Professional finance culture is notoriously private and conservative. I would say that most people in the stuffier finance professions (private equity, hedge funds, and investment banking to name the obvious candidates) are going to err on the side of extreme conservatism. Venture capital is the notable exception to these conventions, as venture capitalists often compete on their personability and network.
But for most people walking the traditional finance path, you’re better off taking the relatively safe and boring route, especially when it comes to LinkedIn and networking etiquette. Flashy ties, headshots on resumes, and extremely long biographies are a very easy way to get ridiculed by your peers and potential employers.
It’s actually almost comical how muted people in finance are on LinkedIn relative to other industries, but this is indeed the game we must play.
LinkedIn is still extremely important for modern recruiting, so it’s important to still have a professional and visible presence. Your potential reach is significantly wider if you make good use of LinkedIn and it will probably be your greatest source of leads as a non-target.
Honestly, a lot of the stuff in this article is extremely intuitive, but it might be helpful if you’re an industry outsider, young student, or constantly struggle to grasp basic social norms. I would also say that these tips represent what I would view as “industry conventions” right now.
Always Add a Note when Sending LinkedIn Requests
This is the most important advice to give to a finance aspirant. You need to add a short note whenever you send requests to experienced people you want to network with. There’s virtually no point in sending one otherwise, especially if it’s a cold request.
I get several LinkedIn requests per day from students and the only real information I can use to filter these requests is the quality of their message. As a student, you generally won’t have enough work experience to be outstanding, so you need to compete on the basis of your charm and personality (like a venture capitalist!)
Similar to a cold e-mail, the note should be extremely concise and straightforward. Here are a couple of examples that I responded well to (and accepted) on LinkedIn:
“Hey Matt, my name is [Name] and I'm currently a first year business student looking to break into the investment banking industry. Lately I've been watching a lot of your videos and have picked up extreme value from it. Hope I could reach out and connect with you.”
“Hi Matt, I found you on YouTube, I really enjoy your content, I am making a career change right now, it's great to have a channel to watch that helps me learn more about the industry. I would like the opportunity to connect with you.”
“Hi Matt, I’m a course student and your course helped me land a job in private equity! Wanted to add you to my network and say thanks a lot!”
Just like for cold e-mails and the rest of normal human interactions, the more specific you can be with your comment, the better. Specificity communicates that you’ve done your research. If you’re reaching out to a banker for example, you could very casually mention any of the following items:
Has their company announced a deal recently?
Does their team have a job opening available that you are curious about?
Has the company opened an office in a new location?
Is there a cool industry trend (e.g. a conference or interesting company) that made it into the news recently?
Here are a couple of successful requests I wrote recently:
(to an employee at Teachable, the platform we use to run our courses): Hi [Name], I run Peak Frameworks - we're a private equity / investment banking Teachable school! Congrats on $50mm+ ARR.
(to another YouTuber): I run Peak Frameworks on YouTube and thought I'd reach out and say hello! Your channel is really solid and a good inspiration for me.
(to someone who left finance): Hey [name], I was looking around LinkedIn and I thought your background was interesting! It's refreshing to see an Ivey finance guy not accept the cookie cutter destiny.
I’ve had the most success with short messages that touch upon any common ground that might distinguish you. I realize that I definitely have a soft spot for people who were on the same clubs as me or are from the same hometown / high school.
Ask a Question If You Have an Easy, Specific One
I’m neutral on whether you should include a question in your note or not. I don’t think including a question will meaningfully reduce your chances of getting an invite accepted, but it can come off as a bit pushy if you don’t do it tactfully.
If you do include a question or request, make it simple or easy to answer over text. Sometimes you’ll ask an interesting question that strikes a chord with someone and they’ll be compelled to answer, which can get a nice conversation going.
Do not ask anything that could potentially be sensitive. Don’t include multiple questions or an essay outlining your entire situation and dilemma.
I would also not include anything that is probably outside of their domain. E.g. just because someone works at JPMorgan does not necessarily mean they’re going to know the intricacies of every group and every opening available.
Also don’t be too pushy right away. E.g. don’t send a Calendly invite or ask for a specific time at the outset, as it can appear very forceful.
Have a Relatively Minimalist Approach to Descriptions
I’m not 100% sure why people in finance like being so minimalist, but it’s pretty deep-rooted in corporate finance culture.
A lot of hedge funds have disclosure requirements that can prevent you from publicizing anything that could be considered company information. It’s almost a meme at this point, but it’s not uncommon to see an investment professional’s title as “Analyst at Hedge Fund”, completely removing any sense of personality or identity.
As a result, I think most finance people will use one of the following approaches to LinkedIn descriptions:
No job description
A very basic description that is under 10 words (e.g. “Technology private equity”, “Distressed debt restructuring”, “Consumer long / short equity at $5b fund”)
A short list of key transactions or portfolio companies
I think it can be appropriate to include a longer description or a company website if your work experience is unique or unintuitive. If you work at a tech startup or a small fund, it can be helpful to give a reader slightly more context.
Here is what I use to describe my old work experiences. I was on the private equity team at Silver Lake, but I still just described myself as a "Summer Analyst" in conjunction with my actual job title.
Relatedly, I think most people in junior to mid-level finance roles also should not have biographies or they should have very, very short biographies. Biographies are useful if you have a non-standard path or something that is bit harder to explain, but otherwise may come off as a bit showy and unnecessary.
Consider Sticking to Minimalist Titles
Aside from VC, I think people in finance also tend to have relatively minimalist titles. I see very few “combo titles”, where people stack all of their different experiences (e.g. “Investment Banking Associate | Thought Leader | Karate Enthusiast”). This is not an opportunity for you to be creative. Just stick with the normal title that most of your peers are using.
I would say that it can be helpful to include your specific job function. E.g. although it is a bit more flashy, it can be instructive to have your title as “Investment Banking Summer Analyst” vs. “Summer Analyst” because it will convey your job function. This can also help you appear in more searches.
Including the specific function you are doing in your title will also remove any ambiguity about what role you actually have.
For example, I see a lot of business development and investor relations people at private equity firms put “Associate” (which is totally fine), but I do think it’s worthwhile to brand yourself as a “Private Equity Associate” to communicate that you are on the investment team.
Include Your E-mail in Your Profile
If you're actively recruiting, I would recommend that you include your e-mail somewhere in your profile. Lots of headhunters like to lurk on LinkedIn and many will prefer to reach out via e-mail.
Consider Reducing Visibility on Social Media when Recruiting
I’m relatively neutral on this, but a lot of my peers made their Instagram and Facebook profiles private when recruiting started to ramp up. Employers will check social media to make sure that you’re a reasonable and normal person. Even if you have a relatively innocent or harmless social life, you might stand to benefit from extra privacy.
I definitely know people who were passed over for a first-round interview because of a controversial or bizarre online profile.
Have a Reasonably Clear Photo
Your photo does not have to be great. It just has to be not awful. You generally want something where you’re taking up 50%+ of the photo, the photo has reasonable lighting, and you’re wearing business attire. Don’t overthink this, but try not to have a bad photo.
These are the absolute basics. I just want to stress again that LinkedIn in finance is really not the domain to express your burning creativity. Most people excel by sticking to the conventions and finance is an industry where most people are very quick to cast judgement.