GUEST COMMENT: There will be politics when you join a bank as a graduate or intern. This is how to work it

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Et tu Brute

“Thanks for dropping in.” So the communal dogsbody (a rival intern) declares loudly as you leave while your VP is in earshot.  It’s 11pm. Only 4 other people in the M&A team are still in the office and it’s your second week.  You are ready to die from mind-numbing sleep deprivation. Unlike your competition, who hasn’t worked on any live deals yet, you were pulling your first all-nighter last night on a hostile takeover.  Your associate said she really appreciated your efforts this morning. Your VP didn’t say anything.

So should you stay? Should you think of a witty retort, or walk haughtily away? Sadly, in banking the schemer who steps on people to secure his own future often wins.  Seemingly silly comments like the one above are often said by the insecure, but said often enough they will have an effect.

To be successful as both an intern and a graduate in an investment bank, you will need to be both good at what you do and good at playing politics. The same applies to seasoned bankers.

Therefore, you need to:

1. Identify your sponsors – if you’re an intern, who determines whether you will get a graduate offer?  This will not just be the official sponsor but all those who have his or her ear – from which associate does your VP solicit advice?  Pay attention to pleasing these people and neutering artificial negative comments.

2.  Mentally note down all those positive comments you’ve received and deploy them to get in on interesting work.  Never be found twiddling your thumbs.  Go to your senior associate and say: “Are there any comps you need updating? Peter said he was pleasantly surprised about my crunching skills when I worked on the Project Nimrod divestiture.”  You must always sell yourself.

3.  Defend yourself when the competition tries to belittle you. Few interns do this out of shock, but you need to appear to be a mute loser.  When someone says., “Thanks for dropping in,” retort with:  “No worries, I’m shattered after that all-nighter working on my first deal but glad Simon was very happy with my work.  I’m sure you’ll get something to work on soon.’”  His initial barb could be thought of as a joke by a third party; a reply would demonstrate to everyone he’s out to knife you.

4. Don’t be tempted to barb anyone yourself.  It will backfire.  You have to be a very good politician to pull it off, you don’t want to be associated with those kinds of tactic; you’ll make enemies in the long run and it’s just wrong.

Converting your internship to a graduate role is hard enough don’t let your efforts be wasted by ignoring your first foray into the political minefield.  This is the most base level of what can be called politics and it gets a lot more complex as you advance in seniority – at that level you can go on holiday and find people promoted into your role!