The ‘On Campus’ Investment Banking Networking PlayBook

In this tutorial we’ll walk you through on-campus investment banking information sessions, which are perhaps the #1 place for students to network with bankers.  We’ll first break down some urban legends and show you what really happens at these events so you know ahead of time what to expect.

Then we’ll arm you with the blueprint you need to wow bankers and fend off competitive students with ease.  To wrap up we’ll share a handful of ideas to help you make the most of the day and avoid getting blacklisted by frustrated i-bankers.


BONUS: Download a free reporton how to network with bankers (without being annoying), plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.


Is investment banking networking on-campus for you?

Assuming you go to a target school, your first networking in banking experience will be on-campus, and so the question invariably pops up “Is it a strategy worth pursuing?”

Well, for sure – because just like the fat walking-challenged birthday boy, all you have to do is sit around on-campus and wait for everyone (banks, college, clubs) to come to you.  It’s just so easy!

The banks will hold investment banking information sessions, canapé-n-drink fueled networking chats and even interview you on campus, however informally.

Your college will lay on financial career fairs, banking career talks and other industry crutch-grabbing shindigs. Meanwhile college clubs will put on mixers for students interested in becoming investment banking analysts, giving you even more contacts and knowledge.

But the catch is you’re not the only birthday boy at this party.  In fact your entire year level will be joining you and you’re really not that special. So the unique quality that makes investment banking networking on-campus so attractive – being how accessible it is – is also its downfall.  In fact, it’s so easy to attend that even students with barely-there hard-ons for investment banking will come to these sessions. 

There is zero quality control and almost no barriers to entry.

No wonder then that these investment banking networking events (with or without bankers) are more likely to resemble the killing fields depicted in a National Geographic Serengetti Special rather than a Professional Career Event.

There are kids everywhere and they’re willing to do anything to get a fistful of business cards, half-assed answers to lame questions and a couple cups of complimentary liquor.

The final potential death knell is that these events often take place so close to application closing dates – sometimes even just days before – that they’re unlikely to help you establish any long lived relationships with bankers (unless you are a junior).

Our end conclusion is “go, but don’t make this the last stop on your networking ways”.


Why we like investment banking information sessions

They are the most gaff-filled event on Earth and yet we still think you should go, so let us explain ourselves. There’s significant talk out there amongst banking bloggers that on-campus information sessions / mixers are really lose-lose

And certainly, in some respect they can do more harm than good. We are talking about events where the sheer number of students trying to stand out and impress bankers is enough to have you bolting for the exits after all – the x-rated ass kissing is enough to make you reach for the f**king sick bag at times. 

And with the ratio of bankers-to-students downright awful, maybe these events should be no gos. But you can gain quality insider information and meet people who can really help you get into investment banking. 

Think bank presentations, 5-1 student-banker conversations, and most of all speaking to fellow grads in the know.  And since these are amongst the top 15 goals of networking in banking, on-campus events are worth a shot. P

lus if you take the initiative to make contacts with bankers via very brief intelligent questions and comments, and youfollow up (this is the key), you’ll have a rocking time.

We loved these events for 4 mains reasons; (1) we took away pages of valuable scribbled notes and advice, (2) met dozens of high-quality people; both bankers, HR & fellow switched on students, (3) racked up multiple resume passes and (4) received many requests to call and interview outside normal recruiting.

And think about the efficiency of these results

We racked up all this courtesy of barely a handful of afternoons and evenings spent on-campus (probably a collective 20 hours in total…that’s it!).  The message I’m trying to scream is that on-campus networking is rewarding, painless and efficient. 

The freaking bankers are coming to you remember…and in droves! Thankfully if your on-campus networking efforts end worse than my recent Ghanaian-goldmine speculative play there’s still a consolation prize to cushion the blow.

Hands up who likes liquor? 

Oh, and perhaps a little lukewarm canapé too?  


Before you continue reading, do this…

Assuming you want to attend a few on-campus investment banking networking events then rip out your diary now, print off the on-campus event dates and pen those in.

You would not believe how many friends, students and readers have missed out on events because they didn’t realize how early the information sessions took place.

As a general rule the investment banks (particularly for Corp Fin, not S&T) tend to start recruiting significantly earlier than normal industry (e.g. Procter & Gamble).

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere expect on-campus sessions to come at the very start of the new school year (September). 

And in some cases even a few days before! If you are down South (hello Australia, New Zealand, Argentina etc) expect sessions in February-March.  


How to network at investment banking information sessions

Right now I’m going to go through a handful of tips and tricks to help you turn these on-campus events into a rich source of networking value – and just as importantly, I’m going to highlight the pitfalls most students seem to run into time after time.  


Target the right people

Most students think it’s the MD Larry Larrysons they should be rushing to.  But not only are senior investment bankers a rare sighting on-campus, but they are also polar opposites to the kind of banker you should be networking with.

