This post is under construction…
- 1 Getting Started with Networking
- 2 Appearances and First Impressions for Banking
- 2.1 Banker Style and Grooming
- 2.2 Body and Posture – Fitness for Banking
- 2.3 The Banker’s Wardrobe and Accessories
- 3 Informational Interviews for Investment Banking
- 4 Cold Emails to Investment Bankers
- 5 Meeting Someone New
- 6 Open Ended Interviews and Being a Good Conversationalist
- 7 Drinking in a Professional Setting
- 8 Related Reading for Networking and Recruiting
Getting Started with Networking
Every recruiting season there are a lot of candidates with high raw intelligence, excellent grades and good market knowledge who lack the polish to network effectively and pass an investment banking interview.
All good entry-level finance careers require soft skills – from investment banking to sales to trading to equity research to private equity. Accordingly, there is no way around becoming socially aware if a candidate wants to work in finance.
The good news is that learning to be a good networker, even as a complete rookie with poor hygiene and high social anxiety, is far easier than becoming good at finance from scratch. As such, anyone with strong grades and a rudimentary understanding of capital markets can become a good networker in a fairly short period of time.
This guide is written for candidates who are socially inept, so any section that has been mastered or is contentious can be skipped. The goal of this guide is to get someone who is reserved, ignorant and confused to a functional networker. We have attended enough awkward wine and cheeses and conducted enough criminal interviews to be an authority on this topic.
Appearances and First Impressions for Banking
While not a lot can be done about height (this matters more with men), areas that can be controlled are important to take care of. Before a potential employer or recruiter talks to a candidate, they see the candidate. How the candidate appears from first glance will cause the hiring manager to form subconscious biases, which makes the steps in securing a job either easier or much harder.
Banker Style and Grooming
A lot of gentlemen have a perpetually sloppy look that can be rectified by very basic grooming. A sloppy look suggests the person should not be put in front of a client (not to talk, but to sit there). Anyone with their tie done up poorly, sloppy hair or an unshaven look will have their business cards sorted into the reject pile, no matter how good their resume is.
Conversely, a look that is too flashy also draws attention and is a negative. The junior staff member should aspire to stand out through work, not appearance.
Many men get a decent haircut one in 10 times and fear the barber, especially if the haircut falls before an important event.
If men do not know what a good haircut is, they should go with a low fade 1.5 (1.5 millimeters from the skin) – possibly fading down from a 2.5-3mm near the temple. The fade is a clean cut and the more aggressive 1.5 millimeter does not kick in until the bottom.
Hair product is imperative to ensure a put together image, especially if hair is naturally curly. A safe option is to have a pat down combover (the combover should go to the side where the hair naturally flows, and should be slightly raised but not too high as that is aggressive).
Good hair products for this use include pomade (American Crew) and wax (Gatsby). There is no need to go overboard and overpay for hair product.
Banking holds conservative attitudes towards hair – if any hair color is perceived to be unnatural, it needs to be dyed to something conservative. We have seen people with naturally bright ginger hair dye it brown to stay inconspicuous.
This is more relaxed for girls but hair color should not be too flamboyant (white/silver, green, purple, pink, blue).
Tattoos in the Workplace and Networking
Keep these covered as finance continues to be a conservative industry. One exception is trading where we have seen some very aggressive pieces visible from short sleeved shirts. However, for entry-level interviews, body art should still be tastefully obscured.
Shaving for Interviews (and Analysts)
Shaving is imperative in a finance role, especially at the junior level. Unless there are religious reasons, senior bankers do not appreciate 5 o’clock shadow, even at 5 o’clock, especially at a 9AM interview.
It is unprofessional to leave without a clean shave. A good electric razor should be sufficient, but may be supplemented by a hand razor (Gillette or Schick with some gel component) to clean up the chin and sides.
Once someone is an established professional at the associate level, there is appetite for facial hair provided it is appropriately maintained.
Deodorant and Fragrances for the Workplace
Most people smell worse than they may realize. Finding a deodorant that has a pleasant fragrance but is unobtrusive is important. A generic Axe spray or Old Spice deodorant stick will suffice. If using the spray, a one second slash on the axilla is enough – overdoing it will violate fragrance-free zone workplace policies.
