Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into Investment Banking?
“Can you tell me exactly what I have to do to get into finance?
There must be a combination of grades, certifications, internships, and activities that will guarantee me a spot at Goldman Sachs, right?
Give me the magic bullet solution for breaking in!”
Ah, another day, another email.
And if you don’t believe that questions like this come in all the time, just take a look at some of the articles here that have hundreds of comments asking for similar answers.
Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, just pass all 4 levels of the CFA and you are guaranteed to become an investment banker,” but I can’t always bring myself to have that much fun.
The truth is that there isn’t a magic bullet for getting into the industry.
Or is there?
Diversity recruiting may just be the best, most “secretive” way to get into the industry that you’ve been ignoring up until now.
So read on to learn how you can use it, what to do if you’re not “diverse,” and just how effective it was for a reader who won a bulge bracket internship offer and who’s sharing her story here.
I expect that this story will cause some controversy because:
- You might view diversity recruiting as “unfair” or know someone who abused it before.
- It may not apply to you.
I understand where you’re coming from with those 2 points, but I would still encourage you to consider the strategies here – if only to learn about alternate paths to break into finance.
Also, you should do whatever it takes to break in as long as you’re not breaking any laws or doing something clearly unethical like forging documents or lying about an offer.
So yes, maybe this won’t apply to you 100%, but as you read think up other ways you could put your own “unfair advantages” to use.
Feel free to disagree but be civil about it – comments that add no value will be moderated.
Q: Let’s get started with where you were coming from – what type of school did you attend and what experience did you have?
A: For undergraduate I attended a liberal arts college that was well-known but certainly not a “target” – only 1 bulge bracket bank recruited here and a few others had a resume drop, but rarely called students in for interviews.
I was completing an economics-related major, which you pretty much have to if you’re coming from a liberal arts college – it’s hard to convince banks that you’re serious if you major in French Literature and also have no finance experience.
This was my first attempt at internship recruiting so I hadn’t had much experience – just a few informal internships in other industries.
Q: OK, so you’re at this non-target liberal arts college and you don’t have relevant finance experience – how do you go from there to winning a bulge bracket investment banking offer?
A: By using the strategies you’ve recommended before: networking extensively and playing to my strengths.
In my case, I used my uncommon background to my advantage by attending lots of women’s recruiting events put on by different banks, as well as more specialized diversity events.
The advantage of going to these “diversity events” is that you can build much stronger connections with bankers than if you blindly cold call places or email alumni.
The more you have in common with the person – especially when you’re from a completely different background than most others – the better your chances of getting interviews and offers.
Q: Right, so what exactly are these “events”? Do you just apply for them online?
A: It varies by the bank and the region you’re in – some of these diversity recruiting events are more like first round interviews and some are more like standard information sessions where an MD or other senior banker will present first and then you get time to network afterward.
At some banks you can just apply online and get invited to the event – for example at Goldman Sachs you can do that and get invited to events like their “Women’s Road Show” (a half-day event) in Boston and New York based on your resume and online application.
At other banks – like JP Morgan – you had to pass a phone screen to be invited to their events, so there it was just part of the process and I had real interviews with several bankers at the event.
Q: So far you’ve been mentioning women’s events – what else do banks do for diversity recruiting?
A: You do see events for other groups as well:
- Minorities (defined as anyone who is under-represented in banking, for both men and women)
So you can still get in even if you’re not female.
M&I Note: While not diversity-related, there are events for people in other categories – for example if you want to work in Japan and know the language, there’s the Boston Career Forum; for China and Hong Kong there are events like SuperReturn and AVCJ.
Q: Out of curiosity, how strict are they about letting people in? For example, could I show up to a women’s recruiting event even though I am male?
A: They are not strict at all about screening people.
When I say “not strict,” I mean that they’re not going to do a full background check on you or hire a private investigator to look into your past and see whether you really qualify.
You would probably not get into a women’s event if you’re male – I haven’t seen anyone get away with that before – but for the other groups it’s much harder to verify whether you qualify.
I’ve seen plenty of people attend minority and LGBT events who shouldn’t be there – then you get those who are 1/64th of a certain ethnicity and use that to claim their minority status.
And when events are held at public places like hotels, I’ve seen people who didn’t even apply or who weren’t accepted show up and walk in – sometimes HR kicks them out, but if it’s big enough they may not catch on.
I’m not advising you to abuse the system, but as with resume writing and spinning your experience in interviews, there’s room to stretch the truth.
