Information interviews are an excellent networking strategy—especially if you did not attend a top-tier business school where Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and other top investment banks typically recruit. Unlike a traditional interview (where your goal is to get a job), information interviews involve gathering information about a particular company or career path from people who are already working in the field. The ultimate goal is to impress the information interviewee enough that he or she will offer you an internship or a job, or, at least, connect you with others at the company whom you can talk to and try to impress.
1. What is an Investment Banking Informational Interview
For those interested in Investment Banking, Informational Interview (or Coffee Chat) is a networking session to gain information from professionals who are actively working in the investment banking industry. You conduct informational interviews by asking investment bankers at your targeted firms for 10-30 minutes of their time to connect in person (or via phone/Skype) to learn about what they do, how they got to where they are, additional professional experiences, and any advice that they may have for you.
While informational interviews often do not directly lead to job offers, they are critical in getting your foot in the door and eventually helping you secure an interview or job referrals, especially if you don’t attend target school or if you have mediocre grades. Even if you have the perfect resume, you’ll probably still want to invest a good amount of time into diligent coffee chats, because networking is what turns a perfect resume into a perfect candidate.
2. Why You Have To Do Information Interview
Imagine that you are an investment banking recruiter and you come across two candidates’ resumes. The first candidate’s resume is decent. The second candidate’s resume is also decent, but not quite as strong as the first one. However, three of your colleagues have sent you separate emails recommending that you interview the second candidate.
- If you only have one interview spot left, who would you interview?
Most recruiters would choose to interview the second candidate even though their resume is not as strong as the first candidate’s resume. Why? Referrals are a very strong signal to recruiters that you would be a great fit for the firm.
Now, imagine that you are reviewing two other candidates’ applications. Both resumes are equally strong. The first candidate’s cover letter provides three strong reasons why they are interested in working at the firm, but is fairly generic. The second candidate’s cover letter only gives one reason why they are interested in the firm. However, they wrote about the conversations they have had with a few bankers and how these conversations have made them excited about working at the firm.
- If you only have one interview spot left, who would you want to interview?
Most recruiters would choose to interview the second candidate because they are much more credible when they say they are interested in working at the firm. Rather than having a generic cover letter that lists reasons why they are interested in the firm, the second candidate took the time to talk to multiple bankers and incorporate what they have learned about the firm into their cover letter.
Keep these two benefits of networking in mind as you develop your networking strategy.
Your primary goal in networking is to get people to refer you or recommend you to the consulting firm that you are applying for. Your second goal in networking is to make your cover letter stand out by demonstrating genuine interest in the firm based on real conversations you have had with bankers.
3. The Goals of Investment Banking Informational Interviews
When you’re doing coffee chats, you should have the following goals in mind:
- Impress the person you’re speaking to by being charming, respectful, knowing their work experience, and asking thoughtful questions.
- Learn about any potential opportunities, the status of recruiting processes, or any advice to succeed in the interview: The individual in the field can give you the ‘inside scoop’ about what the field is really like and provide helpful insider tips you might not otherwise get.
- Be introduced to other helpful contacts (HR manager, person running point on recruiting, person with a similar background to you).
While informational interviews are taken under the guise of ‘learning more about the company,’ their true purposes are to impress your connection within the company, and to gather intelligence that might help secure a job there.
4. When to Set Up Informational Interviews with Investment Bankers?
As a sophomore, you’ll hear that investment banking interviews take place between March and September. In order to have success, you should aim to have 5+ strong contacts at any bank you’d consider by March.
Rather than using people you want to coffee chat with one week before recruiting starts (they’ll likely be less willing to help at this point), reaching out to investment bankers and setting up informational interviews with them at least 3 months in advance of the recruiting season. In the informational interviews, you should focus on learning about their role, background, experiences.
Then when recruiting comes around, touch base and let them know you’re applying. I recommend touching base with your network every couple of months to develop a strong relationship. Focus on building rapport and trying to start a relationship, rather than using them temporarily to get what you want.
Step 1: Identify the right contacts
The first step of setting up informational interviews is identifying your desired bankers.
- Alumni databases of university, student organization (or any groups you are a member of) are a great resource for identifying informational interview subjects
- LinkedIn is also extremely useful for finding contacts. Use filters like firms’ name, job position, industry to search for professionals working in finance. You can not only search your first- and second-degree contacts, but also people who match the keywords for fields you are considering.
Prioritize finding contacts based on who’ll most likely be able to give you the best insights and strongest referrals. Consider “functional relevance” (ideally, you’ll want to contact people who hold positions one or two levels higher than your target role) and “commonalities” (ideally, you’ll contact those whose alma mater is your school; people from your home country or previous employers are valuable as well). Make sure to keep your contact names in a spreadsheet categorized by employers. Adding a “Notes” column is helpful to track key details about contacts as you meet with them and beyond.
