Investment Banking Insights: Networking to Enhance Your Chances of Securing an Interview and Offer

A very important but sometimes overlooked aspect of the investment banking recruiting process for opportunities in the U.S. is networking.  The concept may seem strange and initially uncomfortable or even awkward – especially since interested candidates apply for internships with their resume and connect with employers through interviews.   What else does an employer need to know?

Interacting with candidates prior to the interview process can be helpful for firms to better gauge interests, motivation and potential alignment with the company’s culture.  Do not underestimate the power of networking as part of the investment banking recruiting process as it can influence your chances of securing an interview that hopefully leads to an internship offer!

Why Network?
Think of networking simply as an opportunity:
– an opportunity to connect, engage and learn more from with individuals you may be working with
– an opportunity to begin to convince employers why you are a strong candidate for an investment banking internship
– an opportunity for you to learn more about the differences in firm culture to determine your preferred employers

Insider Tip: Networking with investment bankers is a great way to demonstrate strong interest in the position and a company.  Because networking technically is not a “required” part of the application process and can be time-consuming, individuals who spend time networking can start to distinguish themselves among a qualified pool of applicants.

Insider Tip: Very successful networking conversations may occasionally lead to a direct referral for interview consideration.  Employee referrals can enhance a candidate’s chances of securing an internship interview.

Networking Opportunities

Students can network through formal recruiting events such as coffee chats, information sessions, insight days and other virtual events – these forums provide the chance to meet with investment bankers outside of the interview process.  Use these sessions to learn more, ask questions and engage in conversations, if possible.

Insider Tip:  At networking events where several students are networking with one or a smaller number of professionals in a group setting, consider asking one of the company representatives for their email address at the end of the conversation so you can follow-up after the event.  This can be helpful if you want to continue your conversation, if you did not get a chance to get your questions answered during the event or simply to send a brief, personalized thank you note to make a positive impression.

You can also initiate individual conversations outside of these events to network with alumni at a time that is mutually convenient.  Sometimes it is easier to engage in conversation in a one-on-one format.

But networking can really happen anywhere – sometimes when you least expect it!

Insider Tip: If you had a positive, memorable conversation with a networking contact, you can include that information in a cover letter when applying for the internship.  While some firms will not accept cover letters, in situations where you do have the option to submit a letter, you can mention the name of the person you met, brief context on the circumstances and something memorable about the conversation that is relevant to your interest in the position.  Keep it brief!

I don’t have a network.  Help!  As a member of the Penn community, you are part of a powerful network – take advantage of the opportunity to expand and grow your personal network! Your network is not limited to individuals you personally know that are working in investment banking.  By actively participating in activities, initiatives and other endeavors at Penn, you can position yourself to meet people and make new connections to expand your personal network. Penn alumni and current students are two groups you can certainly connect with:

Alumni.  You have access to the broader Penn alumni network even as a student!  Penn alumni are working at many companies and may be willing to speak with you to answer questions and offer their own advice.  Browse myPenn and LinkedIn to identify alumni working in investment banking.

Insider Tip:  If you cannot find the email address for an alumni contact you want to reach through myPenn, try using CareerShift.  Simply create your free account using your school email address, click on “My Contacts” then “Search” and select “Investment Banking” as the industry.  You can then use the filters to set the parameters for your search and find any email addresses that are available.

Students.  Consider expanding your personal network by connecting with students who interned in investment banking last year.  A student’s perspective on how they navigated the process and their experience may be helpful.  You can use Handshake’s Community: Explore Students section to identify and contact students with previous internships in investment banking.

How to Contact a Networking Prospect
Reach out to networking contacts through email.  Use your school email address if possible – a personal email address can be ok as long as the name is professional.  Personalize your email but keep it to a few sentences.  Consider a brief one-sentence introduction including anything relevant about your background.  Mention that you would like to schedule a time for a brief conversation.  Be sure to indicate what you’d like to discuss (do not be direct and explicitly mention your interest in securing a summer internship in your initial email).

Insider TipLeverage your status as a current student to your advantage!  In your subject line, you can indicate that you are a Penn student – this may be helpful when contacting Penn alumni.  You may find that alumni may be even more willing to reply and speak with you as a current student!

Insider Tip: Explain briefly why you specifically contacted that person (opposed to other individuals at the firm) and try to mention something that individual may be in a unique position to discuss based on their background.  A contact’s LinkedIn profile or myPenn profile may provide some ideas on shared interests and experiences along with additional insight into their work experiences.