At the Sessions…
Q: So let’s say that you either legitimately qualify for an event, or you’re a borderline case and you show up anyway.
You mentioned that there are different types of events depending on the bank and the region you’re in – can you give us an overview of what you went through?
A: As I said before, the JPM event was more like a real interview or Superday since I met with multiple bankers.
They also had another event just for the LGBT community that was called “Proud to Be” – at that one they flew in people nationwide and everyone there (around 60 people) got first round interviews.
I mentioned the “Women’s Road Show” event for Goldman Sachs – that was more of a standard networking event where they gave us all the recruiting deadlines and a special code we could use when applying that would get us placed in a separate pool.
GS has another event called “Foundation” that is for minorities across genders and also students at non-target schools.
UBS had one event that was more like a trading competition, and then a more traditional networking session with a panel presentation, networking, and a reception at the end.
Credit Suisse had a “Women’s Day” event, which again was more like a prelude to first round interviews – for summer internships that one usually takes place in December/January.
Q: Those are quite a few events. What do the numbers look like? Is it similar to information sessions where you get 20 people crowding around 1 banker asking what it’s like to be an investment banker?
A: The numbers are much better at these events – there are at most 50-60 people total, and more often it’s in the 20-30 range.
Of those 20-30, 10 might be bankers – so unlike a traditional information session there are only 1 or 2 students per banker at these events.
Sometimes it goes up to a few more than that, but it’s never the 20-30 crowding around 1 banker that you see at information sessions open to the general public.
Q: So it sounds like everything is more personal and you get to have more in-depth conversations with everyone?
A: Pretty much. Also, unlike panels at normal information sessions where the questions you ask don’t matter so much and it’s all about the networking afterward, questions to the panel matter more.
So looking up everyone’s background and preparing intelligent questions is a good use of time.
Beyond just being more personal, these sessions also have more alumni and alumni from neighboring schools – especially if you’re in a region of the country with lots of non-target schools or lots of women’s colleges, for example.
And if you can’t find anyone from your school or nearby schools, you can always just ask the HR reps there for alumni contacts – since it’s such a small and specific group, they are more likely to help you out.
The vibe is also much different at these events – they are not as stuffy and formal as the usual information sessions at schools, and people were more relaxed, especially at the LGBT-type events.
The more specific the group, the more direct the answers they gave were – if you asked about something like work/life balance at a normal event bankers would give diplomatic/uninformative answers, but at these events people were more honest.
Success or Failure?
Q: So you made extensive use of these events – how effective were they? Do you have numbers on how many attendees actually won interviews or offers as a result of attending?
A: I don’t have exact numbers there because I didn’t follow-up with every single attendee, but:
- I got first round interviews at almost every bank (and eventually an IB summer offer).
- At many of the events, they’d give first round interviews to pretty much everyone there, but then only a few would win offers.
- This year most females and minorities who got into GS from non-target schools (not necessarily just in IBD, but more in the back and middle office) came from these events.
- 80% of the LGBT bankers I met were willing to help me in some way. I don’t care how good a networker you are, you will never get that ratio via alumni informational interviews.
The overall offer rate may not seem that great, but look at the alternative: if you’re at a non-target school and you don’t go to these events, your chances are minuscule. It’s better to get the interview and at least have a shot at winning the offer.
And as I’ve mentioned, you get special codes at these events that you can apply when submitting your resume and online application – they will then review your resume in a separate pool from everyone else, which also gives you a big advantage.
Q: What about the downsides of going to these events? Let’s say you go to a diversity event and you make a huge mistake that results in everyone there disliking you – would that hurt your chances in normal recruiting?
A: Yes, it could, and that is a risk. If you apply via these events and don’t win an offer, it may be harder to get a real interview later on if you go through the normal channels.
I applied all of those strategies, only in the context of diversity events rather than the standard information sessions.
You still have to be interesting, follow-up, speak 1-on-1 with bankers, and so on – it’s just that you’re working with a more specific set of contacts here.
Q: That’s true, but I’m sure there are still some common mistakes attendees make – what have you seen before?
A: Some girls would wear really short skirts or boots or dress up looking like they were about to go clubbing – but it’s still a formal business setting, even if it’s more relaxed than usual.
Other people looked really good on paper, had high grades, and completed solid internships, but then did no work to prepare so they had no idea who would be best to talk to, or which alumni were attending. You still need to be proactive even if it is a smaller event.
