By Michael Jimney, Risk Solutions Analyst at BlackRock
Without a doubt, networking is the most important part of the recruiting process. You can have the most in-depth technical understanding of the markets or an M&A transaction, but without building connections your knowledge can all be for naught. Networking ensures you are more than just a name on a page. During internship recruiting, Human Resource recruiters receive hundreds of resumes for any open position. This book of resumes is typically passed on to employees in each division, and they are expected to give their opinions on which candidates to interview. To the over-caffeinated Analyst, with no time to read every single resume, this stack amounts to a long list of names. Thus, the best case is when an Analyst sees your name and thinks “I know this kid, they could be good here,” and quickly recommends you to be interviewed.
One opportunity for networking is at corporate events. For sophomores and juniors, these events are a way to cast a wide net or to get to know a variety of professionals. Companies targeting Baruch students will typically hold corporate presentations on campus. These events usually consist of a presentation that includes information about the firm, the positions for which they are recruiting, how to apply, and will also offer students a chance to network (introduce yourself and ask questions) with various professionals. One rule of thumb is ALWAYS to bring a pen and notebook. Take notes about each professional and any other relevant information DURING the presentation. It will allow you to plan who to network with and what to talk about (for more details about asking good questions, see post 2 HERE). During the presentation, it is a good idea to write down how to pronounce any names which are new to you. Making a good first impression can be a bit rocky when you mispronounce someone’s name; by contrast, it shows a great level of interest if you properly pronounce a difficult name on the first try.
Another opportunity to build connections is when someone offers to refer you to a contact in the business. For example, your friend says “I know an alum working in risk, you should reach out to him.” Typically, the next step would be to email this contact and ask about setting up a time to meet in person. The two benefits of this kind of networking are 1) a warm introduction, and 2) the person works directly in a role you are interested in. A “warm” introduction, such as this, is different from a cold one because the relationship has been brokered by a 3rd party who knows both you and the professional. NOTE: your mutual friend is putting their reputation on the line by making the referral, which adds to your credibility and first impression. The connection will likely think “If our mutual friend thinks they are good, I can at least give him or her a chance.” On the flip side, it is possible that people could hesitate to refer you to their contacts if they are concerned you will embarrass them. By sending an under-prepared student to an industry insider, it can make the mutual friend look bad. So if you have just started showing an interest in Credit Risk, do not be surprised if your friend is not quick to connect you to their contacts. Once you take the time to learn about the industry, they will likely be more willing to make referrals.
The second benefit is that you know the new connection works in your field of interest. At networking events, it can be difficult to anticipate who will be there or which groups will be represented. With a referral, you can ask your mutual friend or check LinkedIn for background information about your networking target. This will allow you to prepare industry specific knowledge and questions to ask during the conversation. One warning – not all potential contacts will be interested in meeting. At networking events, people are there for the specific purpose of meeting intern prospects. While a referral can connect you to a professional, that person may be too busy or not interested in a meeting. If they do not respond initially, balance being persistent with respecting their time. Perhaps reach out by phone and follow-up via email, no more than twice.
The final method of networking requires some bravery: the cold contact. With a cold email or cold call, you have no connection with this person. This can be necessary if you cannot find an alumni or friend with a connection to your target industry, or if you want to rapidly expand your network. The key to cold contacting is volume. Sending an email to five or ten people may not get a reply, but sending emails to 50 or 100 might. Remember, the person you are emailing or calling has no obligation to respond. In fact, you run the risk of creating a negative impression if your attempts to connect are unprofessional or annoying. To counter that, look for ways to build credibility. If you send a generic email saying you want a job in equity research, you may not get many responses. Instead, if you write an equity research report and attach it to your email, you demonstrate your seriousness about the career and peak their interest, and are likely to get a better response. It is also important to take time to craft a thoughtful email or call script which tells them who you are, why you are reaching out, and why they should consider you in the most succinct way possible. You will want to have it proofread by many people, each time asking “Would you read this if it was in your inbox?” and/or “is this annoying?”
When it comes to forming new connections, first impression is key. Preparation and doing your homework can help you maximize your first impression so take the time to do your industry research (See Post 1 HERE), develop your soft skills (See Post 2 HERE and Post 3 HERE), and learn about relevant technical skills (See Post 4 HERE). It is not uncommon to meet professionals who have worked in the industry longer than you have been in school, so do not try to BS them. Before meeting with someone, I usually take a mental inventory. The point is to understand which topics I am prepared to talk about and which ones I should avoid. For example, before going into an event I may feel that I am up-to-date with the news and ready to talk about the equity market, but I do not have a good understanding of the foreign exchange markets. This does not mean I will avoid the currency traders during the event. Instead, I try to make sure that when the topic of cross country currency hedging come up, I will not get pulled into a deep discussion of the idea. I will be transparent about the fact I do not know about the subject because I have not learned about it, not because I do not understand it. The worst thing you can do is keep nodding your head and saying yes I agree. The trader will assume you are absorbing what he is saying and will expect you to add to the conversation, or will see you are just yessing him. In either case, you are wasting their time and yours.
The final step to networking is the thank you note. Often overlooked, this simple follow-up is not to be underestimated. After meeting with someone, send a thank you email within 24 hours (make sure you put thought into the timing of your email, sending it on a Friday afternoon is a bad idea). This email should consist of you thanking them for their time, showing excitement or interest in the material, and reference a unique topic you discussed. This is especially important for meeting someone after a networking event. Speaking about a unique topic will help the professional, who probably met dozens of eager students in a very short time, remember who you were. With even the simplest of notes, you are telling the professional that you are interested in the topics discussed and would be receptive to future communication. Students who do not send thank you notes risk being quickly forgotten.
Now that we have discussed the major tools necessary to land an interview, next I will talk about actually preparing for an interview.