by Brian DeChesare Comments (12)

How to Cold Email for an Internship: Investment Banking Cold Email Templates and Guide

How to Cold Email for an Internship

If you want to learn how to cold email for an internship, you’ll have to answer a key question first: is it even worthwhile to try?

If you poke around online, you’ll see many negative comments from people who have emailed dozens of professionals and gotten poor results.

Negative outcomes are certainly possible, but if you have the right profile and you use cold emails correctly, you can get positive responses.

When cold emails don’t work, it’s usually because:

  1. The person used them incorrectly (e.g., they contacted the wrong people, used bad templates, or didn’t follow up after the initial message).
  2. The person using them had an inappropriate profile (e.g., a post-MBA professional emailing boutique banks to ask about “unpaid internships”).

If you avoid these two problems, cold emails can work quite well:

How to Cold Email for an Internship: Definitions and Ground Rules

Since this site focuses on the finance industry, I will define cold emails in terms of investment banking – but the same idea applies to related “professional services” fields:

In an investment banking cold email, you send a message to a banker and ask DIRECTLY about interning at the firm, and if you don’t receive a response, you follow up several times with the goal of conducting a quick phone call with the banker.

Cold emails are one of the major investment banking networking strategies, and they work best for finding initial, informal internships that lead to “official” internships at larger firms later on.

You can also use cold emails to win off-cycle roles at the large banks, but you need previous experience to do so.

Cold emails are most appropriate if:

  1. You are an undergrad, and you are seeking an initial finance internship in your first or second year of school; or
  2. You are an incoming MBA student, and you want to complete a pre-MBA internship to give yourself a leg up; or
  3. You are about to graduate from university, or you just graduated, you missed recruiting, and you need to get work experience ASAP.

Cold emails tend to work best if you have brand names on your resume/CV, such as a well-known university or experience at large companies.

But you don’t necessarily need to be at one of the top schools nationwide to use cold emails effectively.

For example, if you’re at a well-known university in your region with many alumni in the area, cold emails could also be effective – even if your school is not in the top 50 or 100 nationally.

How to Cold Email for an Internship: The Step-by-Step Process

The steps in the cold email process are as follows:

  1. Find Names of Firms in Your Area – Paid databases such as Capital IQ are best, but you can also use simple Google and Google Maps searches.
  2. Find 3-4 People at Each Firm and Their Email Addresses – Use the firm’s website and guess email addresses when necessary, using email verification tools.
  3. Email 1 Person per Firm to Ask Directly About an Internship – Keep your message very short (<= 5 sentences) and request a brief call to discuss internships at the firm.
  4. Follow Up If You Don’t Hear Back After 1 Week – And make your follow-up message even shorter.
  5. Follow Up Again If You Still Don’t Get a Response After Another Week – Most “networking” consists of following up repeatedly.
  6. Move Onto Other Contacts and Firms – You can try other people at this same firm and, in parallel, keep reaching out to contacts at other firms. If you don’t get a response from ~3 people at the same boutique firm, cross the firm off your list for now.
  7. Conduct the Brief “Do You Offer Internships?” Call – These calls are like mini-interviews, so be prepared for the usual interview questions. You’ll also have to “sell” yourself and be prepared to answer common objections about why they should hire you.
  8. Complete Real Interviews – Assuming that you’re interviewing with a few firms and you’re well-prepared, you should be able to win one offer out of this process.

At most, you should spend around 2-3 months on a single cold-email effort.

And you might take even less time than that, depending on the speed of your responses and follow-up messages.

The steps above assume that you’re targeting boutique banks, private equity firms, or venture capital firms for an early internship.

If you are aiming for off-cycle internships at the bulge bracket banks, the main differences are:

  1. More Bankers – You might be able to get results with anywhere from a few dozen to 50+ bankers at boutique firms, but you’ll probably need to reach out to more like 150-200 bankers at the large firms to win an offer.
  2. Different Targets – You want to contact Group Heads, if possible, as they’ll be the most aware of hiring needs everywhere. And if you get rejected or fail to get a response, keep trying with other groups at the bank.

