What’s life really like as a junior investment banker? What skills do you need to thrive, or even survive? And if you do, what do you come out looking like on the other end?
We talked to three former associates at tier-1 investment banks, two of which have recently moved on from the business and one who stuck with it and just made managing director. Two went to business school and entered investment banking as an associate following their MBA; the other started as an intern and moved her way from analyst to associate before leaving the bank. We cobbled together their stories to put together a profile of a junior investment banker – the good, the bad and the ugly of an average day. We then asked them for some advice for those mulling the career path.
6:00am – 8:00am: Alarm goes off
The time that you wake up and arrive at the office is completely dependent on the day – and the previous night. If you worked deep into evening/morning to finish an assignment, arriving after 9 a.m. is usually not a big deal. But if you are at the height of an active deal or didn’t finish what you were working on the night before, you better be in the office before your bosses arrive.
9:00am – noon: Cleaning up and (maybe) getting ahead
Believe it or not, the mornings of an average day as a junior investment banker tend to be more standard and less chaotic. Managing directors, vice presidents and senior associates will usually spend part of the morning looking through the work you and your team did the night before. Unless you screwed something up badly in their eyes, you’ll spend some of the morning doing touchups on the numbers, presentations or pitchbooks you already put together.
Take advantage of this time if you have it, advises one former associate. “Be efficient early in the day and never put anything off that can be done immediately,” he said. “Ask your higher-level team members that you trust [won’t dump unnecessary work on you] for as much foresight as possible so you can prioritize and knock things out ahead of deadlines. Otherwise, when emergency fires pop up, that pushes all your other work to the back burner, and it snowballs while you can't touch it.”
No one wants to hear that you couldn’t finish an assignment because you had to move on to something else, said the current MD. “I make it a point to watch what people do when things aren’t frantic,” he said. “The people who sit around and wait are the people who won’t be here in a year.”
11am – 2pm: Meetings
As for meetings, they are the best opportunity to sit and learn the traits needed to make it out of the junior ranks: social skills. “To be a sufficient lower-level investment banker, all you really need are analytical skills and the ability to put in hours. But to eventually generate revenue you’ll need to have the social skills to acquire business and gain the trust of clients,” said the male associate.
I don’t think a lot of people recognize that some ‘superstar’ analysts and first-year associates are often being used, added the female analyst-turned-associate. “They’re good with numbers and never miss deadlines, so people dump more work on their desks,” she said. But if they can’t talk to clients or freeze up in meetings, that’s as far as they’ll go. Beware of becoming the behind-the-scenes “Excel guy,” she said. “The real favorites of my team were shielded from much of the busy work [that bled into the mornings].”
While you’ll often eat dinner at your desk, do everything to get out of the office for lunch. “Seeing a bit of daylight is always nice,” said the former male associate. Whether leaving the office for lunch and particularly for the night, try to make it a group trip. Solidarity in numbers.
2pm – 7pm: Get cranking
“This is when the day really begins,” said the former male associate. New assignments and priorities get handed out, meetings are getting wrapped up and client or MD feedback starts rolling in. “If you haven’t taken your Adderall yet, now is a good time,” said the MD.
7pm – unknown: Hope for the best
All three associates said they spent many a night eating delivered sushi for dinner at their desks, but that it wasn’t an everyday thing. “When I was a [junior banker], people would absolutely dump work on your desk on their way out of the office as a test or form of hazing,” said the MD. “That doesn’t happen near as much now,” he said, while acknowledging that plenty of real work is still done in the twilight hours. Make sure to get in some sleep and a shower before the next day, he said. “No one is going to promote a sloppy mess.”
The former intern and analyst said she stopped pulling practical all-nighters once she became a second-year associate. “I knew I wasn’t long for the job at that point,” she said.
“Never complain. If you don't like something you need to highlight the problem and offer an alternative,” said the male associate. “Of course you don't like making pitch books at 3am but unless you can complete the project more efficiently you don't have an option, so figure out a better way or deal with it.”
The female associate added: “Don't ever, ever ask for more work.”
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