Informational interviews are one of the best ways to break into investment banking.
But most people get it completely wrong and waste hours emailing and calling bankers with nothing to show for it.
So here’s how you can avoid those mistakes and use informational interviews to break into finance:
Why Informational Interviews?
Getting to know bankers over the long-term is the absolute best way to land investment banking offers.
Just think of your best friends in real-life: you’ve probably known most of them for years, hung out countless times, and stayed in touch over a long period of time.
Informational interviews accomplish the same purpose – but with bankers rather than your real friends.
What Exactly Is an “Informational Interview?”
You email or call an alumnus, a referral, or anyone else you know in the industry and ask to set up a time to speak about his or her experiences.
The phone works if you’re not local, but you should always move toward in-person meetings – you make more of a connection that way.
When you speak with your contact, ask about his/her background and spend most of your time asking questions rather than talking about yourself.
Then at the end of the conversation, you make a small request.
Afterward, you stay in touch, follow-up, meet or speak again, and ultimately ask for help with getting an interview at their firm.
So How Do You Rock Your Informational Interviews?
Let’s go through the top mistakes you can make with informational interviews – if you can avoid these, you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a networking ninja.
Mistake #1: Throwing in the Towel
Expect to get rejected and ignored when you first start out requesting informational interviews – some bankers are just not helpful.
But you can’t give up.
When you first request a time to speak, keep your email short – a maximum of 5 sentences.
If you don’t get a response within a week, follow-up with a quick email again the next week, and if you don’t get a response after that, move to the phone.
If you don’t hear back after 3-4 tries, put the person lower on your priority list and follow-up every 1-2 months after that just to check in occasionally.
Mistake #2: Winging It
Trying to “improvise” an informational interview is a horrible idea.
You need to do some background research on your banker friend before you meet, or you won’t get anything out of it.
Before you even request an interview, spend 5 minutes getting basic facts on the person via Google and LinkedIn.
Then once you have the interview set up, spend 15-20 minutes doing additional research.
You can do this via Google and LinkedIn, but it helps a lot if you can get access to Capital IQ or Bloomberg.
In your “background check,” focus on their career before banking, outside interests, and recent deals they’ve worked on.
Mistake #3: Tooting Your Own Horn
Do not walk into an informational interview and brag about your own accomplishments.
No one cares how “smart” you are in these interviews – it’s all about likability.
Once you’re at the Managing Director-level, banks care how much business you can bring in – but at the Analyst or Associate level, you have a non-existent track record next to 20-year banking veterans.
So rather than tooting your own horn, make yourself interesting instead – by spending your time asking about the other person.
“Tell me about your background and how you got started in the industry.”
“I noticed you did consulting before this, how did you make the transition into finance?”
“How do guys / girls like us break into investment banking?”
Sometimes bankers will test you by asking accounting or finance questions – and that’s fine.
But never bring up these subjects unless they initiate it.
Mistake #4: Landing in the “Friend Zone”
Picture yourself on a date… everything is going well, you hit it off well, and you’ve both enjoyed the evening.
Now you’re about to part ways – do you just wave goodbye or do you invite your date inside?
If you want to be more than just friends, the answer better not be “wave goodbye.”
I don’t want this to turn into an X-rated newsletter, so let’s translate this into the context of informational interviews:
You need to make a small request the first time you speak with a banker to condition him into expecting requests in the future.
Here’s what you ask at the end of an informational interview:
“Thanks for taking the time out to have a chat – by the way, do you know of anyone else in the industry who might be willing to speak with me?”
“Thanks for taking the time out to speak with me – do you mind if I follow up with any questions I have?”
“Thanks for speaking with me – I might be planning a trip to New York next month, so if you’re around it would be great to meet up in-person.”
Don’t ask for a real interview right away – you’re just laying the groundwork so that later on, asking for bigger favors doesn’t seem as forward.
Mistake #5: Following Up for No Reason
Pop quiz: do you send a follow-up email when…
The correct answer is A!
But most wannabe bankers miss this one and spend time obsessing over irrelevant details – like whether to write an email once every 2 weeks or once every 3 weeks.
If the banker seems helpful, try to stay in touch at least once every 2-3 months so he remembers you.
But other than that, only follow-up when you have something specific to ask for – referrals, advice, or an interview.
And do not feel pressured to stay in touch with everyone – focus on the 20-30 most helpful bankers you’ve contacted.
What Should You Do Now?
Go through your alumni network, professional referrals, friends, family, extended family, student groups, and professors and create an initial list of 10-20 bankers you can contact.
Then, email each one using the guidelines here and ask to speak on the phone for 15 minutes.
Do 15 minutes of research beforehand, ask about their background, and make a “mini-request” at the end. Then, follow-up and ask for interview help when appropriate.
That’s all there is to it – now you know more about informational interviews than 99% of prospective bankers.
So go forth and ninja your way into banking.
P.S. If you want detailed action plans, email templates, and calling scripts you can use to dominate your informational interviews, check out The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit right here:
P.P.S. Get here from an email forward, a friend’s link, or a random Google search?
This lesson is part of The Banker Blueprint newsletter – which gives you all the tips and insider information you need to break into investment banking. Learn more about it and sign up here.