How to network your way into an investment banking job
The infamous ‘British reserve’ means that networking is one of the most underused skills when it comes to graduate job hunting. What can you do to make sure you’re socialising enough (face to face or virtually)?
Nobody thinks about work 100% of the time, so you could always use your interests outside of finance as a conversation starter.
Did you know that the City of London is only just over one square mile in area? It’s not much and it gives an indication of how small the world of the UK investment banking industry is.
Some might think that networking is just an American thing and that it won’t work in the UK, but they’d be wrong. Finance is a small world where who you know matters. It’s never too early to start networking; here’s what you should be doing to get yourself that graduate job.
This article mentions in-person networking opportunities, which you may be able to attend later in 2021 after social distancing restrictions lift. However, much of the advice is equally applicable to online networking, such as attending virtual events and using social media. The following articles will be particularly useful for networking during the Covid-19 pandemic:
- Virtual careers fairs: how to stand out to employers online
- Virtual careers fairs v. in-person careers events: the key differences
- How to use LinkedIn: research, networking and building your brand
1. Travel if you have to – or attend virtual events from around the world
All recruitment events are worth going to, but to avoid wasting your time, it’s important to prioritise. If you have specialised skills, it’s better to go to a recruitment event that is looking for those specific skills even if it means more travel. If your skills aren’t so specialist, don’t limit yourself to networking locally, especially if you don’t live near London.
Attending virtual networking events and fairs is another great way to extend your geographical reach, especially during the pandemic. There’s no limit to the events you can attend from your own home so you are free to attend as many as you have time for.
2. Use any opportunity
If you’re in a place where you have easy access to the people you need to be talking to, such as the London School of Economics, you have a massive advantage.
If you’re at a recruitment fair or an industry professional has just given a lecture at your university, hang back and ask them an intelligent question on what they’ve been talking about. Once you’ve finished talking, ask for their business card – the worst they can say is no.
3. Be brave
Going into a room full of people can be daunting and it’s tempting to retreat into a corner ‘checking your emails’. However, it really is invaluable to talk to as many people as possible and there are ways to make your life easier. Some tips include:
- Always look for a crowd with an odd number of people. At noisy events, it’s very difficult to hold a three-way conversation so someone will automatically gravitate towards you.
- Stand in front of a circle of people who are talking. Listen to them intently, and as soon as you get a chance, put your hand out (when it is safe to shake hands once social distancing restrictions have been lifted) and introduce yourself. People will often start asking you questions as opposed to the other way around.
At virtual events, take the opportunity to join one-to-one chats with recruiters if these are offered. It’s best to turn your camera on when meeting people virtually so that you have more of a ‘face-to-face’ experience and they are likely to remember you better. When watching webinars, interact with the panellists by typing in comments or questions for them to answer.
4. Follow up
You’ve hit it off with a potential contact and got their business card. That’ll stand you in good stead if you apply to their business, won’t it? Er, no. It’s not enough just to get their contact details – you have to follow up immediately. Tell them you’ll call or email to ask some questions or set up a meeting and then do it.
5. Keep track of everyone you meet
If you’re networking properly, you should have a fair few people to keep track of. Take extensive notes in any meetings you have with contacts and log them into your computer afterwards.
It’s good to know as much as you can about your connections (without being a stalker!) as it’ll help your relationship with them. Also remember to follow up on old contacts regularly to keep even old associations useful and relevant.
Another thing you can do is set up a Google News Alert for every contact you meet. Not only are you then up to date with what they’re doing, but you can send a congratulatory email if they close a big deal. It takes no time but is appreciated and keeps you on your contacts’ radars.
6. Do your research
If you have a meeting or interview at a business where you don’t know anybody, see if you can find out the names of those you’ll be talking to. Then, try and find them on LinkedIn.
If you’re a ‘second-degree connection’, you should talk to your mutual contact to find out what to expect. A personal connection is a great way to take a short cut and can be really helpful when you want to impress.
At the end of a meeting, it’s often a good idea to ask if there’s anyone else they think you should meet. This could be as simple as being introduced to an intern with a similar background to yours.
7. Approach the people you know
If you see someone you know at a recruitment event or company information session, use it to your advantage, even if you don’t know them that well.
You don’t have to be close to someone to ask them a direct question, just credible. Minimise any chit-chat and ask intelligent questions, not ‘what’s it like to be an investment banker?’
8. Don’t forget the assistants
If you’re rude or dismissive to a contact’s assistant, do you really think your phone calls will get through?
9. Get a life!
Nobody thinks about work 100% of the time, so you could always use your interests outside of finance as a conversation starter. Pay attention when someone mentions their hobbies or if they follow a specific sports team.
The investment banking industry is very demanding so don’t be afraid to talk about non-finance things alongside work topics. There are a lot of people willing to come out of the office for a coffee if they have time to let you take their mind off the job for a little while.
If anyone tells you to stop calling or simply says ‘no’, forget them; there are loads of other people you can ask and it’s not worth getting on anyone’s bad side.
Article last updated 10 March 2021.