by Brian DeChesare Comments (34)

The Top 4 Mistakes Students Make with Networking Emails – and How to Fix Them and Double Your Response Rate

Investment Banking Email Networking MistakesWhat’s the biggest difference between an MBA and an undergrad?

“Work experience” or “age” might immediately come to mind.

Or, perhaps, “level of polish” or “presentation skills.”

And if you’re more cynical, “amount of student debt” might also be up there.

But how can you distinguish an MBA from an undergraduate at a glance?

There’s no foolproof way to do this in real life, but if you’re looking at email, it’s trivial.

I can look at any email message and tell, based on the first 2-3 sentences alone, whether a high school student, university student, MBA, or seasoned professional sent it.

It’s easy because emails from younger students are almost universally awful.

As with fixing your LinkedIn profile and your email templates, refining your email strategy is another way to improve your odds of recruiting success with minimal time and effort.

It’s a quick win, but also an impactful one.

Why Does This Matter?

I still believe that in-person networking will get you better results, but even with in-person networking you will need to use email in some way.

Also, I’ve seen a significant uptick lately in the volume of “bad emails” that ruin networking efforts.

Finally, while we provided email templates in a previous article (read that one if you haven’t already), we didn’t say much about how to use them in your networking efforts.

Should you contact senior bankers first? How frequently do you follow-up? How many questions can you ask, and when should you ask them?

This article will address those points and more.

The good news is that relatively simple to refine your strategy and get better results with email.

The tips here are partially based on a new bonus module on effective emails in the Networking Toolkit we offer.

The Top 4 Investment Banking Networking Email Mistakes Made by Undergrads and Recent Grads

I’ve seen hundreds of emails from university-level candidates over the years, but four mistakes stand out as the most egregious:

Mistake #1: Adopting the Wrong Mindset

Younger candidates tend to go to extremes when it comes to mindset.

After sending an email to the senior banker, they either 1) Expect a same-day response with an interview invitation in-hand, or 2) They think they can do nothing useful, and attempt to “sell themselves low” if there’s no response.

The reality is somewhere in between.

If you do not already know the banker you’re contacting, yes, your email will be near the bottom of his or her priority list.

He has to worry about a $5 billion deal falling apart, a new Associate who just quit, a big pitch for a $10 billion M&A deal in the afternoon, and the Chairman who wants to ruin his career – plus his wife who’s having an affair with the landscaping guy down the street.

So if you email someone and do not hear back, resist the urge to label yourself a failure: there’s a 99.99% chance the other person simply has bigger problems.

On the other hand, it’s also a mistake to go in with the attitude that you can add no value and can therefore only do menial tasks for no pay.

Even if you don’t have amazing Excel skills or you’re not a valuation pro, you can still save junior and senior professionals time.

Remember: even in highly technical groups, over 50% of the work consists of non-technical tasks – updating buyer lists, creating and revising slides, doing research, contacting potential clients or investments, etc.

Solution: You should never “expect” a reply from a professional contact. This rule is true if you don’t know the person, but it holds up even if you have met him/her before.

I would recommend going into it hoping for a 5% response rate.

If you do better than that, great!

If not, well, the odds weren’t good anyway.

When you present yourself, your tone should be as follows:

“I’ve learned a bit on my own, and I believe I can save you time if given the opportunity. I certainly have a ton more to learn, but I am confident I can pick it up on the job and I would appreciate the chance to assist in any way I can.”

Students tend to come across as overly cocky, or they go to the other extreme and insert unnecessary negative information in their emails (e.g., “I haven’t yet received any offers at banks”), both of which show poor judgment.

Mistake #2: Contacting the Wrong People at the Wrong Time

We’ve gotten more questions on “Which person do I contact? A senior banker or more junior one? Should I go for the MD or VP?” than any other topic.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but here’s how you can think about it:

If you are extremely polished, you have highly relevant work experience, and you are directly asking about internships or jobs, then you will get faster results by contacting senior professionals (MDs, Partners, and Group Heads) and asking about hiring at their firms.

There is a great case study with a recent graduate who did just that right here.

But he also had a lot going for him: a private equity internship, a top school in the UK, and good academic results and A-Levels. His emails were also exceptional.

