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4 Critical Networking Rules You Cannot Ignore To Land Investment Banking Interviews


As you may know already, networking is a MUST if you want to secure an interview in investment banking. The most effective way to obtain interviews is via referrals: when someone (typically in a position of power) endorses your application internally, triggering an interview invite. 

But in order to secure referrals, you need to be very good at connecting with bankers and making them want to help you in your job research. 

In this article, I’ll share four critical rules of networking you need to have in mind during your networking calls, to maximize your chances of getting referrals, and therefore interviews. 

Rule #1: it’s not about you, it’s about them

 “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

In case you haven’t noticed, humans care about themselves, first and foremost. Yes, people can do brave things for others. Yes, people can create useful, innovative, and essential services to serve their communities. But fundamentally, humans tend to place their own interests above those of others.

This is not a critique addressed to human nature, nor an attempt to denounce the obscure extravagances of the individualist capitalist society…But a factual statement about the innate biological predisposition of our kind.

Humans are self-interested because being so has a long-term evolutionary utility. Our ancestors would not have survived if they had not put their own interests before those of others.

Humans also LOVE talking about themselves, boasting about their accomplishments, and demonstrating the full extent of their cognitive powers, like a peacock unrolling its magnificent tail to attract mates.

And guess what: this is also true in finance. In fact, that’s even MORE TRUE in finance. People may pretend that they are humble, that they don’t like to show their success too much…

But after having worked in the industry for years, I can assure you that the vast majority of the people that you’ll meet are high achievers that are extremely proud of what they accomplished. And they will jump on every opportunity to express their pride.

The question is not to determine if expressing pride is wrong or not wrong (I don’t intend to make a philosophical essay on the morality of pride); the question is to know how you can leverage the fact the people working in finance are prouder than average to increase the quality and efficiency of your networking efforts.

Many aspiring candidates think that they need to impress the person they’re talking to, that they can gain their respect and admiration by articulating highly intricate reasoning and predicting the next stock market crash with one mathematical formula and a deep analysis on the last tweet of Trump.

They’re wrong. You are wrong if you think like that. The best way to get what you want (that is, convincing people in the industry to help you), is NOT to impress them (even though it might help) but to make them LIKE you.

And to make them like you, you need to make them feel important, by leading them to talk about something they are really proud of.

To make them feel important, you need to:

  • Ask quality questions that they will be genuinely happy to answer. Questions that will lead them to talk with pride about their best accomplishments or to demonstrate the extent of their intellectual faculties;
  • Convey that you know very little about their specific profession and that they are the only person in the world that can answer these questions. That’s obviously not true, but that’s the vibe that you need to send to make them feel important;
  • Make them do at least 80% of the talking. The rest of the time, ask questions, follow-up, or briefly talk about yourself as if you were not the most important person here. See it as a role-playing exercise. Consider yourself as an interviewer who needs to make his/her guest feel comfortable and valued.

To find some inspiration, I suggest you have a look at how masters of interviewing are managing conversations with their guests.

Personally, I used to watch interviews from David Rubinstein just before jumping on calls or going out for coffee with investment bankers, and would try to mimic his interview-mode vibe.

The guy is an expert at conducting brilliant interviews that really make the guest appear as a Rockstar. You can also take inspiration from famous TV guests, such as Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, and of course Oprah Winfrey.

If you make your “guests’’ feel important, they will like you, and you will win the game.

Rule #2: Show your vulnerabilities

A common reflex that is adopted by many candidates is to try to look perfect, flawless, impeccable. That makes sense: everybody wants to impress.

But at the same time, everybody knows that nobody is perfect, so pretending that you are might send the message that you are hiding something or faking it.

Since what you’re trying to do is to build a connection, you don’t want to look like you’re hiding something. You want to inspire trust, and to inspire trust you need to be frank, transparent, and authentic.

That means that when people are questioning you on a given aspect which you know is one of your weaknesses, you will gain more respect by admitting that you suck in this area than by trying to cover it up with some pretty words and perverse logic.

People like to see the vulnerabilities of others and respect people who share their vulnerabilities, because:

  1.   It reassures them on their own condition and remembers them that they’re not the only ones who have flaws;
  2.  It might lead them to feel superior to you (which is not a bad thing in this scenario)

Both of these feelings are empowering for them, and both will make them more likely to appreciate you, and hence more likely to help you in the end.

Let me give you a brief example of something that has happened to me in the early days of my internship research.

I had just arrived in London from France and was about to have a quick informal chat with a Portfolio manager working for an elite boutique in the heart of the city.

I was dreadfully nervous, because it was the first time I had ever done this kind of meeting, and my English was not very fluid as I didn’t have a lot of practice back in France.

Rather than trying to cover up my anxiety and make fake smiles to give an illusion of confidence, I started this discussion by telling him straight away exactly what I felt: that I was a bit anxious because it was a brand new experience for me and that I didn’t really know how things worked.

