by Brian DeChesare Comments (4)

The Investment Banking Informational Interview: The Full Guide

Investment Banking Informational Interview

If you put together a “top 10” list of events that cause panic, confusion, and last-minute questions, the investment banking informational interview might be near the top of that list.

It’s one of the main strategies in investment banking networking, and done well, the informational interview can significantly improve your chances of winning internship and job offers.

But if it’s done poorly, it can waste time and hurt your chances of winning offers.

These informational interviews are also known as “coffee chats,” back from when humans still met other humans to have coffee.

We always get questions about setting up and executing informational interviews successfully, but another question has become more popular lately:

Are they worth it?

If banks are increasingly automating the hiring process, does networking make a difference?

Or is it a ton of effort with a low ROI?

What Are Investment Banking Informational Interviews?

I would define them like this:

Investment Banking Informational Interview Definition: In an IB informational interview, you research a banker on LinkedIn, send a short email to request a time to speak, spend 10-15 minutes asking about their career and for advice, and then stay in touch and eventually ask directly about interviewing at their firm.

Because of the time required, you need to start far in advance – ideally, 6-12 months before recruiting – for informational interviews to be effective.

This strategy tends to be most useful for:

If it’s the last minute, or you’re aiming for an initial internship at a boutique firm in Year 1 or 2 of undergrad (or a pre-MBA internship), cold emails are more efficient.

The steps in the informational interview process are as follows:

  1. Find Names of Bankers – Use your alumni network and LinkedIn; target junior to mid-level bankers and aim for an initial list of ~20-30 names.
  2. Find Each Person’s Email Address and Background Info – You can use Email Checker, Google the email formats of different firms, and search for information like schools and work experience online.
  3. Request an Informational Interview – Send a short, specific email (<= 5 sentences) with your request and follow up 2-3 times if you don’t hear back.
  4. Set Up the Call – Once you hear back, set a date and time for the call and prepare your list of questions for the person.
  5. Conduct the Interview – Ask the other person about their career and for advice on your own recruiting situation. Avoid generic questions and potentially controversial ones.
  6. Make Your “Mini-Ask” – As you finish, ask if they can pass along your resume, if you can contact them with any additional questions, or if they can introduce you to others at their firm.
  7. Send Follow-Up Emails and Possibly Speak Again – You can ask more specific questions and send updates on how you’ve applied their advice so far.
  8. Make Your “Real Ask” – As recruiting season begins, ask directly about being plugged into the interview process at their firm.

Wait, This Sounds Time-Consuming. How Much Effort Do Informational Interviews Take?

Here’s what you can expect at a high level:

Investment Banking Informational Interview Process

Yes, it will take a good amount of time to send 300-500 emails.

On average, you’re looking at a 5-10-hour-per-week commitment over 6 months.

If you have less than 6 months, you can potentially put more hours into the effort.

But no matter what you do, you’re going to need 100+ hours total to see substantial results.

But Are Informational Interviews Worth It?

The IB recruiting process is becoming increasingly automated.

Firms use HireVue and various online assessments and “games” to select candidates, and they might even hire headhunters to conduct the initial interviews.

But as long as humans still participate in the recruiting process, informational interviews done correctly will benefit you.

The rules differ in some regions, and info interviews may be less effective in places like London (due to a flood of applicants, weaker alumni network bonds, etc.).

But “less effective” does not mean “ineffective.”

The bottom line is that if you want to get into IB at the undergrad or MBA levels or as a lateral hire, you’ll almost certainly have to conduct some informational interviews.

The Investment Banking Informational Interview Process in Steps

I’m not going to cover each point in detail, or this would turn into a 10,000-word article, but here are some of the most useful tips:

Finding the Names and Email Addresses of Bankers

You should start by searching for individual bankers’ names, and the best initial sources are LinkedIn and your alumni network.

In your initial criteria, focus on a specific city or region and job titles.

You’ll get better results if you aim for Analysts, Associates, and early-stage VPs and then ask them for referrals to senior bankers.

Also, it’s good to “warm up” by contacting junior bankers first. If you screw up the interaction, you’d rather look silly to an Analyst than a Managing Director.

If you find too many names, such as hundreds of matching bankers, you can narrow the results by product or industry group (easier on LinkedIn) or stricter criteria, such as limited graduation dates.

A good initial goal is 2-3 contacts per bank if you’re applying to the bulge brackets and a mix of smaller firms.

Once you have these names, you could message each person through LinkedIn to request informational interviews.