If you don’t have those advantages, or you have little experience with email networking, or you’re taking a longer-term approach rather than directly asking for internships / jobs, then you are better off contacting junior bankers first.

Reach out to an Analyst or Associate, set up a quick call, and then ask for referrals to anyone else in the group at the end and “work your way up” like that.

Younger candidates tend to waste time by contacting senior bankers when they are not at all polished enough to exchange emails or speak with them.

Or they reach out to the newest Analyst in the office and ask about job openings, which is another good way to waste time.

And then there’s the worst mistake you can make: contacting multiple people in the same team at the same time, or CCing multiple team members on your initial outreach email.

Never do this.

Solution: Even if you met and spoke with two bankers at the same time at the same event, still contact each one separately.

You really need to do this if both bankers work in the same office in the same team.

You never want to email 4 people in the same physical area on the same day – they notice that type of thing quickly, and they don’t react positively.

Space out your outreach, and wait 1-2 weeks if you’re going to contact another person in the same team and location.

If you have so little time that it is not possible to do this, pick 1-2 people and limit your outreach to them.

Exceptions: If you get a response and the other person has CC’d additional team members, you can get away with a “Reply All” in some cases (for example, the person introduces you to another team member and you thank both of them).

Mistake #3: Sending Emails at the Wrong Frequency

Just as with mindset, younger candidates tend toward extremes when it comes to follow-up frequency.

They assume the person is not interested at all after sending a single message and not getting a response, or they start emailing the person every day.

Going back to the Day in the Life of the MD above, your email is at the very bottom of the other person’s priority list.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate how important follow-up is:

One of my friends worked at Morgan Stanley for seven years, rose to the VP level in sales & trading, and then quit a few years ago to pursue a finance-related startup.

He wanted to ask some of his former team members about his plans, so he began contacting them via email.

He only got a 10% response rate to his initial emails sent to his former team members.

His work had generated tens of millions in profits for the bank, and he had known some of these people for 5+ years.

In his words: “It was all about the follow-up. Hardly anyone responded to my first messages. I only got responses after waiting a week and checking back, and then checking back again…”

So if you do not yet know the person and you have not yet made him/her millions of dollars, what kind of response rate will you get to your initial emails?

Solution: Here are my simple rules for follow-up:

  • If you send an email, wait one week (7 days) and then send a follow-up message.
  • If you still do not get a response, wait one more week (7 days) and then send your next follow-up message.
  • If you still do not get a response after 4 emails (1 initial + 3 follow-up), put the person at a lower priority and contact him/her once per month for 3-4 months before stopping.
  • If the other person does respond, reply quickly – ideally within 24 hours or less.

If you’re directly asking for an internship or job, you could make an argument for following up more quickly – maybe once every 4-5 days instead.

You have to be a bit careful with the last point about quick responses – which leads us into mistake #4…

Mistake #4: Sending Stream-of-Consciousness Messages

And now to the last, and perhaps most common, mistake: sending “stream-of-consciousness” messages as you think of new problems and questions.

For example, you get a response from the person and set up a 10-minute call.

At the end of the call, you asked if it was OK to ask more questions in the future.

The other person said yes.

So far, so good.

Then you think of a new question two days later, and you respond to the original email with your question.

The person replies, and then you have a new question two days later… and then you keep thinking of random questions and sending them over every few days.

This behavior indicates a lack of respect for the other person’s time, and also demonstrates poor judgment on your part.

Some networking guides recommend “pinging” your contacts with new articles, updates, and questions.

But this tends to annoy the other person – especially if you are a student with no work experience and you are constantly asking questions rather than sharing useful information.

Solution: Yes, you should stay in touch, but you can do this by sending a simple “update” email to your best contacts once every 3-4 months. For example:


Thanks for speaking with me a few months ago. I just wanted to give you an update and let you know that I have accepted an internship offer at [Company Name]. I am really looking forward to it, and I could not have won the offer without your advice. Thanks again for your time and assistance.


[Your Name]

Even if you are infinitely curious about investment banking, private equity, or any other field, resist the urge to turn your new contact into Quora.

