Five 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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”