Networking in finance is often hated and ridiculed because it’s so awkward. But done right, networking can boost your career. In investment banking, I’d go so far as to say that your career will suffer without it.
What’s expected of you
That you do some form of networking in finance is expected, and you should start building your network as early as possible.
Casual lunches with people at the same level from clients or competitors is expected of you after a while, and there are several reasons for that.
The first is that you can often get some informal information about what they’re working on, so you have some valuable input to your bosses about what to pitch for, or to look at.
The second is that these people will be the decision-makers later in your career. They may be analysts and associates now. But in a few years, they’ll be Directors, MDs, and Partners. When you’re at that stage yourself, it’s a bit late to start making contacts.
The third is obvious. It’s a lot easier to email or call someone whom you’ve already spoken to in person.
When you don’t know anyone at an event
The dreaded networking events are often when you should start if you don’t know a lot of people. They are often within specific sectors, and often with too few familiar faces in the beginning.
I remember how nervous I was the first time I was going to an industry event. Going to meetings with colleagues, where you have an agenda, feels a lot easier than doing this.
Here, I was expected to mingle with other people on the sell side and get to know a few clients.
I’ve had colleagues who would always refuse to go to events. They would mostly complain that they didn’t know anyone and that it would be awkward.
But no one knows anyone in the beginning. And when you’ve been there a few times, you’ll start seeing some familiar faces, and you’ll get dragged into more and more conversations.
Go with a more senior person who knows people there if you can, and make sure he or she introduces you the people they speak with.
Pairing up with someone you know can help
You can bring a colleague so you’re not alone, but don’t stand in a corner and just talk to each other. There are several ways you can play each other stronger by going together.
Split up, and then one of you introduces the other when you find someone interesting to talk to.
Staying together can also work if you do it the right way. You can seem less scary to speak with if you look like you’re already discussing something interesting. Make sure you’re approachable and include people who are alone in your conversation.
How long should you stay
Stay until the end, and then some. If you have time, you’ll often make the most interesting contacts after the event is officially over.
There’s always someone having an afterparty or going out for drinks. Missing an hour of sleep to make a new contact can often be well worth it.
It helps to use a structured approach
A good way to up your networking game is to set aside time to prepare before an event and to follow up afterward.
Look at the attendant list beforehand if it’s available. It’s not always public, but if it is, this can be very helpful. If it isn’t you can usually guess by looking at which companies attended last year.
Decide who you should try to speak with. Google them and see how they look so you can bump into them if you spot them. I know it’s calculating, but it’s effective. And it’s business.
The rest of the work comes after the event.
If you say you’ll follow up, do so! Otherwise, it will just get awkward the next time you meet. And following up one year later when you need something doesn’t come across as great.
Pushing business cards
Bring your business cards wherever you go, but don’t push it on people you haven’t spoken more than a few words with. No one likes a Bateman.
It’s a nice way to end a conversation. Let them know it was interesting to talk, and say they can call you about a specific project if you discussed something you both worked with.
Dont’t make a point of giving it to as many people as possible. You’ll be seen as annoying and immature.
Building a contact list
Building your Rolodex is a big part of networking in finance. When you’ve first gotten someone’s card, remember to write down key information about the person. Always do this.
I didn’t do this until I’d worked a few years, and then I started putting all my cards into an app. It was the most helpful tool I ever had.
I recommend camccard. It’s free, and all you do is you scan the card. The information loads automatically (sometimes with spelling mistakes though). And you’ll have them in your contact list for later.
You can also add notes about persons or meetings. I always add where I’ve met them, what they’re working on, and often also personal information they’ve told me.
Did they mention their kids playing football or their love of opera and champagne? Write it down, and the next time you’re meeting them, have a quick read in the app.
You’ll have so much more to hang your next conversation on, and they’ll be impressed you remembered. I’m horrible with names and everything similar, so this has been a lifesaver.
Another perk is to have someones direct e-mail and number available on the phone if anyone’s looking for it. It’s always appreciated if your boss needs to speak with someone in a company he doesn’t know, and you can either provide the contact details, or you can e-mail them directly, asking the question yourself.
When you need to cold call or email
Cold emails or calls is also an area that I felt was awkward in the beginning, but I got used to it.
You often need to send an email to someone you don’t know because you need to know if they’re interested in a deal you’re launching.
It may also be necessary to reach out to them because you want something personal. Like a job interview.
The best way to start is if you get someone else who knows them to introduce you, otherwise, you’ll just have to make use of your emailing skills.
Tell them where you work, mention some transactions you’ve done (if they’re public). Try to make it short. If you have some key points they should read, try to highlight this by making this text bold.
Any connections you have with them, use them. Did you go to the same school? Mention it?From the same country? Of course you should use it.
Then offer to send them more information or set up a call if they’re interested. Give them a few days to reply, and if they don’t try sending a friendly reminder.
Ex-colleagues are a true goldmine
I remember I was told in my first review that I had to become better at getting information from competitors that wasn’t publicly available. How? I asked the head of the department.
You’re supposed to know people and get it from them.
Well, that fact was that I didn’t know anyone. My friends were almost all in consulting. Those who were in finance were in a different country, and working with other sectors.
I was worried I would never be able to come in a position to give anyone information that was hard to find.
You shouldn’t worry if that’s the case for you as well. You’ll meet people on deals as you work with them, and at networking events.
And at last, but not least, your colleagues will go to clients and competitors. Remember to stay in touch. This is how the industry works.
You’ll be super happy you treated someone well when you can call up an old colleague telling him or her that you have a project for sale. And guess what, the fund they work for now may be interested.
Should you share your contacts?
This is something I haven’t been sure about myself. I’ve sometimes used personal contacts from different industries to set up meetings, and then felt snubbed when I wasn’t allowed to participate, and didn’t even get a thank you. Now the contact is theirs, and they don’t need you anymore.
On the other hand, if you say no directly when you’re asked to set up a meeting with someone, people will dislike you for it. I’ve found that it usually best to share contacts to help others.
It all depends on what you’re asked about though. If I know I would have to ask for a huge personal favor to get someone to set up a meeting, I usually won’t do it unless there’s something in it for me.
If it doesn’t cost me much, I always share. And if I can think of people that should meet each other, I try being proactive and suggest it.
You’ll mostly get it back unless the person you’re helping is a total dick.
If there are some contacts you really don’t feel like sharing, try not talking openly about your relationship with them. That way, people won’t ask.
Networking is also a skill you need to practice
I remember thinking I was horrible at networking and always would be. I envied those who could easily go to an event and start a conversation with someone they didn’t already know.
Maybe those people were naturally gifted with great people skills, but maybe they weren’t, and they’ve worked hard to develop them.
There’s nothing that says you can’t develop better networking skills the same way you can improve in modeling or public speaking.
Practice networking whenever you can, and you’ll soon see tremendous progress.