Good questions to Ask in Coffee Chats for Investment Banking

I'm starting to reach out to ppl and have secured a few coffee chats with BBs, IBD.

What are good things to ask in a coffee chat or networking session, with someone (say an analyst/associate) that you have no connection to? Aka not a warm connection.

I know a lot of these conversations just involve people skills, i.e appearing engaged in the conversation, etc, and it's definitely an art. But question wise, this is something I can easily prepare. Any tips or good questions that you've found lead to more meaningful conversations? Also anything in general to put on a good impression at a coffee chat?

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 10/08/14. To see all of our top content from the past, click here.

What to Ask in Phone Chat Informational Interview?

When going through an informational interview, whether in person or on the phone, it is important to spend time getting to know the firm your coffee date works for and their experience in the industry. However, you also want to make sure that you learn a bit about them personally in order to connect on a more human level.

Below you can find a list of boiler plate, standard questions you can ask during an informational interview:

  • Why did you choose to work for Morgan Stanley?
  • What led you to a career in investment banking?
  • What has been your favorite experience in investment banking thus far? / Favorite deal?
  • What surprised you the most about starting full time when compared to your intern experience (note: question to be asked to a junior employee)
  • What do you think makes Morgan Stanley unique?
  • Why did you choose to work in industrials at MS?
  • What advice do you have for someone going through the networking / interview process during college?

Note: Make sure that you do not ask technical questions or ask a question that seems out of place simply for the purposes of sounding smart. It will come across as aggressive and showy and that will not be looked upon favorably.

Connecting with Professionals During an Informational Coffee Chat?

Once you have spent some time working through the above questions (or similar topics) you will want to steer the conversation into a more personal area. Try and find a way to connect with the professional on a personal level so that you will seem more human and you'll be more memorable to the professional (and therefore they will be more willing to help you.)

You should do some pre-reading on the professional to see if they have any well-established hobbies or interests that can be found through some social media / LinkedIn stalking. You can then steer the conversation in that direction especially if they have any unique hobbies or interests that you can relate to. Do not fabricate an interest in something just because you know the professional has that interest.

You can learn more about coffee chats and networking with the below video.

Read More About Networking on WSO

Preparing for Investment Banking Interviews?

The WSO investment banking interview course is designed by countless professionals with real world experience, tailored to people aspiring to break into the industry. This guide will help you learn how to answer these questions and many, many more.

Investment Banking Interview Course Here

To put on a good impression, chat a little about the work, their background, general tips etc (the regular stuff as you mention) and then try to turn the conversation to something they're interested in outside of work, espeically if you share a common interest. Much more fun to get away from work for a little while and talk with someone about NFL or art or comedy or books or whatever I love/we share an interest in, versus just droning on about what my favourite deal may have been or other things that I spend all day thinking about anyway.

It's definitely great to get away from conversation about work, but I would make sure to chat about that first since that is the reason you set up the chat in the first place. I usually make sure I understand the general gist of what they do before trying to turn the conversation toward other things.

Doing the above will not only make it a more fun conversation for you (pretty easy to relax and let it turn into a natural conversation if someone is chatting about stuff they/you enjoy rather than forcing work questions) but will also make them remember you more fondly than they will remember someone else who just asked about work and clearly was talking only with an interest in recruiting help - while the person will also know that's likely what you're after as well, at least they enjoy chatting with you more and may like you are more than a potential intern.

A question that borders between both work and casual, that I like to use for many types of interviews is: "Describe the company/yourself in one word?" Many times interviewers may ask difficult questions to test you or poke tricky subjects to see how you react to pressure and your ability to hustle under unexpected circumstances. Asking this question, I believe, shows them that not only you can work under pressure, but also put on the pressure. I would ask this question only afterwards they finish their initial "Why would you like to work for us?" type of questions though.

Ask them questions and get them talking about their favorite topic- themselves. People want to talk about themselves and have someone genuinely interested in listening to them talk about themselves. Think about a time you have talked to a person that has actively listened and acted interested in everything you were saying. Chances are, you walked away really liking that person and having a warm feeling about them. So ask the individual you invited to coffee about their role, business as it pertains to them individually, and then their interests outside of the office (books, travel, vacation, spots, hobbies, culture). If the conversation is going well and it feels right, ask about their family- this is especially good if they have children, people love to talk about their kids. The best conversation you can have is one that you control with questions that lead to more questions and where you spend most of your time actively listening.

Remember, you are talking to a human being. The last thing the individual is going to want to do is listen to you put on a show about how smart you are and how much you know about stocks or anything else. Your peers who do this and get shutdown are shutdown because they are boring and showing that they do not care at all about the person sitting across from them.

