It's been a slow day at work, so I decided to do something useful and type up this thread with some basic networking tips. I went into my background in detail in my lateraling guide, but basically I went to a non-target for undergrad, then started at a "no-name" boutique, lateraled to a top MM as a second-year analyst, and am now in corporate development.
First, let me give a shameless plug to the WSO networking guide. I got this a few years ago when I was in undergrad, and it was the best $50 I have ever spent. This overview is not meant to replace the WSO guide, so if you're trying to break into IB, I would highly recommend getting the guide. I don't receive a referral commission for this and am just a happy customer.
Note: This overview assumes that interviews start in September and that you're able to have one phone call per banker and then meet them in-person for coffee. If interviews for whatever cycle you are in start at another time or you've unable to meet bankers in-person, adjust accordingly.
So, you're trying to break into IB and have started networking. Great. Want to get me on the phone? Here's how.
The Preparation (April)
Wait, what? I have to PREPARE for networking? Yes, you certainly do. This isn't like walking into a bar and picking up chicks.
The first step is putting together a tracker that you will use to keep track of your networking efforts. You can use Excel, Google Docs, or anything else, but I prefer Excel. You will want to keep track of who you contact, when you contacted them, the stage of networking etc. Now that your tracker is set up, start populating it with the names of banks that you are interested in working at. I would take a broad approach to this. If you list every reputable BB, MM, and EB, you should have 30 to 40 names on there. No, I will not run a CapIQ search for you.
The Search (April)
Great, so now your tracker is in place. Now it's time to find people to network with. If you have not already done so, create a LinkedIn profile (and use a professional picture, not some selfie that you took in the back of a club).
Going bank by bank in your tracker, search through LinkedIn to find bankers who you might reach out to. I would reach out to bankers across the spectrum. Analysts can give you the best insight into what your role might be on a day-to-day basis, but VPs and up are the ones with the real power to get you an interview. Start with alumni and then look for bankers with anything in common with you (e.g. you both went to a non-target). There is nothing wrong with networking with random people. Read that last sentence again. Now read it one more time. If a bank has no alumni from your school at it, just reach out to random bankers. Trust me, there are many out there who are happy to help anyone. For some reason, no one ever thinks of this.
So, now you have a list of banks and several bankers at each bank. They aren't going to be contacting you, so you need to start finding their contact information. Please, for the love of all that is good, do not cold call. I know that someone is going to reply here telling me that cold calling worked for them, but trust me, it's incredibly annoying to be sitting at your desk only to have someone randomly call you. Do not cold call. You can easily find most email address formats on the WSO Company Database. Others can be found by a simple Googling. Not sure if you have the right email address? Try an email address tester, such as MailTester.com.
The Execution (May)
You now have a list of banks and contacts with their email addresses. You're ready to go…almost.
Make sure that whatever email address you use is professional. [email protected] is what I would suggest. You do not need to use your school email. In fact, I would not since Gmail has a much better archiving feature than what most schools use.
Now, start teeing up your emails. I have typed up a few templates in various threads on WSO, so you can search for those, but I would (again) suggest getting the WSO networking guide, which has several templates in it. Please, whatever you do, type up a professional email with correct grammar. English is not my first language, so I can sympathize with others, but please, act as if you care. I'm not your bruh, girlfriend, or twice-removed cousin. Please be professional, but do not call me "Mr." (or "Ms." If I were female). We're both adults, so act like it.
I would suggest reaching out to one person at the bank at a time. So, if your list has 30 banks on it, and you have at least one contact for each bank, you should have 30 emails typed up and saved in Gmail (or whatever you're using). Now that you have your emails ready to go, you can start sending them. I always sent my emails on Tuesdays at 10:00 AM because I figured that people were too busy on Mondays and too busy at 9:00 AM. Unless you're sending emails at 2:00 AM (please don't do that), I actually don't think time or day matters.
