My Own, Personal Networking Blunders and What You Can Learn from Them

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networking_blunders“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 importantbut 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.

At the time I was following the Harold & Kumar play-book,” so I stood around in a big circle with everyone else asking the banker silly questions.

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.

And Then…

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.

Lessons Learned

So, what can you learn from all my blunders?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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34 Comments to “My Own, Personal Networking Blunders and What You Can Learn from Them”

Comments

  1. Summer Analyst says

    That’s the kind of Analyst I can work with… Especially calling herself a peon at a recruiting event.

  2. says

    lol, im familiar with all of those.

    I even have an uncle who i just found out has a small hedge fund, and am still hesitating as to how I should ask him for a winternship. Maybe i’ll just grow a pair and ask him directly.

    • says

      What Sofi said: Just call him up, make chit-chat for a few minutes and do some catching up and then say, “You know, I’ve gotten really interested in finance over the past few years. I know you just started a hedge fund, and I wanted to see what I could do to position myself for an interview there” or if you know him really well you can be even more direct and just ask if they have any internships available.

  3. A.C. says

    Kind of a weird question, but important as deadlines are coming up:

    Is it ok to apply to the same bulge bracket for internship AND full time positions at the same time? In other words, let’s say your college careers services has a networking event for full time positions in a foreign country of great interest with said bank, and also has networking events for local summer analyst positions with said bank…the event for the overseas positions requires one to apply to the position before being allowed to register to attend. Would applying to both of these positions cancel each other out? How are things like this processed by bulge bracket banks? Do separate offices evaluate resume’s on their own, without even really knowing about the resume’ you put it in with the local office for an internship?

    Sorry if this sounds confusing, but it is an odd position to be in and any help would be greatly appreciated as I’m really not sure as to how to proceed, and I also don’t want to miss any important deadlines.

    • says

      If it’s for different offices it should be fine, I would avoid doing it at the same office.

      In general most banks are not organized well and I would be surprised if they found out about anything like this.

  4. YH says

    Last year, I actually followed your advice and asked my cousin who is a SVP at one of the bulge brackets directly for an internship. However, she basically rejected my request and said I had to go through the same process as everyone else (applying online). Was it because the economy was so bad last year and should I try asking her again?

    • Sofi says

      Ummm…maybe asking her outright wasn’t the best approach. She probably doesn’t want to be accused of nepotism. Next time, ask her about the hiring practices, who would be the best person to review your resume, and how to best prepare for interviews at the firm.

      That way, it shows you still want to get in based (primarily) on your own credentials, not just because she’s SVP.

    • says

      Yeah I probably would have asked differently. You don’t want to call someone and just say, “Hey can I get an internship there?” You have to chat for a few minutes, catch up, get more information, then say you’re interested and wanted to know how to best position yourself to interview with them. You could try again now, just ask differently.

  5. Ryan says

    Quick question that’s completely unrelated to the post, but was hoping you could shed some light on quickly.

    I am interested in getting into corporate development/M&A (essentially, industry) after my 2-3 year analyst stint at my MM bank. What’s the norm for making this transition? I’ve heard that lots of times, analysts will go to a client, but at a MM growth-oriented bank, most of my clients don’t have much of a corpdev department – if they do, it’s more of a 1-2 man show. In situations like this, is it best to go through a HH? I’m just a bit lost on this process. Any help is appreciated – thanks.

    • says

      Headhunters can be sort of useless with corporate development, but depending on the industry they might be helpful.

      90% of my friends who did corporate development either got referrals from their MDs or from friends/family in the industry – it’s just too big for headhunters to “cover” properly, so referrals are your best bet.

      Even if it’s a 1-2 man show, i wouldn’t necessarily rule it out – they always need help.

    • says

      Lev Fin only works on raising Debt for companies while Fin Sponsors handle all aspects of the deal (marketing, modeling, negotiating with buyers, etc.).

  6. Quickmoose says

    Question unrelated to the article:

    I’m a sophomore at a semi-target (Williams/Amherst) and am debating whether to apply to Oxford for my junior year abroad (full year). I’m concerned that studying abroad would not allow me to participate in the fall campus recruiting events. Furthermore Oxford doesn’t get out in the summer until the end June, possibly adversely affecting my junior internship. Should I go for the full year experience (late September to end of June), or study abroad spring term (early January to end of June) or else study here in the US my entire junior year?

    Is it usual for Americans to intern in London?

    -thanks

    • says

      I would try for the fall term instead, so that you can do summer internship recruiting on campus.

      I would only do full-year or spring-term if you can actually take advantage of on-campus recruiting at Oxford instead so definitely check into that.

      It’s not “unusual” to intern in London, but certainly less common than staying in the US.