Misogynistic BSDs like MD Larryson are terrible because they don’t remember names, don’t lift a finger to help 21 year old students and when they do pop up at events they are there simply there to sell the bank before leaving for a 7pm dinner at Le Bernadin.

You are best off speaking to the junior investment bankers like Analyst Chuck Chuckford at on-campus events.  Not only does he know more about how to break into banking (since he got in recently himself), but he’s also an alumnus of your school, which means you two will get along well and he’ll be willing and able to help you.

When bankers are being mobbed by students though, your #1 choice may end up changing from Analyst Chuck to Billy from Back Office or Tim from Tech. Why would we resort to banter with the back office?

Well, assuming you’re at an on-campus bank-hosted event, you’re also from a target school.  And that means networking with bankers to get an interview is not that essential. 

Provided you have a top GPA and solid work experience you’ll get a first round investment banking interview most of the time.  Thus you may want to use these events to focus on learning the tricks of the recruiting process.

[If you don’t have a top GPA or banking internship, then concentrate on the front office junior investment bankers since you’ll need them for resume passes, informal interview invitations etc].

And believe it or not, but the back office is probably best positioned to help you learn the tricks of the recruiting process, because no one fought harder to get into banking proper than them.  And probably no one has accumulated moreknowledge

Meanwhile, unlike us pompous lot in front office they’ll actually be willing to talk to you about this stuff.  Hello secrets on key recruiting dates, bank-specific tips and so forth. As a bonus when you email Billy from Back Office or Tim from Tech they are likely to email you back.  It’s 90% certain.  These are numbers you can bank on!  


Choose the right moment to approach

Ideally, you want to catch a banker just when he is wrapping up with another student, or is losing interest in a cohort of f*cktard students who are asking him about the difference between investment banking and ‘normal’ banking, or even when they’re getting a drink.

By contrast remedial students will choose moments like these;

  • Poor banker is on his way to the restroom after downing 3 double shot espressos and a red bull
  • Caffeine-deficient banker is setting up the bank’s information stand for the day, or packing up at the end and desperate to go home
  • 24-year old analyst is on an active conference call…without the mute button on!


Open strongly with the right vibe, content & follow up

It’s crucial that you approach the banker with a positive and inquisitive type of energy – but watch out, because there is a fine line between an interested look and an overeager creepy vibe (you know the one where you come off looking like a mini Kathy Griffin asking the producers for another season of that messed up reality show she made!).

Next you want to be ready to shake hands and exchange your 5-second story – i.e. you say hi and pleasantries, before dropping your very short name/year/study spiel. This very succinct up front exchange is non-threatening and doesn’t overwhelm. 

Compared to what other students will hurl at the unsuspecting bankers (think 90 second uninterrupted life story), your simple “hello” will be refreshingly crisp.

Now be ready for some small talk.

Whether you talk to a banker as part of a group of students or 1-1, you will need to have some questions or observations that can fill in the dead air and propel the conversation to somewhere interesting.

Just as important though is your delivery, because awkward small talk is not only found in a poorly judged topic, but also in a mouse-like delivery. In terms of questions to ask bankers, you’ll want to have a few up your sleeve ready to go. 

Something like “How about those Knicks last night?” however fun to ask, just won’t do.  Preferably ask something that is tailored to the banker based on their position, bank or something they said in an earlier presentation. If you want to read an entire tutorial on the art and science of meeting & greeting bankers, you’ll be happy to know we’ve included one in this free course…including lists of killer questions to ask, what bankers really want students to talk about during these events, how to make a banker laugh (yes, it’s possible) and more. 

Most of all, we talk about how you can avoid acting like a douchebag (yes, that is the technical term) – which will probably put you ahead of literally 98% of the other students!  


Make sure to complete the right mission

We’re talking here about obtaining info, business cards and having fun.

Not so much about building relationships in the traditional sense, because assuming you’re going to on-campus events leading up to application closing dates then no matter how smooth you are you won’t develop much beyond a fleeting acquaintance with bankers in these few weeks.

Compare this to young college kids who attend these events.  They won’t be applying for a year or two – and so for them it’s realistic and worth pursuing the “develop relationships” goal. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in this position, then be more patient, ease into it and avoid the Rambo-style capture-or-kill mission senior students must resort to.  


How to use other students to look good

How can your fellow students make you look good in front of bankers, you ask…In one word “relativity”.

If you let the Beavis & Butthead type kids get stuck into bankers at first chance with those questions like “What’s the difference between IB and normal banking?” you’ll allow the veins of bankers’ heads to start popping and their standards to start dropping.  When you finally walk up with a thoughtful question, you’ll look like a star.