How to Cold Email for an Internship: The Effort Required

If you target boutique/local firms, you can expect something like this:

Cold Email Funnel

But the numbers vary wildly depending on your region.

For example, you’ll have far more firms (hundreds) to contact in places like NY and London, but the response rates will also be lower.

If you’re in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you may not be able to find even 20-30 firms within several hours of you.

But that may not matter because if you can find a few firms, you might get responses from all of them.

How to Cold Email for an Internship in Steps

Here’s a quick summary of the key steps, along with a few email templates:

Finding Firms and Names

The best sources here are paid databases like Capital IQ and FactSet, but even simple Google and Google Maps searches can reveal a lot.

Sometimes, boutique private equity firms are more responsive than boutique banks because fewer students contact them, and they have more ongoing year-round work independent of deal activity.

So, you could try either firm type, but you may have better luck with boutique PE firms.

You should target mid-to-senior-level professionals because they have the hiring power at these firms, and their contact information should not be difficult to find.

Do not wait for the “perfect conditions” to start sending cold emails.

Once you have 20-30 individual names and email addresses, that’s enough – start sending messages and add a few more names each day.

That list will expand over the next few months, so you don’t need 100+ names to get started.

Initial Cold Emails

You want to keep these short and sweet, which means no more than 5 sentences:

Subject: Name-drop a university name, firm name, referral, or mutual connection to get their attention.

Sentence 1: Immediately ask about an internship at the firm (you can also ask about it later in the email, but I think it’s better to do so upfront in most cases).

Sentence 2: Describe who you are, your previous experience, and the relevant skills you’ve gained.

Sentence 3: Explain why you’re interested in this firm, specifically (i.e., how it matches your background).

Sentence 4: Make a “soft request” for a call to ask about completing an internship at this firm.

Sentence 5: You could add a “reason why” or split one of the other sentences into two.

Since you are contacting senior bankers, it’s fine to be more formal and use “Mr.” and “Ms.” in the beginning.

Don’t propose dates or times in this initial email because you’ll almost certainly have to send a follow-up message.

If you already have at least one internship, you can attach your resume or CV; if not, don’t send it until they request it.

Here’s an initial cold email template:

SUBJECT: [Firm Name][Time Period] Internship for [University Name] [Student / Graduate]

“Mr. / Ms. [Name],

I am writing to you to see if [Firm Name] might be interested in taking on a [Time Period] intern with [a start date of X / an immediate start date].

I am a [Student at / Recent Graduate of] [University Name] with a degree in [Major / Degree Name] and [Summarize grades / academic results]. I have also completed coursework in [Relevant Areas] as well as internships in [Summarize the most relevant fields and firm names].

I am especially interested in your firm because of your focus on [Industry Name or Deal Type], [Explain your personal or professional connection to this industry or deal type].

If you have any availability next week, I would greatly appreciate the chance to speak with you and learn more about your firm and the possibility of completing a [Time Period] internship there.

Best regards,

[Name]

Follow-Up Cold Emails

You’re unlikely to receive a response to your first email, so follow-up is essential.

I recommend waiting one week and sending a follow-up email if you haven’t heard back by then; if you’re under time pressure (e.g., 4-6 weeks to find a job), maybe shorten the follow-up interval to 4-5 days.

You can send 2-3 follow-up emails to one person before you move on (so, 3-4 total emails).

These follow-up messages should be even shorter – here’s an example:

SUBJECT: RE: [Insert your original subject line here by replying to your first email]

“Mr. / Ms. [Name],

I just wanted to follow up on the email below and see if you had a few minutes to speak with me about [Describe the internships or other opportunities you’re seeking at the firm].

I’m currently a [Briefly summarize your school/work status], and I would greatly appreciate the chance to speak with you and learn more about [Firm Name].

Thanks in advance,

[Your Name]

Call Preparation and Execution

Your goal in any cold email is to get the other person on the phone, which will usually take a few messages back and forth.

These calls will be short – 5-10 minutes or 15 minutes at the most – and they’ll be like “mini-interviews,” meaning that technical, deal, and industry questions could come up.