For more formal occasions, the (aspiring) junior banker may want to invest in cologne. Good, inoffensive choices include Play by Givenchy and Acqua Di Gio by Armani. Similar to deodorant, one spritz is enough. The one spritz goes on the underside of the wrist, is rubbed with the other underside of the wrist and subsequently rubbed behind the bottom ear to the underside of the chin to the neck. Do not waste cologne on your armpits. For women, popular choices include Bouquet by Miss Dior and Chloe by Chloe.
Body and Posture – Fitness for Banking
One of the most unattractive qualities in a candidate is poor posture. Bankers comment on poor posture all the time, and not only is slouching unprofessional – it conveys a lack of confidence. When standing alone at the wine and cheese with a gin and tonic, the candidate should stand up straight, shoulders pinned back (but not pinned back to the extent where the chest is puffed out) with parallel feet.
In addition to standing (and sitting) upright, a well manicured physique is a plus because it suggests that the candidate is disciplined (takes time to take care of self even under a busy schedule) and prudent (health suggests absence of self-destructive behavior and vice).
The best way to address body presentation issues is going to the gym. There is no way to avoid this and the best exercises to do are compound exercises that stress the body. These exercises are, in descending order of importance:
- Back Squat (back and legs)
- Deadlift (back and legs)
- Pullup (upper back and shoulders)
These are also the exercises that anyone who is not well in-tune with their body will neglect for beach muscles (biceps and chest). As such, for most readers, their back and core muscles will be relatively underdeveloped, making the first few sessions difficult with muscle soreness for the following days. Once the body is acclimatised, there will be no more soreness. When exercising, form is very important. If form is incorrect, you must go down to a lower weight until you can perform the lift properly as poor form combined with heavy weights may have health repercussions.
Implementing these exercises into a normal workout regime is very important. Physicality is ubiquitous across the upper echelons of any profession, but most prominently in banking where there is rarely a Managing Director that does not partake in strenuous exercise regimens (usually triathlons or something involving a bike because they tend to bike to work). For girls, yoga is usually sufficient.
We will be writing a much more extensive separate section about working out for busy professionals encompassing these exercises and more in the future.
It is also important to note physical mannerisms and stop fidgeting (especially leg shaking and feet tapping).
70% of investment banking junior staff members are in good shape, and these tend to be the ones that get promoted. Often, the analyst pit will leave at a certain time in the evening to go to the gym together – although they are expected to respond to emails via Blackberry/Good App.
The Banker’s Wardrobe and Accessories
Ties for Bankers
Ties should not be too skinny for an interview as banks are looking for a young professional, not a Korean supermodel. A 2cm or 2.5cm base is a safe option. Solid tie with solid shirt works. Always wear a tie to the interview even if the interviewer does not wear a tie.
Once on the job, it is safer to start implementing patterned ties into the wardrobe, although it is prudent to avoid very nice silk such as Hermes to not offend the sensitivities.
Belts for Bankers
A belt should match the shoes and the watch strap. A brown belt goes with brown shoes of the same hue and the brown watch strap (for leather, metallic watches pair with anything). A black belt goes with black shoes and the black watch strap.
The belt should not have an oversized buckle (large Hermes H or large Gucci G) as these are ostentatious and will draw negative attention. The belt should also not have flamboyant patterns.
Watches for Bankers
We prefer a Tissot with a medium-size face as it has a sophisticated look with a semi-high quality make without being an overtly pretentious brand. Tissot is also very affordable when purchased from Amazon or Jomashop. It is not imperative for an analyst to have a watch, but a timepiece is a nice-to-have and even a Seiko or Timex can be helpful for completing a polished look. Associates should have watches – although they do not have to be expensive.
Stay away from white labeled watches from fashion houses such as Hugo Boss or Michael Kors. These tend to be flashy, gauche and poorly made. No one should wear a Ferrari or BMW watch.
Having a higher end watch may not necessarily be held against junior staff and entry-level Rolexes and Omega’s are not out of the ordinary. Analysts wearing Breitlings may draw attention. No one below the Managing Director level (or without an equivalent PnL) should wear a Patek Phillipe and no one should be wearing a Franck Muller ever.
Purse/Clutch for Bankers
Women should err on the side of caution when bringing a high-end bag into the office. Generally, male colleagues will not notice nor care, but higher end bags from haute couture houses (most prominently Hermes Birkin/Kelly, CHANEL 2.55/Boy, Dior) may vex senior female staff.
Tory Burch and the classic Longchamp are the best choices for starting out. The Louis Vuitton Neverfull is probably the ceiling for how ritzy junior staff should go. Stay away from oversaturated labels such as Michael Kors.
