by Brian DeChesare Comments (74)

Recruiting in a Down Market, Part 3: How to Go from Networking Newbie to Networking Ninja

Recruiting in a Down Market, Part 3: How to Go from Networking Newbie to Networking NinjaIn the last article in this series, we looked at 4 ways you can move from “check the box” recruiting to actual recruiting: casting a wide net, considering other geographies, thinking outside banking / consulting, and networking.

The first 3 are straightforward, but “networking” often gives prospective financiers more trouble than a shuriken to the back.

We said it’s a simple process: develop a set of contacts, begin emailing, calling, and meeting them, develop the relationship, stay in touch, and ask about opportunities when appropriate.

But that’s very high-level, so now let’s get into specifics with 5 strategies you can use to go from networking newbie to networking ninja.

1. Leave No Stone Unturned

“I wish I had thought about more ways to get contacts…”

“I wish I had thought about business school and undergraduate alumni…”

“I can’t believe I overlooked that family friend who’s now the CFO…”

Those were comments I received from readers who successfully broke into the industry through networking.

No matter how thorough your search has been, you’ve probably overlooked someone. And overlooking even 1 name can mean the difference between getting an offer and “Plan B” (or C or D).

Kevin from Management Consulted believes in taking an 80/20 approach to networking and focusing on alumni networks, friends, and work networks.

I agree that you need to consider those options, and that many people waste time on unimportant tasks (like revising their resumes 493 times), so the 80/20 principle is certainly applicable.

But I’ve seen enough stories of getting interviews and offers through random means to convince me that getting industry contacts is one area that deserves a disproportionate amount of attention.

Here are a few stories I know of (with personal details removed, or they’d kill me):

  • One person realized he had a distant relative in a high-up position at a bank – and got an offer without going through the traditional interview process.
  • Another person found herself with interviews because she mentioned her interest in banking at the dentist’s office – of all places – and found that one of the assistants there had connections.
  • Someone else found himself with interviews after running into a banker at the airport, seeing he had a bag with the bank’s name on it, and approaching the banker to introduce himself.

Yes, most people don’t use these tactics – but most people also never get into finance in the first place.

Uncovering Names

You already know the “conventional” methods for getting names: alumni networks, work networks, friends, family friends, information sessions, professional/school organizations, and any other group (religion, sports, etc.) that you belong to. Track what you do each week and see how everything could be used to generate lists of industry contacts.

Undergraduates sometimes overlook avenues like business schools attached to their universities – but if you make friends with the students there, they can help you far more than your peers.

Beyond the standard methods, you can use strategies that require you to “stretch” and go outside your comfort zone – like finding distant relatives, mentioning your plans to strangers, and cold-calling numbers you find in online databases.

These can be time-consuming, but the best idea is something Kevin mentions explicitly: the law of attraction.

Take every opportunity to tell those around you who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking for – and you never know what will turn up.

That doesn’t just apply to networking, by the way – the same strategy has brought me business partners, mentors, and even friends.

There are plenty of creative methods you could try that shouldn’t be discussed publicly (or they would lose their effectiveness)… but we’ll save those for another day.

2. Make Friends – Don’t Look for a Job

The best way to find a job: avoid looking for a job. If you come across as desperate, you won’t get good results.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask directly about opportunities – but jumping into the networking process with only a job as your end goal will lead to disappointment.

If you view everything as part of your effort to learn more about the industry and make new friends, your life becomes much easier.

You’ll never be successful in the long-run if you couldn’t imagine yourself being friends with those you meet via networking.

You might manage to sneak into the industry, but you won’t last unless you develop real friendships – especially these days, when layoffs are determined by relationships rather than by competence.

There was another common trend among the most successful readers who broke into the industry: they got to know their “industry contacts” so well that they were exchanging personal stories and talking about non-finance related topics (even exchanging family photos in one case…) by the end.

You don’t need to take this exact approach. One reader the other day mentioned that it’s hard to approach a total stranger and get to know him/her via coffee meetings and other “dancing around the real purpose of why I called you” tactics.

The less of a connection you have to him/her and the less time you have, the better off you are with being direct – but if you have a shared connection and/or more time, real relationships work better in the long-run.

