kept their jobs when things blew up (assuming they weren’t responsible for the blow-up) – and gained more clout.

You also never know when someone will break into the front office – those types of moves are much more common on the trading / public markets side.

You should treat support personnel well as a general rule, but going a little further can be a surprisingly valuable insurance policy. Support staff who work with multiple teams (and have heard lots of gossip) have a unique perspective on where there might be problems or opportunities in the future.

It may be a cliché to suggest befriending the boss’ assistant, but it works. Senior staff relies on their assistants to be their gatekeepers and eyes and ears.

If you lose your job but you have an executive assistant on your side, that can open some pretty big doors.

And if you ever find yourself screaming at people in the presentations department, stop and rethink your life.

Industry

Energy, Real Estate, Tech… industries can blow up and leave everyone out of a job.

Generalists, meet the specialists.

Yes, you definitely get more specialized as you move up the ladder in finance – which is why it’s so important to get to know people with a different industry focus.

Sure, it’s challenging to move from Tech to Oil & Gas, but it’s much easier if you have a few more contacts in Oil & Gas than anyone else who’s looking to get in.

Geography

This may be harder if you don’t travel for work, but you can still reach out to people doing similar work in another location.

One classmate of mine worked in the West Coast office of a bulge bracket bank that was bought out by another bank with a stronger presence in the region.

The new owners shuttered his office – but luckily he had done his internship with them in New York and kept up with the team there, who kept their jobs and rehired him.

So whenever you do travel, you should try to meet up with at least a few people in the office you’re visiting – even if it’s only a quick meeting, you can always develop the relationship from there.

School

This is a little more amorphous than the others; it’s not like a bank is going to fire all the Princeton graduates as its layoff strategy.

But some schools do have stronger networks than others, and it doesn’t hurt to make connections in those groups as part of your diversification strategy.

Finding the Time for All This Networking

The short answer is that none of this needs to take a huge amount of time – you could spend 3-4 hours per week on networking and see a huge benefit.

And even if you’re “working” 80 hours per week in banking, let’s be honest: there’s a ton of downtime where you’re not doing too much, and you should use at least some of that time to network.

In public markets roles you should always have at least some free time after the market closes, and even spending 1 free night per week on networking will be hugely beneficial.

And for Your Contacts Who Just Lost Their Jobs…

I mentioned this one in the beginning because it’s easy to overlook: after all, how much could a recently laid off person help you?

But that’s exactly the wrong attitude to have.

Here’s what you should do instead (continuing from above):

4) Have a Good Attitude

Wall Street is not a bastion of job security, and people lose their jobs for all sorts of reasons. Don’t judge.

It could be a case of underperformance, bad luck, or the entire economy crashing at once.

The newly unemployed might feel awkward about seeing professional contacts, so take the first step. Ask him out for a drink and ask how you can help (but only if you’re really willing and able to).

5) Pay It Forward

Do whatever you can to help your unemployed colleague find their next job, especially if they helped you when you were starting out.

If you’re successful in getting them a position you’ll reap the rewards for a long time.

If you can’t just pick up the phone and get someone a job, you can still help them improve their odds in the job market.

Keep their knowledge up-to-date by passing along research relevant to their area or inviting them to conferences and business parties. Edit their resume. Connect them with others in your network.

6) Stay in Touch with Those Who Leave Wall Street

A friend of mine was laid off from a bulge bracket trading job 3 years ago and now works in marketing at a tech company.

Even after leaving the industry, she’s given me some of my most valuable contacts.

You never know who ex-financiers still talk to or if they might re-enter the business.

7) Reach Out Regularly

Unemployment really turns your life upside down. In addition to losing a paycheck, you lose the daily structure and sense of purpose your job gave you.

Without the water-cooler chats, people often start feeling lonely – so it’s good to check in with your unemployed contact(s) well after the axe has fallen and everyone has expressed their support.

A monthly email to see how things are going, offering help, or inviting him to lunch can make a huge difference in his psychological wellbeing – which hopefully translates into success in the job market.

Laid-Off Contacts?

Instead of letting your industry contacts shrink from 20 to 2 as everyone you know gets fired, do everything above and set up your own “unemployment insurance.”

There’s almost a 100% chance you will also be laid off or quit your job at some point if you work in finance, and when that happens you want everyone in your network to say, “Wow, I wonder how I can help him / her out” – not “Wait, who was he/she again?”

About the Author

grew up in Western Europe and the Deep South before attending a liberal arts college in the Northeast. She worked at a large pension and endowment fund manager before starting her own value-oriented private investment fund.

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24 Comments to “How to Network When Everyone You Know Has Been Fired: 7 Strategies to Embrace”

Comments

    • says

      Depends on the specific situation, but in general you want to make people feel important, valuable, and well-liked, even if you hate them or they dislike you. So a couple approaches:

      1. Perform some random act of kindness for the other person, and then let them know later on that you were responsible.

      2. Befriend some of the other person’s friends and get on their good side. Then you can indirectly influence the other person through them.