You may want to talk with someone who is almost a peer — just a few years out of college — in a position you can aspire to. They can give you an on-the-ground perspective, which could complement any information you get from a department head or CEO.
Step 2: Reach out and schedule the meeting
Remember that you are requesting a favor. You should make things as easy as possible for the other person and keep the back-and-forth to a minimum.
- Let them know two to three options for times you’re available to talk. (‘I could connect any time after 2:00 p.m. on the fourth of this month or any time before 11:00 a.m. on the ninth.’)
- Check your email inbox frequently for their reply or any alert that they’ll need to adjust the time.
- Lock in the meeting digitally with a calendar event to their work email address. In the calendar item, include the specifics of how the meeting will happen (such as teleconference meeting links) and your contact information for any rescheduling needs. Set the event to request a reply.
- Don’t ask for more than 15 minutes of their time, but also be available for longer if the meeting is going well or the interviewee extends the conversation. Let them lead.
Outreach emails should be short and ask if people would be willing to set up time to share more about their work experience. The goal is to gain insights and advice, not ask for a job. Here is an example of what an outreach email could look like:
“Dear Mr. Wilson,
I am Gwen Baker, an Economics sophomore at University of Chicago. I found your contact through UChicago Alumni LinkedIn group, and from your profile, I learned you are currently working as an Investment Banker with Morgan Stanley.
I am interested in a career option as an Investment Banker. I have looked into Morgan Stanley Investment Banking programs and I wanted to know if you are available for 15 minutes to answer questions I have about the field and discuss your experience after graduating UChicago. I believe that it is essential for me to gain a realistic perspective about the Investment Banking world.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
5.1. Intro About Yourself
Kick things off by thanking them for their time, explain why you reached out, and give a brief background on yourself. Things to discuss may include:
- Where you grew up and how that influenced you
- Your career path so far
- Any relevant interests, classes, or student organizations
- Your medium/long-term goals
Keep this concise, no more than 5 minutes!
5.2. Transition Conversation to Them & Ask About Their Work and Experience at The Company
This is the first meaty part of the conversation. Show your genuine interest in their work by asking very targeted questions (this is where preparation comes in handy). Asking thoughtful, open-ended, un-Google-able questions starts with research, curiosity, and confidence.
- Avoid obvious questions: asking ‘what it is like being an investment banker’ or ‘how many hours per week do you work’ does not show any intellectual curiosity. Never forget that you don’t have much time to impress, so don’t waste your small word allowance on dull questions.
- Don’t be boring: put yourself in the shoes of the banker conducting the coffee chat. More than likely, they have another 10 candidates who are going to ask the same questions (plus 10 hours of work when they get back to the office). Try to keep the conversation as natural and spontaneous as possible.
- Ask about them: an introduction will give you some crucial insights about the individual you are dealing with and enable you to tailor your personal stories based on the banker’s perceived background, focus and interests. Try to make the conversation flow seamlessly between their story and yours.
While there is no one-size-fits-all question to dig deep, here are a few examples from my experiences (these are intended to give you an idea):
- What does a typical engagement or investment cycle look like?
- What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
- What drives you in this line of work?
- What is your favorite deal that you have been involved in?
- The IB recruiting process can be challenging. How did you manage these challenges?
- When you were in my position, what made you interested in investment banking?
- What internships did you do before your banking internships, and did those experiences guide you towards banking?
- From talking to other people in the industry, it seems that there are increasingly more tax inversion mergers, have you found this to affect your work also?
Bad question: “Do you like the culture at your company?”
This is a weak question. It’s too vague and doesn’t prove to the professional that you’ve thought through the specific elements of culture you care about.
Good question: “It seems like you work with many different teams… would you say your company really values collaboration? Do people tend to work in teams or individually? How does that affect the pace of getting things done?”
At the end of the day, you’re having a conversation so make sure the questions you ask have some sort of natural & logical progression and are related to each other, instead of just randomly asking questions. These specific questions will give you nuggets of information that allow you to gauge the fit of a culture for yourself.
The questions you ask will reflect upon your mindset, and are the deciding factor whether bankers like you or not.
5.3. Engage in an Intellectual Conversation
If the conversation is going well, you can keep going with the last part of asking job/company questions. Alternatively, if you want to dig further, try asking a somewhat difficult/subjective question (just don’t be too try-hard about it).
