It was Jimmy Buffett who told us it is always five o'clock somewhere. It is also always recruiting season somewhere.
And that means the big finance companies are on the road running information sessions. You've seen them before:
You walk in to see a room with chairs lined up facing a screen. There will be a PowerPoint presentation, oh yes, there will be PowerPoint. The company presenting sends a few “representative” employees who just happen to be recent grads themselves. Old people can't recruit and relate to college students. For our purposes, we'll call them Sarah and Steve today. They won't be making hiring decisions, but you don't know this.
After you make an awkward entrance and introduction, you try to find a seat that's not too conspicuous but not too far away. Time to sit down and take in the PowerPoint presentation.
Afterward, you get the opportunity to mingle and ask questions. Invariably there are a few obnoxious students who get right in the face of Steve and Sarah and ask annoying questions all in the name of trying to impress.
Oh yeah, and there are about a dozen people circled around Steve and another dozen around Sarah lobbing questions at them from all sides.
At this point you are thinking to yourself, “Why the heck did I even bother coming to this thing?”
You went because information sessions can be an important tool in your networking arsenal, if you play your cards right.
So let's talk about how to become a master in the art and science of the information session. Doing so is guaranteed to improve your chances of landing that dream job in finance. In this article, we'll cover:
- How to develop the correct mindset before you attend
- How to make the proper entrance and introduction
- How to stand out from the ground and be noticed
- How to turn a finance information session into an interview
It's five o'clock, so let's turn you into an finance information session rock star ...
The Information Session Mindset
First, we need to prepare for finance information sessions by developing the correct mindset about what to expect from an information session.
Information sessions are typically put on by large companies, the big banks with equity research arms and the big asset management firms. If you go to a target school, you might get lucky and see a big hedge fund or two. For those of you who at a target school, recognize that this is one of the reasons why you chose that school. The top firms will be coming to recruit at your school, so take advantage. For those at non-targets, there is something you can do to take advantage, but more on that later.
There are many different views and perceptions regarding information sessions. At one extreme, some people think they can walk into an information session, wow the attendees with their vast intellect and 264 activities on their resume, and be offered an interview right then and there.
At the other extreme, you have the people who think information sessions are a waste of time and simply come for the free food. This is only useful if you a) aren't interested in Wall Street and b) are hungry.
The reality is information sessions lie somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. You will not be offered an interview as a result of your showing, but they are helpful.
The correct approach is to view the information session like a networking session. It's a chance to meet some real world analysts or associates and make contacts. No “business” will be conducted at the information session, but hopefully you will gain a contact to reach out to in the future.
To summarize: Information sessions are networking opportunities. You will not be interviewed on the spot, but they are more than just free food events.
Making a Proper Entrance
Have you ever walked into a room or party where people are already in small groups talking and you are the outsider looking in? It's probably the most intimidating part of the information session and one reason why so many candidates avoid them. Just as with most networking events, you are putting yourself out there for the world to see. That can be uncomfortable for a lot of people.
That initial entrance and introduction is difficult. It's usually like the movie scene in Harold & Kumar where Harold gets on the elevator with his attractive neighbor, Maria. In his mind he introduces himself with ease and things go smoothly. In reality, he freaks out and freezes, unable to speak.
Walking into an information session and hiding in the back is not going to give you any benefit. Here are some simple rules to remember when making your entrance:
- Remember that this is a networking session. You are there to meet people, not to hide in the back. Give yourself a little pep talk in your mind beforehand like a coach talking to his players (you'll be surprised how well this works). Always remember that everyone else has the same insecurities as you.
- Try to arrive a little early. It's always easier to introduce yourself when there are fewer people around.
- Introduce yourself right away and offer your business card in the hopes of receiving their card. Don't have a business card? Talk to your school about having one made using the school colors/logo. People usually feel compelled to reciprocate if you hand them a business card, which is better than walking up to someone you don't know and asking, “Hi, you don't know me, can I have your business card?”
That's it. The initial entrance is simply about making a proper introduction and getting a few business cards.
Standing Out from The Crowd
Remember the circles of a dozen candidates firing questions at Steve and Sarah? As you can imagine, you need a strategy to stand out from the crowd.
The best thing you can do is to ask intelligent, open-ended questions and avoid stupid or obnoxious questions.
Stay away from questions like, “What's it like working on Wall Street?” The real answer is that the world of finance is not always the glamorous world we think it is. Sometimes the real answer is, “Um, I update financial models and listen to earnings calls.”
Also, don't ask grandiose questions about the markets or the economy just to show off your intelligence. Steve and Sarah don't want to talk shop today.
What you can and should be asking are questions about Steve and Sarah's backgrounds. Ask open-ended questions about their schools, their prior work experience, their recruiting experiences, etc.
This accomplishes two things:
- You can potentially learn some valuable info into what Steve and Sarah's company is looking for in candidates, and
- You get Steve and Sarah talking. People like talking about themselves and their answers can lead to a conversation with you.
And if you can get them talking, you are more likely to make a personal connection. Which brings me to my last point …
How to Turn an Information Session into an Interview
Remember how we established that an information session is simply a networking event? Assuming you've done everything right up until this point (made a proper introduction, asked good questions, and made a connection), there is only one thing left for you to do.
Sadly, this thing is the one thing that 99% of attendees do not do. This means it is the one thing that can give you the edge over 99% of candidates.
That one thing?
It's so simple, yet no one ever does it. Follow-up and start a conversation. Develop a relationship. That's called networking!
Ask to meet again in person. Ask for advice (Note: Don't ask for an interview. Ask for advice on how to get an interview. That way your contact doesn't feel like you are asking for a favor – because you can't return it.) Ask anything that gets them talking with you.
You've made the contact, now is the time to use it.
Sidebar: Information Sessions at Other Schools
If you are at a target school, then pretty much every top employer is going to be coming to your school like the ESPN College GameDay crew. This is why you went to a target school, so take advantage of it.
For the rest of us, it's all right to travel to information sessions at other schools. This is very uncommon, but often it's doing the uncommon that will give you an edge.
Just remember to be cordial if you are at an away information session, the worst that can happen is they ask you to leave. But the odds of that happening are low. The best thing that can happen is you make a contact which leads to an interview which leads to a job. The outcomes are definitely skewed to the upside.
Rocking the Information Session
Now that you know, it's time to go out and rock your next information session. Just remember:
- Prepare with the networking mindset
- Make a confident (and early) entrance and introduction with business cards
- Ask questions to get the presenters to open up about their experiences recruiting
That last point is the most important. I can't stress it enough. If you fail to make a connection at the information session, then there's no harm / no foul. But if you make a connection and fail to follow-up, there's no excusing that job search blunder.