3. Pretend That You’re Working Out Rather Than Cramming for an Exam

We’ve covered this one before, but it bears repeating: you can’t develop deep relationships in a day – unless you’re Jack Bauer (see: Jack’s new love interest).

Assuming that terrorists don’t take you hostage during your meeting and that you don’t have anything obvious to bond over, you’ll need to take the time to develop relationships.

Do a little each day rather than trying to call hundreds of people at the end when you realize you have nothing lined up for the summer.

Yes, we all have commitments and are busy 24/7 – but you can start networking in as little as 30 minutes to an hour each week.

Here’s the catch, though: you need to do it consistently, over several months (at the least) – or it doesn’t work that well.

It’s similar to getting in shape (see: investment banking fitness) – most of your gains come from doing it repeatedly over the long-term rather than by trying to become a power-lifter in a single week.

But most students follow the “cram for exam” mode and assume that real-life is just like school.

4. Networking Takes Priority Over Grades… and Most Other Commitments

If you have above a 3.5 GPA, you should expend the bare minimum of time and effort required to maintain it and then devote the rest of your time to networking.

Much like test scores and technical interview questions, grades don’t matter too much past a certain level.

Before anyone asks “why don’t you tell people without really high GPAs what to do!” we’ll answer that one directly:

If you can boost your GPA to the 3.5 level by the time you apply for internships / jobs and can do so while still giving yourself 5-10 hours per week to network, you should take the time to raise your GPA.

But if you have a 2.7 and are graduating in 1 or 2 semesters, think about raising it to a 3.0 but don’t kill yourself – at that level it’s better to focus 90% of your energies on networking.

If you’re at the MBA level, you’re already working, or you’re more worried about other commitments taking up time, reduce them and learn to say “no.”

There’s no such thing as “not enough time” – that just means your priorities lie elsewhere.

If a student group or other organization is consuming too much time, drop it or scale back. Banks do not care that much about your activities – unless you have absolutely no work experience.

5. Don’t Take “No” for an Answer – Stop Being Docile

Here’s a shocking fact:

One reason that top consulting firms like McKinsey hire many people from Ivy League schools is that they are more docile.

Intuitively, it makes a lot of sense: people with great educations and privileged backgrounds are less likely to take aggressive actions to get what they want.

Only one small problem: you need those skills to network your way into the industry.

Many applicants assume that “no” means “no” and stop pursuing whatever it is they’re after. That’s a mistake – but you don’t have to be rude or aggressive to get around this one – the best approach is “subtle pressure.”

Let’s say you’re cold-calling someone and he/she says, “We don’t have anything available right now.” If you just hang up, that’s the wrong approach.

The better approach is to inquire why they don’t have anything – Do they already have someone? Do they not take interns? Is it an issue of cost? Once you know what their “objection” is, you can then follow-up appropriately, check back in coming months, and directly address their objection(s) in any application you send.

You should be more concerned if they refuse to give you “objections” even when you ask them – that means they’re not interested at all.

Newbie to Ninja

Especially when the economy is bad and when you don’t have anything unusual to set yourself apart, becoming a “networking ninja” is your best strategy for getting noticed and landing offers.

The worst mistake is staying in your comfort zone and never doing anything that makes you hesitate. The bolder you are in your approach, the more you think outside the box, the sooner you start, and the more persistent you are, the higher your chances of success.

Just like a ninja on an assassination mission, except you don’t need to be stealthy or learn how to use a katana first.

Coming Up Next

Now that you know how to network and why it’s the best way to set yourself apart in a down market, we’ll cover different “Plan B” options and how to decide what’s best for you if all else fails.

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. Claudia Collie

    Really learned a lot from this!!! Thank you!

  2. I started networking and sent a lot of cold emails to alumni through my school system, I go to a semi target, but none replied to the email. What do you think I should do? These people are the only connections/emails addresses I could get access to. Should I email them again?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes, better yet call them. Make sure you have a good pitch and opening first

  3. Met with an alum today. Interesting guy. However he asked me to send my CV along with a speculative (not for specific role) letter detailing my technical skills & academic background [life science > computer science >PE internship this summer (which he classed as “no experience”) > why I’m writing this speculative app today]. He knows a guy that works in DB and another at SocGen, and one at a large, well known HF, and said that he’ll pass along my CV and “it will go through their system and you never know who it’ll end up in front of” (the janitor when he’s emptying the trash? ).

