Networking season – do’s and don’ts

31/08/2014

The hot and long summer is finally over, and we hope that most of you guys have “enjoyed” the hot weather in an air-conditioned office doing your dream internship. The most important time for business students is right around the corner – the fall recruitment season. So get ready, your inboxes will soon be overflowing with invitations to networking events and dinners as companies fight to impress the best and the brightest. We at KY Finance have seen our share of corporate events and looking back at our own experiences, we thought we might share our views on the “do’s” and “don’ts” to help you impress company representatives (or at least avoid getting blacklisted). Without further ado, here are our 9 tips:

1. No-shows suck

By not showing up and not informing the organizer about your absence, you effectively strip away another student’s opportunity to attend the event. In addition, you leave a really poor image of yourself to the company, limiting your chances of ever being invited again.

Remember that the people who invited you are almost certainly far busier than you and have freed time in their busy schedules to specifically come and meet you. We realise that it can be intimidating to call or email a company contact and tell them you’re not coming, but trust us, there’s nothing bad about letting know that you can’t make it. It sends a message that you’re responsible, and at the very least it’s a good exercise on “delivering bad news”.

2. Do your homework

Nothing impresses a corporate representative more than an intelligent comment on one of the latest developments in the company’s business or the industry. Obviously corporate reps don’t expect you to fully know the inns and outs of their business, but having a basic understanding is a must.

WSO and M&I offer great resources for developing a “job applicant-level” understanding of banking, consulting and private equity businesses. Even though these websites have a strong US/UK focus, they’re still very relevant when applying to Finnish companies. It’s also a good idea to make a habit of reading Economist and Financial Times to keep track of the latest industry developments and deals.

For more firm-specific insight, in addition to company websites and LinkedIn profiles that are an obvious, good starting point, we strongly urge to reach out to any potential acquaintances that are working or have worked at the company of your interest. If you show genuine interest, even people who you might not know all that well (e.g. “random” older Aalto students), will surely be happy to share their knowledge.

3. Prepare your elevator-pitch

This is especially important in events organized by London banks, as Finance alumni have repeatedly stressed the ability of Finns to “sell our story” as one of our biggest challenges in the recruiting process. Now, what could be a better and more interview-like setting to perfect your pitch than a networking event?

For example M&I has great tips on preparing a solid, banking/consulting oriented elevator pitch. And even if you’re not considering applying to London, it’s surely not a waste of time to practice an interesting and catchy way to present yourself professionally.

4. Double-check the dress code

Even though corporate reps will not say it out loud in the unfortunate situation of you coming to the event underdressed, they will still surely remember you after the event; just not in the way that you might want them to. Why? Because the first thing they’ll think: “What if this person appears like this to a client meeting?”

Even more importantly, once you begin realizing that you’re underdressed, you’re self-confidence might be going south along with your willingness to approach company reps. If you’re not sure about the difference between smart casual and business casual, Google is your best friend and you can always reach out to anyone at KY Finance. We also advice both business guys and gals, to invest in a good business suit. Trust us, it will make life much more pleasant during recruitment season.

5. Ask questions

Finnish people aren’t exactly known for being talkative, and there’s a joke going around in Chydenia for all new professors and guest lecturers that goes like this: “If there’s no questions, then you’re doing a good job teaching.”

However, company events are different. Not only is this is your opportunity to learn about the company, but also to impress them by showing genuine interest. Companies invest substantial time and money into these events and they really want to meet students. So put in some effort too and prepare 2-3 good questions (the more specific, the better). If you don’t manage to come up with anything amazing, asking a company representative about their latest or most interesting project is usually foolproof.

6. With business cards, less is more

The idea is not to beat the national record for gathering the most biz cards during a corporate evening, but rather to increase one’s chances of landing an interview with the company. From our experience, to succeed in this goal, a few, meaningful and longer conversations with firm representatives, followed by a contact info exchange, work much better than speed-dating every single rep and asking for their card immediately after a handshake.

So, if you feel that you’ve managed to engage a company rep in a quality discussion that both of you are clearly enjoying, don’t hurry onto the next rep just for the sake of rotation. If the rep must address time to other students, she or he will surely let you know!

7. Don’t lose control over that drinking

Even though alcohol is a great social lubricant – especially for us Finns – enjoying one drink too many and forgetting all forms of social manners is a great way to stand out and land on the firm’s blacklist. Bare in mind that Helsinki is a very small place, and word travels around – fast.

Sometimes, pulling an early morning a Cappella “Via Dolarosa” with that IB partner at Erottaja Bar can obviously result in a very valuable contact, and is in some circumstances even encouraged. However it’s good to remember that corporate reps usually have more experience “doing business while drunk” than us, students. So to avoid “rookie” mistakes on this front, it may be a good idea to pass that one round or ask the bartender to fake your glass of water for a GT.

8. Keep in touch – especially if you’re truly interested!

This particularly applies if you’re dealing with foreign companies, such as London banks. If you had a good talk with one of the company reps during a dinner, send them a personal thank you email later. If you’re thinking of applying to the company and happen to be in the same city, go ahead and ask them out for coffee. It may seem very daunting inconveniencing a Vice President by asking tips on your resume or interview, but at the end of the day, people are surprisingly willing to help. Just keep things brief and to the point, and respect their time.

A follow-up after a networking event is also the most common way to land those famous “networking event” interviews. Very rarely (if ever) will you be offered an interview spot directly at an event, however if you’ve managed to spark the rep’s interest, follow-up after the event can eventually result in an interview with the firm. This may be rare for bigger firms, which have a more structured recruiting process, but it definitely holds for the boutiques and smaller companies. Getting an interview by attending a networking event and following up is definitely not a myth!

9. Don’t let those “super humans” overwhelm you

This tip is in our opinion especially relevant for the younger students. Sometimes (especially if fuelled by a few cocktails) those consultants and bankers can make themselves seem like real super humans with all their achievements and career milestones. Don’t let that strike you down! Not only have most of them been in exactly the same situation as you are now in terms of current accomplishments, they have also significantly refined their self-presentation skills during their post-study lives 😉

Most importantly, being invited to an event is already a strong indication that the company sees some true potential in you. So guys, be confident and don’t hesitate to apply for that internship!

So with this in mind we wish you a fun networking season!

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