Two Sense Blog: The Cringe-Less, Fun Guide to Networking

By Lauren Ralph, Economics and Public Health ’20 graduate. Lauren is beginning her career as an investment banking analyst and credits JHU and the Life Design Lab in helping her discover her role and thrive in an industry that can seem intimidating and impenetrable, especially for women. Lauren has begun this alumni perspective blog series, “Two Sense,” to help young women just beginning their careers in finance and various other fields.

If you’re anything like me, just the thought of “networking” makes you feel uncomfortable. That’s probably because we imagine networking to be synonymous with cold-calling alumni and asking them to give you a job. However, when done correctly, networking can create meaningful relationships and actually be enjoyable. With this in mind, I’m sharing a quick guide to networking within the financial services industry. Here’s what you need to know:

Get In The Right Mindset For Networking

Networking isn’t just about asking someone to move your resume forward. Think about what you can learn from this person and what you can give – yes, you also have something to offer during networking! You could be the perfect fit for an open position their friend has been trying to fill, or your questions may lead them to reflect on their own career path in a new way.

Think Outside The Box When Creating Your Network

When I first started my job hunt, I thought I had no connections to the financial services industry. I grew up next to a cornfield in central Indiana when I heard the words “investment banking” for the first time. However, with some creative thinking, I actually found myself with a list of dozens of people to get in touch with. You just need to share one little thing in common that makes them want to jump on the phone with you. Here are some places you may not have thought to look into for networking opportunities:

  1. Clubs you’re involved with on campus – even if that club has nothing to do with finance
  2. Research groups – again, even if they’re not finance-specific
  3. Sports teams – your coach or adviser might know where alumni landed
  4. Professors – ask them in office hours if they’re in touch with any former students that now work in finance
  5. Sorority sisters – even if they didn’t go to JHU, it’s a great talking point
  6. Religious/spiritual organizations
  7. Siblings, parents, family
  8. LinkedIn – Find JHU alum at the firms you want to work for.
  9. One Hop – a great resource fromJHU. It’s Linkedin for Hopkins alumni and students and it’s filled with alumni (like me) that are there voluntarily, with the goal of helping out people just like you!

Sometimes, younger is better

Don’t assume you need to talk to the CEO of a company to have a successful networking call. Oftentimes, analysts and associates are the people filtering through resumes and deciding who gets that first-round interview. Furthermore, since they were in your shoes just a couple of months/years ago, they have extremely relevant advice. Finally, they tend to be a little easier to get in touch with and more willing to pay the knowledge forward.

Ask Not What Can Your Connections Do For You, But What You Can Do Moving Forward

Make it easy for them to help you

Anything you can do to minimize their effort is great. Think through the details so they don’t have to. What does that mean? In your initial email, include potential times for a phone call and clarify who will be calling whom – I have definitely missed connections because I assumed the person would call me at the number on my resume (rather than specifically telling them to call me or asking for their number) and it was a bad look. Offer to send a calendar invite or coordinate with their executive assistant (for senior folks only). And be flexible with your timing because I promise they are busier than you are. When giving times you’re free, offer a few broad windows as well. “I am free any time before 8AM on Monday – Friday, or after 9PM on Tuesday – Thursday.” Sometimes the only way to get someone important on the phone is to catch them during their 6AM walk to the office.

Attach the resume

I know this can sometimes feel presumptuous or aggressive, but it really isn’t. Just attach (as a PDF) and include a casual note at the conclusion like, “in case it is helpful for learning more about my background, I have also attached my resume.” This tells them you’re serious and have your stuff together, as well as offers them a 30-second view of your experience.

Consistency, but not in a creepy way

People in finance are busy! Even if they want to talk to you, they might miss your first or second email. It’s okay, and even expected that you will follow up and send a gentle reminder. I once heard a senior banker say that he automatically deletes the first email he receives from students because he isn’t interested in talking to people until they’ve made the effort to follow up. With that being said, know your boundaries. Stick to reaching out on LinkedIn or via email. If they didn’t answer your email, the next step is NOT sliding into the Facebook DMs. Make sure to give them several days or a week between emails. Finally, know when to cut your losses. By the third email or message, accept that they just might not have time to connect right now.

Set the scene

Don’t take a networking call while walking to class, eating a snack, or hanging out with friends. Be seated in front of your computer in a quiet location where you know you won’t be interrupted. Leave time for the call to go over. I once had someone who called me for career advice cut me off mid-sentence to tell me they had another phone call scheduled with someone at another bank. This did not make me want to offer them further help.

Be prepared to drive

Have your questions ready in advance and do some research on the person’s background via LinkedIn. There’s a good chance the person picks up the phone and says something like, “Hey Sarah. Glad we could connect. How can I help you out?” At that point, you better have some questions in mind or the call will get so awkward, so fast. Ask them about how they first became interested in finance, how they picked their current bank, what skills they’re building in their current role, what advice they would give to someone just starting out, etc. Strike a tone that is conversational, friendly, yet professional.

Anyone else?

At the conclusion of the call, you must ask them if they can refer you to another contact at the bank. They will usually be happy to do this, especially if the call went well and they think other colleagues would enjoy chatting with you. If you do this part well, you’ll find yourself converting one contact at a bank into ten within a few weeks. You should aim for at least three points of contact at every bank you apply to.

Follow up

24 hours after the call has ended, send a nice thank you message to the person you spoke with. If you can think of something helpful they shared during the call and drop that into the email, so much the better.

Maintenance is key

Just like with any other relationship, you can’t expect it to blossom without your effort. Find opportunities to check back in every couple of months and ask them how things are going. Natural checkpoints include the end of the semester, after you accomplish something really great, or if you accept an internship. Note that people, especially young people, change positions often in finance and your email might bounce. This is why you want to note multiple methods of contact in your excel spreadsheet (see point below).

Stay Organized

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s nothing like building an excel spreadsheet to make a girl feel like she can conquer the world! Keep your contacts organized so you don’t waste the valuable resource you just invested time developing. My networking excel is sorted by bank/firm, then underneath I list each person I’ve spoken to. I include notes on the following – their current position, years with the firm, how I connected with them (“LinkedIn cold message, referenced that we were both college cheerleaders”), contact information, date of last contact, and a plan for follow up. Separate from excel, I keep folders on my Google Drive with notes I took on each call, also sorted by bank/firm.

What Can You Do Today?

I think the first step is always getting organized and knowing what you already have going for you. Set up your own excel spreadsheet and start brainstorming everyone you could call for an informational interview. Find the gaps in your network, or the firms that you’re interested in but don’t know anyone at. Once you know your current status, you can start building that network and filling in the holes. Then, get on LinkedIn and OneHop and start the messaging!