    I don’t see the value in sending a generic letter (one of the 3 is an institutional sales guy, the other is head of a trading desk, and the last is programming/quant) because I don’t have a traditional finance background and I like to tailor my interest in finance to each specific role. I’ll write one just in case, perhaps expressing a broad interest in the global markets in general but should I ask him to just put me in touch with these people directly, so I can set up informational (not job-seeking) meetings?

    Also, has a speculative application *ever* worked? I think it’s a myth :)

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes, depending on whether he prefers you to go through him or not though. If yes, you might want to draft that letter he suggested

  4. I met the global head of securitization at a major European bank at a conference, and got his card–he was a nice guy, and said I should email him with questions/etc, and just remind him where we met to jog his memory.

    My ultimate goal is to get an off-cycle internship at the firm. Should I ask for an informational interview, or should I ask to be introduced to people who are heads of, say, specific types of securitisation (I’m interested in securities research).

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Email him. Thank him for meeting you. Tell him that you’re interested in securities research. Ask him if he has any suggestions for you and if he knows whether his firm’s team is hiring or not….go from there

      1. Yes, I got your message on the other post as well (in structured finance recruiting). Is it too forward to ask whether he knows if his team is hiring?

        1. M&I - Nicole

          No. I don’t think so!

  5. Hi Nicole,
    I know that recruiting season for full time is starting now. Do you know when it will end? November?

    Moreover, I interned at a BB over summer, hence I didn’t really have time to network with alum. How do you advise going about networking now? should be be direct such as: ” is there any opportunity at your place? any contacts you can refer to me?” etc? It seems to me that these questions sound not “ok” and the alum will be turned off by these. What are the better ways to phrase this?

    since recruiting for full time is different from recruiting for SA, the latter is much more structured, should I focus on the job postings online? I saw that several BB they have postings for the divisions I wasn’t interested in: Operations, private bank, technology. Does this mean that that IB, research, ST aren’t hiring?

    Thanks alot.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes, most of the time

      No, just be direct because FT recruiting starts now and timing is very important. I think your alums will be smart enough to figure out why you are contacting them in the first place

      You can reply to job postings online and apply via other sources too

      No, this just means you came across postings for the aforementioned roles

      1. Hi Nicole,
        Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it. So when I talk to alum for the first time, since the tming is so important, should I start by going the usual route of getting to know them? And then at the end of 30-minute talk ask about if there is any opportunity open since I would love to work for your company? Would that be ok?

        So what is the best way of knowing whether IB, research, ST are hiring? Is it talking to an insider like HR, alum?
        Thanks alot.

  6. I don’t live in NY. I go to a non-target school in Atlanta, GA and have a 3.2 gpa. I read and follow the markets very thoroughly… but I do not currently know anyone working at any of the big banks.

    I’m just wondering from reading some of your posts… does anyone make it in from regular schools based on education and resume experience???

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes. Depends on (1) your pitch (2) your passion and knowledge of the markets (3) your persistence (4) your network – needless to say, your efforts in networking (5) your attitude – do people like you? (6) luck

  7. Possible to land an investment banking internship in June? I see ads on craigslist for summer analyst positions, but I’m sure many people are applying to them so there’s a lot of competition.

    But would these imply that there are perhaps other boutique banks who also need interns or don’t realize it yet and I could perhaps cold-call my way in?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Formal recruitment for IB internships have ended in Jan/Feb. While it is not impossible to land IB internships in June, it can be challenging to do so…I believe such ads are probably posted by smaller firms. Yes you can try cold-calling and see how it goes.