Shoes for Bankers
For men, shoes should most importantly match the belt (black or brown) and be free of gaudy tassels or patterns. Good quality leather shoes from labels such as Hugo Boss last a long time and are ideal, but may be outside the price range of starving students.
Going to the local Nordstrom or The Bay and picking up a pair of discounted Kenneth Cole’s or Ted Baker’s (or labels that no one has heard of) will be sufficient. Again, the idea is not to stand out and there is nothing wrong with an affordable pair of shoes.
For women, the same logic follows to not draw attention from senior staff – muted colors and no Manolos or Christian Louboutins.
Suit and Shirts for Bankers
The centerpiece of the outfit is the suit and shirt. For interviews and networking, the suit jacket will usually cover most of the shirt, so the suit is more important to get right (the shirt should be white or blue, and preferably white for the interview). Once work starts, no one keeps the jacket on at the desk so getting the shirts right moves up the pecking order.
You should own suits in this order:
- Navy Blue
- Navy Blue (Different shade or pattern)
- Whatever was not selected from 4
Navy blue is more popular in the Americas, so for Europe and Asia, you may opt for the grey suit first. For networking purposes, you probably only need a Navy Blue or Grey suit. For interviews, you will ideally have two suits so you do not look the same for your first round and your Super Day (and potential final round), but this is not a dealbreaker.
As such, it is important to get the right Navy Blue or Grey suit. The suit should be an appropriate hue without any prominent patterns. If there are patterns, they should be understated. That is generally easy to get right, leading to getting the right fit. A suit that is too baggy and hangs off poorly looks sloppy. A suit that is too tight and form fitting (especially if the fabric is visibly cheap and sheer) is distracting and offensive.
The smartest option is to get a tailored suit concurrently with a trip to Asia where there are very good tailors in Hong Kong, Vietnam, India and Pakistan who will make high quality and immaculately fitted outfits for less than US$200. Most people do not take routine Asia trips, however, so companies such as Suitsupply or Indochino replicate this practice by measuring customers and getting the suits mailed in with a healthy $300-$700 premium. A reasonable suit will set you back around $300-$400.
If money is not a major constraint, smaller framed (thinner boned) individuals can consider a Z Zegna suit while larger builds can look at Hugo Boss. An in-season suit can be anywhere from $450 in the USA to $1,100 in Canada. The salesperson will find the right outfit and the suit will be tailored for you – although keep in mind tailoring may take one or two weeks, so this should not be a day before the interview purchase.
The hack option is to go to the nearest H&M (or if slightly fancier, Zara) and purchase one of their sleek suits for less than $200 (where the pants are purchased separately – Zara $300-$400). The cut is surprisingly stylish and they have something that fits everyone but anyone with an eye for fabric can tell it is from H&M. This does not matter for interviewing purposes but do not expect the suit to last all that long.
Ladies have much more room to work with, as male bankers do not necessarily know what is standard nor do they feel it is in their place to comment (HR agrees). To err on the side of caution, avoid suggestive clothing/clubbing gear as it may offend client sensitivities. This may seem like common sense but common sense is violated on a regular basis.
Informational Interviews for Investment Banking
Informational interviews are when someone asks a professional for an interview to learn about their profession to explore a career in that field. For first and second years, informational interviews are actually informational interviews – they will meet professionals, ask them about their jobs and learn. In any informational interview, if the professional who is volunteering their time feels that the person on the other side shows precocious ability, maturity or otherwise would be a good fit in their organization or another, they will switch to a sell mode to market their own company. Depending on hiring needs, they will either set up an actual interview or at least keep the candidate in mind. It is also possible that the student will be referred to another professional contact.
For finance roles, informational interviews/coffee chats are bilateral – the professional answers questions but will also test the ability of the person who requested the interview. Informational interviews are therefore an important supplement to the standard recruiting events such as wine and cheeses and meet and greets for filling up the recruitment pipeline.
For investment banking, being relatable in a coffee chat is very effective in making sure the resume makes it to the top of the pile when recruiting cycles begin. At the very least from the employer’s perspective, the social aspect (part of the behavioral interview) has been derisked already, making the candidate a much easier pick. In addition, many informational interviews now incorporate a technical component, so there are effectively two screens.
Candidates gunning for prestigious jobs do not have the liberty of asking basic questions because they are expected to have done their research beforehand.