Ask your questions in your initial outreach or call, be thankful and appreciative for the responses you receive, and if you have additional questions, perhaps come back to the person after a few weeks to a few months have passed.

Consolidate your questions, ask them in batches, and do not pester the person as you think of minor inquiries.

Putting It All Together: A Tale of Two Email Chains

To make these tips more concrete, I’ll share with you two email exchanges I’ve had over the past 2-3 years.

One exchange was executed flawlessly. The person who contacted me demonstrated sound judgment, professionalism, and respect for others’ time.

The other exchange started off “OK,” but quickly devolved into a textbook example of why students are especially weak at email communication.

Flawless Execution

One year, I published an article on impact investing. It generated a lot of attention since we had never covered the topic before, and one reader reached out and asked to be put in touch with the interviewee.

Here’s the timeline for the entire exchange:

  • August 12th: I published the article; the reader contacted me right away and asked about being put in touch.
  • August 20th: I finally got around to replying, said I would ask, and then I got sidetracked with travel / work.
  • September 1st: The reader followed up with me again. I responded, said I hadn’t forgotten, and that I would get back to her soon.
  • September 15th: I still hadn’t done anything, so the reader followed up very gently and reminded me once again. This time, I finally reached out to the interviewee, got permission to make the connection, and put them in touch.
  • September 20th: They finally spoke with each other, and ended up meeting in-person.

Take a look at how expertly composed her emails are: they’re short, polite, and indicate that she was appreciative of me, even though I had been procrastinating.

Click here to view Example Email #1.

Click here to view Example Email #2.

She gets the follow-up time (1-2 weeks) right, she gets the language right, and she has the right mindset: she is politely persistent, but she does not expecting anything huge.

Emails That Could “Use Improvement”

By contrast, here’s another email exchange that did not go quite as well.

It started when one reader wrote in and asked me how to request an unpaid internship at a small firm.

Even though we have answered that question across multiple articles over the better part of a decade, I responded with a few tips.

His timing was good because he happened to write in two days before I respond to all my emails each week.

Unfortunately, instead of taking my advice and running with it, he started asking stream-of-consciousness questions and making basic mistakes, such as failing to use my name in his responses:

Click here to view Example Email #3.

Click here to view Example Email #4.

And, of course, he has completely the wrong mindset:

“I have nothing useful to offer, so I’ll ‘sell myself low’ and provide free labor. Oh, and by the way, Brian, you have infinite time so I will keep asking you questions as I think of them every 30 minutes.”

This behavior is guaranteed to hurt your chances of developing professional contacts and winning job offers.

I stopped responding because I can’t devote more than ~30 minutes per week to responding to non-client emails, given that I am already spending 70-80 hours per week on real work.

The punch line: Oh, and this reader never followed-up once I stopped responding.

A Winning Email Strategy: Reply All?

I hope not: “Reply All” is a great podcast, but it’s a horrible networking strategy.

If you’re an undergrad or recent graduate, you’ve probably made some, or all, of the mistakes above.

But if you can avoid them and use the correct email strategy, you might just trick your contacts into thinking you’re an MBA rather than an undergrad.

And as a bonus, you’ll also have a whole lot less student debt.

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. Avatar
    Thomas Silver

    Hello Brian, I am currently a student on a gap year (between high school and college) who is going to an HYP, and is looking to get a finance internship this year. I have an old soccer coach from a few years back, who is one of my friends’ father, that I am looking to contact. He is is the managing partner and founder of a Hedgefund (that is decently sized – about 200 employees). Should I email him directly and ask for a phone call to learn more about the company? Or should I email him to ask about the possibility of an internship? Also, at this stage it is likely to be somewhat difficult for me to get an internship, should I try and “save” this contact until after I begin college (wait to email him until a later date when an internship could be more realistic)? Thank you very much in advance.

    1. I would not bother with this until you start university because they tend to “discount” pre-university internships anyway. So, save it, and try to reach out and ask about an internship in Year 1 of university.

      1. Avatar
        Thomas Silver

        Thank you very much for the response. I was planning to try and find an internship this year to try to get ahead a bit on experience going into college, but if they discount internships anyways that may not be a great idea. What do you recommend I do this year to set myself up better down the line for a BB IB internship? You mention in your articles that having an interesting passion outside of school is good to develop – I am a recruited athlete, so that may already fit that “passion” I guess..?

