The Secret Experiment I Just Performed On You – and Why You (Still) Shouldn’t Overestimate the Competition
Back when I was deciding on what bonuses to give away with the Investment Banking Networking Toolkit, I was stuck.
I had been so busy creating new videos and products that I didn’t have anything new to give away beyond what was already available.
So I had the idea to give away a few free networking consulting sessions.
The only problem: I couldn’t give away that many, so I decided to limit it to 5 and make it random.
But not completely random – anyone who emailed me would have a higher chance of winning.
Rather than making a big announcement “FREE CONSULTING RIGHT HERE SAVE HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS!” I want to make it more subtle for two reasons:
- Giving away free, random copies of the new interview guide was fine, because it wouldn’t take up my personal time – but there’s no way I could have done 20-30 of these free consulting sessions.
- I wanted to speak with the readers who were the most serious and who had specific, actionable questions developed from actually playing the field.
So I just put a quick note about it in the course outline.
Kevin actually thought this was a bad idea and figured that dozens of people would reply. I bet that the response would be much lower than that.
So, guess how many of those who signed up for the Networking course actually emailed me to win one of the 5 free consultations?
Some of them had fantastic, 3-page long stories while others just wrote a few quick sentences.
But since only 5 readers emailed me, each one of them won one of the free sessions.
If you had sent me a 1-sentence email in broken English, you would have had an 83% chance of winning a free consultation.
There were no rules about how much you had to say, how detailed your story had to be, or even that you had to have a good reason to speak with me.
I’m sure there were plenty of reasons that the hundreds of other readers who signed up in the first week didn’t bother to email me: they were too busy, they were scared to talk to me, or maybe they didn’t have any burning questions that needed answering.
But I would bet that most of it came down to something simple: they overestimated the competition and believed that their chances of winning would be 0% since this site has thousands of readers.
But actually, their chances were more like 83%.
But It’s Not Just This Bonus
Let’s forget about this specific case for now, because this phenomenon goes way beyond this site.
And here’s one of my most common questions:
“At a career fair, how many people actually contact you afterward once you give out your business card?”
One… two… three.
In several years of going to career fairs and information sessions at some of the “top” schools in the US (Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA), I can count on a single hand the number of students who actually followed up with me afterward.
And that number is out of hundreds of business card giveaways, so the follow-up percentage was less than 1%.
Behind the Closed Doors of Recruiting
I’ve written before about how random the interview selection process is – but here’s a quick reminder in case you’ve forgotten how it works:
- 75% of interviewees will be selected because one of the Analysts or Associates reviewing resumes knows them from school or elsewhere.
- 25% of the rest have impressive resumes or accomplishments and happen to catch someone’s attention.
It’s like rushing a frat or sorority, except you have more control because fewer than 100% are picked based on who likes whom.
When picking who gets interviews and who doesn’t, a lot of conversations go like this:
“Analyst 1: Do you know him?
Analyst 2: Yeah, he was in my frat / in my section / in my club. He’s pretty cool.
Analyst 1: Ok, let’s give him an interview.”
“Analyst 1: What about her?
Analyst 2: Don’t know her, but she contacted me last week and emailed me a few questions.
Analyst 1: Ok, interview her?
Analyst 2: Yeah, might as well – it took some effort to do that and no one else contacted me.”
So yes, it’s better if you know the person reviewing resumes beforehand – but that’s not the point here.
The point is that if you do something as simple as emailing someone a few questions you can often make up for not knowing them or not having spectacular accomplishments.
If It’s So Easy, Why Don’t More People Do It?
Because it’s easy to stay in your “comfort zone” and continue to overestimate the competition, despite all the evidence that “the competition” sucks and that you’re better off being less comfortable.
I travel alone 99% of the time because it forces me to meet new people and make it up when I get there. Sure, it could suck… and sometimes it does. Sure, things could go wrong… and sometimes they do. But lots of cool stuff also happens that I would never see if I traveled with a group of 10 friends arguing about who has the best car or who has the most prestigious job.
And it’s the same with recruiting: something bad could always happen. You might offend someone. Maybe you’ll sound silly when you call or email them.
But most of the time there is close to 0 risk and unlimited upside.
Fear-Setting and Worst-Case Scenarios
Let’s say you meet someone at an information session and then you follow-up afterward but aren’t quite sure what to say.
What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?
You’ll look silly in front of the person and she may say, “Let’s not give him/her an interview, he/she made a huge mistake in this email.”
Unless you do something horrifically stupid – like forging emails, making up offers, or otherwise explicitly lying – there’s no way a simple networking email will get forwarded to other banks. You’re not that interesting.
And you know what? Even if you do say something silly in your email, it won’t necessarily hurt you. They don’t expect everyone to be a networking pro.
If they receive emails from no one else (extremely likely), then you’ll actually be ahead of everyone even if you screwed up.
You ask a few good questions and get considered for an interview simply because no one else did anything.
So the worst-case scenario might slightly hurt your chances at one firm, while the best-case outcome would almost certainly get you an interview there.
Mediocrity = Excellence
This is not just limited to finance or the job-search process, either.
Just go to a bar or a party and observe what everyone else does: 99% of people go in groups, stick to their friends the whole time, and only meet others if they get introduced.
Merely by approaching someone you don’t know and saying “Hello,” you’re already in the top 1%.
I get questions all the time from friends – “Wait, how did you get into that cool adventure? How did you meet that person? Why is your life so interesting and mine so boring?”
It has nothing to do with super-advanced ninja tactics: just by doing something simple (saying “hi” to new people) I put myself in situations where good things can happen.
Most of the time, mediocrity is enough to put you in the top 1%:
- 90% of prospective bankers will never take any action whatsoever beyond “applying online” (hint: your resume just goes into a bottomless pit).
- Of the remaining 10%, 90% of those will contact someone once and then give up if they don’t get an immediate reply.
- So as a result, exactly 1% get to the top – not by being extraordinary, gifted, or talented, but merely because they were ok at something and kept trying whereas everyone else never took action or gave up after trying once.
Oh, and if you don’t believe me, just look at dating on Craigslist.
So What Do You Do Now?
Think about all your avenues into recruiting, all the people you’ve met, and find what you’re most afraid of. Find the one, two, or three people whom you’re certain receive floods of inbound inquiries every day and will just ignore or laugh at you.
And then contact them anyway.
If you don’t do it, who will? “The competition”?
Nope. No one.
So it’s yours to lose.
Oh, and if I offer up any free prizes / consulting here again, I expect a lot more contest entries next time.
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