Of course, despite all the snarky comments in the forums that make it seem so easy, no one ever tells you how to network properly. That’s why sites like Life on the Buy Side and Mergers & Inquisitions were started.
Now that summer is here and my golf schedule has gone up, and my blog posting schedule down (sorry!), I recently had a flashback to when I landed my internship during business school.
It was at a fall golf event for alumni that current students were invited to. I played in the event, not because I was actively networking, but because I am not capable of turning down an opportunity to golf. I really didn’t even understand networking back then.
As it turned out, one of the alumni in my foursome had just started a new company and was looking for interns. He told me to contact him, which I did, and I subsequently landed the internship.
Whether you are a scratch golfer or a chili-dipping high handicapper, if you can swing a golf club you can network on the golf course. Here are some important keys to networking on the golf course that just might help your Wall Street internship and job search, including what to do if you suck and how to find golf events.
Hey! Wait Just a Minute. I Don’t Even Play Golf!
Well, then it’s time for you to start. If you don’t want to do it for love of the game, at least do it for love of your career. If you can’t do it for either, then you should probably be reading something else.
On a recent golf trip, I had the opportunity to sit next to a CEO I know well (I’ve followed his company for years and we’ve golfed together before) who told me how he didn’t start golfing until he was in his early thirties.
Already knowing that he was a single-digit handicap like me, I was shocked. Before he caught the golf bug he used to be a competitive tennis player. Unfortunately for his tennis career, he quickly discovered that it’s not a very good networking move to beat the brains out of your boss (or client, or colleague) on the tennis court.
Golf it became for this CEO and he never looked back.
Golf is, by far and away, the most common sport played by anyone in the business world.
Need more motivation to start? What other “sport” can you drink and smoke during? All right, maybe bowling, but only in Wisconsin.
I Like Golf, but I Suck! I Can’t Possibly Network on the Golf Course
I mentioned earlier that I am a single-digit handicap, which is good, but I’m far from being a scratch golfer or a plus handicap. And yet, I rarely play with anyone in a business event that has a lower handicap than me.
The truth is that most business golfers suck. Quit worrying about how good you think other people are and get out there and golf. We all have day jobs managing money and don’t have time to properly practice on our golf games. Either your business suffers and your golf game is great, or your business is great and your golf game suffers. It’s damn near impossible to have both at the same time.
Besides, no one cares about how well you score on the course. The point of business golf is to have a good time networking in a relaxed setting.
I’ve played with some absolutely horrific golfers at business outings and I can remember only one time getting annoyed with a bad golfer.
This guy had pre-shot routine that was painful (my caddy’s words, not mine - I had more explicit adjectives in my head). Every time he stood over the ball I wanted to yell, “Hit the ball, Sergio!” as he waggled and wriggled, waiting to pull the trigger on what was guaranteed to be a ball lost in the fescue.
To make matters worse, he had full-body, Kevin Na yips. I can’t tell you how many tee shots I saw where the caddies started walking down the fairway as he started his downswing only to have to turn around when he aborted his swing.
The guy was Bethpage Black Sergio Garcia meets Kevin Na. He was Sergio Na.
Of course, I had a great time bonding and networking with the rest of my foursome as we cringed at Sergio Na’s attempts at golf. Unless you are Sergio Na, you can play business golf.
This brings me to the most important part for all you who think you don’t belong on the golf course …
No One Cares About Your Score. It’s All About Respect.
Respect for the golf course. Respect for your fellow playing partners. Respect for yourself. Respect for the caddies.
Just remember to show respect and you can play in any business golfing event that you want, regardless of your handicap.
Respect the course by replacing your divots, raking the traps, and not throwing your garbage all over the course.
Respect your playing partners by playing quickly. Don’t spend 10 minutes looking for your ninth lost ball of the day. Just take a drop and move on. On your 10th shot and you aren’t even on the green? Just pick up and get ready for the next hole. The better golfers in your group will respect you for it. (Google “Equitable Stroke Control” and understand it – no one is going to write down a 12 for you on any hole.)
Respect yourself by dressing nicely and don’t be a cursing, club-tossing Neanderthal on the course.
And respect the caddies, which are typically only used at destination golf courses (Bandon, Whistling Straits, etc.). You can learn a lot about a person by how he treats his caddy.
How to Network During the Round
So you’ve finally decided to get out there and play. Now it’s time to discuss the mechanics of networking on the golf course.
Rule #1 - Do not talk about business while golfing.
Dude, seriously, no talking shop.
Golf is supposed to be a break from the office. Everyone is there to have a good time and nothing ruins a good time like the guy who only wants to talk his book the whole round.
Keep your conversations light and actually try to get to know your playing partners. If you must talk business, keep it general and discuss the macro current events of the day.
This is what makes golf so great for networking. At most business events, people are uptight and guarded. On the golf course, people are relaxed and open.
People often say their best business deals were cut on the golf course, but that’s not entirely true. The business deals get started on the golf course when two people form a personal bond over a 4-5 hour round. Then, back in the boardroom, these businessmen can form win-win deals with a new friend.
It might all sound a bit touchy-feely, but networking is about cultivating friendships. If you are an asshole, no one is going to tell you about that choice hedge fund analyst job that just opened up.
Rule #2 - Have fun.
Don’t be that guy who takes everything too seriously. You aren’t playing the back nine at Augusta on Sunday. You are at a business event playing to break 100. Have some fun and relax.
Rule #3 - Exchange contact info.
I can’t tell you how many times I had a great time with a foursome, and then forget to get their cards only to never see them again.
Get cards and follow up.
But How Do I Find Golf Events?
Obviously, most golf events take place when the weather is warm. If you need an explanation for this, please stop reading now and wait for me to finish slapping my forehead.
OK, I’m back.
If you aren’t in the money management business yet, look at the schedules of networking organizations for future golf events. Alumni associations almost always have annual golf outings. CFA societies are another great option as most have annual golf outings as well. Networking associations understand the power of golf for networking, which is why they have golf outings.
If you are new to the business, start taking advantage of every opportunity to golf. Sell side sales and trading folks will usually host several golf functions a summer.
Get out there and golf. The stock market is going to open and close and do its thing whether you’re strapped to your Bloomberg and financial models or not.
As Always, the Final Word: Follow Up
At the same event with the former tennis playing CEO, I played with another CEO who took the time to send me a follow-up email saying that he had a great time playing golf with me.
Now, of course, his job is to be nice to investors since he wants people to buy his stock, but this guy is the CEO of a public company who has more influence and makes a shit-ton more money that I do. And yet, he’s sending me a follow-up email.
I’ll never forget that, and neither should you.
Collect business cards and follow up. You probably won’t get as lucky as I did in business school and get to play with an alumnus who was hiring, but you never know where the networking roads might take you unless you follow up. Most roads will be dead ends, but keep following up and eventually something will hit.
Wall Street internships and Wall Street jobs don’t just fall from the sky onto your lap. You need to get out there and hunt them down.
Heck, if you do your career hunting on the golf course, you might just have a little fun with it.