Then, other people were horrible at following conversations and reading social cues. Sometimes the banker speaking with us would start talking about lighter topics or activities outside of work, and the other students there would immediately jump back into asking about EBITDA.
One mistake I made was not recognizing someone at an event when I had seen the person previously – right after the event ends you need to write down all the names you can or at least get business cards and make sure you can match names to faces (easier these days with social networks).
Q: You used diversity events very well to get all those interviews and win your offer – did you run into any problems or awkwardness when interviewing?
Even though you met lots of female bankers, it is still a male-dominated industry, so did you run into any resistance?
A: No, not really. I went through dozens of interviews and felt it was more about chemistry with the interviewer and your performance than gender.
I can’t say whether being female hurt or helped me in interviews, but I didn’t see much of an effect either way – going to all those events was essential for getting interviews in the first place, though.
Q: Right, if anything I think you probably had an advantage since most bankers would prefer more diversity in the industry.
But you were also a liberal arts major at a small school – did that present any challenges in interviews?
A: Not really – I don’t think they treated me much differently from anyone else without a finance background.
I never received extremely difficult technical questions, but I got the usual math and brain teaser-type questions for S&T interviews, and for IB got the usual questions on valuation, DCF, how the 3 statements link to each other, and so on.
These were all covered by relevant guides so I never felt unprepared.
Finance or accounting majors would probably get more difficult technical questions, but these days you must have a minimum level of technical knowledge no matter what your background is.
I also ran into the usual interview scenarios that banks like to use – for example the “good cop, bad cop” deal where one interviewer constantly interrupts you and objects to everything you say, and the other one is more laid-back.
Q: That makes sense – you’ll still get the technical questions, but not quite as many as if you were from a finance background. Any more tips or advice?
A: One other point I didn’t mention: try to shadow bankers or traders – this is more common on the trading side, but at a lot of these events banks will let you follow a trader around for a few hours and see what they do.
Take that opportunity to be proactive and meet other traders/bankers there – don’t be shy, just go around introducing yourself and explain what you’re interested in doing.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. This sounds silly, but many people complain endlessly about their situation and never take action to fix it.
I never hesitated to follow-up with people, and in one case I wrote a quick email to a Director at a bulge bracket bank who I hadn’t even spoken to in a year – and got an interview from doing that.
In another case, when I was assigned to shadow traders I said I was more interested in sales so a Director there switched my role and let me shadow someone in sales instead.
Q: Awesome – thanks for sharing your story, that was very informative.
A: No problem – enjoyed speaking with you.
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The Complete Guide to Cold Calling Your Way Into Investment Banking
And you made a valiant effort, securing 10 interviews with everyone from boutiques to bulge bracket banks – but you didn’t land the offer.
And now you only have a few months before your non-existent summer internship begins.
With recruiting finished, your last, best chance of breaking in is to cold call your way into Wall Street.
But will that even work?
Should you bother going all-out and calling hundreds of firms?
And if you do take the leap, how do you cold call your way in successfully without getting slapped with a restraining order for being too aggressive?
Does Cold Calling Really Work?
This is the most common question about cold calling:
“I’ve tried calling 10 different banks and no one is hiring! I sent my resume to all of them, but I haven’t gotten any responses! What is going on, does cold calling even work? Why are you lying to me?!!!!”
The answer is yes, cold calling does work – but it does not work instantly.
Cold calling and cold emailing work better:
- In developed markets like the US and UK.
- If you’re an undergraduate or recent graduate.
- At tiny boutique banks/PE firms/hedge funds.
It’s questionable in regions like Asia, parts of continental Europe, and Australia – I’ve seen mixed results there, whereas there are dozens of success stories from the US/UK.
That’s because recruiting is more traditional in those places and randomly contacting people is not as accepted socially. So give it a shot, but make sure you pursue other options if you’re in a region where it’s not as effective.
It also won’t work as well if you’re at the MBA level or you have full-time experience because you should be leveraging your network to break in instead.
I’m sure some people have cold called their way into bulge bracket banks and mega-funds, but it’s rare and I don’t recommend spending much time on it – those firms never have trouble finding qualified, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed interns.
And finally, once again: do not expect instant results.
Cold calling is an extended and ego-bruising process where you’ll get bankers yelling at you, writing nasty emails, and acting like Gordon Gekko when he first met Bud Fox.
And unlike Bud, you can’t use insider information to work your way in.