  8. Thanks for the great information, i just to ask whether experience as a project manager in a construction company and having previously started my own business with a high turn over is going to help on my resume, should i incorporate this experience in to my resume, even though my result from melbourne university is not the best,


    1. M&I - Nicole

      I believe I’ve answered your first question already

      Yes, you should incorporate this experience in your resume though it may not necessarily be useful for IB roles

  9. thanks for the great information posted, unfortunately i still haven’t had any luck an ibank job especially in trading or M&A. I would like to ask whether my experience in project management for a construction industry and having started a own business is going to help on my resume.


    1. M&I - Nicole

      Not really, deal experience is very important

  10. Hi Brian, what would your advice be for a junior who didn’t get a summer internship in Banking & thinking about taking a gap semester and re-classify to apply for summer analyst position next summer (pushing graduation a semester late)? What’s the best scenario for this summer in order to get well prepared? (I am thinking about taking a gap semester and doing banking in China in the coming fall)

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Sure. I’d also network a lot w people in the industry and hone up your knowledge in IB and the markets.

      1. Thank you, Nicole! What would you say about using this summer then? Boutique ? International Economic Think Tanks (since I am based in DC)? Asset Management ? Microfinance?

        Thank you!

        1. M&I - Nicole

          What do you want to do? Which one feels the most “right” to you? I think the boutique IB option might be more useful for IB related roles going forward. The others are useful too for other finance-related roles (going forward) too.

  11. First off, thanks for an amazing website – I don’t know what I’d do without your help.

    I’m presently a sophomore in college with a
    4.78 /5.00 GPA, studying Applied Mathematics with a second major in Finance at a target school (not in USA). I have desperately been applying for summer internships at all types of firms – from Bulge Brackets to boutiques, but so far with minimal success.

    I have zero work experience, and I believe this is the main factor destroying my chances. Also, it is next to impossible for me to network with alumni as I am one of very few (<10) international students from my country, and almost no local alumni will even give me a second look. My family isn't exactly very well off either, and therefore I have no contacts on that side.

    I really have no idea where to go from here, as I am en route to having no summer internship offers, with the exception for one tiny wealth and fund management firm. I have worked extremely hard, and have read extensively on various areas of finance. However, it seems as if no one's willing to take a risk in this down economy and even give an interview to an inexperienced candidate.

    I'm absolutely lost and I would be extremely grateful if you had any advice – I need it now more than ever. Feel free to contact me by email if you wish. Thanks in advance.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d work with the firm you have a shot with first and go from there. Cold calling/emailing bankers would also help

  12. Hi,

    It seems that you have interviewed ppl who broke into ibank as a lawyer/engineer/account, was just wondering if you know any story on how a corporate banker broke into ibank by any chance?? And is there any skill set that a corporate banker may have that will leverage their chance into ibank, pls? Appreciate if you could share some thought! Thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I personally don’t know of any stories on that front. I don’t know much about corporate banking, but the same types of skills would probably be of some use. The #1 thing you need is a good attitude (willing to work really long hours), and attention to detail in IB.

  13. What shall I put as the email subject if I would like to conduct an alumni infomational interview? I feel putting informational interview as the subject title is not good, and people may not have the incentive to read the email. What’s your suggestion? Thanks!

    1. Introduction – [School Name] Student or Introduction – Referral from [Name of Person Who Referred You]

      1. Thanks!!!

      2. May I ask a question that is irrelavent to this topic? The comment function under that topic was disable. =( What is the dress code for a company’s outing? Thanks!

        1. Business formal to be safe (see the fashion guides)

  14. Small Fry

    Dear Brian,

    I am faced with a dilemma. It is in my interest to be a runner on the CME Board of Trade. Two distant cousins of mine currently have positions on the board. I feel they could be of great help for me getting an interview. However, I have only met these guys a few times in my life, when I was probably five years old at a family reunion. As it states in your article, you have to develop a relationship over time and cannot directly network for the sake of a job, so I was wondering how I should I approach this?

    -Small Fry

    1. Just contact them directly, say what you’re looking for, and see if they can help. For that type of situation it’s better just to be direct and ask what you’re looking for especially if they’re high-up.