One thing that many students ask about is whether or not to include your resume. If you have prior experience, such as an internship, I would. If not, leave the resume off. A resume is a good way to provide context and can increase my chance of responding to you. If I see that you've had two boutique internships or spent a summer at GS, I will be more likely to reply to you because I know that you're serious and have a realistic shot at breaking in. This is not to say that if you're a freshman or just late getting into the game that I won't reply. If that is the case, however, just leave the resume off.
The Wait (May)
So, you just sent out your emails and are eagerly anticipating a response. To your horror, you see that a few of your emails bounce back. Maybe some people left the bank, but haven't updated their LinkedIn, but most likely, you have the wrong email address format. Some banks grandfather employees with longer tenure into new email address formats, so if you're emailing an MD, he/she could very well have an email address format different from the analysts'. Or, the bank throws you a curveball by using a middle initial in its email address format (I'm looking at you, JP freaking Morgan). You may be able to find the banker's real email, but if not, that's fine- just find another contact and move on.
So…you wait…and wait…and wait. When should you follow up? Should you call them? Show up at their office? Whoa, calm down there. You're networking with bankers, not Victoria Secret models. Wait a week (a FULL SEVEN DAYS) and then shoot out a follow up. Make it short and sweet and to the point. If you do not get a response to your follow up, move on. Maybe the banker is busy, maybe the banker just turned in his/her two weeks notice, maybe the banker was arrested for murdering another banker with an ax. There are many more bankers for you to contact. Please learn some social cues :)
The Contact (May)
So, you're about to take a nap instead of going to class (c'mon, we know you do it) when your phone buzzes. A banker replied to your email!
Some bankers might say that they don't have time, might forward your email to HR and CC you, or provide some other non-committal, "don't bother me" type response. That's fine, it's their right. Just move on. Chances are that unless you're exclusively emailing alumni, your response rate will hover around 10%. That's fine. Remember, you're emailing some of the busiest people in the world asking for 15 minutes of their time. And they are strangers who don't know you to boot.
So, anyway, the next step is setting up a time to talk. Please don't reply with something like "I can talk whenever". YOU are the one who contacted ME. Suggest some reasonable times. No, 7:30 AM before your first class is not reasonable. No, I will not get on the phone at 2:00 AM because you think that makes you cool for asking. 7:00 PM is usually when my senior bankers started leaving, so suggest something around then, but do end your email with a "I can be flexible" line.
The Phone Call (May)
So, you finally got me on the phone. Congrats. Don't blow it now.
So, this is going to be just a regular phone call, right? Wrong. Don't take this call on the subway, at Five Guys, or while you're getting lit. Please, have some decency and make me want to help you further. Take the call in a quiet room with good phone reception. If you have poor reception and drop the call, I'll probably understand, but the banker in me will wonder, "Did this kid really not test the connection out before this call?".
So, what now? What do you ask? Well, you would know if you had already gotten the WSO networking guide ;) I would prepare questions with the intent of not using them. That means have some questions thought out, preferably unique ones to my background or bank, but be ready to go with the flow; try to have a conversation instead of raddling off questions. And, please, have some social decency. Don't ask me about Trump, how my bank will handle regulation, why my bank just paid a fee, etc. Also, make sure that your questions cannot be easily answered online. If I take 15 minutes to talk to you and you ask me who my bank's competitors are or what I do in my free time, I won't be happy.
There are two must-ask questions. After you've had a few minutes of conversation, you need to ask for advice. This is code for "get me an interview". Most bankers know this and will give you advice and then finish that with an offer to pass your resume along and/or connect you with other bankers. If they do not offer to connect you with anyone, ASK. Feel free to print this paragraph out and frame it. It is that important.
The whole point of networking is to build a network. The only way to do the effectively is for others to introduce you to their network. Plus, the more people you know at a bank, the more can go to bat for you to get you an interview and the less you are affected if one of these people leaves their bank. Once you've had your conversation, asked for advice, and asked for references, it's time to go. Please don't keep me on the phone for 30+ minutes. My associate is already wondering where I am and why I haven't changed slide 12's header bar from 5, 84, 139 blue to 5, 84, 142 blue. Finish by thanking me for my time and asking me if you can follow up.
