So ever since I've posted my story on here ("106 Rejections, 1 Success & Unquantifiable Perseverance") and the follow up post detailing a few lessons I learned through my story ("3 lessons from 106 rejections"), I have received a few PMs asking for advice regarding networking, so I thought it'd be a useful topic to pursue as my next post. As I have mentioned earlier, networking and building relationships is an integral part to your success in investment banking and the business world. Below I'll outline a 5 step strategy that I have found success with during my process and that I continue to use today.
- Crafting Your Story & Introspection
- Building a List of Prospective Contacts
- The Cold Email Templates
- The Call & Follow Ups
- Building a Relationship
In my opinion, it's nearly impossible to network effectively, if you can't communicate your story, your reasoning for IB and your experiences in a cogent and compelling manner to others. Before you even begin approaching people, you should focus on thinking back about 4-6 memorable experiences in your life that have taught you a great deal about yourself and have been instrumental in molding your character. It's easy for everyone to say that they're hardworking and determined, you need to set yourself apart by showing them how you have exemplified those traits in your past. In terms of your story, I could write an entire post on that but there are plenty of articles online that will help you there. Not to mention that the WSO Behavioral Guide can help you knock all of these out.
Once you have constructed vivid outlines for answers to these questions, you need to be comfortable enough with them to the point that you can tailor them based on your audience. For instance, I usually left out the place I grew up in when telling my story. However, if I found someone who grew up in the same place or had been to that place, I would start my story with that to establish a connection from the beginning. And you'll get better at making these adjustments as you continue to network but you still need to have base comfort level to begin with.
Once you've mastered your behavioral questions and answers, it's time to get down to work. Now, based on the firms you're targeting (BB, EB, MM or in my case, almost every single firm), I'd begin building out an excel spreadsheet. Honestly, I used Google Sheets here so that I could reference the list on my phone, laptop or tablet and make changes on the road as I traveled for tennis. Once you've established which firms you want to target, I would use the WSO Company Database to get the email formats for the firms in question. From there, I would search the company on LinkedIn, follow them and then explore how I'm connected to the firm from there. Now, if you have second degree connections, it makes life easier but to really break this down, let's assume you know no one in the industry. Here's where LinkedIn Premium bailed me out. If I found people who worked at the firm who were on OpenLink, I just sent them an InMail (If you both are on OpenLink, you can send out as many InMails as you want as long as you have introductions to spare) with my cold email template and waited for a response. If not, I'd use the email format I got from WSO to email the person using my cold email template and wait for a response.
I'd ensure to record the person's email address on my spreadsheet and the date I sent them the email and then move on. If you send people InMails, it's even easier. LinkedIn allows you to take notes and set reminders on the person's profile (only you can see these notes and reminders). Once the person responded, I'd move them over to a separate sheet that contained all my contacts in the industry and then after our call, I'd jot down notes about a couple interesting things they mentioned, things we have in common and anything else that I could use in the future to initiate a conversation. Given how frequently I networked and got on calls, I was cognizant of everything on my spreadsheet and made sure that I didn't miss anything. You'll find that once you hit the 200 connections mark, it will require some effort in order to ensure that you don't forget about anyone.
The first thing to understand here is that as I got more comfortable with networking, I frequently deviated or changed my template based on the research I did on the person, the firm and the commonalities that exist between our backgrounds. The more important consideration that one should be aware of is your subject heading. Again, based on my commonalities with the person, their interests and the firm, I would change that. For the sake of privacy, I'll refrain from mentioning the subject headline since that might give my identity away and I don't think I'm at that point yet. Still, here's the template I used:
My name is xx and I am a xx major at xx University. In addition to xx, I am also involved with xx on campus.
Given my interest in learning more about IB/S&T/AM/HF/PE, I wanted to reach out to you and see if we could chat on the phone sometime. Hope to get in touch with you soon.
Again, there's nothing special about this email format. I have seen tons of people use this format on WSO and other sites. The key is in the research and effort you put in to learning about the person beforehand. Based on that you can tweak this email and any other format you might be using or might come across on this site.
Once the person responds to you and you set up a time to speak, put it down on your calendar and set a reminder for about 15 minutes before the time of the call. When the reminder pops up on your laptop, tablet or phone, find a quiet place where you won't get interrupted and turn your notification sounds off so they don't hear all the texts, emails and reminders hitting your phone during the call. During the call, never be the person to initiate talks about finance or anything work-related. Be comfortable with small talk and engage them with other conversation topics. For instance, right now, I can talk about graduation, the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs, the clay court swing of professional tennis and tons of other topics. Once they ask you how they can help you, begin by giving them some background (in other words, your story that you have painstakingly put together). Don't be monotonous and just go through the motions. Ensure your voice conveys enthusiasm and confidence and don't make it sound rehearsed. As I mentioned earlier, you should be comfortable with tweaking your story based on the person. Once you're done with giving them the highlights of your story, end it with a summation of the help you need from them today (hint: not getting a job) and if they would be able to share their experiences with you. From here on, you should be able to handle the conversation, ask a few good questions and keep the call to a maximum of 20 minutes. Remember, their time is valuable so don't waste it asking questions you can look up on the internet in a few minutes.
Once you're done with the call, thank them for their time and ask them if they'd be willing to speak with you again in a month or two if you have any questions and as you learn more about the industry. Within 24-48 hours, I'd also send them a thank you email based on the conversation you had and then a little while after that, I'd go ahead and add them on LinkedIn.
Now that you've had a call with the person and they know you to a certain degree and you know them a little, it's important to stay in touch. Once again, this depends on the person. If you feel as though you connected with the person during your call and emails, then feel free to ask them questions and stay in touch with them every month or so. These follow ups should be based on any major updates in your career, mutual interests you have and any questions you might have (again, these need to be questions you can't just google and find right away). However, if you feel as though the person didn't open up with you as much, just email them whenever something big happens for you in your career. Don't force the relationship. This is where networking gets tough. You have to have the ability or the social intelligence to understand when you have connected with someone beyond just a surface level formality.
If you do all of this right, when the time comes, these people will offer to help you themselves. I have had several people offer to introduce me to other people or look over my resume and send it to HR to be included in the pool of applicants. Lastly, once you've established a connection with someone and you have spoken once or twice, don't be afraid to ask if they can introduce to someone whom they think would be willing to speak with you. Almost everyone in this industry has networked to some degree so they know how this works. They realize that some day you might be able to help them or they are paying forward the favor that someone did for them. Either way, if you have established a connection with the person, this should be no issue.
Ultimately, investment banking and business in general comes down to dealing with and building these relationships with people. It's also important to recognize the realities of this process. You won't get a response to every email. Sometimes people will respond to you, talk to you, offer to help and then never respond again. Regardless, be civil and professional to everyone. No one has to help you or owes you anything in this world. Nonetheless if you go into your networking with the attitude of genuinely wanting to get to know someone, helping them in any way you can and just seeking to learn more about the industry you want to work in, everything will fall into place eventually.