  7. Giuliano says

    Dear M&I,

    I just recently graduated from a non-target liberal arts school in NY, but I had to leave the US soon after. Now I am stuck looking for an investment banking job in Brazil. Problem is: 1. I don’t really know anyone here, much less in banking, 2. I haven’t done any internship in finance, just some campus jobs & activities which I try to leverage the crap out in my resume.

    I know Brazilian firms are hiring, bulge brackets are looking to expand here, and PE firms and boutiques are popping up here and there. But if I want to get in their radar, what should I do? Lots of cold-calling? And when I reach out, should I ask directly for internships or full-time positions? After all, I don’t have any internship experience to speak of, but my background is kind of unique, and could catch their attention.

    I appreciate any tips, help… even though you may not know much about IB in Brazil.

    And thanks for the awesome site… really informative, excellent stuff. Keep up the good work!

    • says

      If you don’t know anyone your only option is cold-calling – also try to find peoples’ contact info. via LinkedIn and company websites and try contacting them like that. Ask for an internship first since that is less costly for the bank and easier to justify.

  8. says

    I have a question about attending career events in other schools.

    So, the situation is the following: in my town there is not much going on with the recruitment from schools. However, a nearby town (3 hour drive) has three target schools, and they do have career events that will have some major firms recruiting.

    The problem is that all three explicitly say that career events are only for students of their school. One school even says at the event page that they will do ID check.

    How do I get in there if I’m from completely different school?

    Should I crash the event?
    Should I try to cold call organizers and beg them to let me in?
    I’d appreciate any tips on how to approach this situation.

    • says

      Borrow someone else’s ID if they’re really checking… just stop a random student and ask if you can borrow their ID if you don’t know anyone there. Don’t call them beforehand or they will just say no… show up, and if they don’t let you in say you forgot your ID or if they give you a hard time go borrow someone else’s.

  9. fin says

    Hi Brian,
    I’m planning to go to next year’s Boston Career Forum,?and had some questions about their definition of “bilingual” (which they are ambivalent about). By that time, I’ll be a fourth year Japanese student and relatively fluent- but not business fluent. Will that, combined with the Gaijin bonus, qualify me for interviews there?
    Also, were the offers you landed with companies that you had applied to beforehand, or were they spontaneous walk-ins? How much time did you spend preparing?

    • says

      For sales & trading / IT, yes. For banking / equity research you have to be perfect at reading and writing (which I was not even close to, nor are 99.9% of foreigners). I did not apply to anything beforehand, it was all spontaneous and I didn’t spend much time preparing although the market was much better then as well.

  10. MN says

    Hi,

    Thanks so much for the great entry. I contacted an alum and she helped refer my resume to the recruiting people. However three weeks have passed since then and I haven’t heard anything from the bank. What should I do?

  11. Rosario says

    Hi brian,
    I am from a non target school and doing an arts degree. I have been following this website for a while now and have done a lot of the things advised here. I networked my way into an internship at a Mid-market Private Bank (unlike most people here I want to do Private Banking not IB, Trading or Consulting).
    The graduate program in my current company is very limited and want to join a bulge bracket. I have been meeting bankers from BB for informational interviews but they are not really taking me anywhere, I speak to them say what I want to do and they give me the same advice and then we go along, Is the goal to gain as large network as possible because i feel like most of them won’t even remember me in a years time. How do I use their position to leverage into a full time offer, in my personal situation.

    • says

      You have to make a specific request. Do a search on the site for “informational interview.” You need to say, “How can I position myself for an interview at your firm?”

  12. Spencer Ring says

    Brian,

    I am going to the Boston Japanese bilingual career fair this November. I am wondering what to expect in terms of language at the fair. I lived in Japan from 2006-2008 and spoke it everyday, but my Japanese is kind of rusty now. What was your experience with the required language ability and did you feel it was difficult to pull of that off at the fair? ??????????????

    Spencer

  13. George says

    Thanks for another great post Brian. I am a big fan of your site.

    I myself made a networking blunder when I first began networking. I contacted the most senior (highest up) alumnus of my school at a BB. At first that person was insanely nice. But then I sent an email telling him I wanted to work in his group, only to realize later that I confused his group with another group at the bank. When I told him I made a mistake, he stopped being nice.

    Since speaking with him, I have networked with a few other alumni of my school at the same bank and have made good impressions on them. My question is: should I follow up with the original person? Is the mistake I made reparable?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Haha, do you not want to work for him? I am not quite sure how you phrased your comment, and I’m not sure what you mean by “he stopped being nice.” I’d still maintain a relationship with him and re-initiate contact, though I can’t advise you how to approach him since I am not quite sure of what happened!

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