However, you will usually get better results with email because full-time bankers live in their email inboxes but do not necessarily check LinkedIn that often.

For most banks, the email format is:

firstname.lastname@firmname.com

If it’s something different, you can use sites like email-format.com to find it.

Once you’ve guessed each person’s email address, you can use a tool such as Email Checker to verify that it exists.

Finally, before you start emailing everyone, you need a tracking spreadsheet to manage this process.

This could be an Excel file or Google Sheet with fields for each person’s name, email, phone number, bank, and the date of your last message or response.

Informational Interview Request Emails

Ideally, you’ll have 20-30 names and email addresses before you start sending emails.

These email requests should be short and specific:

  • Subject: Name-drop a mutual connection, university/business school, or firm name.
  • Sentence 1: State who you are and how you found them.
  • Sentence 2: Say what you’re interested in and the work you’ve done to learn about it.
  • Sentence 3: Explain why you want to speak with this person.
  • Sentence 4: Make a soft request for an informational interview.
  • Sentence 5: Say thanks.

You do not need to use Mr. or Ms. to address the person, especially if it’s an Analyst or Associate; first names are fine.

Also, don’t propose specific days or times until the person responds.

You’ll probably need a follow-up message or two to get a response, so proposing specific dates and times in the first message wastes time.

Always send your emails based on the other person’s time zone and aim for the middle of the day on Tuesday through Thursday. Late-night emails and early-morning emails are both bad.

Here’s a simple template for a university student:

SUBJECT: [University Name] student seeking career advice

[Name],

My name is [Your Name], and I’m a student at [University Name] who found your contact information via [LinkedIn / the alumni database].

I have had experience in [Industry Name] during my [XX]-month internship at [Firm Name], and I am currently seeking an [Industry 2 Name] internship in [City Name] next summer to pursue a finance career there.

I see that you made a similar transition, moving from [Field Name, e.g., wealth management, equity research, trading, etc.] into [Industry 2 Name], so I was hoping that you might be willing to speak with me for a few minutes to discuss how you made this move successfully.

Thanks, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

Following Up on Request Emails

No matter how great your initial email is, you’re unlikely to get a response right away.

Bankers are busy, and responding to students and career changers is at the bottom of the priority list.

So, if you don’t hear back within one (1) week, you should send a follow-up message by replying to your first email.

These messages should be short:

[Name],

I just wanted to follow up with you and see if you might have time for a brief informational interview next week – I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about [Describe the career transition or question you asked them about].”

“But wait,” you say, “How many times should I follow up? Do I keep at this forever?”

No.

I’d say it’s appropriate to follow up 2-3 times for a total of 3-4 emails.

If the person has still not responded, put them lower on your priority list and check back again in 1-2 months (or skip them if you have many other, more promising contacts).

Preparing for the Informational Interview Once It’s Confirmed

Once you hear back and confirm the interview, you need to prepare for it.

This process might take 20-30 minutes, depending on how much you already know about the person and the industry.

The following points should be on your prep list:

  • Short Version of Your Story: This can be a few sentences, similar to the first part of your request email (i.e., much shorter than your full story).
  • Industry/Technical Knowledge: Yes, they can ask you technical questions even if it’s just an “informational interview.” You should have a decent knowledge base before doing any networking.
  • Personal Research: Know the person’s 2-3 key work experiences and, if possible, 2-3 hobbies or interests. Most of this can come from LinkedIn; don’t spend hours Googling for more.
  • Firm Research: Know about one recent deal or one recent news story/trend affecting the firm.
  • Your Question List: You should develop 5-10 good questions to ask the person (see below).

Questions to Ask Investment Bankers: What to Ask in an Informational Interview

Your questions should be based on the person’s background and why you contacted them in the first place.

Focus on asking for advice and asking about their career.

You could also ask about their hobbies and interests and even deals they’ve worked on, but these topics are riskier and better for follow-up interactions.

Avoid generic questions (e.g., “What is a banker’s average day like?”) and potentially controversial ones (politics, religion, social movements, co-worker gossip, etc.).

There’s no universal list of “good questions” because the questions depend on the individual, but here are some examples:

  • Career: “I noticed that you had worked in management consulting before moving into investment banking, and I wanted to ask about your transition into banking.”
  • Career: “Why did you decide on Barclays after interning at a few other banks?”
  • Career: “How did you get into investment banking after working at Google and without going to business school first?”
  • Advice: “I got interested in investment banking late because I was originally a pre-med – what’s the best way for me to catch up and still recruit for summer internships?”
  • Advice: “I have summer internship offers at KPMG in audit and at a boutique valuation firm. Which one do you think is more relevant for investment banking?”
  • Advice: “After I graduated from university, I had a lot of work experience, but I only spent a year in each of my three jobs, and some bankers view that as job-hopping. How can I put it in a better light?”