To my great surprise, my interlocutor greatly appreciated this confession of vulnerability, and we went on to have a frank, open and fascinating discussion on investing.

Although this informal interview did not lead to any more formal interview for this shop, this person nevertheless introduced me to 3 high-quality people working in the finance industry. One of these persons eventually introduced me to someone who helped me find my first internship in IB in London.

While I don’t recommend abusing these types of confessions, I can guarantee you that showing vulnerability when it feels like the right thing to do will serve you well.

Rule #3: Identify the common grounds
common grounds-min

There is ample scientific evidence to suggest that people tend to develop more sympathy for other people that resemble them, that look like them.

According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, psychological mechanisms that explain this tendency to like “lookalike” people include:

  • Consensual validation: When you meet people who share your tastes or attitudes, you will tend to feel more confident about your own attitudes because this person will “validate” your preferences;
  • Cognitive evaluation: We have a tendency to judge people we meet on the basis of the limited information that we have. If we notice that we have something in common with a person, we will tend to feel positive about that person, because we feel positive about ourselves. Based on this positive impression, we will tend to (maybe wrongly) assume that this person shares other positive characteristics that are similar to ours, reinforcing the feeling of sympathy that we have for this person;
  • Certainty of being liked: we assume that people who have much in common with us are more likely to like us. Furthermore, we are more likely to like people if we believe that they like us.

So the strategy here is pretty simple:

If you can find any commonalities between you and the person you’re talking to, make sure to press hard on these subjects by asking more questions and showing strong enthusiasm. It will reinforce the connection and make that person more likely to like you.

For example, if this person mentioned that she frequently plays tennis with one of her clients, chances are that she associates tennis with positive feelings.

If you play tennis yourself, or have a strong interest in tennis, try to dig deep into your imagination to come up with great ways to make this tennis talk longer and more interesting.

In other words, every time you find a thing in common between you and that person, squeeze the topic like a lemon until little juice is left. You’ll see that when you do that, seemingly unimportant conversations can last for hours (literally).

I once had a formal interview (not a coffee or call, but an “official” interview) where I talked about poker with a PM who was passionate about poker for nearly 1 hour!

Zero technical questions, just a fascinating, casual conversation about something I like. The interview turned out well as I was invited for the next round.

Bottom line: apply this trick every time you see an opportunity, it will contribute to making people like you (and hence more likely to help you).

Rule #4: Avoid talking about professional stuff, to the extent possible

Yes, that’s perhaps one of the most counter-intuitive pieces of advice that I could possibly give, but trust me, the less you talk about the professional stuff, the better.

Why? Because the people you’ll be interacting with are talking about professional stuff all the time, and they’ve already heard the same banalities from the mouths of desperate students thousands of times.

In that context, if they can talk about something new and refreshing during calls or meetings with you, they’ll be grateful for that.

As a reminder, the goal is NOT to impress them with your perfect understanding of DCF valuation mechanics, but to make them like you so that they help you pass through the screens.

In that respect, you should minimize the professional talk and prioritize speaking about anything that is not work-related. I know this might seem absurd or really counter-intuitive, but this is how to build the best relationships.

People are humans before being investment bankers…They have their private life, and in general, they will be happier to talk about what they do in their free time than what they do during their working hours (even if they really like their job!).

To give you an example, I once had a 1.5-hour coffee with an IB associate where I only talked about the finance industry for about 15 minutes. During the rest of the conversation, we talk about Bordeaux wine, Brexit, and cats.

Yes, that was very casual and not really what you would expect from a conversation with an investment banker. But this person helped me A LOT in my job-seeking journey, and I am still on good terms with her more than 3 years after this talk.

Similarly, when I’m on the phone with a candidate for an informal chat, I enjoy learning new things and talking about things that surprise me. Things that are not boring. Things that entertain me.

So keep that in mind for all your networking sessions: be as casual as possible, and remember that every topic of conversation that is NOT related to the job is worth MORE, in terms of potential to build a mutually-beneficial relationship, than almost any subject related to the profession itself.

It doesn’t mean that you should avoid talking about work-related topics all the time. It just means that when you have an opportunity NOT to talk about work (e.g. if the person in front of you seems to be interested in learning more about your hobbies), you should expand as much as possible on topics that are not related to work, without worrying about spending too much time on them.

This is a critical thing to know about networking that I wish I knew before…Take advantage of that knowledge strategically and it will serve you well.

If you want to learn more about how to network with bankers to secure referrals and interviews, I highly recommend you to check out our networking course here

In this course, we teach you exactly what to say and how to behave during networking calls to turn senior investment bankers into reliable allies who will help you get ahead of your competition. Learn more here


A word about the author

Aurelian Tran is the founder of Alpha Lane and an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst who has spent 4+ years working in the investment banking industry.

He founded Alpha Lane to help students and young professionals achieve their highest professional ambitions, by securing offers at top-tier financial institutions.