Any of you psych-kids out there will recognize immediately that this is the same juxtapose technique used by dodgy real estate agents – they first show the dump of a house for $400,000, then the million dollar joint, thereby leaving the young couple with a very easy choice…the non-dump joint.  And best of all, it works. 

So use this secret of dodgy millionaire realtors for your own recruiting purposes and enjoy the results.

PS one more reason to sit back at first and let the crazed students feast…fatigue.  From all our experience, most students will go in so hard-n-fast that within 15-20 minutes they’re exhausted, bored and thirsty.  And so the nutters retreat for hydration and bedrest, thereby leaving the room half full and yours for the taking.  


Why your friend Billy can help at on-campus events

With your friend Billy in tow, investment banking networking becomes easy.

For one, you can tag team bankers – meaning you can set each other up for questions, keep the conversation rolling, block out stalkers (aka competitive students) and generally rock the event. When it gets too crowded you can step aside, keep talking with each other and avoid looking alone and awkward – bankers don’t look up to loners.

Plus there’s so much confidence to be had when you have your sidekick.

Another great reason for having a friend to chat with before conversing with the bankers is that it eliminates anxiety and gets you in a 10/10 ‘social state’.

By the time you’ve finished having a good laugh with Billy about the weekend, you’ll approach bankers with a genuine smile and ‘happy’ vibe (sorry, I didn’t know how to phrase that in a non-flowers & lollipops way).  And when a banker sees this confident, Type A, lively, fun personality they’ll like you instantaneously.  


How to time your run on the day

Consider arriving at the investment banking information session before it officially kicks off. We would often go early for a quick hello when we were in recruiting – nothing much beyond a pleasing first impression.  No annoying questions.

That said, don’t be the first student there.  It’s kind of irritating to bankers and awkward for you if you’re so early that they’re right in the middle of troubleshooting their PowerPoint presentation, setting up their booth or yelling at catering staff “Where the f**ks the basil dip we ordered?”.

Finally, be sure to stay late enough after the presentation to have a beer and informal chat with the bankers remaining.

This is your real chance to get up close and personal; the right way.  But once again, don’t overdo it – meaning unless bankers are genuinely having a fun time hanging out with you, don’t be the last one there.  


The #1 way students get blacklisted by banker

It’s the overeager almost-horny for investment banking vibe that kills students chances – however well intentioned it is.

Seen through different eyes, these students desperately pawing at bankers’ cufflinks look like a bunch of drunk frat dudes trying to score a girl at 2am in a dive bar.  And just as poor sorority gals don’t like it, neither do bankers.

Plus when students commandeer a banker and drain them of all their time, they’ll come off in the worst light possible. 

i.e. as self-interested little shits who aren’t team players. Use this to your advantage.  Next time you’re at an investment banking information session just observe the overeager students for yourself, have a laugh, and enjoy the confidence you get from realizing they are going to make you look goooood!  


How to meet bankers at packed events

How do you meet bankers when there are 4 students desperately hanging off them at a full house investment banking information session? Well, the best way to explain this is by analogizing to the world of boy meets gal – how does boy meet the girl surrounded by a group of douchebags?

Well, for starters don’t do a Will Smith in Hitch, and go up to the banker and order up a tray of canapes and 2 beers. 

That’d get you blacklisted all over freaking town!

Instead just like a smart suitor would, get one of the banker’s friends (ie fellow banker) to cut to the front of the line and introduce you.

Step 1 of this strategy then is to find a lonesome banker. Analyst Chuck Chuckford or maybe even Tim from Tech will do. Chat for a couple minutes, thank them for their time, and then ask them very directly “Can you introduce me to Mr Larryson…because I share a similar interest to him in…[adding this ‘because’ is essential!!]”. 

This technique is so simple and effective you’d be crazy not to use it. Alternatively, mention an interest to Chuck or Tim that you share with the banker you want to meet, and 8 times out of 10 Chuck will say “Hey, then, you should meet…”. 

To which you of course say “Oh that’s great, would you mind introducing me?”.

Unlike all the other students, Analyst Chuck can walk you straight over, break up the conversation, give you a pre-approved stamp, tell MD Larry Larryson who you are and why they should care (the similar interest thing remember).

Bam!  You’re front of the queue, in conversation and wiping the floor with everyone else. PS we understand you may not ‘buy’ this approach, because it all sounds too improbable. 

But the only reason you may not be buying it is because right now you’ve never seen it work yourself and you’re not really sure you have the confidence to pull it off.  That’s fine for now, but get out there and give it a go – it will amaze you!

And don’t forget at these events bankers love ‘passing on’ students to other bankers because it frees them up to down some food and drink in peace.  Yeah, it all comes back to self interest.  


To drink, to eat or to abstain

If you’re of age, drink.  When in Rome is the idea here; mirroring, fitting in and all that jazz. Plus a drink is so symbolic at these investment banking networking events.  It shows you’re someone who’s social and a bit of fun. 