      But in general it can be tough to rebound if you start off on the wrong foot – if it seems unlikely that the person will ever stop being angry (this describes many people in finance), then spend your efforts elsewhere.

  1. Markus says

    Brian, the way you write you take it for granted that the single and only reason for networking is landing jobs or help people doing so? I would oppose claiming that your main goal of that network should be to conduct your business successfully and maintain it as a competitive advantage not only over candidates, but competing businessmen as well!

    • says

      To clarify, I did not write this. I edited it. It was from Hetty, one of our contributors who runs her own investment fund. See the “By” part and the portion at the bottom.

      The audience of this site mostly consists of people who are looking for jobs or who are looking to get into the industry eventually, so yes, the main goal of networking for them is to win interviews and offers more effectively.

      I’m not really sure I understand your argument because most people reading this are not running their own business. The usefulness of networking when you have your own business depends heavily on the type of business it is, what your role is, and so on.

  2. Markus says

    Thanks for replying so swiftly. Having a strong network for business rather than solely recruiting purposes (regardless whether your own business or your employer’s) can be a convincing argument at a job interview, don’t you think so?

    • says

      Oh, yeah, that is true (did not understand the first time around – my fault). But the problem in finance is that most juniors usually don’t know enough people at senior-level to make themselves “valuable” to the firm. It’s a stronger argument as you move up because MDs and Partners and the like really do move around based on their Rolodexes. It would be a better argument in a field where your success didn’t depend on knowing C-level executives.

  3. Kin says

    Brian,

    In a job environment like this, is there a rough number of contacts that you would recommend we hold on to? Obviously maintaining contacts with over 100+ people would be ridiculously hard, so whats the magic number (or reasonable number)?

    • says

      I usually say between 30 and 50 “good” contacts (and if you look at the previous networking interviews on the site, that is what most people report). 100+ is unwieldy and very tough unless you network full-time. So focus on the people you know best and try to diversify where possible, e.g. if it is not possible for you to maintain contact with over 20 people, at least make sure those 20 are at different firm types, in different industries, and so on. And you don’t need to do much to keep up the relationship – just email them once every 1-2 months or so. You could even plan to email 5 or so people each week (every other month) and use that to stay on top of networking.

  4. Jay says

    Many thanks Brian for this article. A quick question please on another topic – recruiting.
    I’m currently working at a Big 4 in derivatives valuation and end of last year I’ve submitted an application for a BA consulting position with a prestigious Cons firm. After a while i received a response via email that they’ve filled all positions for this year however to reapply next year should i still be interested. At my current work i have a good chance of transferring internally to strategy consulting so was wondering if i should raise that up with the other recruiter while contacting her again or not a good idea? I cannot leverage that considering I have not interviews for the time being.

    LinkedIn is a great source for networking with professionals but where do you stand on contacting HRs of top firms via this source? will it backfire? I think it should be more targeting a position rather than networking?

    Appreciate your help Brain.
    Regards

    • says

      You can raise it with the recruiter as I don’t think it would really hurt you if you’re just asking about it casually.

      On contacting HR, if you’re asking about specific positions and contacting them through LinkedIn I think it’s fine. Normally don’t benefit much from “networking” with HR because it’s their job to find candidates anyway – so it’s better to be as direct as possible when you’re reaching out to someone there.

  5. prospectivebankster says

    Great article, I especially like the last bit. Getting laid off fucking sucks, and having some people help you through it goes a long way in getting back on your feet. I’m guilty of judging people who get laid off or have big gaps in their resume too, but it happens and can happen to anyone.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Getting laid off doesn’t necessarily suck. It depends on your perspective :) of course, having a good package would help too. Yes having a support system is very important because you can be somewhat “traumatized” emotionally

  6. Fred says

    i have two different things to ask.

    I recently read about accounting for hedge funds… the article i read about it didnt go into much detail. was curious if anyone had heard about it and what the basic things are (day in life, pay, hours, experience needed, etc.)

    the second thing is my major. im going to be a sophomore so im still young but i am majoring in accounting and something else. the problem is that i dont know what the “something else” is. i was thinking finance but i just read about my school’s investment management major. it’s something ill talk to my college counselor about but i was wondering if you knew anything about the difference between finance and investment management.

    thanks!

  7. Yifei Yang says

    Hi Brian,

    Good post!

    A quick question: I’m a MSc student right now and trying to network as hard as I can. One of my lecturer is currently doing PHD at my school and he used to do trading in two BB(VP-level).He only have 2 lectures for us so the chance is very limited. How can I leverage such opportunity to network with him and ask him to refer me to someone work in banking since he is not in industry currently (but still doing some research with a hedge-fund) and he was not in IBD.

    Thank you very much!

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