As I just mentioned, “Why firm? The people.” is one of the most powerful routes you can go down for the motivational part of the cover letter. You can justify this through networking and then talking about your networking efforts.
Where to start
The network tracker is a great place to start – this is where you list all the firms you want to apply to (can be integrated within the firm audit or application tracker document you make). Go through systematically checking off the different firms, ideally starting with the ones that open soonest.
I have found there is a 20% hit rate on average via LinkedIn, i.e., if you reach out to 5 people, at least one of them will reply (usually). Reaching out to 5-10 people for each firm is a good benchmark to aim for.
For some firms, I only reached out to 5 people and was lucky to get a great call and build a good relationship, while for other firms, it took 20+ messages e.g. messaging 20 Morgan Stanley alumni to get no response until the 21st (a VP) responded within a day. The lesson is to not stop ‘3 feet from gold’ – the process requires patience and the empathetic understanding that people in the field simply spend most of their waking hours working.
NB: Alumni are not necessarily going to be the most helpful. Sometimes they will, but not always: if you go to LSE for example, your alumni in the industry are going to be constantly bombarded with messages for calls.
By targeting a university that is still an excellent university (this is not about which university is better), but less ‘targeted’ by students looking for networking, I found you’re more likely to get a response and have a more fruitful conversation.
Template to use
You may eventually need LinkedIn premium – I would argue it is worth it at least for a couple of months but I do not get paid to say that and either way, it is completely your call. More specifically, I bought the £25 package for 2 months in a row plus had a month on trial before that. However, I would only do this once you run out of connection requests to send out to people on the free account.
Here’s a template
I am a 1st/2nd-year at [university] studying [course] and would like to hear about your experience at [firm]. Would it be possible to arrange a 10 minute call? I completely understand if you are too busy to respond, but even a 1 or 2-line reply would really make my day.
Prepare to be ignored but remember that one lucky connection could be the difference between you and that internship.
Questions to ask (preventing awkward silences)
It goes without saying that you should aim to make a networking call a naturally flowing conversation – some people are more talkative than others when networking, so don’t worry about slight awkwardness, just wait and you’ll eventually find those people that you can have a good conversation with. There is no ‘best personality’ for networking, so just be patient and have confidence in your efforts. For example, being slightly more introverted can be an advantage versus being able to get along with everyone, since it allows you to have a deeper conversation with certain people.
Chop and change the list below e.g. shorten, lengthen, prioritise certain points – depending on your style and who you are talking to. This should even work for senior employees, but I would say try to avoid questions easily researchable on the web e.g. “what does your day-to-day involve” and focus on the more unique questions about their route and background. Perhaps for less senior employees, such questions are fine, but for more senior people, you want to focus on creating a stimulating conversation for them from the get-go.
If you are interested in getting answers to ‘web-researchable questions’, the Andrew Gutman book “How to Be an Investment Banker” does a great job at introducing and unpacking the Investment Banking division.
Questions for Analysts/Associates (or even senior)
I. About them:
- Why did you want to work for this company? [for why the firm]
- I’d love to learn more about your background and journey to your current role.
- What is the most rewarding project you’ve worked on so far?
- Do you feel a lot of support from your colleagues?
- How was the internship different to what you expected?
II. The company:
- What is the internship programme like? [for why the programme]
- What do you like most about ___?
- What is the most challenging part of your job?
- Why did you choose this company over others?
- What do you think will challenge the company going forward?
III. What can I do?
- What should I be doing right now to prepare myself for a career in investment banking?
- “What resources should I be looking at to learn more about this industry/function?”
- What tools or skills does your team really value for new employees? I’d like to start working on those during my time at [your university].
- What would you do differently now if you were in my position?
- What do you wish you had known when you were in my position?
- I hope you don’t mind me asking, do you know two more contacts you think it would be useful to hear from.
A quick note about Q6: this can be the most powerful ‘networking question’ you can ask as it feeds the future line of contacts to reach out to and will more quickly connect you with people that are big givers and always willing to help. However, do read the situation and don’t be disheartened if they do not want to recommend anyone – you could even assure them that you do not expect them to connect you personally, but that you would simply send the suggested contact a LinkedIn request. This question is also very powerful whenever networking more broadly, outside of investment banking and across industries.
Questions for interns:
I also recommend reaching out to past interns at the company as they do not suffer from ‘the expert’s curse’ in that they will be able to relate to your position more accurately, having only gone through the application process a few years before you.
- When did applications open
- Were cover letter or application-specific questions asked, and if questions, which ones were asked so you can prepare ahead of the firm opening?
- Specific CV format? E.g. Goldman Sachs encourage you to put your address but this is not necessary for other firms.
- Test difficulty/how much practice, the provider?
- Video interview, questions.
- Assessment centre?
- Any people you recommend contacting from the firm
- Final tips?
- WHY THE FIRM – what stood out to you?
Finally, if you want to check out some more advice about how to have a more fruitful conversation that goes beyond networking, this post on mastering the art of conversations should help.