And probably for most of you at these events it acts like a safety blanket – to be physically holding something is extremely comforting.  In that sense whether you drink alcohol or not is less important, just grab a drink.

PS keep your drink in your left hand because no one likes to shake a cold wet right hand!  I know this type of advice sounds Ben Stiller Simple, but more than half of students ignore these kinds of little social niceties – and I can tell you wet fish shaking students don’t make strong first impressions. What about eating those lukewarm canapés?

“No food for you!”  There are the greasy fingers, the inability to shake hands, the uncomfortable attempts to simultaneously eat, drink and talk, and the list goes on.

The only exception – well if there is a lone banker hoeing into the canapés table then go for it since it’s a great opportunity to very naturally and casually say hi.  


How to circulate the room without offending

At networking events you want to develop memorable connections, which requires more than two minutes of conversation.

But if you spend the entire event talking to Billy from Back Office, you’ve made only one connection, and it may turn out to be completely and utterly useless.

So keep an eye on the clock and move on after about 10 minutes in any one place or with any one banker – think of investment banking networking just like speed dating and set your mental timer accordingly. What happens then if Billy is in the middle of a lame never ending story and the event is going to end in 10 minutes…what the f**k do you do?!

We would – and we suggest you guys do the same – offer up any one of these as an excuse to drop out of the conversation, making sure to attach the phrase “Sorry Billy, please excuse me…

  • I’ll be back in a second (total BS, but so easy!)
  • I’m just going to grab a drink / food…would you like one?  (here’s a total BS promise and 9/10 Billy will say thank you, but no – meaning it’s the perfect escape plan!)
  • I just have to say goodbye to my friend/banker etc before he/she leaves (in keeping with the BS theme, and just as palatable as the previous reasons to leave)
The second excuse works best because it looks like you’re actually doing the banker a favor (!), and not simply ditching them to trade-up to a bigger badder banker.  And that’s a hugely important difference you need to paint in the mind of Billy, otherwise even he won’t return your emails come Tuesday!


What to wear to on-campus banking networking events

Deciding what to wear to on-campus events so you look respectable but not creepy and overeager can be tough.  One part of you will be saying “dress the part”, and the other will be screaming “don’t wear a full-on suit, you’ll look like a total douche”. What about business casual?

Well the more prestigious the bank and/or traditional your school, the more formal you should go.  Think suit.  And the minute you’re off campus at an investment banking networking event the attire usually goes straight to suit.

Overall, we think this is one area to play it safe. 

So always dress like you were going for a banking interview and dress a level above what you think you may need.  With all that said, these guidelines are also heavily dependent on your type of school – and something you can ascertain for yourself fairly quickly after attending one event.

What about accessories?

It’s a good idea to come to the information sessions with a leather zip-up portfolio so you can take notes during the info speeches and look professional without carrying a bag.  You can always put it down if it gets in the way of any hand shaking and networking later.  


Our advice for non-target school students

Often non-target schools won’t be on the receiving end of glorious bank-sponsored recruiting events and investment banking information sessions.  Instead, you’ll be given leaflets.  Yeah that’s a big F you in banker language. 

And in our opinion not cool at all, because most of the actually intelligent people in the business aren’t nepotistic rich kids from target schools!! So our advice is to attend neighboring / nearby campus events – just go hunt down those investment banking information sessions online and rock up.

Despite what you may have read about target school students inflicting beat-downs on “intruders”, attending on-campus events at nearby target schools is fine.  And you don’t have to ring up the school or bank for permission either.  


Why is this guerrilla investment banking networking okay?

Well, for starters the only people who will be ‘troubled’ by your presence are the school’s students (if they can even distinguish you from everyone else).  But when investment banking recruiting in 2011 is a war zone anyway, who cares

Think of target school kids as just some pesky villagers in the way of your Battalion’s march.  i.e. step around them and forget about them. You’re there to get info, shake hands and take names!

PS if bankers ask you about your schooling pedigree, just admit where you’re really from and partner it with why you’re at this event – something along the lines of being invited by a friend/organizer/banker. 

And of course move on to a question/observation fast to avoid any follow up question!

If you don’t have the balls to step onto enemy territory in order to do this, then what chance will you have of undertaking ‘traditional’ networking or even going Buddy Fox by cold calling up middle market investment banks and boutiques?

Are there any exceptions to this rally cry?

Small events where most bank reps are going to be diehard alums are probably best avoided.  Not only will the students be out to eat you alive, but the investment banking alumni probably won’t be too receptive to your gate crashing ways either. Plus at a small event your non-target ass will stick out like Karl Marx’s grand kid at a Blankfein-hosted Hampton housewarming!  


BONUS: Download a free reporton how to network with bankers (without being annoying), plus find out how 5 of us managed to break into bulge bracket banks without having perfect grades, the best schools or insider connections.