My Own, Personal Networking Blunders and What You Can Learn from Them
“I was sitting in a meeting with my MD the other day and I mentioned how I was “just a peon.” Then he immediately objected and said, ‘No, no, no, I don’t think of Analysts like that…’ “
So this is what they really did at JP Morgan investment banking.
Most career fairs are boring – but this one was getting more interesting by the moment.
Plus, I had just found a female banker who shared my sense of humor: was this a dream?
At the Career Fair
My next-door neighbor and I were off to our school’s fall career fair and we were checking out the booths of all the banks and financial firms.
We brought along with us enlightened questions such as, “So, what’s it like being an investment banker?”
Neither of us knew anything about finance.
But I was secretly interested in breaking in since it was way more interesting than sitting in front of a computer screen for 18 hours a day (oh wait… whoops).
But then we stumbled upon the JP Morgan booth, and found a down-to-earth, approachable, female Analyst there. This is rare.
She was a Bioengineering Major who, like us, had dropped the technical background and hopped into finance – and she was now at a top bank.
And she even had the guts to call herself a “peon” in front of everyone there.
We hit it off pretty well and chatted for a few minutes, and I was smart enough to get her card – so far, so good.
Uh, Now What?
“Ok, I made a good impression on her, now I’ll get interviews at her office as soon as I submit my application online, right?”
Almost… except for one small mistake.
I did nothing.
Making a great first impression is important – but it’s not enough.
You still need to follow-up and ask for what you want.
When you “hit it off” with someone, you need to follow-up ASAP and move to the next step – ask to meet again in-person or speak on the phone.
Then you need to ask explicitly how you can get an interview.
When you have a shared background, personality, AND sense of humor you need to leverage it.
Information Session: Harold & Kumar Mode?
Ever been to those information sessions where a bank comes to present, they spew some rhetoric, and then show some cheesy videos about “what interns do in their first week?”
I went to all of them.
So even though I felt compelled to go, I was 99% certain that this Morgan Stanley information session would be a waste of time.
Oh well, at least there was free alcohol.
Then I happened to see someone I knew: a guy from my fraternity who had graduated the year before and was now working at an MS office on the West Coast.
I didn’t know him that well because he had graduated just as I was joining – and we “traveled in different circles.”
But he immediately recognized me – mostly because I had a habit of sending entertaining yet politically incorrect emails about my adventures in Japan.
I chatted with him for a few minutes, caught up on what he had been up to since graduation, and joked about how he had been pulling all-nighters for a massive pitch.
I fell back into “Harold & Kumar mode” and waited for some other people to come up to him and start asking those “What’s it like to be an investment banker?” questions.
I should have skipped the chit-chat and directly asked him, “Hey, as you know I’m from a technical background but I did consulting recently, and got a lot more interested in finance when I was in Asia. I’m really interested in your office – what should I do?”
Remember, you don’t need to be best friends with someone to ask a direct question like this: you just need to be credible.
The way I handled it, he thought I was joking around and just came there for the booze. Which I sort of did.
Job Fair Failure Déjà Vu
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with job fairs: sticking to what’s offered at your school.
If you’re at a “non-target” you know this firsthand - you can’t do that or you’d never get anywhere. You need to travel.
One of the best ways to set yourself apart at these events is picking the right events to go to in the first place rather than trying to be “perfect” at every single event.
I was on the right track, because I was on the red-eye to the Boston Career Forum – for bilingual people interested in working in Japan.
There were about 5 “foreigner” job-seekers there out of thousands of attendees, so I definitely stood out.
Just like a traditional career fair at a school, there wasn’t much structure – it was up to you to actually go and talk to different companies.
But unlike the traditional job fair, you could easily get interviews and get offers within 24 hours because they were looking for people with extremely specialized skills.
Success = Failure?
I did well in interviews with a couple US and European banks there.
But that’s also where I screwed up.
I limited myself to “familiar names” rather than speaking with finance/consulting firms I had never heard of, or ones that didn’t do much outside Asia.
Part of it was that I was intimidated; part of it was that I didn’t like the culture of a traditional Japanese company and wasn’t sure I wanted to work there.
But it was a mistake to limit myself before even testing the waters – especially when the applicant pool was so specialized.
So, what can you learn from all my blunders?
- Making a great first impression is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for networking success. You don’t need to follow-up often but you need to get the timing right and leverage that great first impression to ask for what you want.
- If you already know someone and there’s a chance he/she might help you, don’t hesitate to ask – even if you think the person doesn’t know or like you that much. Worst case scenario: 1 person gets slightly annoyed at you. Best case scenario: you get an offer.
- Don’t limit your networking efforts based on artificial criteria, especially if you have very specialized skills. Explore all your options – even if you’re not sure about some of them.
Oh, and if you ever run into a banker who shares your sense of humor and who likes to call herself a “peon,” make sure you follow-up.
Christmas only comes once a year.
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