…But Why I’m Still Not a Fan
So cold calling works – but I am still not a huge fan because:
- It can easily turn into a repetitive grind where you spend hours each day calling random banks.
- Networking is much more effective if you do it via referrals and informational interviews.
- Cold approaches are more effective in-person at events like information sessions where you can get the other person to remember you more easily.
- The odds are stacked against you because you have little to offer to banks as a student.
But, you could easily find yourself cold calling anyway if:
- You go to a non-target school where no banks recruit and you have no connections.
- You’ve exhausted all your connections and still haven’t found an internship.
- You can’t make it to in-person events and you live far away from major financial centers.
And remember: all it takes is one.
What Exactly is a “Cold Call”?
What is a “cold call” and how is it different from other types of networking?
The main difference is that you don’t know the other person – unlike contacting alumni for informational interviews, you are randomly calling them and have no previous interactions or connections with them.
You are also much more direct – rather than chit-chatting about their background and asking about what they do for fun outside of work, you ask about internships and recruiting right away.
And if you don’t get a positive response, you persist until you do, you try again later, or you move on to other banks on your list.
On a standard cold call, you might introduce yourself in 1-2 sentences, ask how you can position yourself for an interview at the firm, and then respond to the other person’s “objections” (we’re not hiring anyone, we don’t have the money, etc.) until you get a real answer.
It’s the difference between dating and randomly hitting on people at a bar in search of a one-night stand.
How to Cold Call Like a Champ
It’s a 5-step process:
- Get a list of banks or bankers in your area with their names and contact information.
- Plan your pitch and figure out what you’re going to tell them.
- Place the call and be prepared to respond to their objections.
- Afterward, follow-up at least once a week until they tell you to stop calling.
- Meanwhile, continue to contact and follow-up with other firms on your list.
Timing is extremely important.
You do not want to start cold calling places when it’s still the middle of recruiting season – you should be using other means like weekend trips, informational interviews, and information sessions to contact bankers.
It may seem counter-intuitive to postpone cold calling until the last-minute, but it makes sense for a number of reasons:
- You can focus on your higher probability options first and only spend time cold calling if nothing else works out.
- If you wait until the last-minute, you can find banks that really need interns.
You don’t have to do this – I’m sure some have succeeded by cold calling during recruiting season, but most successful readers started late in the process.
There are a couple ways to do this; the best method is to get Capital IQ access from someone who has it and search for local boutiques in your area.
Failing that, there are over 13,000 firms in the Investment Banking Networking Toolkit and other sources online with names and contact information for firms.
You could also try random Google searches, LinkedIn and even using tools like Google Maps to get names – it really depends on how much time you have left and what your deadline for finding an internship is.
If you live in the middle of nowhere and there are no firms in your area, get your butt out of your chair and hit the road.
Contact firms at the financial center closest to you and make it clear that you’re willing to move there right away.
Refining Your List
One other quick note: no matter how good your source is, do not just blindly call numbers.
Always search online first to verify that the place still exists, that’s it what your list says it is, and spend a few minutes learning something about what they do, recent deals, and so on.
No matter how comprehensive the data, things change every day and unless you’re willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars, it’s impossible to get everything updated in real-time.
Planning Your Pitch
This is the easiest part of the entire process. The main mistakes to avoid:
- Giving your life story rather than a 1-2 sentence introduction.
- Not getting to the point and chit-chatting too much.
So don’t do either of those.
Instead, plan a 1-2 sentence introduction where you say something like, “I know you’re busy so I won’t take too much of your time – I’m a [Major] student at [University Name] and I’ve worked at [Company Names] before. I wanted to see how I could best position myself for an internship at your firm.”
That’s it – this is not rocket science.
Placing the Calls
You do not want to fumble around and say “um” or “ah” too much on the actual calls. You will get better with practice, so I recommend “warming up” with places you don’t care about as much.
Say the same thing to everyone to minimize screw-ups.
Ideally, you will call the bankers directly (higher level is better if you can find them – MDs have more power than VPs, VPs have more power than Associates/Analysts) and speak with someone who has a say in the hiring process.
But more often than not, you will only have their main number – you can still recite the same script, but you need to be prepared for the gatekeeper to respond with their objections and keep you locked out.
Calling vs. Emailing – Cold Emails For the Win?
Right about now, you might be thinking:
“If it’s so hard to successfully get through when cold calling, why not use email instead? Does cold emailing work and is it more effective than cold calling?”
Personally, I am biased against email – but that might just be because I get hundreds of emails each day and can’t even respond personally to 90% of them.
