In the last article in this series, we looked at 4 ways you can move from “check the box” recruiting to actual recruiting: casting a wide net, considering other geographies, thinking outside banking / consulting, and networking.
The first 3 are straightforward, but “networking” often gives prospective financiers more trouble than a shuriken to the back.
We said it’s a simple process: develop a set of contacts, begin emailing, calling, and meeting them, develop the relationship, stay in touch, and ask about opportunities when appropriate.
But that’s very high-level, so now let’s get into specifics with 5 strategies you can use to go from networking newbie to networking ninja.
1. Leave No Stone Unturned
“I wish I had thought about more ways to get contacts…”
“I wish I had thought about business school and undergraduate alumni…”
“I can’t believe I overlooked that family friend who’s now the CFO…”
Those were comments I received from readers who successfully broke into the industry through networking.
No matter how thorough your search has been, you’ve probably overlooked someone. And overlooking even 1 name can mean the difference between getting an offer and “Plan B” (or C or D).
I agree that you need to consider those options, and that many people waste time on unimportant tasks (like revising their resumes 493 times), so the 80/20 principle is certainly applicable.
But I’ve seen enough stories of getting interviews and offers through random means to convince me that getting industry contacts is one area that deserves a disproportionate amount of attention.
Here are a few stories I know of (with personal details removed, or they’d kill me):
- One person realized he had a distant relative in a high-up position at a bank – and got an offer without going through the traditional interview process.
- Another person found herself with interviews because she mentioned her interest in banking at the dentist’s office – of all places – and found that one of the assistants there had connections.
- Someone else found himself with interviews after running into a banker at the airport, seeing he had a bag with the bank’s name on it, and approaching the banker to introduce himself.
Yes, most people don’t use these tactics – but most people also never get into finance in the first place.
You already know the “conventional” methods for getting names: alumni networks, work networks, friends, family friends, information sessions, professional/school organizations, and any other group (religion, sports, etc.) that you belong to. Track what you do each week and see how everything could be used to generate lists of industry contacts.
Undergraduates sometimes overlook avenues like business schools attached to their universities – but if you make friends with the students there, they can help you far more than your peers.
Beyond the standard methods, you can use strategies that require you to “stretch” and go outside your comfort zone – like finding distant relatives, mentioning your plans to strangers, and cold-calling numbers you find in online databases.
These can be time-consuming, but the best idea is something Kevin mentions explicitly: the law of attraction.
Take every opportunity to tell those around you who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking for – and you never know what will turn up.
That doesn’t just apply to networking, by the way – the same strategy has brought me business partners, mentors, and even friends.
There are plenty of creative methods you could try that shouldn’t be discussed publicly (or they would lose their effectiveness)… but we’ll save those for another day.
2. Make Friends – Don’t Look for a Job
The best way to find a job: avoid looking for a job. If you come across as desperate, you won’t get good results.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask directly about opportunities – but jumping into the networking process with only a job as your end goal will lead to disappointment.
If you view everything as part of your effort to learn more about the industry and make new friends, your life becomes much easier.
You’ll never be successful in the long-run if you couldn’t imagine yourself being friends with those you meet via networking.
You might manage to sneak into the industry, but you won’t last unless you develop real friendships – especially these days, when layoffs are determined by relationships rather than by competence.
There was another common trend among the most successful readers who broke into the industry: they got to know their “industry contacts” so well that they were exchanging personal stories and talking about non-finance related topics (even exchanging family photos in one case…) by the end.
You don’t need to take this exact approach. One reader the other day mentioned that it’s hard to approach a total stranger and get to know him/her via coffee meetings and other “dancing around the real purpose of why I called you” tactics.
The less of a connection you have to him/her and the less time you have, the better off you are with being direct – but if you have a shared connection and/or more time, real relationships work better in the long-run.
3. Pretend That You’re Working Out Rather Than Cramming for an Exam
Assuming that terrorists don’t take you hostage during your meeting and that you don’t have anything obvious to bond over, you’ll need to take the time to develop relationships.
Do a little each day rather than trying to call hundreds of people at the end when you realize you have nothing lined up for the summer.
Yes, we all have commitments and are busy 24/7 – but you can start networking in as little as 30 minutes to an hour each week.
Here’s the catch, though: you need to do it consistently, over several months (at the least) – or it doesn’t work that well.
It’s similar to getting in shape (see: investment banking fitness) – most of your gains come from doing it repeatedly over the long-term rather than by trying to become a power-lifter in a single week.
But most students follow the “cram for exam” mode and assume that real-life is just like school.
4. Networking Takes Priority Over Grades… and Most Other Commitments
If you have above a 3.5 GPA, you should expend the bare minimum of time and effort required to maintain it and then devote the rest of your time to networking.
Much like test scores and technical interview questions, grades don’t matter too much past a certain level.
Before anyone asks “why don’t you tell people without really high GPAs what to do!” we’ll answer that one directly:
If you can boost your GPA to the 3.5 level by the time you apply for internships / jobs and can do so while still giving yourself 5-10 hours per week to network, you should take the time to raise your GPA.
But if you have a 2.7 and are graduating in 1 or 2 semesters, think about raising it to a 3.0 but don’t kill yourself – at that level it’s better to focus 90% of your energies on networking.
If you’re at the MBA level, you’re already working, or you’re more worried about other commitments taking up time, reduce them and learn to say “no.”
There’s no such thing as “not enough time” – that just means your priorities lie elsewhere.
If a student group or other organization is consuming too much time, drop it or scale back. Banks do not care that much about your activities – unless you have absolutely no work experience.
5. Don’t Take “No” for an Answer – Stop Being Docile
Here’s a shocking fact:
One reason that top consulting firms like McKinsey hire many people from Ivy League schools is that they are more docile.
Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense: people with great educations and privileged backgrounds are less likely to take aggressive actions to get what they want.
Only one small problem: you need those skills to network your way into the industry.
Many applicants assume that “no” means “no” and stop pursuing whatever it is they’re after. That’s a mistake – but you don’t have to be rude or aggressive to get around this one – the best approach is “subtle pressure.”
Let’s say you’re cold-calling someone and he/she says, “We don’t have anything available right now.” If you just hang up, that’s the wrong approach.
The better approach is to inquire why they don’t have anything – Do they already have someone? Do they not take interns? Is it an issue of cost? Once you know what their “objection” is, you can then follow-up appropriately, check back in coming months, and directly address their objection(s) in any application you send.
You should be more concerned if they refuse to give you “objections” even when you ask them – that means they’re not interested at all.
Newbie to Ninja
Especially when the economy is bad and when you don’t have anything unusual to set yourself apart, becoming a “networking ninja” is your best strategy for getting noticed and landing offers.
The worst mistake is staying in your comfort zone and never doing anything that makes you hesitate. The bolder you are in your approach, the more you think outside the box, the sooner you start, and the more persistent you are, the higher your chances of success.
Just like a ninja on an assassination mission, except you don’t need to be stealthy or learn how to use a katana first.
Coming Up Next
Now that you know how to network and why it’s the best way to set yourself apart in a down market, we’ll cover different “Plan B” options and how to decide what’s best for you if all else fails.