But it also depends on how you’ve presented yourself; technical questions are more likely if you’ve had previous internships.

To prepare, you need:

  • Your (Short) Story: Condense your normal “story” down to 1-2 sentences, similar to the first few lines of your initial cold email.
  • Industry/Technical Knowledge: Don’t kill yourself, but be prepared with some basic knowledge of accounting and valuation.
  • Why You Want to Work There: You will have to do some “selling” to convince them, and you’ll need responses for the most common objections.
  • Person/Firm Research: Do a quick LinkedIn search, read the website, and find 1-2 recent news items or deals related to the firm.

Your goals in these calls differ depending on your age and experience level.

If you’re younger – Year 1 or 2 of university – you want to seem enthusiastic, diligent, and willing to learn quickly so you can save them time and money.

If you already have experience and you’re targeting off-cycle roles at larger firms, you want to convince them of your long-term interest in investment banking.

You also need to prepare for common objections:

  • “We can’t afford interns.” –> Offer to work for free.
  • “We don’t have enough deal flow.” –> You can help with administrative tasks and point out that things might change.
  • “We can’t train interns.” –> Highlight your relevant skills and say that you can assist with non-technical tasks.

Follow-Up Emails After the Calls

After you conduct this quick call, you can send a combined thank-you note and follow-up message within the next few days (and if you don’t hear back after a week, try again).

If the person requested specific documents from you, such as your resume or a work sample, respond quickly with those (within a few hours, if possible).

There’s no point in “staying in touch” with someone after one of these calls because the goal is to ask for an internship, interview, and get a quick decision.

But follow-up messages are still important because smaller firms may not have formal hiring processes, so they could forget about you in the absence of reminders.

Here’s an example follow-up email:

SUBJECT: RE: [Reply to the initial cold-email chain]

“Mr. / Ms. [Name],

Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me about [Firm Name] [“earlier today” / “the other day”] and the possibility of interning there.

I understand that [Firm Name] does not normally offer formal internships to students, but I am grateful for the chance to learn more about your firm and look forward to hearing from your team soon.

Also, [You can mention something specific that you discussed on the call, such as information or a document they requested].

Thanks,

[Your Name]

How to Cold Email for an Internship: Putting in the Reps

The good news is that cold emails are easier than informational interviews in some ways:

  • Less preparation is required before you can start sending outreach emails.
  • You don’t need to research the other person’s career, interests, hobbies, etc., in much depth before each call.
  • And you don’t need to track discussions over months or years because these efforts tend to finish quickly.

Cold emails are more about simple repetition until you get results, similar to door-to-door sales.

The bad news is that cold emailing is a repetitive process, and it’s not exactly full of intellectual stimulation.

But if you want to be competitive for the investment banking internships at large firms that lead to full-time offers, you’ll probably have to use some amount of cold emailing.

For Further Learning About Investment Banking Cold Emails

If you want detailed, step-by-step tutorials, plus many email templates and several example calls, you can get everything in the IB Networking Toolkit:

[adinserter name=”Post Promotions – IB Networking Toolkit”]

This article gives you a good foundation, but the Networking Toolkit goes into the process in more detail and has executed examples of everything discussed here.

As with all networking, though, the key is to get out there and practice.

And since you can do everything described here from your couch, you don’t even need to “get out there” – you just need to practice.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi Brain, I have 2-3 years experience in fp&a. So, I am targeting the entry-level after working at a pre-IPO tech high cap in US doing some internal audits and forecasting for 1+yrs.
    Given the current environment COVID many bankers left, do you think if I should cold emailing them or start prepping for the modeling and deal examples first before the cold emailing? Does targeting a SF elite boutique tech a stretch? Do I need a transition stop in some boutiques before that?
    or do I have better chance to some VC?

    1. If your goal is to work in IB, I would recommend targeting tech-related banks and groups and seeing what happens. In the current environment, banks are so desperate for workers due to high deal flow and high turnover that it’s more feasible to get in from other industries. Start with the large banks (BB/EB) and see if you get responses, and if not, move down.