All of @"notthehospitalER"'s advice is spot on. To add, I research the hell out of someone new I'm meeting with, and I'm not trying to network for jobs. For deals, raising capital, whatever. Obviously I'm not doing this when someone's trying to sell us new office equipment but when it's something important I will scour the internet to find out something about this person that's not readily available on the normal channels like LinkedIn. I don't care if I see that they're the President of their local spelunking club, that they sit on the board of their kids preschool, that they spent time in New Delhi during Diwali, or whatever it is. I have more life experience than someone in college so there's a chance that I'll actually find something in common (I've been in India for Diwali and I sit on my son's preschool board for example) but if I don't I then research something that I found and learn enough about it to talk about it. I steer the conversation towards that: "so do you have any free time and what do you like to do with it?...Spelunking? I've thought about trying it out. When I was younger I used to like to get in tight, dark, wet places and was looking into it. How would I go about it, where, equipment, etc?" Of course don't say something that you wouldn't actually do: you could end up working with this guy and actually have to go spelunking so don't say you'd like to get into bisexual latex S&M if you're allergic to latex and don't want a pickle tickling your lower colon.

People like to talk about what they like to do, especially if it's something off the beaten path (golfing is just overdone unless you were on the varsity college team at Stanford) or interesting experiences they've had and they'll remember and subconsciously like you if you genuinely have that in common or simply talked about it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have something business related to talk about intelligently of course.

I've found that, more often than not, the other side (a.k.a. the coffee invitee) will direct the discussion on the job itself. I've even been in a "ok, so you're after a job at our place? Let me tell you what you need to do" type of situation.

If you're a cool guy, being yourself never hurts.

I prefer something a little more memorable...

What's your net worth? Are you liquid?

How many girls in the office have you banged?

(pull flask out from coat) Would you like a little gin in your coffee?

Can you scratch my back?

Are you packing a whole hog or a Tic Tac?

Can I borrow $20?

Do you want to see my Furbee blog?

Who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man?

Seriously, just have a normal conversation and make sure it's not an interrogation.


I prefer something a little more memorable...

What's your net worth? Are you liquid?

How many girls in the office have you banged?

(pull flask out from coat) Would you like a little gin in your coffee?

Can you scratch my back?

Are you packing a whole hog or a Tic Tac?

Can I borrow $20?

Do you want to see my Furbee blog?

Who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man?

Seriously, just have a normal conversation and make sure it's not an interrogation.

I always ask a super hero question but Spiderman v Batman is pretty controversial. We're talking DC v Marvel. If you're a big enough geek that's like Sunni v Shiite, Israeli v Arab, or Coke v Pepsi. Just like I never recommend talking about religion I never delve into DC v Marvel. Superman v Batman is controversial enough.

Great point I forgot to mention. Just be normal. I know I was guilty of this when I was younger, and especially college aged, but just be normal and have a conversation. The person you're talking to may be an exalted IB associate or even an MD or CEO but they still wipe their asses after they shit. Once I got into the realm of regularly talking to serious players, then actually socializing with them, I realized they weren't that big of a deal.

So I've been trying this out when I speak to other bankers over the phone (I'm networking). Conversation starts off great where I get to know them. But when I start asking them questions about the job, the conversation goes bad. I admit, some of the questions such as deal flow and office culture I ask are dull and all over the internet. I was wondering if you guys could tell me some job related topics I could focus on when I network.

Basically when you first want to "break the ice" you should avoid most work related questions in the beginning and act cool. You would first want to try to strike a conversation about one of his/her interest and if your lucky you might know some information about the persons interest, then you would talk about that get the person to like you a bit then you give the person the "Let's discuss this more on a drink." Once you grab a drink with the person that's when I feel like its appropriate to start talking about his work and even start asking for advice. This most of the times works for me, I hope it will come in handy for you as well.

Mordi Lati Finance Major at Baruch College

you'll want to research the person who will be interviewing you. You'll want to figure out what deals he worked on, and then hammer hAMMER HAMMER HIM on those deals. Memorize stats and question his judgement. This will prove to him that you mean BUSINESS.

you'll want to research the person who will be interviewing you. You'll want to figure out what deals he worked on, and then hammer hAMMER HAMMER HIM on those deals. Memorize stats and question his judgement. This will prove to him that you mean BUSINESS.
This is why we need voting on posts...

OP: I'm sure you know this, but for anyone else reading, do NOT do this.

you'll want to research the person who will be interviewing you. You'll want to figure out what deals he worked on, and then hammer hAMMER HAMMER HIM on those deals. Memorize stats and question his judgement. This will prove to him that you mean BUSINESS.


Having conducted coffee chats myself, this is what I'd do

  1. Ask smart questions - what is work like?, what keeps it engaging/interesting?, walk me through a project?
  2. Be likable - VERY IMPORTANT - do not be a pest, do not look bored, be smart and friendly
  3. Sell yourself a little but be subtle. For example don't say "I like creating an impact and I know I can"; instead if the interviewer tells you about a case wherein he/she had a lot of impact say "that must have been very fulfilling, I think thats what appeals to me"
  4. Be sincere, if you can't say these things honestly, then you probably won't like the job

There is no "right" answer to any of these questions, with exception to maybe the first.