Informational interviews usually are a result of the following:
- Follow-up email from a recruiting event
- Referral by friend or other professional
- Cold email
Strategic Priority for Informational Interviews
Anyone who has been through an extensive number of informational interviews knows that it is just a natural conversation between two people. The objective is transparent – getting a job. When this is the case, it becomes routine. When you need to talk to someone, you tap into your network or you just reach out.
However, for apprehensive students who are informational interview freshmen, it requires getting in front of a lot of people before they are comfortable with the process. Because an industry blacklist does exist, it is not prudent to reach out to the firms you want to connect with most early on unless you are confident in putting your best foot forward.
There are only so many major firms out there and one awkward informational interview can result in being shunned across the board. Start by targeting commercial bankers and treasury professionals first and work your way up. As investment bankers and S&T professionals get the most coffee requests by far, you will find that other professionals may be much more receptive to entertaining a coffee chat.
Cold Emails to Investment Bankers
Unless your father is very well connected, the reality is that most business relationships start out cold. The most common initiation ritual is the cold email. If you find someone on LinkedIn that you want to talk to, forget sliding into their DMs – no one checks LinkedIn Messenger.
Do NOT reach out to anyone directly through Facebook. There is some awful advice online that weighs the pros and cons of invading someone’s personal space. We are here to tell you there are no pros.
If their email is not public, ask a friend in the organization to check Outlook or try one of the following combinations:
Exhibit A: Matt Walker works at Sell Side Handbank and the website is sellsidehandbank.com
90% of the time this will work.
Cold Calls for Investment Banking
There used to be a time when people advised aspiring financiers to cold call professionals as it showed that they were willing to go the extra mile to get a job. This worked in the 80’s and the 90’s, but now that email penetration is almost absolute in 2018, cold calls very annoying and a negative. Just ping an email.
How to Draft a Cold Email
The point of the cold email is to convert a cold connection into a coffee chat or phone call, and in turn convert that conversation into an actual interview either now or in the future. Most cold emails will not be returned – from experience, the hit rate for 80% of people can vary from 10% to 40%.
The number of informational interviews you land via cold email is a function of volume and the probability of success. Volume is self explanatory – if you spam 10 people, you may get x informational interviews. If you spam 100 people, you will probably get more than x.
How do you increase the probability of each email converting into an interview?
The highest probability of success is when you can turn a cold email into a warmer email. From LinkedIn, you can find people with common interests or similar backgrounds. If you mention this briefly in the email, they are much more likely to respond. These categories are the best:
- Greek System/Fraternity/Sorority
- School Club
- Hometown – preferably neighbourhood
- Public Interest Group
The email should be short.
I am a senior student looking to enter investment banking/S&T/treasury after graduation. I am interested in learning about your experience so far and would like to inquire about positioning myself for employment opportunities now or in the future. Would you be receptive to a coffee or phone chat some time in the next week? Hope to hear from you.
This is not the perfect email format that some sites purport to have but it is all you need. You do not need to spend a large amount of time writing a tailored email to each lead and you do not need to spill your life story.
Obviously, check your email to make sure you have the right name and company – the shorter the email, the harder it is to screw up.
To improve chances significantly, attach your CV or include your LinkedIn in your signature. Make sure your CV is perfect and your LinkedIn profile is nicely manicured. There are a lot of posts on the internet (do not believe anything you read on the internet) that tell you that including your CV in an introductory email is too aggressive – however, the benefits outweigh the costs.
No one will ever not see you because you included your CV, but it will change the minds of many people who would not have otherwise agreed to a chat. The worst case scenario is if you have a good coffee chat and send a CV after, resulting in radio silence.
Anyone who includes a photo in an email becomes a laughing stock, as it comes across as conceited and overindulgent. These notes will be passed around the office, and possibly to other firms, before landing the sender on the blacklist. Ironically, bankers do want to know what you look like and a LinkedIn profile is a clever way around that rule.
When you meet someone, do not name drop them in your subsequent cover letter for recruitment. It looks tacky and puts whoever you name drop on the spot, which may have adverse repercussions if they did not like you in the first place.
If you are applying and are cordial with people in the bank, you can either tell them to help you hand in your application personally if you are close or gently remind them through email that you have applied if you are not close. You should always apply online in addition to entrusting your CV with an existing employee because most of the time when people say they will pass your resume forward they will not.
Meeting Someone New
Investment banking is an analytical role that morphs into a sales role the higher up the totem pole you go – although analytical skills need to be retained as they are the foundation for corporate finance conversation topics. Despite the emphasis on work quality and output in the early years, there is still ample personal exposure with internal team members as well as clients – often on the phone, but also at meetings and closing dinners.