        1. Just start learning the fundamentals of accounting and finance so you don’t have to do it all in years 1-2 of university. Being a recruited athlete helps, but something more unusual can also help you stand out a bit more if you’re in a “common” sport. But also not necessary if you already feel comfortable networking / in social situations.

  2. What about networking with people in different groups in the same location and same bank if you are interested in both groups? For example, networking with coverage TMT bankers and DCM bankers at the same bank in NYC, would this be a bad idea?

    1. You can do it, but don’t go overboard with it… space apart your emails and contact requests, and don’t contact, say, 3 people in the same group in the same week. Spread it out over time so you contact maybe 1 person per group per week.

  3. Hi Brian, should I reach out to junior bankers who aren’t alumni? For example, on LinkedIn, I see 30 people from my school works at GS and only 10 of them are in IB. I feel like I would not get many responses. Also, if I were to cold-email a random associate (non-alumni), would they just ignore my email?
    Thank you for writing these helpful articles.

    1. It’s always best to focus on people with whom you have *something* in common. They don’t necessarily need to be alumni, but they should have some similarity in terms of origin country, hobbies/interests, past work experience, skills, or whatever you can find. You won’t get a great response rate unless you focus on them and customize your emails. An Associate’s response rate would also depend on those factors: how much do you have in common with them, and how customized is your email?

      1. Is it okay to cold email someone I have nothing in common with if they(investment banking) work at the same firm as I ‘m interning at (back office) (BB in NYC) and use that as our connection.

        1. Sure, you could always reach out, and there’s very little downside in doing so. But you will still get better responses when you have something more substantial in common with the person.

  4. Hi Brian,

    I know you said you should create a separate Gmail account for networking and not use your @edu email.
    Should I also apply to internships with the Gmail I created as well or should I stick to the college email?

    1. It’s probably better to apply to the internships with your .edu address as long as it forwards to your Gmail.

  5. Avatar
    Rising Senior

    Hey Brian,

    If I’m interning FT but want to recruit for positions for after I graduate, can I network while I’m at work, on work computers?

    Also, is there an optimal time of day to send these emails?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Not a great idea, but if you use personal email account, sure. Always send emails in the middle of the day; 12 PM to an hour or so before market close.

  6. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the tips. I am a junior at a semi-target looking to recruit for IB full-time. I have been reaching out to alums, from analysts, associates, to MDs. I have been able to get them on the phone, but how do I keep the conversation going (another phone call/in person meetings)?
    Moreover, what would you think of the text: “Thanks again for speaking with me several months ago, I would like to set up a call/coffee. I have been learning about investment banking and have some follow-up questions for you.”

    Thanks in advance.

    1. You don’t necessarily need to keep the conversation going, just send short follow-ups occasionally asking specific questions and ask for help when it’s recruiting season. I would make your follow-up text a lot more specific and avoid the phrase “I have been learning about investment banking” since it implies that you did not know about it before speaking with the person previously.

  7. Hi Brian,

    I work in a valuations space within a bulge bracket looking to move internally in to the IBD division.

    I was able to get in touch with the recruiting directors (MD and D) of IBD (a coverage team staffer linked me with them). Both said they have headcount availabilities in various teams and they will get back to me in a week’s time with the teams.

    I haven’t heard anything from them – it’s been slightly over a week since i met up with them (individually). I understand they’re super busy, but I am having issues figuring out how to write an email that doesn’t look like I’m demanding their time. How would you go about following up on this particular issue.

    Looking forward to your response.

    1. “Thanks again for meeting with me last week. I just wanted to follow up and check on the headcount availability within your teams. As I mentioned, I’m very interested in the [Team Names] teams and would appreciate knowing of any opportunities there.”

  8. Hello Brian, I have contacted a MD before and we had a phone call. We keep in touch and I follow up sometimes. When I asked to meet last week, he was away and he recommended an associate in his team to meet me.

