Good questions to Ask in Coffee Chats for Investment Banking

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zentiger - Certified Professional
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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?

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Investment Banking Interview Course Here

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Comments (107)

Oct 7, 2014

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.

    • 5
Best Response
Oct 7, 2014

Agreed, you could also offer them a line of coke or invite a prostitute along to loosen up the tension.

    • 22
Sep 20, 2016

lol

Oct 7, 2014

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.

Oct 7, 2014

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.

    • 1
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Jul 10, 2017

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.

Oct 7, 2014

Tell me about yourself.

Oct 7, 2014

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.

    • 9
Oct 8, 2014

Somebody is a Dale Carnegie fan

    • 3
Jul 16, 2017

This makes a lot of sense. Thanks, for Sharing.

Oct 7, 2014

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.

Oct 7, 2014

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.

    • 11
Oct 8, 2014

My sides.. They're killing me! But really, this is solid advice, thanks for sharing!

Oct 8, 2014

when you sit down first, ask they "hey hows it going? how was your week/day" they'll respond, you make some slight mark oh, sorry to hear or haha thats good. they'll ask you how yours was

say "its been great" and give a good reason why even if it wasn't a good week. makes everything a bit more comfy.

    • 1
Oct 8, 2014

1. School
2. What you study
3. Career Aspirations
4. Will you get me an Interview?

I'm bi-winning. I win here, and I win there.

    • 2
Oct 8, 2014

Can you tell me about a time when you have explained something complex in a simple way?
Can you tell me about a time when you showed integrity?

Sep 13, 2017

Those are crap questions for a coffee chat. Honestly, if someone asked me that over coffee I would be dying to get out of there as soon as possible.

    • 1
Oct 8, 2014

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.

Oct 8, 2014

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.

    • 8
Oct 7, 2014
DickFuld:

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.

Dec 26, 2014

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.

Dec 26, 2014

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

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Jun 30, 2016

"have secured a few coffee chats with BBs, IBD"

omg I love this I love this I swear

Jun 30, 2016

this all comes off as very scripted. get to know the person.

Jun 30, 2016

be a human and have a normal, interested conversation. shouldn't be that hard if you actually have an interest in breaking into their career field.

Sep 20, 2016

Find out what the big project or deal is currently going on
"how's that going"
Listen for 30 min, occasionally throw in short insightful questions

Hasn't failed yet

Jul 10, 2017

The most important question is probably to ask them if they liked the whiskey you put in their coffee.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Sep 13, 2017

Don't ask for a case question - instead ask "what was your favourite consulting project, or most difficult." then ask good questions around it.

If they say a category management project, ask good questions around "Did you use 80/20 when looking at the spend, or how did you analyze all the spend" (bad example, but top of my head).

So many of the posters here focus on the case, and what is far more important is thinking critically. Anyone can memmorize a case method and apply....and you will have to in the interviews and generally on the job, but far more important is being able to grasp problems that are not so nicely laid out.

Be interesting, be informed about the consulting world and the world in general, and ask questions. How does he approach problems. Flip around a case, and ask "how would you, or your team approach xxxx problem." People like to talk, and consultants love to solve problems.

Make it about the consultant, not you.

Who knows though, maybe Canada is different than the US.

Sep 13, 2017

Second the above. The case is important but thinking in a way that makes you better at cases is more important.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Sep 13, 2017

Thank you! I will definitely take your advice and incorporate that into my chat