Emails are easy for bankers to ignore or delete, whereas phone calls are harder to dodge. And catching them in-person, of course, is even harder for them to avoid.
But you may still have better luck with cold emailing, especially if you’re not good on the phone.
I’ve seen it go both ways, so you have to experiment and see what works for you. If you do cold email bankers, attach your resume/CV and ask directly in the email how to position yourself for an internship there.
What to Expect on the Calls
Ok, back to calling now – what should you expect when you call and pitch the banker or the gatekeeper?
95% of the time you will get variants of the following response:
“We’re not hiring.” / “We don’t recruit interns.” / “We don’t offer internships.”
Do not give up when they say this or you will never succeed.
Respond by saying, “So you’re in charge of all recruiting for the firm?” or something to that effect – if it’s a gatekeeper they will say no, at which point you then ask to be put in touch with the person who is.
Other strategies for getting past this initial rejection:
- Ask for a banker by name and fib a little by saying you were scheduled to call him/her and ask how you could be put through to talk to him/her (and if you get voicemail, hang up, call back, say you were disconnected, and ask for the number).
- Avoid closed-ended questions (“Do you have any internships?” / “Do you recruit interns?”) with a few exceptions (such as the one about the person being in-charge of all hiring).
Closed-ended questions lead to quick rejections because the person will always respond with “No”; “how” questions are better because you assume that they already offer internships and it’s just a matter of how you will get what they’re offering.
Even when you make it through and speak with a real banker, you’ll run into other objections:
- “We already have someone for the summer.”
- “What value could you add to our firm?”
- “We can’t afford summer interns.”
So you need to be prepared with a response for each of these:
- “Really? So when your deal flow picks up and your hiring needs change for the summer, how could I position myself for an interview so I could help you out?”
- “There are plenty of tasks that you need help with and your time is best spent winning clients – let me handle everything else.”
- “I understand that money can be an issue, so I’m willing to work at below-market rates – and you get a great deal anyway since this is only a trial and I’ll save you more money than I’ll cost you.”
You don’t want to offer up too much at first (e.g. immediately offer to work for free) as that makes you seem desperate; reserve that for when they continue to object.
Persistence vs. Stalking
I’ve gotten a lot of questions on “how far is too far?” and the difference between being persistent vs. turning into a stalker.
You should feel uncomfortable cold calling if you’re doing it correctly.
Unless you have a lot of experience in sales or randomly approaching people, this entire process will be new and uncomfortable to you.
If you think you’re going “too far,” you’re probably not – the only tactics I would consider too extreme are:
- Showing up at the bank’s offices in-person and demanding to be let in (even if you’re not carrying an AK-47 this will result in bad things happening to you).
- Finding out where the bankers live, camping out in their bushes, and then jumping out to pitch them when they arrive at home.
- Calling every day even after they tell you “No” explicitly and warn you to stop calling them.
You know it’s time to move on when they say “No” without even giving a specific reason why – that means they are really not interested and probably can’t be persuaded otherwise.
The first lesson in sales is that an objection is the first sign of a prospect’s interest, and it’s the same idea here: no specific objections, no interest.
I’m sure someone will now leave a comment saying that my advice is crazy and will get you in trouble or result in you getting “blacklisted” (even though nothing like that even exists).
But you are not doing anything unethical as long as you stick to simple calls and emails, so it’s not as if you’re lying about your offer status and forging documents to win interviews/offers.
Expect that some bankers will not like your tactics and will be extremely nasty to you.
On the other hand, some bankers will admire you for having the guts to cold call them and hustle your way into Wall Street.
Even though I satirize bankers here with the “Stuff Investment Bankers Like” series, they do not, in fact, all have the same personality and so their responses will vary.
If you get a negative or sarcastic response, do not take it personally – the banker might just be having a bad day or might be a tool to begin with.
You need a thick skin or you’ll never make it in the cold calling game.
So you’ve cold called several places and gotten lukewarm responses – they already have people for the summer, they don’t have formal internships, or they can’t afford interns.
Rather than giving up, follow-up at least once per week until they tell you, “No” definitively and tell you to stop calling. Many readers have been successful with extremely aggressive follow-up.
You can also email to follow-up and mix up your approach a bit, but I still prefer calls since they’re harder to dodge.
Your follow-up should not be much different – use the same script and just say you’re following up to reiterate your interest and see what has changed since the last time you spoke.
How Long Before You Succeed?
