by Brian DeChesare Comments (131)

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

I got to thinking about this very question the other day…

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I looked through my inbox recently and realized something:

  • 5% of my emails fell into the “What should I do with my life?” category.
  • 4% were related to GPA rounding.
  • 1% had to do with models and bottles and/or prestige. It’s ok, I just ignore these.

So what about the remaining 90%?

Networking.

How to call people, how to send emails, when to call/email, what questions to ask, how to follow-up, how to find the names, how to set up in-person meetings, how to rock your information sessions, and how to “make the ask.”

I looked through my networking-related emails and went through my interviews with readers who successfully broke in, all to answer 2 key questions:

  1. Why can’t you network your way into investment banking?
  2. What should you do about it?

I realized there are only 2 reasons why you can’t network your way into finance:

  1. You’re not persistent enough.
  2. You’re doing it the wrong way.

Persistence

Sylvester Stallone went through FIFTEEN HUNDRED rejections before landing his first job as a minor thug in a B-movie.

And then it took him years more to get the first Rocky movie made.

Oh, and he had to sell his dog to get it done.

I can inspire you with stories like these, but we’re not all like Sylvester Stallone.

The real world is not like The Matrix, and I can’t just hop out of the computer screen, give you a red pill, and then jump into your body to place all the calls and send all the emails for you.

So you’ll have to do some of the work on your own.

Doing It the Wrong Way

But the good news is that I can tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong with your networking efforts – and how to fix it.

The Top 4 Networking Mistakes You’re Making

  1. Trying Too Hard to Impress
  2. Overlooking Names & Contact Information
  3. Using the Wrong Channel(s)
  4. Not Asking for What You Want!

Trying Too Hard to Impress

You might be tempted to bring up your 4.0 GPA, your tough classes, or the shelves of awards you have when you’re speaking with recruiters.

Or maybe you’ll talk about your personal portfolio and how you earned a 95% return in 1 year while the rest of the market plunged 50%.

These are both great ideas – if you want to fall flat on your face.

You’re not going to “impress” bankers unless you’re a CEO with 20+ years of experience and you’ve taken 3 companies public for $10 billion total. And even then, would you walk into a party and introduce yourself by saying that?

Your best bet is to talk about what makes you interesting rather than what makes you impressive.

Your study abroad trip to China… how you learned guitar in Spain… your wine collection… your recent ski trip.

Bankers are surrounded by talk of the market, business, and “prestige” all day – so the last thing they want to hear is more of the same.

The more “normal” your conversations are, the more effective you’ll be.

Overlooking Names & Contact Information

The two most common ways to find names and contact information are going through alumni and through friends/family.

And these methods work – IF you happen to go to a “target school,” or your father is President of JP Morgan Asia.

The other downfall is that everyone knows about these methods – which means that they can actually be less effective even if you go to a top school.

You need to act more like a ninja and start going to other schools’ career fairs, talking to your professors (at all levels), going through online resources like Capital IQ / Factset that most students don’t have access to, and showing up at organizations’ meetings even if you’re NOT a member.

When I spoke with readers who networked into banking, even the most successful ones all had one comment in common:

“I wish I spread my net wider! I totally forgot about [Alumni from Undergraduate/Summer Program] / [Finance Professors] / [People at my Church/Mosque/Synagogue…] / [Insert More Sources Here]”

Using the Wrong Channel(s)

When you first start contacting bankers, you’ll be tempted to email them or do everything online via social networks like LinkedIn.

It’s “comfortable” – and also ineffective.

You can’t make a good “first impression” via email – the other person needs to hear your voice or meet you in-person.

So the phone trumps email – and in-person meetings trump the phone by about 100x.

Email and the phone do have their place in networking: you can’t go from not knowing someone at all to suddenly showing up at their office.

But every time you email or call someone, ask yourself the following:

“Will this lead to an in-person meeting? Am I doing this to be productive, or am I doing it to be active?

If you use the wrong channels, you’ll be very active but you won’t be very productive – and you won’t get results.

Not Asking for What You Want!

There’s this myth that you have to go through a mating ritual before you actually request anything – whether it’s getting more referrals, asking for advice, or asking for an interview.

You need to meet with someone in-person 5 times, follow-up twice each week, and send monthly updates before you even think about “making the ask,” right?

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Make a great first impression in your first call or in-person meeting.
  2. Follow-up and ask for what you want.

If you’re networking well in-advance of recruiting season, sure, follow-up every few months so they remember who you are…

But if it’s close to recruiting season just follow-up and make your request:

“Thanks for speaking with me last week. With recruiting season approaching, I just wanted to follow-up and ask how I could best position myself for an interview with your firm.”

Don’t overestimate the competition – 90% of prospective bankers never even network in the first place, and of the 10% that actually do some networking, 90% are afraid to be assertive and actually ask for what they want.

Common Sense?

I thought these strategies were common sense because this is what I always do when meeting new people.

But my inbox told me otherwise: I kept getting the same networking questions over and over again.

The Solution?

Back when I released Breaking Into Wall Street, I created sample cold-calls, informational interviews, and email templates to help you network effectively.

I came up this idea at 3 AM one night a week before the launch, and expected it to remain a bonus item available to early customers – The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.

But then two things happened:

  1. My volume of networking-related email increased – and I kept getting requests to sign up for this bonus package.
  2. Early customers had great success using the strategies in this program to win offers – even from backgrounds that are supposedly hard to break in from, like a recent immigrant and a student who had already graduated without having had any internships.

Solution, Part 2

I decided to expand the toolkit and add even more scripts, email templates, and tutorials for finding names and conducting informational interviews and cold-calls.

Oh, and a few other things too:

  1. Contact information for 10,000 banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds organized by region.
  2. Video tutorials and email templates/walkthroughs for information sessions, weekend trips, and co-worker networking… and a quiz so you can test your knowledge with dozens of questions on all these topics.

Coming Up Next

I’m going to share more of these strategies, give you a simple 5-step process you can use to plan all your networking efforts, and show you how to become a Networking Ninja so that you can win interviews and land offers.

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,

    I am an Indian student currently interning in a boutique IB.

    I have a relative(CEO) who can connect me to a PE firm’s Managing Partner.This PE partner is extremely well connected.He can connect to me to the COUNTRY HEAD of a BB investment bank(this country head was with the BB bank’s M&A department in US for more than a decade before moving back to head India operations)

    I have a few questions in this regard :

    1) How effective will a referral from the country head of a BB IB(think GS/MS/JPM) be in securing an internship/ full time offer in its M&A department in one of the more mature markets like the US,UK or even HK, Singapore ? (I want to work outside India because the no.of M&A deals happening in India is very very less)

    2)Do you think I would be better off by trying to secure a job in the PE firm(it’s a $2 billion fund) since this contact is more direct ?

    1. It could potentially be very helpful, but you would still be better off asking about opportunities at the PE firm.

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