If you expect them to be dressed in formal attire, I think a suit with no tie is entirely appropriate. This type of meeting is one of few exceptions where it's okay for you to be dressed less formal. You're not stepping out from work and you're not going to a formal interview -- I would never expect a candidate to be wearing a tie if he is still in school and I am just assuming he is going out to meet me for coffee.

Coffee chats should not include technicals. It's a chance for you and someone from the firm to learn more about each other and the firm and potential opportunities in a less formal environment. As cliche as it sounds, bankers tend to enjoy talking about their own background and what brought them to their current position. As a tangential point, I think it is because they view it as an opportunity to reinforce their confidence in making good career choices. That being said, try to learn as much as you can about them, why they joined the firm, what they think distinguishes it from other places, etc. You can easily use some of these responses as opportunities to voice your interest in the firm. Be prepared to come up with some solid answers on why their firm specifically -- I think this is probably the most important thing you can do in a coffee chat besides proving to them you're not some socially awkward guy they wouldn't want in their group (that should be accomplished through introducing yourself and talking a bit about your own background).

There isn't a staple expected duration for this kind of meeting; however, I would go in expecting it to last 15-30 minutes. If you think it goes well but it doesn't last long, don't worry. Sometimes these things are better if they are shorter. The last thing you want is for the meeting reach a point where the other person starts itching to get back to work and is waiting for an opportunity to cut you off and end the conversation. Ask the questions you want to ask then actually create some small conversation based on the responses -- do your best to avoid the meeting turning into some formulaic timed Q&A session. If you're done early, don't feel pressured to ask more to extend the length.

Bottom-line - be normal and view this as a great opportunity to learn more about the firm and the banker in a less formal environment. It's not an interview or an info session, it's a conversation over coffee. Don't let the subtle undertone of this being platform to set yourself up for an interview result in you treating this as anything more than a conversation. All you need is for the conversation to go well so the banker can leave thinking "good guy, qualified for the job, demonstrated interest in our group, we should bring him in." Just like the analysis we do, it isn't rocket science.

Sorry to bring up old threads, but I have a question or two regarding this. I met an MD through my summer job at a country club. He works at a BB. Contacted him every month or so for questions and he referred some books to me to read up about IB, i.e. Monkey Business and The Accidental Investment Banker. I will be in NYC next week and asked if he could meet up for coffee. I feel confident in my ability to handle a professional conversation. Just curious on how forward I would appear giving him my resume at the end or asking him to pass it along to the necessary people. Also, if I should expect anything to come of this or any conversation/topic i should avoid bringing up. I graduate this spring from a non target school, no finance related work experience, and CFA Level 1 candidate this June.

When you want something from someone else, your main goal should always be to be likable - it makes it much easier for someone to give you something when they like you. That being said, different people like different things, so play it by ear - sometimes they just want to talk and reminisce, other times they're genuinely interested in answering your questions. Hopefully your past coffee chats will help with this - your most productive ones were probably more like a conversation between two friends than a straight up Q&A session (but sometimes that's just how these things go).

In SA recruiting, did you interview with this bank? If so, maybe at the end, you can emphasize how you're still very interested - "Thanks so much for the time blah blah blah, I also just wanted to take this opportunity to emphasize once again how interested I am in the role" (figure out whatever sort of phrasing works best for you).

  1. Don't beat around the bush. This guy knows why you want to meet with him and it's insulting to his intelligence to pretend otherwise. Don't lead with it, but don't be afraid to talk internships.

  2. Dress the part. Wear a conservative suit, shirt, and tie. No business casual. No skinny pants or GQ style suits.

  3. Ask him questions. After you give your background and say why you're interested, every other thing out of your mouth should be asking him intelligent questions about his background and what he does on a daily basis.

  4. Do your research. Look up what his company, or better if you can, his group has been up to. Find a way to work this in that isn't obnoxious.

  5. Follow up. Write him a hand written letter or send him a thoughtful email thanking him for meeting with you. Be genuine and reference something you discussed.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

i wouldn't panic so much. if you already did an informational with them on the phone, they should understand that you might be running out of formal/business-related questions and they should be willing to "work with you" and not put you on the spot. if they're cool.

but if you need more material, there are definitely threads on here etc. ... there are probably more questions out there you haven't asked.

Generally, I'd ask about their interaction with clients in their coverage universe, what was their most insightful research report and why. After you've shown some genuine interest, I might guide the conversation to something more along the lines of "what characteristics have you seen in people who successfully transfer from ops" etc.

I'd write a sample equity research report and have that in your back pocket. Makes for good fodder. I'd have any friendly industry people you know review it first. Depending on how things go, I would consider asking if I could shoot it over to them for feedback. Good excuse to keep in touch after the initial coffee.


Have a conversation with the guy.

I know but this is my first time doing this and I'd appreciate some kind of framework. Also, networking is REALLY unconventional in my country, so I want to make the best impression possible. I'm hoping some guys who work in ER or have experience with this could make some suggestions as to how to impress him. Investing and researching equities is such a huge passion of mine and I just hope that shows in our meeting. I really just want to make the best out of this opportunity as possible, so as to foster a good relationship for the future.