I can’t give you a definitive answer because it’s random – some readers have succeeded in only a few weeks, whereas it has taken others months of networking to land offers.
But you should not expect solid results until you’ve called upwards of 100 firms and followed up with all of them.
That is a lot of cold calling, so you should still pursue “Plan B” options for the summer such as internships at normal companies, private wealth management, and so on.
It took Sylvester Stallone 1500 rejections to star in the first Rocky movie – so please do not complain until you’ve reached at least that number.
This Sounds Really Hard!
At first it is and you will be very intimidated when you cold call MDs at banks. But it gets easier with time and practice, and after a while you barely have to think about it – sort of like interviews and walking through your resume.
I’ve lived in dozens of cities and have “started over” with 0 friends and 0 connections multiple times, so I’m more aggressive than most when it comes to meeting people and showing up uninvited at events – and randomly approaching people is still hard for me.
I still fail and get “rejected” a lot, plenty of what I do leads to failure, and I’d say that less than 10% of my attempts actually result in good stories / good friends afterward.
But it does get easier and less scary with practice – and the good news for you is that the phone tends to be less intimidating than approaching random people in-person.
Next Steps & Further Reading
So, what now?
Get started making your list and placing those calls.
Do not succumb to analysis paralysis and make a flow chart showing every possible response in your planned conversation and what you’ll say next – get a handle on the basics but don’t obsess.
If you want further preparation, check out these case studies, podcasts and other resources:
- How to Break in as an Engineer with No Finance Background – Cold called 120 banks
- From Non-Target and Unpaid Wealth Management Internship to Bulge Bracket Bank – Email better than calling?
- How to Break Into Private Equity Straight Out of Undergraduate – Cold called 50 equity research analysts
- How to Get Into Investment Banking from an Unknown State School – Kept calling, calling, and calling until he got in
- How to Break Into Investment Banking If You Have a 3.0 GPA, Went to an Unknown School, and Only Recently Learned English
- How to Turn Cold Calls Warm – Podcast
And now get to work pounding the pavement until you break in.
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How to Network Like a Ninja in London and Break Into Finance with Low Grades and a Non-Target School on Your CV
“You’ve written so much about networking, but it doesn’t work outside the US. No one in my country responds to cold calls or emails – what do I do?”
It’s one of the most common objections I get to the networking advice on M&I.
There are dozens of interviews disproving the old complaint that everything here is targeted at Ivy League grads with high grades – so let’s turn our attention to showing that networking does, in fact, “work” in other countries.
In this interview with a UK reader, you’ll learn:
- How he went from low A-levels and a non-target university to over 1,000 finance contacts in the UK and a top Master’s program there
- How he used a non-finance degree to boost his chances of breaking into banking
- Whether or not traditional networking “works” in the UK and how it’s different from the US
- What it’s like to work at a combined M&A and asset management firm
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: Sure. Growing up my family had a lot of health issues, so my academics back in secondary school suffered quite a bit since I was in the hospital constantly and had to take care of myself. To give you a rough idea:
Although my grades were poor, my family situation forced me to think about how I could survive on my own and so I started investing and building up my savings at a young age (a unique finance “spark”).
Anyway, I had no chance of getting into a top school with that kind of performance, so I ended up going to a non-target university in London. I studied politics there and earned a 2:1 – not spectacular, but at least better than my performance before that.
More importantly, though, I completed a dissertation on an emerging market, which made me more interested in the region and gave me something I could speak to in my “story.”
Q: OK, so did you actually complete any banking or finance internships while at university?
A: No – it was a non-target school so it was completely off the radar of banks. I did a few internships in media, politics, and for non-profits and got exposed to well-known names like that.
You might brush off media internships as “not prestigious,” but I gained access to lots of CEOs, MDs, and other important people since their database had direct lines for everyone.
I figured out midway through university that I wanted to work in finance, but I was going to a non-target school and only had average grades, so I knew that I would need to get out there and pound the pavement.
I’m not sure how it is in the US, but in London if your applications are not perfect you will not get interviews.
Q: Right, so can you walk us through how you went about networking and how you leveraged all those connections from your media and politics internships?
A: Sure. Through those internships I found a few mentors who were not directly in finance, but who were extremely well-connected in the UK – that made it much easier to get past gatekeepers.
I went out to literally every finance-related event in London and met everyone there, asking for referrals and getting introductions along the way. I even cold-called plenty of firms – plenty of places said no, but a few were open to it and told me to come in and talk anyway. I even networked via a part-time retail job I had and managed to meet bankers there.
