Note: This post was first published in September 2020 and subsequently updated in June 2022.
Between a person’s first and last name, the name of their employer, and a little LinkedIn sleuthing, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with an email address for anyone in the world.
Of course, that rarely happens in practice.
There are executive assistants and other filters in place to ensure folks like David can focus on doing God’s work.
But not everyone’s inbox is so heavily guarded, certainly not mine.
And so, at least a few times a week, I get an email from folks with (mostly) a tenuous connection to me, asking for a phone call to get advice on lining up an investment banking job.
Usually, I hit delete right away.
Nothing personal really. It’s just that between a never-ending to-do list at work, writing on this blog, and a desire to spend more time with the family, I simply don’t have the time.
And yet, sometimes I engage.
Mostly for students in the same undergrad and MBA programs I went to. Definitely so for someone from the old country, looking to follow a similar career path.
And every so often, I simply respond to a well-written email that lands in my inbox when I have a bit of free time.
It all works out to about an hour a week. 52 hours a year. Roughly full twelve workweeks since I first moved into investment banking a decade ago.
Looking from the outside-in, it may seem that HR has got a complete stranglehold on hiring these days.
Every single CV has to be screened and approved by them before it goes to the “business”.
And yet, both within and outside investment banking, that process is short-circuited every single day.
Bright candidates make an impression – whether through their intelligence, personality, or sheer willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.
CVs end up being forwarded to HR (“make sure to have a close look at this one”), referrals made to friends across the network, interviews lined up – and jobs secured.
At first glance, the efficacy of the process is pretty low.
Of the 1,000-odd conversations I’ve had over the years, perhaps twenty folks have ended up securing an offer they wouldn’t have received otherwise.
Objectively speaking, a 2% “success rate” is far from impressive.
Except for the simple fact that if you reach out to a sufficient number of people, you can get it pretty damn close to 100%. And there’s really nothing stopping you from doing so.
Well, other than that little thing called fear of rejection.
The Other End
It may seem like a one-way street – and in many ways, it is, certainly on a short-term basis.
How can a first-year analyst EVER return the favor to the seasoned banker who helped him through the door five minutes ago?
And why would I even bother to spend three months of my life to talk to random people who just happen to send me an email?
The trick here, of course, is to recognize that life is a long game.
Over the years, those freshly minted analysts gain experience and move up the ranks.
Two years in, the brightest bunch moves on to private equity, where they often make mid-level Principals / Directors by the age of 30.
Others end up with corporates.
Many simply continue their climb within the banking industry.
And in the vast majority of cases, they remember the people who have helped them at critical junctures along the way. As a matter of fact, the ones who appreciate the concept of quid pro quo tend to rise the highest.
Which is how you get that well-placed piece of advice about a possible “dream deal” between two companies.
A tip of the hat towards a specific bank for a role on an IPO.
Or simply a friendly face across the table when you are trying to get an M&A deal across the line at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Ten years in, I’ve had all of the above happen on multiple occasions – and with increasing frequency.
And if it doesn’t happen – no problem. There’s enough inherent satisfaction in helping someone along to remove any need for a return favor.
The fundamental building block of any financial independence advice is to avoid debt. Perfectly sound – when it comes to financial debt.
It’s a different story when it comes to what some people call “social debt”.
A series of favours, with very limited cost to the “lender” – and yet highly valuable to the “borrower”.
No obligation or enforcement to repay. No obvious immediate financial gain to be had.
Issuing – and taking on social debt pretty much characterizes the informal relationships I’ve described above. As the old saying goes:
“Ask for money – get advice. Ask for advice – get money twice”.
You don’t have to be at the very beginning of your journey either – because most successful people understand the power of writing such informal IoUs and go out of their way to do so.
I remember when Gavin Patterson lost his job as the CEO of BT back in 2018.
Cue in a rush of activity as investment bankers across the board tried to reposition themselves around his replacement.
Important – no doubt. But someone I know has actually gone the other way – and doubled down on time with Gavin.
Took him out for dinner. Helped line up potential job opportunities. Generally tried to be as helpful as possible in a very challenging period.
Two years and a couple of wobbly, interim steps later, Gavin became the president at Salesforce – with a clear upward trajectory.
Guess who ended up with privileged access inside one of the biggest tech companies in the world?
As expected, most of my writing stems from my experience as a banker – but it’s clear that the principles apply well beyond.
When I was just starting out in blogging, Leif from Physician on FIRE featured me on his blog, giving me a much-needed confidence (and traffic) boost. He has subsequently done that for a number of other bloggers as well.
Pretty easy to figure out why I’m a fan of his – and will go out of my way to be helpful in any way I can.
In another example, Indeedably gave me some valuable advice about getting Cloudflare installed on this blog to help with security.
When I struggled to implement it, one of the long-time readers here kindly helped guide me, saving me a ton of time in the process.
Can I reciprocate?
But I can definitely pay it forward – which is why I take the time to answer every single Twitter DM, respond to every single blog comment I get, and engage in the comments sections of new blogs when I have the time.
It doesn’t matter whether you are on the giving or receiving side. At the end of the day, every single request for help is a chance to create something out of nothing.
There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain – so don’t be afraid to give it a shot.
As always, thank you for reading.
About Banker On Fire
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Banker On FIRE is an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker. I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence, and living the best life possible.
Find out more about me and this blog here.
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