Some people tend to ask whether or not you should prepare for this first call by studying technicals or anything. I personally think that it's a complete dick move to ask someone interview questions of any type on a networking call, but you should be prepared because some bankers will. So, read through an interview guide or two and be ready.
As far as emailing referrals go, send them a similar email to the one that you sent the first banker, but mention that that first banker referred you/gave you this second banker's name. If I know that the analyst sitting next to me referred you, I will 100% of the time reply.
Post-Phone Call (May – July)
Hopefully you now have a list of contacts at every bank that you would be interested in working at. Since you took my advice and asked for referrals, you even have multiple contacts per bank, and you've talked to all of them. Now what?
Once you've had a phone call, the next step is setting up some time for coffee. If you live in or close to NY or some other financial hub, this should be easy. Wait a month after your phone call and then email bankers for some time for coffee.
If you go to school somewhere else, I would consider taking a networking trip to NY. This is what I did. I spent a week at a buddy's place in NY (this was before Airbnb, so it's even easier to go now if you don't know anyone in NY) and scheduled three to four bankers for coffee per day. A few bankers cancelled last minute, but other than that, it went well. Please have some respect and show up in business casual. I don't expect you to wear a suit (please don't), but if you show up in anything less, I'll assume you're not serious about the job. Ladies, I apologize, but I am no expert in women's fashion, so I would suggest Googling "female business casual" or something of the like. Please don't show up in a mini-dress (yes, this has happened before).
Ok, so now you're in NY, have several coffee meetings lined up, have some proper clothing with you, and are ready to go. Make sure to bring a notepad and pen with you. You probably won't take notes, but it shows that you're serious. I also might not remember who you are, so bring a few extra copies of your resume (printed on regular paper, not card stock…c'mon) so that I don't have to awkwardly ask what your background is again.
And, when I offer to pay for your coffee, don't play this "no, I'll pay for it" game. Offer to pay for it and then move on once I insist. I'm making six figures. Don't make me an asshole too by letting some broke college kid buy me coffee.
The Ask (August)
Great, so now we've done the networking tango. You sent me a cold email, I replied, we got on the phone, we met for coffee, we both feigned interest in each other. So, now you need to reap what you sowed: ask me for an interview.
Whoa there, buddy. We're still doing the tango, so you can't just straight-up ask me for an interview. Say something like "With recruiting season coming up, I was wondering how I could best position myself". This is usually where a banker will offer to pass along your resume, talk to HR, or even come back with some phone interview times.
So, you've cold emailed bankers, received replies, had phone calls and coffee with the bankers, and even got the bankers to get you interviews. You're done! You've completed networking! Achievement unlocked! Right? Wrong. Networking is not an end-goal, but more of a journey. A network is like a relationship that needs to be maintained. If I helped you get an interview, I put some serious time and effort into you. Don't be rude and just drop off of the face of the Earth. Shoot me an email and update me on how recruiting went, even if you declined an offer from my bank or went to a more prestigious bank. A few months into your job, shoot me an update. Maybe something that I said helped you. Let me know. You get the point. If all you do is use people for their connections and do not try to build real, genuine relationships, you're missing the point. I don't expect a college kid to be able to help me or to repay me for my time, but at least give me the satisfaction of knowing that I helped someone and that I made a difference.
And if you got your job because some banker helped you get an interview, don't be an asshole. When a college kid asks you for help, pay it forward.
I am sure that I forgot something, so feel free to ask any questions below. I enjoy the anonymity that I have on WSO, so I will have to politely ask that you do not PM me asking me to connect via phone, but again, I am more than happy to answer questions here. Please post them in this thread instead of PMing me them so that others can benefit from the answers.
Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #8 for the past year