Insider Tip: Make it as easy as possible to schedule a time to meet.  Do not assume the person is willing and able to meet – but consider including a few days/times you are available for a meeting within the next week while stating you are happy to work around their schedule as a way to streamline the process of scheduling and make it more convenient.

Networking Conversations
You may notice that networking conversations can vary depending on the individuals and situation.  Many conversations may be one-time 15–20-minute chats where you ask a few questions and have a relatively quick discussion.  In other situations, your conversation may last longer.  Prepare to introduce yourself at the beginning of the call and be ready to steer the conversation from there – do not expect the contact to take the lead since you initiated the inquiry.  Be personable yet professional.  Try to make a good impression by asking insightful and interesting questions.

Insider Tip: If you identify an opportunity for a follow-up conversation, that is great!  But most networking conversations for investment banking will be one-time discussions.  One-time conversations where you make a positive impression are just fine – do not feel obligated to arrange a series of follow-up meetings just to network or just to create a stronger impression.

Insider Tip: You do not need to network with an extremely large number of contacts at each firm to improve your chances of being selected for an interview or receiving an offer.  Try to speak with a small number of individuals (if possible) at different companies to make the process more manageable given time constraints.

When Should I Start Networking?  Now.  Networking early can be helpful to avoid the volume of networking inquiries investment bankers receive during busy season.  Ideally network prior to submitting your internship application and set aside time in your schedule as networking can be time consuming. Consider participating in both formal and informal networking opportunities.

Networking Tips

Be prepared in advance.  Before initiating a conversation with a networking contact, prepare yourself with a list of questions or possible conversation topics.  Consider asking questions that show your interest in the business such as questions on recent, publicly announced investment banking deals, changes in deal flow given the current economic environment or perhaps future opportunities for the firm to grow and expand.  You may have questions about the contact’s path to investment banking or their experience at their current firm.  Planning your questions in advance can take the pressure off during your conversation. Be sure to avoid asking questions that can be answered through information on the firm’s website.  Create your own individual list of specific questions – do not rely on using a general list of questions shared with you by others.

Be selective in your outreach.  Use a targeted approach for networking.  Identify individuals that you may have things in common with (course of study, activities, interests) and start your outreach with them.  Consider analysts or associates as initial networking prospects to focus your efforts.  If you do connect with a senior-level contact, make sure you are extremely prepared for that conversation.

Follow-up!  In some cases, individuals may not respond to your networking email and that can be discouraging.  Response rates to unsolicited networking emails tend to be low for most students – particularly during recruiting season when investment bankers may have an increase in these requests.  Do not take a lack of a response to your email personally – it does not necessarily mean your approach is wrong.

But given the importance of networking and the potential value in connecting with individuals at firms of interest, consider following up once after 1 week if you do not receive a response to your initial email.  I have heard countless stories throughout the years of students following up with a networking contact and eventually they were rewarded for their efforts!

Avoid sending a generic, mass networking email to many contacts – especially at larger firms.  This approach can work against you – particularly if individuals at the same company confer with each other about the email you sent.  While a mass networking email may seem efficient, you do not want to be remembered as the person who contacted everyone at once with an impersonal message.

Since mass emails tend to be impersonal, individuals may be less inclined to respond if they assume you are contacting several people at once.  Instead, start by contacting one or two individuals first – then consider contacting others as needed and appropriate.

Consider leveraging extended networks.  If you have a LinkedIn account and are connected with others through LinkedIn, your second- and third-degree connections are examples individuals in your extended network.  You may discover people you want to contact with have mutual connections in common.

Insider Tip: If you want to speak with someone at a firm you do not know personally, consider contacting a mutual connection and politely ask if that person would be willing to introduce you to the person you want to connect with – these referrals or introductions can increase your response rate with networking prospects.

Final thoughts:

Networking can be challenging may take time before you see results – but networking is an important tactic to potentially influence your chances of being selected for an interview and receiving an offer.  You can develop your networking skills over time with practice and effort.  Leverage your strengths and identify your own networking style.   Be confident and open-minded while networking as you never know who you will meet.  Happy networking!

This is the third post in the Investment Banking Insider blog post series.  Stay tuned for the final post on Preparing for Investment Banking Internship Interviews.

Investment Banking Insight Series Links:
Post 1 – Summer 2022 Investment Banking Internship Recruiting Overview
Post 2 – Creating an Effective Investment Banking Resume

By David Ross
David Ross Senior Associate Director, Wharton Undergrad David Ross