Conducting the Investment Banking Informational Interview

Especially for your first interviews, we recommend audio calls rather than video.

Audio-only calls allow you to focus on your questions and take notes, and if you get stuck, you can look up information more easily.

With video calls, you have to pay attention to more variables, such as your clothes (business casual is fine), your line of sight, and your background environment.

If you’ve already prepared using the points above, conducting the interview should not be that difficult.

The main point is that you need to watch the time carefully and avoid going on for much longer than 10-15 minutes unless the other person wants to keep rambling.

Setting a 10-15-minute limit also ensures that you do not run out of topics to discuss in future calls or follow-up messages.

As the interview finishes up, you can make a “mini-ask,” such as asking whether it’s OK to contact the person in the future or casually asking for referrals.

If you make a small request at this time, it will be easier to ask for other favors in the future.

Following Up on the Call

After you finish speaking with the person, send a short thank-you note within 24 hours.

If you’re going to ask for referrals to others in the person’s group, do so at this time.

After you send this thank-you note, you can stay in touch with the person once every few months by sending questions or updates.

The proper frequency and number of messages depend on the person’s receptiveness and your timing, so there’s no universal rule.

For example, if the person seemed “lukewarm,” and you have 6 months until recruiting begins, maybe send 2 follow-up messages, each 3 months apart.

But if the person seemed very enthusiastic, and recruiting begins in 3 months, you can follow up more frequently and send 3-4 messages between now and then.

Here’s an example follow-up template:

SUBJECT: [Brief Description of Your Status] – [Topic You Want to Update Them On]

[Name],

Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me about your experiences at [Firm Name] a few months ago.

As a reminder, we discussed [Briefly summarize the first conversation], and you recommended [Summarize their advice or mention the key point they recommended].

I’m writing to you again because I wanted to let you know that I took your advice to [Take a class / complete an internship / contact a referral], and it proved very helpful, as [Describe the benefits of implementing their advice].

I hope all is well, and thanks again for your time and helpful advice.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

You could potentially set up another call or meeting, but it’s not necessarily required.

And it’s usually only worthwhile if you have a lot in common with the person or additional, detailed questions to ask.

Right as recruiting begins and applications open, ask directly about how to position yourself for an interview at their firm.

If the person seemed less receptive, you could also ask if they know of other groups and firms that are hiring or if they could offer any feedback on your application.

Putting in the Reps

Setting up your first informational interview will take a good amount of time, and you’ll have to conduct dozens to see results.

The good news is that you’ll become more efficient over time, especially as you get used to re-using email templates and doing background research.

The bad news is that the entire effort will still take months.

But if you want to work at the large banks, there are no shortcuts aside from nepotism.

For Further Learning About Investment Banking Informational Interviews

If you want more about each step of this process and get dozens of email templates and a tracking spreadsheet, check out the IB Networking Toolkit.

Yes, it has been around for a long time ago, but we’re revamping the entire course this year, and the module on informational interviews is brand new.

New versions of the lessons on cold emails and cold calls are coming soon as well.

And if you want to get really good at this entire process, get out there and start practicing.

The best templates and resources mean nothing unless you use them successfully.

The more you practice, the higher your ROI will be – even if banks would like to completely remove humans from the hiring process.

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. Thanks for the info. Should I connect with anyone in my field of interest beyond only those with common ground (e.g. graduating from the same school a.k.a. Alumni)?

    The issue is that I’m interested and working in Treasury/Risk and this field is quite niche compared to traditional IB. I think it should be okay although networking with Alumni is always easier to connect with good reason.

    I want to make a lateral move (in the same field) from a retail/commercial bank (in continental Europe) to bulge bracket investment bank (in London).

    1. You can certainly do that. The more niche the field, the more responsive people will be. Bankers tend to be unresponsive in a lot of cases because they get so many networking requests. But if it’s something like Treasury/Risk, they’re likely to get far fewer inbound requests.

  2. Hi Brian, I have an internship interview with a private equity firm’s capital markets division. Would the interview be similar to one for a capital markets role in an investment bank? If it’s any help, on the job description, they wanted someone with experience in Lev. Fin. or debt fund. Thanks!

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