Subtly Stroking an Investment Banker’s Ego Could Get You a New Job

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It’s a sad truth almost universally acknowledged that unless you have a perfect resume which is a perfect fit for a job, you’d be an idiot to send your resume to a “careers@” e-mail address, or to upload it onto a firm’s Web site.You might as well print it out, fold it into a paper airplane and shoot it off the nearest cliff.

You might be perfect. You might have 18 months of experience in the natural resources sector, speak Portuguese and have an Italian grandmother, but it will make no difference. There are plenty of stories of IT recruitment systems vaporizing uploaded resumes, wrongly scanning them for key words, or missing suitable candidates due to software glitches. Even if you aren’t electronically eliminated, human error may get you (something that is not hard to imagine with the low standard of HR manpower).

A better approach is this: try to get under the skin of the firm you’d like to work for. Identify the right person there to help you. You need someone who can snap their fingers and conjure your interview out of thin air. You can either do that for yourself or use friends and trusted contacts for an introduction.

Having identified your target, you need to engineer an informal introduction. You can’t be too obvious. The subtlety and tenacity of a bomb disposal expert is required. Appear overtly sycophantic and you’re scuttled.

Here are my six tips on how to successfully massage a senior banker’s ego:

  1. An indirect approach works best. Instead of fishing for a job, try asking for advice. Choose a topic you know your man (or woman) is well-versed on, or he/she will think you’re wasting his/her time. Bankers are nerdy. Like scientists, they love talking about their areas of expertise. For example, a friend of mine got a job by befriending a trader on the premise that he needed help to understand a financial product he was writing his MBA dissertation on.
  2. Deftly drop a topic or recent headline deal that you know your target has worked on. This sort of thing is often mentioned in the financial press, although you will need to dig around and tenaciously research your area. If you can start an enthusiastic conversation about their proudest moment, your sting operation is really on.
  3. Don’t be so scripted that you ignore points of common interest that might come up, or mutual acquaintances that might strengthen what is after all a pretty tenuous, nervous first meeting.
  4. Listen. Don’t just talk, allow them to slightly dominate the conversation. Clearly, if you don’t speak much you won’t have the opportunity to make a lasting good impression, but this is about them as well as you. An ideal balance might be 60 percent them (speaking) and 40 percent you (replying).
  5. Don’t feel tempted to tell your life story. No one cares. You don’t have much time and details are boring. You should especially avoid discussing office politics or personal issues, unless you feel you are getting on famously with your contact.
  6. Relax. It is someone else’s time off that they have agreed to spend with you. Help them to enjoy it or they will regret ever agreeing to meet you.

Follow this advice and you can do much more to advance your candidacy than your resume on its own ever will.

The author has worked in investment banking and asset management.

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