What drove me was how plenty of people said I wasn’t “good enough” – not all bankers are brutal and malicious, but I met quite a few who were. So I wanted to prove them all wrong.
Q: Yeah, I think Sylvester Stallone was driven by similar forces back before the first Rocky movie was made. What was your strategy in terms of which level of banker to contact, and what was the result of all your networking?
A: I didn’t discriminate much by level – I met lots of VPs and MDs, and found they still made time for me even though I was coming from a lesser-known school. I even had lunch with CEOs of well-known firms in related industries.
I took the usual informational interview approach and pretty much everyone I met said that I’d have to network harder and be fierce about wanting the job more than everyone else. They also helped a lot with rewriting my CV, and through all this networking I was getting lots of interviews.
But this was also at the height of the recession and the interviews weren’t converting well – so I decided to take a different approach and applied to a Master’s program at LSE instead.
Networking at LSE
Q: Quite a step up from the non-target university you attended. What did you do when you got there, and how was the networking environment different?
A: The program helped me re-brand myself, and my networking efforts exploded since I now had much easier access to CEOs, MDs, and Partners.
I’d meet someone who came in to give a talk, get their card, and set up a meeting immediately afterward – I was averaging 4-5 meetings per week and met senior guys at banks, PE firms, and even media companies.
One thing that surprised me was that most LSE students were pathetic at networking.
Even people who had interned at Goldman Sachs and other top banks had no clue how to talk to people at events, request a follow-up meeting, or anything – some of the students were impressive but overall I learned that you really shouldn’t overestimate the competition.
The average student there has attended private schools his/her entire life so he/she is “well-trained” but not necessarily effective in the real world.
LSE also runs the annual LSE Alternative Investments Conference, which costs money to attend but is worth it 10x over if you use it properly and get solid contacts there. The focus is more on hedge funds and private equity, but everyone knows bankers and there’s a lot of overlap.
Even while at LSE, I still got rejected quite a lot but then things turned around after exams and I landed over a dozen interviews right before I accepted my current job at a combined asset management / M&A firm.
By that time I had amassed over 1,000 contacts from the past 2 years of networking.
Q: Wow. Normally I tell readers that once you go beyond 50-100 it’s hard to even keep track of everyone – how did you manage to get that kind of Rolodex?
A: I could go on for hours about networking, but we don’t have that kind of time so I’ll summarize my tips as follows:
Know As Much As Possible About Bankers
I spent a lot of time getting to know people and writing down literally anything important from each meeting and logging it on my computer. Even in my current job I’m still going through these connections, which impresses my bosses quite a bit.
I also created a Google News Alert for every contact I met – that way if someone closed a deal I could send a congratulatory email or phone call. It takes 2 minutes and people really appreciate it.
Be Nice to Assistants
When you’re requesting informational interviews, always email first and then call to follow-up – you will likely speak with their assistant, and she will give you a list of dates they’re available.
If you’re rude to the assistant none of your emails or calls will get through. If you’re extremely nice to them, you will have a much higher hit rate.
Have Interests Outside of Finance
Yes, everyone wants to be the next big rainmaker and make the Financial Times headlines but you better have at least one thing you are passionate about outside of finance when you meet people.
You never know when the guy you’re meeting might be a keen deep sea diver outside his day job – so pay attention to “throwaway comments” that bankers make and latch onto them.
I would even ask CEOs if they were married or had kids and how they balanced work and family time.
I was passionate about non-profit and charity work so I always brought that one up when I met with bankers and used it as my “interesting fact.”
Ask for Referrals / Find People You Know
After every meeting I would always ask if there’s anyone else the person thought I should speak with – and before I got official interviews, I combed through the entire firm site and looked for anyone I knew personally, and then found out who interviewed people there and so on.
I also used websites such as www.investegate.co.uk that covered financial services companies – sometimes they had the details of brokers there and I would call directly to see if I could speak with them.
1,000 contacts is a lot, but I always thought of it as networking for the long-term and not just to get a job. It does get very difficult to maintain relationships with that many people, so they’ll definitely be less personal if you want that many contacts.
The most connected woman in the UK has 40,000+ contacts and is doing well, although she also has a team of 8 managing her network.
Q: A lot of readers believe that networking “doesn’t work” in the UK or in other regions outside the US because the recruiting process is more formal elsewhere. Your story disproves this one, but I’m guessing there are still some differences when networking in the UK – what are they?