Most socially anxious aspiring bankers fear approaching people cold (without an introduction via a third party). Steps should be followed in this order:
- Eye contact
- “Hi, how are you?”
- Introduce self and ask questions
Eye Contact and Smiling
Eye contact is the most important form of non-verbal communication. A lot can be conveyed with eye contact alone (watch Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). For networking, recruiting and the general work environment, eye contact needs to be maintained to establish a connection in friendly conversation. In one-on-one situations, a lack of eye contact will be perceived as being untrustworthy and dishonest. This may seem obvious, but a lot of our readers are dorks.
For people unfamiliar with eye contact, it should be maintained for around three to four seconds before breaking (staring at the ceiling or whatever you are naturally inclined to do), before connecting again. Eye contact for too long is aggressive and uncomfortable. For interviewing purposes, eye contact should be gentle and accompanied with a soft smile.
A good grasp of eye contact is more nurture than nature (and cultural– East Asian hierarchical cultures that defer to senior rank will tend to eschew eye contact, and physiological – eye contact is more natural for women, and they are more comfortable with using eye contact as a test of authenticity) and can be hard to pick up if you have a tendency to avoid someone’s gaze. You need to be cognizant of when your gaze starts to drift and learn to refocus in everyday situations. Initial eye contact upon meeting someone should be maintained with a smile. Many people will immediately have their eyes dart away after eyes lock with a counterparty – this needs to be corrected in a business setting.
An important part in being approachable and welcoming is smiling – at least in a North American context. There are certainly times to not smile but when meeting someone, not smiling sets a stiff tone for the conversation ahead – although it is not as offputting as not making eye contact.
If someone tells a joke and looks expectantly, make sure to at least chuckle mildly. Not doing so and staring blankly makes things awkward.
A Proper Handshake for Bankers
As Donald Trump has illustrated via his introductory meetings with world leaders, a handshake is very powerful signalling. Although you should not anticipate any sort of geopolitical power struggle nested in your counterparty’s palm, a firm handshake subconsciously conveys confidence.
A proper handshake is firm, has the palm meeting the palm with a moderate squeeze and with steady eye contact and a smile. If the handshake is loose or flimsy, this resonates poorly with the recipient. Do not make the handshake abnormally strong or crush the other person’s fingers. As alluded to above, a handshake without a smile or eye contact come across as insincere. Two shakes is enough and the process does not need to exceed two seconds. If you are unsure of how to shake someone’s hand, practice with friends until you get it right.
Generally, the person who initiates the conversation will initiate the handshake. The person who initiates the conversation is usually the superior in the contextual relationship – so when the managing director enters the interview room or a keynote speaker at a conference is available to chat, they will usually introduce themselves with “Hi Matt, Sam Cressey, very nice to meet you,” while extending your hand. As such, this is a very natural process, but if you pre-empt their extension, this is not a big deal – they will shake your hand.
Do not forget their name. Repeating their name can reinforce your memory, so it is prudent to respond with “Sam, thanks a lot for taking the time today to come out.”
In networking sessions, you will usually already be upright. However, in most interview sessions you will be seated in the room with a water bottle waiting for the interviewers to arrive. When they arrive, stand up and greet them. Never shake hands sitting down.
Sweaty or clammy palms are major turn-offs for interviewers and clients as they are uncomfortable and possibly unsanitary. Most of the time, sweaty palms are a function of anxiety more than anything else, and this dissipates with experience. However, until handshake anxiety is shaken off, carry a pack of tissues and hand sanitizer.
Open Ended Interviews and Being a Good Conversationalist
Although all levels of the interview will include varying levels of small talk, analysts and associates will ask more technical questions to make sure they do not have to spend so much time teaching a new hire while VPs may ask more behavioral work-related questions to make sure they can manage you. After the tough questions, the interview usually devolves into a more informal chat where social intelligence is not tested that deeply.
Conversely, a lot of interviews with senior management, namely managing directors and partners, will be casual conversation. If there are knowledge based questions, they will be more around having a view on the macroeconomy or probing on what is appropriate in a client facing role to give the MDs a fulsome image of the candidate’s profile.
Over a sufficiently long period of time anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, it is easy to discern who is comfortable socially and less importantly a good conversationalist. Depending on how far a candidate aspires to go down the investment banking path, being a good conversationalist becomes more important down the road.