  15. Thanks for the articles. About the keep-up contact part. I got an internship offer from some IB and sort of knew some people in the bank. But well at this point I don’t have any particular reason to email those contacts.. I understand the importance of keeping up the relations.. But can’t figure out how exactly to do that…

  16. Is it odd to contact people working at private equity firms? I’m assuming people in PE would have no interest in speaking to someone trying to break into IB, or would think it’s odd I am “interested in hearing about their background”, as they typically only recruit people with IB experience. Is this a false assumption?

    1. You can do it but it’s better to focus on those in IB if you can.

  17. Hi Brian,

    I am going to be a sophomore at the start of the upcoming school year at a relatively target school (more known for accounting/marketing, but banks do still come) with a 3.7 GPA.

    Currently, I only have government related finance experience, but I am looking to spin it as I have been doing a lot of excel work including working with larger companies like McKinsey and Hewitt.

    This is my current game plan: I have 3 contacts that are currently analysts at midmarket firms (do not know of any alumni at BB =/) and what I want to get out of these relationships are just better understanding of the industry and theri jobs while maintaining a friendship with all of them.

    The rest of my list are MDs that are either alumni or the most friendly looking on their website (lol).

    However, I am not sure how to go about emailing these people out of the blue and how agressive I should be since I am not looking for an internship now but rather for the next summer.

    Do you have any advice on how I should approach them?

    1. I would just email them and ask for 10 minutes to speak, saying that you’re interested in their firm and want to learn more (and mentioning the alumni connection of course). You don’t have to be super-aggressive at this point but it’s good to at least introduce yourself in advance and then contact them a few times over the next year.

  18. So it’s April and nothing really materialized this summer, and I’m a rising senior at a non target with a 3.6 GPA and no work experience. Is it too late for a summer job and is it too early to start networking for fulltime positions ?

    1. No to both. You can still find summer openings, but usually not at larger banks – had several readers who found internships at small places even in May. Never too early to start networking for full-time.

  19. Hi,

    I managed to get introduced by cc to a Global Head of Emerging Markets Operations via a VP. I am interested in exploring opportinities in IBD. What kind of a letter i need to send him? any tips?

    Thank you

    1. Nothing special really – keep it short, don’t try to be too obvious about sucking up to him, and treat it like a normal conversation / email. You do need to be a bit more polished but that’s the only real difference.

  20. To start the networking now where I haven’t started the MBA (Conc in Finance) and CFA yet, where is the best place to go to?

    You mentioned something like Society of Securities Analysts but will they even accept my application for a membership? Are there anything out there for investment banking, M&A, IPOs, PE, VC in general? Basically where the bankers meet I guess. Do you happen to know a couple of these societies/clubs? Thanks again…

    1. Cold-calling, or going to one of the societies like you mentioned. Just say you’re interested or juts show up to meetings, beg for forgiveness rather than asking for permission. I don’t know clubs in Canada offhand but you can try asking on message boards.

  21. How important is networking for someone who is at a “target school”? From this post, I get the impression that networking is as, if not more, important than maintaining a high gpa. However, the overall mentality at school seems to suggest that interviews with top firms are granted almost completely based on gpa.

    1. Still very important, especially if you DON’T have a good GPA – then networking is the only way you’ll get interviews.

  22. Hi Brian,

    thank you for a wonderfully informative site!

    I am thinking of switching from academia to quantitative finance right now. In your experience, is networking equally important in getting a good
    position for a prospective quant as it is in IB? Or is it less common to contact people for positions, say, at D.E. Shaw or Citadel?


    1. It’s still important no matter what you’re going for.

  23. Hi Brian,
    I hope you can give me some tips about contact unknown alumni. I will be graduated in October and I still don’t have a job yet. So I don’t really have time to building relationships with them now. I have a huge email list of alumnus who work in the industry (no phone number). Do you think I can just email them directly (to those who work for boutiques) to introduce myself, give my background, say why i am interested in investment banking and ask for ft job oppourtunities? Or should I make the contact first, and try to get their phone number?

    1. With that little time and no phone numbers, I would recommend just emailing them directly and saying that you’re looking for full-time opportunities. Keep it brief, attach your resume, and make sure you at least know what firm they’re at.

      However I would also cold-call local banks, finding the contact info. where necessary – there’s no substitute for talking on the phone.

