My Approach To Networking
In the spring of 2022, I gave a presentation on networking to the pledges for the business fraternity that I'm in. I did another one in the fall of 2022 and was surprised that a few brothers undergoing IB and consulting recruiting came to watch as well. Then, throughout the year, more brothers and a few of my friends outside of the fraterntiy asked for the PowerPoint that I made. So, instead of sending it to people one at a time, I thought that I might as well give the presentation here. This tutorial will be primarily geared towards networking for investment banking and consulting.
Setup – Getting them on the Phone
Talking with first/second year analyst/associates on the phone is the best way to get your foot in the door and learn more about any company you want to work at. But calling out of the blue just isn't an option. You need to schedule your call in advance, and this is much trickier than you might think. The key trick to getting them on the phone is to minimize the back and forth and make it easy for the busy person to find time to talk to you
Since we're the one asking for a busier person's time, we are the lower-status person and they are the higher-status person. To be clear, this certainly isn't a value judgement. Just by virtue of how interactions work, if you want something from someone else, in this situation you are lower-status. Whether it’s less famous, less wealthy, less successful, less important, or less busy, that’s just the way it is. Remember, YOU want something from THEM. It’s important to recognize this and work around the busy person’s schedule. That means: Don’t ask them to call you, don’t ask them to work around your schedule, don’t make them come up with a bunch of times that work...don’t make them think!
Next, it's important to keep in mind that in every conversation, there is context and subtext. We all know what context is – it's just what we see at the surface level. In this case, it's a desperate and awkward college undergrad asking questions to a jaded first or second year analyst/associate who takes at least 3 networking calls a week. Subtext, however, is much more interesting. Subtext is defined as "an underlying and often distinct theme in a piece of writing or conversation." It's much more difficult to grasp because it entails understanding the hierarchies of participants in a conversation, what a question actually means, how to elicit certain responses and much more. Clearly grasping the context and subtext is absolutely necessary to turning what is essentially a transactional event into a friendly conversation, which is what every networking call should be. Remember, prioritize people. Not your agenda.
Now that we understand conversational basics and the general approach, here's how we execute. The script we use needs to do all the work for the higher-status person, which means minimizing the amount of work they need to put in. As such, our script will need to include the following:
Brief introduction of who we are and why we're emailing them
The Ask – ask if they have time for a conversation
Your availabilities in their time zone
Preferred Method of Contact
The script below includes all of that.
Hi --Busy Person--,
My name is --Your Name-- and I'm currently a --Your Year at College-- at --College/University-- studying --Your Major(s)--. I'm very interested in pursuing --Position-- at --Busy Person's Firm--, and saw that you've worked there for a while now. I would love to have a conversation with you to learn more about your experiences at --Busy Person's Firm-- as well as at --Place You & Busy Person Might Have in Common-- . Would you have time for a quick coffee chat? If so, would these times (--Their Time Zone--) work for you:
Tuesday (08/24): 12:00PM - 4PM
Wednesday (08/25): 12:30PM - 5:30PM
Thursday (08/26): 3:00PM - 6:30PM
Friday (08/27): All Day --Always Give an All Day Option--
If these times don't work, please let me know - I can work around your schedule.
I can call your office line, or if you prefer, my cell is --Your Cell #--.
The Calendar Invite
At this point, you've settled on a time for you to call the person you want to have a conversation with. The next step is to send them a calendar invite and get yourself on their calendar. Remember, you are to be the one taking intiative and trying to make their life easier at every step and your calendar invite should reflect that. Here is the best way to set up a networking calendar invite:
This invite makes it clear that at the agreed upon time, they should expect a call from you from the number you provided. Furthermore, by including both parties' numbers in the notes section, it not only gives them a chance to see what number will be calling them, but it also gives them a chance to make sure that they gave you the right number to call you at.
The Call Itself
With all the preliminary work done, you can now start preparing for and executing the actual call. Some basics first:
A standard networking call lasts for 30 minutes. Never assume that it should last any longer, unless they offer to stay on for longer.
Make it a true conversation. While both parties understand that this is a networking call, if you approach it like that, it will feel completely transactional and leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Be warm, welcoming, and curious and you'll make a friend. Be tense, calculated, and awkward and you'll regret it.
Do your research and have questions ready. There's nothing more annoying to a busy person than having to answer questions that you can find the answers to online. Do your research on them and the firm beforehand to facilitate a smoother and more pleasant conversation. Know what you're getting yourself into.
Since you only have thirty minutes to work with and make a good impression, every minute counts. Here's how I think about breaking it up:
First 5 Minutes: smalltalk and introductions
Next 15 Minutes: build rapport through asking questions about them and the firm
Next 8 Minutes: ask the questions about recruiting process and any tips they have for you
Final 2 Minutes: final pieces of advice and any closing remarks they might have
There's general guidelines for how to approach each segment of the call that I won't delve into too deeply in this post, but your prep work should be able to carry you through. To reiterate, by prep work, I mean having (1) a good "tell me about yourself", (2) a list of intelligent questions about the firm and their background, and (3) an understanding of what exactly you want to get out of the call.
To be completely clear, your goal from the call is threefold: (1) have someone at the firm who knows your name and might be willing to refer you, (2) tips for the recruitment process, and, arguably the most important, (3) get a warm introduction to someone else. The importance of achieving these three goals are self-explanatory. Getting a reference gets your foot in the door and oftentimes guarantees at least a first round interview. Different firms might evaluate candidates differently or have a specific interview style they prefer, but you wouldn't know about this unless you asked. Having someone within the firm introducing you to their coworker makes it much easier to build your network than cold-emailing and hoping someone responds.
At the end of the day, the resumes of candidates who make it past the superdays or final rounds of interviews at these firms largely all look the same. The primary differentiator, and whether a candidate gets selected for the position, will be the candidate's personality. Between two candidates who graduated from Ivies with a >3.5 GPA and majored in some form of finance or economics, a group will choose the candidate that they've had pleaseant and memorable conversations with.
Always follow up. Remember that they took time out of their day to speak with you and help you on your journey. Practice gratitude and tell them thank you. This is an opportunity for you show them that you appreciated their time and that their words were helpful. A good format for following up with someone looks like this:
Hi --Busy Person--,
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to speak with me today. I truly appreciate your advice and guidance. I really enjoyed talking about --Interesting Topic--. Getting to know you was a great pleasure and I hope that we will stay in touch!
Looking forward to future calls with analysts at --Firm-- as well as updating you with my progress.
Again, this is one of those action items that if you do it it won't necessarily help you too much, but if you don't, it might hurt you.
Networking is intimidating, but I hope that reading this post made it less so. The best way to think about it is that you're trying to have a conversation with someone and genuinely trying to make a connection while learning about their professional life. Try to make them laugh and try to keep it light hearted. How would you want someone to ask you for advice? What would someone need to say to make you more inclined to help them? After all, you and the person on the other side of the phone aren't so different. They're just where you eventually want to be and there's nothing wrong with trying to learn how to get there.