Active Listening and Dealing with Silence
Most people like to talk because humans are social animals that naturally like to share their thoughts. When your counterparty is telling a story in an interview setting, make sure there is a natural pause before speaking.
Unless there is a very good reason to interrupt the speaker, people do not like to be cut off from their train of thought and will feel repeated interjections to be inconsiderate and a sign of immaturity.
For newer conversationalists, they are afraid of silence and try to rack up soundbites in their head waiting to blurt out once their counterparty pauses. Do not do this as it distracts from the story at hand, which means that the conversation will be choppy and less engaging. Instead, listen actively and let the silence play out enough to give you comfort that there has been a natural break, as speakers are often not finished despite a pause.
Learn to be comfortable with silence – the pressure you feel will be equally applicable to the other party.
When that happens, ask questions that demonstrate your attentiveness – for instance, if an interviewer lists several deals that they have worked on you can ask what was a particularly memorable deal that had a unique structure that they had not seen before. If they finish speaking about a deal, you can ask what some challenges were in getting it over the line or whether it was a standard process. Remember to start questions off with their name from time to time as it breeds familiarity.
Outside of a work context, if someone is talking about what his kids do and concludes with signing up for hockey, ask if they like it and how he is doing on his team. Usually, there is a very natural progression to a conversation unless someone is disinclined to make it so.
Slowing Down Your Speech
For interviews and networking, candidates often feel there is a bar for knowledge that they must pass and that they have to say as much as they know in order to communicate to the interviewer that they know a lot. Usually, this means that they speak very quickly.
Speaking quickly and at high volumes makes speech difficult to follow and comes across as frantic and disorganized. The brain also cannot process rapid speech that quickly, which may make sentences prone to grammatical error even if someone is not naturally inclined to make mistakes of that nature. Also, there is a much bigger contrast when you run out of things to say or freeze mentally.
Speaking in a slow and concise manner is very powerful and makes the weight of each word much more meaningful.
Drinking in a Professional Setting
It is easy to go wrong when mixing alcohol and the professional work environment, especially during recruiting season. For candidates who do not like to drink or are not well versed with alcohol (or are not well versed with alcohol outside of binge drinking), this may be a puzzling experience. Here are some simple rules.
- Do not get drunk
- Do not double fist (have a beverage in each hand – extremely gauche)
- Do not hold drinks that would compromise your professionalism
The first rule is not simple for less practiced drinkers – after one drink, the desire for another drink manifests and soon the hapless drinker is incorrigibly inebriated. This is a good way to be excluded from the recruiting process, as a collateral purpose for networking dinners is to see who is not disciplined enough to hold themselves together.
Some candidates (undergraduates only, never MBAs) are enticed by free beverages and end up in a poor position. As an extension to this topic (same undergraduates), double fisting is a faux pas and disqualifies candidates quickly as it suggests the candidate is immature, unsophisticated and greedy. Sometimes there are undergraduates from other faculties who sneak in to pillage the food and drink before marching in rallies in protest of the 1%.
It is important to remember the point of the event is not to get drunk, it is to get a job – and the wine serves as a social lubricant that can aid the job search when it helps stiff prospective employers get into a comfort zone and reveal personal information that can be a personal touch to the next day’s thank you email.
What to Drink at a Networking Social
For candidates who cannot hold their liquor (possibly a poor career choice here), Sprite or 7UP with lime looks like a passible drink. Not holding a drink is not an option, as that leads to an awkward physical position versus the hiring manager, who is holding a drink.
A glass of red or white wine is sufficiently elegant, especially if the event is called “Wine & Cheese”. We like gin and tonics because they come with an implicit swagger. Generally, the bar will not allow for anything too fancy with the standard drink ticket, but if the policy is liberal, do not get a Manhattan or Old Fashioned (may come across as aggressive) and stay away from anything flamboyant (do not get a Cosmopolitan).
For image purposes, we do not recommend beer for networking events when on the side of looking for a job. However, if beer is the choice beverage, European lagers are a svelte decision – stick with Stella, Heineken and Peroni. A can of Coors Light does not mesh well with a suit.
BYOB is also not an option. We have seen someone bring in a growler of bad craft beer. To reiterate, the point is not to stand out for anything other than thoughtfulness and maturity.
Obviously a lot of this is circumstantial so take this with a grain of salt, but you will offend nobody with our choices.
Tip: If everyone leaves and you want to impress someone in a non-professional context, get them a French 75 or a Sazerac.