The key is to have an opinion on the answer to your question and make sure the other person understands your perspective. Even if you are wrong, you want the professional to respect that you had an opinion in the first place (make sure you have a well-researched and reasonable opinion). This is a great time to bring up ideas from their research or interviews.
- Where do you think the industry is headed given [xyz]?
- I noticed you published research on [xyz], what are your thoughts on [abc]? It seems to me that… [proceed to state your opinion]
This is where it really pays off to be well-read. Stay on top of the current events and trends in your industry/function of interest.
Note: Be prepared for them to ask you questions about your background, knowledge/interest in the firm, and sometimes even finance-related questions; People have even been interviewed on the spot although uncommon, so ensure you have some knowledge about the firm and role at the very least.
If you still have questions left, but are approaching the last few minutes of the 30 minute chat, say something like “Sorry to take up your time, I just had one more question if you don’t mind” and ask the question that you are the most interested in. If they respond with a “No worries, I still have plenty of time”, then feel free to ask more. Any other response should prompt you to end the conversation after that final question.
5.4. Make the “Ask”
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Come prepared with an idea of how this professional can help you and at the end of the call politely ask them.
There were multiple occasions where a professional started or ended the chat with “how can I help?“. It is important to have your ask ready — although I would delay asking until the end.
“This conversation really validated my interest in [this job]. I think it’s a great fit for me because of my interest/experience in [keep this very brief]. [Insert Ask].”
Some examples of the ask:
- Get connected to someone else “it would be great to get another perspective on [xyz]. Is there anyone you could put me in touch with?”
- Inquire about a hidden internship/job opportunity “do you know of any opportunities at [your company] or [your team]?”
- Subtly ask for a referral/application bump “I just applied to the [job name] posting online. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of getting an interview?”
- Ask them about next-steps in the process “What are the next steps in the process to be considered for [this team/job]?
Hang in there and wait. This puts the ball in their court to either accept your ask and immediately help you out, flat-out reject your ask (only happened to me once), or make up some wishy-washy answer that probably won’t help you.
Either way, you need to give them space to say something. You’ve worked hard sending those cold emails and engaging in a great conversation –don’t let it go to waste.
An important note: these chats are best done when you don’t immediately need something (like a referral 2 weeks before the interviews start). Otherwise the chat will seem transactional and the other person won’t be invested in helping you. The goal is to build a genuine relationship with this person. In the future, I’ll discuss how you can keep in touch with professionals from successful chats.
5.5. Thank Them and Offer Your Help
End the call by thanking them for their time, and say “if there’s ever anything I can help you with, please reach out!” This is an easy way to add value.
6.1. Thank-you notes
After you meet with someone, you must send them a thank-you note within 48 hours. That note should contain a specific insight you found helpful and mention that you checked out any resources they recommended. Be sure to ask your contact if it would be alright if you reached out if you have additional questions in the future. If they say “sure,” you have an advocate.
6.2. Check-in emails
You don’t want your relationships with advocates to end after one informational meeting. Often, there’s a gap between the time you conduct an informational meeting and the time an application opens. After roughly a month of your initial meeting, send your advocates an email asking how they’re doing. If they mentioned a project during your last chat, ask them how that project is coming along. Share how something they mentioned came up in one of your classes or something you read online. Wish them well.
Keep them in the loop by emailing the professionals after you’ve met with one of their referrals or after you’ve gotten a job. By meeting with you, they’ve invested time in you and they want that time to pay off by seeing you become successful. It will not only make them feel good if you let them know that their advice or referrals paid off, but it will also make it more likely that the next person calling them for an informational interview will get one.
6.3. Pre-application emails
Before you apply, reach out to your advocates. Thank them again for their help throughout the process. Tell them you’re applying for a role at their company. Ask if they have any advice before you apply on X date. This is also the time to ask them if they’d be willing to refer you to the hiring manager.
Don’t underestimate the potential of informational meetings. As soon as you are able to set up a meeting and create a relationship with someone at the firm, your chances of advancing past the initial screening phase will skyrocket. When you strategically prioritize your target employers and send outreach emails that ask for advice (not jobs), you give yourself a great chance of building advocates to help you throughout your job search. Now, when your resume shows up in the massive pile of thousands of other applications your relationship with the recruiter or the internal referral you received from another member of the firm’s will immediately move your resume to the top of the pile.
A high GPA and a strong resume always help; however, building relationships with the bankers who screen resumes and make hiring decisions will separate you from other applicants. Investment bankers hire people whom they like – if they don’t know you, how can they like you? Start networking yesterday!
If you want to best prepare yourself for the informational interview and impress your contacts, check out our Investment Banking Networking Toolkit for a comprehensive guide with questions list as well as various email templates to reach out and follow up with investment banking professionals.