    After the meeting, I sent a “Thank you email” to the MD and CC the associate. I also mentioned when I applied for some networking events online, if I could put his name as a referral. At last, I told him I would be in his city again in the end of this month and asked if he would be free to meet quickly. This email was sent 8 days after the previous one. (frequent I know, but just want to thank his recommendations and to make sure if he’s comfortable to be mentioned)

    So I just want to ask if this email is appropriate in terms of the time (frequency) and the content? It is such a difficulty to make the balance between limited timeline and appropriate frequency.

    Thank you.

  9. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the great post. I’m just a bit uncertain about what subject lines work best for follow-up emails when “making the ask”?

    Moreover, what would you think of the text:”….how to best position myself for an interview at your firm. Is there anything else I could do besides applying online?” Not sure if the second sentence would be surplus, but it feels a bit abrupt with only the first one.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Just reply to the person via your previous correspondence or use “Follow-Up: Recruiting – [University Name] Student”

      You can always change around what we recommend here… in fact, you should, or else you’ll have the same email as the 2-3 million others who visit this site each year.

      Don’t include the part about “besides applying online,” just ask directly for what you want, thank the person first and then ask about interviews second.

  10. Dear Brian,

    Should I attach my resume in the email when I make my final ask for how to position myself for an interview?

    1. Are you asking directly for a job? If so, yes. If you’re just following up on a previous conversation or meeting, no, because you want them to request your resume.

  11. Avatar
    Jacob Eagle

    So I am a student at a semi-target (not Ivy League, but we have decent OCR). I had the opportunity to talk to on the phone and meet with in person an MD from a BB. I last spoke to him a few weeks ago and I want to apply to said BB in the coming few days. I’ve read your networking guides and basically followed them religiously to do most of my networking, but the timing aspect of making the “ask” is what I am confused with now that IB recruiting is Super Accelerated. Should I send him an email first saying “How should I best position myself…” or should I apply and send an email with my resume attached. Please advise!
    -Long time reader, Jacob

    1. I would just email him, say that you understand that recruiting now starts extremely early, and ask how you can be put on the firm’s interview schedule (and attach your resume to speed things up since you’ve already spoken with hi

  12. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for providing useful advice. My question is: I met a former banker at the university event and he said that it is OK to send over my resume for a review. After about a week after sending my resume, I still haven’t received any response so now I’m writing a second follow-up email. Should I attach my resume again or not?

    Thank you for your time.

  13. Do you have a template to approach people on LinkedIN via their inbox. These will be people who dont know me but have accepted my request. can you advice on how to use the linkedin inbox approach because i would imagine the senior guys in Banking are tired of chance takers that spam their inbox. Please advice. Im trying to network in SA.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d just keep the message short, include a one line description of yourself, and another line talking about what you’re looking for. Then ask if they are [free for a 10-min brief chat to share with you their thoughts on the industry] or [hiring].

  14. I’ve been using a template the last few weeks and my response rate is roughly 20%. However, I spoke to someone the other day and he said to not “copy and paste” emails but rather type out every email and customize it to that person. Seems like this takes a lot longer and makes me more likely to make a grammar mistake or something. So with that being said, should I follow that advice and try to tailor each email specifically? This is for people that I have no connection with by the way. I already know how to leverage some mutual connection. I was thinking maybe include their bank name and group in the email and that’ll make it seem like it’s less likely that I’m blasting out emails? If the context helps, I’m networking for SA positions.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I may use the basic template and change around the emails a bit individually so you’re still tailoring the emails but not spending too much time on each one. Yes including the bank name and group can potentially help a bit but I’d imagine you change the bank/group names for each individual email

  15. Avatar
    Daniel Bakh

    Hi Brian,

    First of all, great article! I can definitely say that I can relate to some of the email mistakes from my past.
    I’d love to hear your advice on cold emailing alumni regarding internship position. Do you think it is acceptable just be very straight forward in the first mail and say that you are searching for an internship at their firm? Or do you think it’s best to try to establish some sort of relationship with them first over time (even though time may be limited!).


    1. Thanks!

      The best approach depends on how much time you have. If it is down to the last minute and you really need an internship ASAP, it’s best to just directly ask about hiring at their firm (assuming you have a reasonably good academic background and previous work experience). But if you have more time, say 6-9 months or more, it’s better to get to know the person first and then ask about internships in a later email or call.

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