Sales and Trading Coffee Chat and Networking Questions

For some the prospect of doing coffee chats immediately raises their blood pressure and produces pangs of anxiety. However, while it's not strictly necessary to do coffee chats while recruiting, they can not only help you get a toehold in the recruiting pipeline if a referral is given, but they can also help you suss out what area of the trading floor you'd like to end up on.

This latter point is of particular import if you end up taking an offer from a firm that doesn't have a rotational program. Because in this case, you won't be able to build up the tacit knowledge that comes from just being on the floor, talking to other interns, and rotating around. Instead, a kind of matchmaking process will take place in which you'll have much less information to go off of.

Although I did create the desk guides partly to give people who aren't going through a rotational program a better window into what various desks involve, nothing replaces actually talking to those who work on the desk you're interested in (so you can figure out whether both the culture and the work resonate with you).

Additionally, doing coffee chats will help you get comfortable talking to folks in the industry and hopefully alleviate your nerves when you do begin on the job. Which is crucial because many interns do arrive on the floor very tightly wound and quite unsure of how to act.

Note: Some firms - most notably J.P. Morgan - now actively discourage any kind of networking or coffee chats occurring. This is more codifying what's been true for awhile -- when I applied as a SA to JPM I did no networking prior, but ended up not only getting a first round but getting an offer. However, I did do coffee chats at GS, which is where I ended up going. 

Note: If you're looking to stay up-to-date with where markets are, and what stories are being discussed the most, then feel free to check out Market Making. It's a weekly newsletter I started that covers the biggest stories impacting markets while breaking down my favorite sell-side research (from GS, JPM, MS, etc.) from the past week. You can definitely pull a few talking points from the newsletter to discuss during coffee chats or networking events.

How You Should Think About Coffee Chats

It's critically important that whenever you ask someone to do a coffee chat that you enter into it with the assumption that it'll be a one-off occasion. 

It's entirely too presumptuous, not to mention off putting, to have someone try to rope you into providing additional help during a coffee chat. Therefore, under no circumstances should you be aiming to turn the coffee chat into a regular meeting unless the idea is broached by the person you're networking with. 

Always keep in mind how valuable the time of the individual you're talking to is - in particular, because they're probably talking to you during market hours - while also keeping in mind that they don't owe you anything. 

So, you should think about coffee chats as being a way to learn more about a particular desk and to build a brief connection that you could potentially leverage if you end up getting an offer to the bank.

If you happen to hit it off with the person you're talking to and they offer to help or ask you to reach out in the future, then that's ideal! But you just shouldn't force the issue.

Example Sales and Trading Coffee Chat Questions

In the members area I put together an entire report going through various networking rules and questions to ask. So, below is a listing of some more informal coffee chat style questions.

  • I know this is question that everyone asks, but how did you end up at Goldman and on your current desk?

During any coffee chat you're going to have to open up with some generic questions to get the ball rolling. So it's never a bad idea to preface these kinds of questions by saying you know the person you're talking to gets asked it all the time.

  • Were you positive that your current desk was right for you prior to starting, or was it a bit of a lucky strike? Because I've talked to quite a few people who said they knew very little about their desk before starting (even if they did a summer analyst rotation on it) but thankfully ended up really liking it in the end.

Here you're asking another pretty generic question, but adding in a little addendum that shows you kind of "get" how sales and trading operates (because almost everyone doesn't really know much about their desk, even if they spent time on it as a summer analyst, before beginning full time). 

  • I know since the financial crisis there's been a slew of new regulations, from Dodd-Frank to Basel III. Have these had a large impact on the desk?

This is a phenomenal question to ask, especially early on in the conversation. The reason being that it shows that you have some level of historical perspective on what has impacted sales and trading over the past decade -- and nothing has had a larger impact on most desks than the regulatory shifts that took nearly a decade to roll out after the Great Financial Crisis.

As I've stressed repeatedly throughout this site, part of your job when networking and in your interviews will be to demonstrate that you know what sales and trading actually involves (i.e., it's not taking large prop bets on single-name equities!).

By asking broad questions about regulatory impact you'll impress whoever you're talking to right away because it'll implicitly show you at least partially understand what sales and trading really involves.

  • Do you think we're in a regulatory stasis right now, or are there things coming down the pipeline that will impact the desk (positively or negatively) in the future? 

If the person you're talking to liked the question prior, then this is a great follow-up question (hint: there's no big regulatory changes, on the order of Dodd-Frank, coming down the pipeline, but there's always small changes occurring). 

  • I know that the dividing lines between those in sales and those in trading has blurred over the past number of years on some desks. Has that been true on yours as well, or are there still quite clear dividing lines?

In the same vein as the questions above, this question illustrates that you understand that the lines dividing sales and trading aren't quite as sharp as they used to be. But this isn't universally true across all desks.

  • From what I've seen, bank revenues since the onset of the pandemic have been heavily bolstered by sales and trading revenue due to the enhanced volatility we've seen. In particular, over the past six months this has been critical as the market declines have dampened investment banking (i.e., M&A and capital markets) revenue. As a result, do you think most investment banks will be doubling down on their efforts in S&T? Because I know after the financial crisis banks were trying to deemphasize how reliant they were on S&T revenue.

Alright, this question is a bit of a mouthful, and perhaps you can cut it down to make it more succinct. But anyone you ask this question to will be very impressed.

The reality is that after the financial crisis banks began to try to prioritize lines of business that provided more revenue stability (i.e., wealth management) or came along with less downside risk (i.e., investment banking).

However, all the volatility in the markets over the past few years have shown just how much revenue S&T can bring in. Further, over the past six months banks have once again seen how S&T revenues can help keep things afloat during very volatile periods. 

  • When you think of the really great analysts you've seen on your desk, what do you think made them so great? Was it hard skills of some kind like programming knowledge, or more soft skills like a positive attitude? 

This is a pretty standard coffee chat or networking style question, but a great one nonetheless. It's also not total fluff -- the answer given does reveal something about the what those on the desk actually value (i.e., do they highlight math skills or talk about people skills).

  • How have the recent bouts of volatility in markets changed either the types of clients coming to the desk or what they're trying to do?

This is another great question that shows you understand that everything in modern sales and trading revolves around serving clients (of course there's a bit of creativity around the margins on positioning books, etc. but many still think there are dozens of prop desks floating around the floor).

So, by asking this question you show an understanding that volatile markets have probably changed client composition and client demands, while also paying homage to the importance of clients to day-to-day life in sales and trading. 

Summary

Well there you have it. While it's important not to overthink coffee chat questions or try to carefully stick to a rigid script, it's always a good idea to try to squeeze in some of these types of questions to show your understanding and interest in sales and trading.

As a parting piece of advice, make sure not to ask anyone your networking with overly technical questions (i.e., how to hedge short duration interest rate swap exposure). When someone at a bank agrees to a coffee chat they do so because they think it'll be fun or interesting, and having to go over technical minutiae with someone outside the industry isn't likely fun or interesting to them. 

So, there you have it. Hopefully this has been helpful. If you're currently gearing up for interviews, be sure to be prepared for classic sales and trading interview questions and read through the sales and trading primer

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