      I don’t think you need to start preparing for modeling and deal examples before you contact people, but you should be prepared for the standard interview questions.

      1. Hi Brian,
        Thanks!
        A quick follow up question is that, should I put my gpa 3.3 (major 3.5) from semi-target college on resume, since I am already about 3 years from school? Does it matter?

        1. Some places will still ask for it, so yes, I would recommend listing both your overall and major GPA.

  2. Brian,
    Long time reader.

    Received a full-time offer from my summer internship in corporate finance. Global F500. It would be in their financial management rotational program. The pay is only like 62k base and I honestly have no genuine interest in the world itself.

    Should I roll the dice and look for something better during my senior year or bank on the growth prospects of this offer and just accept it even though there aren’t many upsides?

    For the record I go to a huge state school with a strong network, but not necessarily in the fields I want. I also have a 4.0 but struggle with networking to some extent.

    Thanks!

    1. I would probably accept the offer and then start looking for something better during your final school year / as you begin working. It’s quite risky to turn down an actual full-time job offer and search for something better in a more competitive industry, especially if that industry hires 90% of candidates via summer internships (investment banking). And I’m not sure a corporate finance offer at any other large company would be much better than what you currently have.

      1. Brian,

        Just one or two follow-up questions if you have the time.

        I have read that reneging on an offer is highly variable and fairly risky. I assume you are suggesting that I search for jobs and actually start working at this company, and not transition until after I have worked there for some period of time. Won’t this sort of hinder my ability to search for jobs to some extent? Additionally, I do have one other offer in advising. I do like this work a fair bit, but the entry level pay is substantially lower, of course. I could theoretically fall back on this if nothing comes up in the next few months during my senior year.

        Finally, am I naive to think that this offer is somewhat under whelming. Feels like everyone in tech or finance I go to school with is landing like 80k+ offers. Should I just do what I’ve always had in the back of my head and do some advanced degree in comp sci or similar and call it day, or will I be able to advance quickly once I get into the finance career path? Seems like some tech fields level out much earlier.

        1. Yes, start working and then look for other jobs. You can wait to start looking until the job begins, and don’t star contacting people until you have a few years of work experience.

          The base salary is not great, but various other corporate finance jobs also offer something in the same range. You don’t really “advance quickly” in corporate finance, so if you want to move up, you should think about switching to a different industry or doing another degree.

          1. Forgive my ignorance but when you say “do another degree” I assume you are implying a Master’s of some kind? If so, any specific suggestions. If not, what exactly would you suggest? Corporate finance is definitely not the industry I want to be in though. Definitely working toward something else one way or another.

          2. Yes, a Master’s degree would be most appropriate. It’s really hard to give you more specific advice than this because I don’t know how competitive you are for the jobs you’re seeking. I don’t think it would be super-helpful if you can switch into something like corporate banking out of this first job.

  3. Avatar
    Alex Komaev

    Hi Brian, I’m preparing to start the cold-emailing process soon and was wondering—would it make sense to target boutique banks, private equity firms, and venture capital firms as an initial finance internship (that may lead to more “official” internships later on) instead of targeting smaller firms like search funds? I have no prior financial internship experience but do come from a target school and am involved in some business-related extracurriculars and have taken some modeling courses. Would brand name alone be able to get me into an internship at a boutique bank, for example? Or would it make more sense to build my way up from some smaller firms and target those?

    1. You could target search funds, but the problem is that it’s often more difficult to find their information because search funds come and go (the shutdown rate is very high because many do not complete acquisitions successfully). If you have a good list or have good contacts at search funds, sure, go ahead and do that. But if not, it’s usually easier to find and contact boutique banks or PE/VC firms.

      If you can point to at least some skills that relevant to what the boutique bank does, that’s usually enough to get at least some type of internship there. I don’t think you need to intern at a search fund, or other smaller firm, first before you go for boutique bank internships. And remember that you really only need 1-2 relevant internships before applying to the large banks.

      And if you have a good brand name such as a target university on your resume, you should be able to get good response rates from cold emails.

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