Why You Can’t Network Your Way Into Investment Banking – And What to Do About It

Investment Banking RecruitingIn The Banker Blueprint I told you about the two main ways to ninja your way into investment banking:

1) Developing Relationships

2) Cold-Calling

And then I walked you through step-by-step processes for each one that allow you break into investment banking without killing yourself.

So I’m not going to re-hash all that here – instead, I’m going to tell you exactly what you’ve been doing wrong when you network and how to fix it so you can land investment banking offers.

Mistake #1: Trying Too Hard to Impress

Banking isn’t rocket science.

All you need is basic arithmetic skills and Excel know-how, and the rest you can pick up along the way.

So don’t go into informational interviews or real interviews bragging about your 4.0 GPA, how you won the quantum physics competition, or how you’re going to be a Nobel finalist.

Especially for undergraduates, likability matters far more than your “accomplishments” – no one wants to go to bat for the weird guy.

You need to be smart, able to do the work, and get bankers to like you.

Networking is all about being personable and interesting rather than proving you’re a genius – so ask yourself the following questions:

  • In informational interviews, are you spending most of your time asking about the other person’s background and interests? Make sure you’re doing that instead of constantly talking about yourself.
  • What is the most interesting thing about yourself that’s not listed on your resume? Are you mentioning this when you’re networking?

Mistake #2: Cowering Behind Your Computer Screen, Afraid to Talk to People

Forget about applying online, submitting your resume to job sites, and relying on email for your networking efforts.

You know where all those online applications go?

Into a bottomless abyss!

OK, not really. Sometimes you can get lucky, but it’s a waste of time to spend more than an hour per week applying online.

You need to get out there and meet people in-person.

If you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can start with email and phone calls, but you should always be moving in the direction of in-person meetings.

If you’re worried about the cost, consolidate your travel and plan for 1 or 2 weekend trips where you meet with dozens of bankers.

Mistake #3: Not Spreading Your Net Wide Enough

If you’re only combing through your alumni network, or you’re only searching online then you’re not doing enough to find names and contact information.

You need to go well beyond the most common sources if you want to have maximum success.

Here are 5 commonly overlooked sources for finding names and contact information:

  • Alumni at ALL levels – business school, undergraduate, summer programs, study abroad programs, seminars…
  • Professors and teachers
  • Religious organizations
  • Your immediate and extended family
  • Show up to information sessions at other schools and meet bankers there

And that just scratches the surface.

“But isn’t it better to spend time on alumni and going through co-workers and friends since the probability of success is higher?”

Yes, it’s better to start there – but many people don’t have a great alumni network or well-connected friends / co-workers.

Also, eventually you’ll exhaust your list of alumni, co-workers, and friends – so you will need to go beyond those.

Mistake #4: Throwing In Your Towel Before the Last Inning

There’s no such thing as “overnight success” with networking.

Some methods take a lot of time, whereas others take even more time.

I’ve conducted dozens of interviews with readers who defied the odds to break into investment banking, and in each case it took at least 6 months to 1 year to break in.

If you’re cold-calling your way into Wall Street, you’ll need to call upwards of 100 banks – many times each – to land an offer.

And if you’re developing relationships over the long-term, you’ll need to contact hundreds of bankers to maximize your chances.

If you get 1 rejection or 1 person ignores your emails and you give up, you’re never going to make it.

Your philosophy should be persistent adaptation.

Try something once on a few people, see how it works, and if it’s not going well, change your approach, try it on more people, and repeat that process until you find what works.

When should you throw in the towel?

If you’ve been through dozens of informational interviews and haven’t moved closer to real interviews, or you’ve cold-called 200 firms and gotten no positive responses, then maybe you need to re-think your plans.

But otherwise, keep at it.

Mistake #5: Conducting a Mating Ritual Rather Than a Job Search

Networking is like dating: it’s hit-or-miss, time-consuming, and it takes awhile to find “the one.”

And just like dating, you put yourself at a disadvantage if you’re not upfront from the beginning.

From your very first phone call or in-person meeting, you need to condition the other person into expecting requests from you.

It’s very simple:

  1. Set up a call or in-person meeting.
  2. At the end, ask for advice, referrals, or mention an upcoming in-person trip.
  3. When recruiting season approaches, ask directly for an interview:

“Thanks again for speaking with me. With recruiting season approaching, I just wanted to reach out to you and ask how I could best position myself for an interview with your firm.”

If you have a good reason to follow-up before that, go ahead and do it – but you don’t need to email the person every week just to “stay in touch.”

What Next?

Which of these mistakes have you made?

Are you too indirect with people? Are you giving up too soon? Not finding enough contacts in finance?

Whatever mistake you’re making, now you know how to fix it.

And if you haven’t started networking yet, be on the lookout for all these mistakes as you start breaking into the industry.

More on Networking

For some inspiring stories of how readers just like you broke into the industry, see the articles below:

  • How to Get Into Investment Banking from an Unknown State School with No Finance Background
  • How to Break Into Investment Banking as a Career-Changer in a Part-Time, Non-Target MBA Program
  • How to Break Into Investment Banking as an Engineer with No Finance Background
  • How to Break Into Private Equity Right Out of Undergraduate with No Internships
  • From Non-Target and No Finance Experience to 2 Full-Time Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Offers
  • From Nuclear Submarines to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap from Military to Finance

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again in a few days.

Talk soon,

Mergers & Inquisitions
Breaking Into Wall Street

P.S. If you want to learn even more about networking and get a leg-up over aspiring bankers, check out The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit right here:

  • The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit

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.