Investment banking isn’t for everyone. In fact, the industry turns out to not be a fit for the majority of people who enter it. A recent study found that only one-third of investment banking analysts who started in 2012 are still at their current firm.
Why do they leave? A lack of a work-life balance and opportunities elsewhere, particularly on the buy-side, are the two most common responses. But that’s just a shallow dive. We asked several former investment bankers when they could tell that the writing was on the wall – when they knew they’d be leaving the industry in months if not weeks. Here’s what they said. Warning: as they are former bankers, the responses are a bit jaded.
When headlines don’t get your heart rate up
Investment banking is, at its essence, still a numbers game. It’s all about volume – sending out as many pitchbooks as possible and getting as many meetings as you can. So, when all that work culminates into the end goal – a deal – an investment banker with a future takes pride in their work, no matter how far down the food chain they happen to be. Conversely, if it’s just another day in the office, you’ve clearly lost your passion, said one former associate.
“If reading about your deal in the news isn’t cool to you, you’re finished,” he said. That’s when you know all you are doing is putting in the hours. It’s the same thing when interacting with senior management, he said. If that doesn’t get you going, you’re not long for the business.”
When you’ve lost respect for your bosses
While banks like to claim that they have rather flat hierarchies, it’s still a food chain: analyst, associate, VP, MD, partner. When all the good people above you are leaving and the bad ones become your bosses, it’s time to go, said another former banker.
“I left because I had very little respect for the bankers who were senior to me because most of them were the losers who couldn’t get jobs on the buy side,” she said.
When you have no allies
When young bankers go out to get drinks, it’s usually for one purpose: to commiserate. Complaining about the hours, the pay and the work is practically a rite of passage. But when you don’t have any friends left in the business and your entire social scene is outside of banking, life can be tough.
“If none of your friends are in finance, they’ll likely end up thinking less of you,” she said matter-of-factly. As a junior banker, you’ll likely miss weddings, birthday parties and other events. You need friends who are in the business and who understand it to get through the tough early years.
When you’re not in debt
One particularly jaded investment banker offered up this clue that he knew it was over: “When I didn’t have loans to pay off and not have enough free time to spend the extra money I made by killing myself.” Yikes.
When stress is impacting your health
“If bragging about how hard you work and how little you sleep isn’t cool to you,” it’s over, said the former associate with a laugh. Some people can handle the stress and the hours. Others simply aren’t meant for it.