A: The tactics are not much different – just follow everything I described above.
This is purely anecdotal, but I think the main differences were what they looked for in candidates – they wanted someone who had:
- Completed A-Level Mathematics.
- Studied something other than economics or finance.
- Outside interests and solid work experience.
#2 surprised me but a lot of bankers mentioned that they preferred to look at people with different academic backgrounds; in the UK A-Levels are huge so I definitely found #1 to be true.
Overall I just treated networking like socializing and talked about as much non-finance-related stuff as possible – these guys work so hard that they’re happy to shoot the breeze about the latest football game or go for a drink.
I also avoided pissing people off – if someone said no, I left. I didn’t go back to leads who were not going to help because there were plenty of others who would. Finding one person to be your “mentor” is also a great idea because then his/her entire address book is open to you.
Q: You mentioned that you completed a Master’s program focused on an emerging market rather than the usual choice of finance, accounting, or economics. How much did that help, and was it effective even though you didn’t study abroad there?
A: It made me stand out a lot because it was an interesting degree and people always asked, “Why?” Plus, I could talk all about that region in-depth and that was way more interesting than being just another MSc Finance guy.
There’s a lot of academic snobbery over what you study, but if you go to a place like LSE and want to do banking, it doesn’t matter much – as long as you don’t pick gender studies.
Studying abroad would have been cool, but as you’ve written before, you can’t just waltz in and start working in a country, and you need to be a native speaker in most cases to use a language for business.
Asset Management Meets M&A
Q: Can you tell us about your new role at the asset management / M&A firm? I’ve gotten tons of questions on asset management but haven’t been able to give solid answers about the work itself and day-in-the-life accounts. What do you do each day?
A: My role is much closer to M&A than it is to asset management – we work with a lot of asset and investment management firms, though, so I do get to spend time talking to fund managers at those places.
I spent time on the usual tasks you do in M&A: pitch books, writing monthly fact sheets and investor reports, cold-calling / sourcing deals, financial modeling, and so on. I go to around 3-4 client meetings per day with our sales guy.
In addition to this we’re building a giant database in order to comb the city for future investment. I’ve already at this stage worked on raising several million pounds for the firm and I’ve only been here a few months.
I also do some investor relations work and build up the image of the firm, and go along with the CEO when he speaks with Bloomberg or FT.
Next year I may go abroad for the roadshows since we’re thinking of expanding in places like HK, Zurich, and NYC.
Q: What about the perpetual questions of pay and exit opportunities?
A: Without giving specifics, pay is slightly less than what the usual banking graduate schemes offer due to the nature of the firm and the specific deal I have set up – it will change in the future, but that’s where I’m at right now.
Other people who have worked here have gone onto:
- Other finance companies – equity research, private wealth management, hedge funds.
- INSEAD, LBS, or Barcelona for business school.
- Other industries altogether.
Q: You mentioned that your firm does both asset management and M&A work – how does that impact the work environment and the pay/advancement opportunities? Did you aim for this type of firm for a specific reason?
A: The work environment is nice and there’s plenty of room for advancement since it’s a relatively small firm – AUM under £1bn, with a goal to expand upwards of 10x.
I didn’t pick a combined asset management / M&A firm for a specific reason, but I wanted more of a “family”-style office because I wanted a life outside of work. I knew that at a bulge bracket bank or a mega-fund like KKR or Blackstone I would never get that.
The CEO here plays tennis all the time and everyone does something outside work, so it’s easy to hear about interesting stories from everyone here. They also acknowledged in interviews that they respected personal ambitions even if they’re unrelated to finance.
So I didn’t really “aim” for this type of firm, but it turned out to be the perfect fit for me.
Q: What are your future plans now that you’ve defied the odds to break into finance? Are you planning to stay there for a few years or move to another industry?
A: I’m planning to stay at my current firm for the long-term – my colleagues are great and I have no reason to leave since the working conditions and hours are quite good.
I will probably stay here for 3-4 years, and then maybe move somewhere else in finance such as a middle-market bank in an Associate role. At that point I might move up the ladder or go to something else like VC until I reach the MD-level. Then I’d want to set up a charity such as ARK (Absolute Returns for Kids) and focus on solving social problems and improving social mobility in the UK.
Of course, I also want to do a lot of traveling as well and see the world.
Q: Great. Thanks for your time – learned a lot about networking and how the London scene is different from other countries.
A: No problem.
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