GUEST COMMENT: How to cold call your way into a financial services internship

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Most people are wary of cold calling. They think it makes them seem too pushy and aggressive and that it puts line managers off.

This might be true in regions like Asia, parts of continental Europe, and Australia where it's less accepted socially. However, in the US and the UK, I've seen dozens of success stories from cold calling - providing the person doing the cold calling is junior. The more senior a cold caller is, the less effective it will be; senior staff should be leveraging their network to get a job.

Defining the cold call

The main difference between a cold call and other types of networking is that you don't know the other person. You are randomly calling them up and have no previous interaction with them.

You are also much more direct - rather than chit-chatting about their background and asking about what they do for fun outside of work, you ask about internships and recruiting right away.

And if you don't get a positive response, you persist until you do, you try again later, or you move on to other banks on your list.

The 5 step cold calling process

1) Get a list of banks or bankers in your area with their names and contact information. (NB, you will be far more successful if you opt for smaller organisations rather than the big banks and mega-funds, who will already have plenty of candidates.)

2) Plan your pitch and figure out what you're going to tell them. On a standard cold call, you might introduce yourself in 1-2 sentences, ask how you can position yourself for an interview at the firm, and then respond to the other person's "objections" (we're not hiring anyone, we don't have the money, etc.) until you get a real answer. Say the same thing to everyone to minimize screw-ups.

3) Place the call and be prepared to respond to their objections. Ideally, you will call the bankers directly (higher level is better if you can find them - MDs have more power than VPs, VPs have more power than Associates/Analysts) and speak with someone who has a say in the hiring process.

4) Afterward, follow-up at least once a week until they tell you to stop calling.

5) Meanwhile, continue to contact and follow-up with other firms on your list.

Timing

You might want to postpone cold calling until the last minute - when recruiting season is over and internships are about to begin.

Cold emails

"If it's so hard to successfully get through when cold calling, why not use email instead? Does cold emailing work and is it more effective than cold calling?"

Personally, I am biased against email - but that might just be because I get hundreds of emails each day and can't even respond personally to 90% of them.

Emails are easy for bankers to ignore or delete, whereas phone calls are harder to dodge. And catching them in-person, of course, is even harder for them to avoid.

But you may still have better luck with cold emailing, especially if you're not good on the phone.

I've seen it go both ways, so you have to experiment and see what works for you. If you do cold email bankers, attach your resume/CV and ask directly in the email how to position yourself for an internship there.

Dealing with rejection

Ok, back to calling now - what should you expect when you call and pitch the banker or the gatekeeper?

95% of the time you will get variants of the following response:

"We're not hiring." / "We don't recruit interns." / "We don't offer internships."

Do not give up when they say this or you will never succeed.

Respond by saying, "So you're in charge of all recruiting for the firm?" or something to that effect - if it's a gatekeeper they will say no, at which point you then ask to be put in touch with the person who is.

Other strategies for getting past this initial rejection:

Ask for a banker by name and fib a little by saying you were scheduled to call him/her and ask how you could be put through to talk to him/her (and if you get voicemail, hang up, call back, say you were disconnected, and ask for the number).

Avoid closed-ended questions ("Do you have any internships?" / "Do you recruit interns?") with a few exceptions (such as the one about the person being in-charge of all hiring).

Closed-ended questions lead to quick rejections because the person will always respond with "No". "How" questions are better because you assume that they already offer internships and it's just a matter of how you will get what they're offering.

Even when you make it through and speak with a real banker, you'll run into other objections:

"We already have someone for the summer."

"What value could you add to our firm?"

"We can't afford summer interns."

So you need to be prepared with a response for each of these:

"Really? So when your deal flow picks up and your hiring needs change for the summer, how could I position myself for an interview so I could help you out?"

"There are plenty of tasks that you need help with and your time is best spent winning clients - let me handle everything else."

"I understand that money can be an issue, so I'm willing to work at below-market rates - and you get a great deal anyway since this is only a trial and I'll save you more money than I'll cost you."

When cold calling becomes stalking

Unless you have a lot of experience in sales or randomly approaching people, this entire process will be new and uncomfortable to you.

If you think you're going "too far," you're probably not - the only tactics I would consider too extreme are:

Showing up at the bank's offices in-person and demanding to be let in (even if you're not carrying an AK-47 this will result in bad things happening to you).

Finding out where the bankers live, camping out in their bushes, and then jumping out to pitch them when they arrive at home.

Calling every day even after they tell you "No" explicitly and warn you to stop calling them.

You know it's time to move on when they say "No" without even giving a specific reason why - that means they are really not interested and probably can't be persuaded otherwise.

The first lesson in sales is that an objection is the first sign of a prospect's interest, and it's the same idea here: no specific objections, no interest.

Expect that some bankers will not like your tactics and will be extremely nasty to you.

On the other hand, some bankers will admire you for having the guts to cold call them and hustle your way into the industry.

A version of this article first appeared on Mergers and Inquisitions a website dedicated to helping people break into investment banking, and to maintaining their sanity while doing so.

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