  24. Thanks M&I. Also, what level should I specifically target at – VPs, Associates, Analysts? I would imagine Analysts would be the busiest so may not be a good idea to contact them but wondering if I could get your thoughts.

    1. If you had more time I’d say start with Analysts and move your way up the chain, but at this late stage I would actually go directly for MDs, and VPs if the MDs are unresponsive – they’re the ones with the power to get you interviews and offers.

  25. Put another way what do you think would be the best networking strategy for the rest of the summer for the full time recruiting season :)

    1. It really depends on when you are asking them for help… if you don’t have much time before recruiting begins, I would be very direct and reach out to them via the alumni database, introduce yourself, set up a call or in-person meeting, and then ask directly about recruiting at the end of the 10-15 minute call.

      “How can I bet position myself to get interviews?” etc.

      This assumes you’re contacting alumni at large banks – if you’re going smaller than this or are cold-calling, it’s best to just ask directly for an interview and skip all the “getting to know you” parts.

  26. Thanks for the advice – was really helpful. I was wondering if you could shed some light on specific strategies for networking with alumni you don’t know personally – the process of building a relationship with them and when and how to ask for referrals /any help in the job search process.

  27. I don’t think I’ll be finding an i-banking internship this summer…would a business development job look impressive on my resume for summer analyst recruiting next year?

    1. Well, not as good as IBD/PE of course but still better than most alternatives, esp. if you work on deals.

  28. GPA can only take you so far. What’s going to differentiate you from anyone else (at least for resume screening) is your prior work experience and activities.

  29. I’ve heard you say several times that once you have over a 3.5 or 3.7 gpa it really doesn’t matter what you have.

    So is it really true that if I have a 3.95 right now as a soph at Berkeley that my chances of breaking in to I-banking would be the same if my gpa were to drop to a 3.8 or 3.75?

    1. What he said below – your chances will not change with a 3.8/3.75 vs. 3.95.

  30. Could you perhaps discuss the internship process.

    I understand that most ibanks (BBs) recruit interns (Summer Analysts) who are still students and are coming back for their final year in the Fall.

    What about middle-market or boutique ibanks?
    Their hiring process is probably a lot less structured. At what point in time (age) is it silly to look for an internship in such place?

    I graduated in 2007 so I’m close to being 2 years out of undergrad (will be 24 years old this year). When contacting boutiques, should I inquire regarding internship or full time positions?


    1. Most of them also recruit in the winter. At really small places it’s always worthwhile to ask about internships but anywhere larger I would not look past April or so.

      Assuming that you have been working, you need to ask about FT positions… maybe at 3-person firms you can get away with going the internship route but anywhere larger its hard

  31. Zero contacts, 2.9 GPA, 2 semesters to go…What about me?!? haha I’m doomed’

    1. there’s always business school!

      1. Yes, but don’t you need like a 3.5 GPA to get into a top b-school where the BB recruit?

        1. You can get in with a lower GPA if you have a really good story. They are not as stringent on GPAs as law schools are.

          1. Brian – what are your view points on getting into b-schools early?
            In terms of figuring out your story, is it wise to determine so early in your life what exactly you want to do/where you want to go to get into b-school? (e.g. become a CEO of a bulge bracket, start up an options company, etc.)

            I’ve heard from many professionals to work for a min 5 years before thinking about b-schools to get to most out of it. Yet, you give b-school as an option for a tricky situation. Would appreciate it if you could clarify your thoughts on how you would fit b-school into the big picture.

          2. You don’t have to “determine” it, just make up something and tell a good story about it, that’s what everyone else does. You should wait at least 3 years before going to business school though to be competitive work experience-wise.

  32. Tactic #5 is spot on. Figuring out the “why” of the No will at the very least, give you a reality check, but can also reveal what the company/industry is really looking for (as opposed to whats on the website)

  33. Is it realistic to move from a SA position at a place like Moelis/PWP/Centerview to a BB FT in this market (given the BB does not come on campus) ?

    1. Yes but you need good connections and need to contact the places early, like midway through your internship. Had a few customers do that type of thing last year.

  34. […] Mergers & Inquisitions offers up five strategies you can use to go from networking newbie to networking ninja. […]

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