14 ways investment banking analysts screw up in their first weeks on the job

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By the time most investment banking analysts land for their first full-time job, most think they already know the score. It takes numerous internships to get through the door in the vast majority of cases, so new graduate recruits have usually racked up a lot of banking experience before they start.

But it's one thing getting through a nine or ten-week internship and quite another making it in a full-time role. Now that investment banks' graduate recruits have got through the initial training programmes and are embarking on their banking career, here's what banks' graduate recruiters, senior bankers and analysts (speaking anonymously) say are the things not to do in the first few weeks.

1. Trying to get ahead of other analysts from the outset

Investment banks claim to hire from any degree discipline; the idea being that the financial services knowledge will be imparted during the first few weeks training. The reality is that History and Philosophy graduates with little financial services knowledge or banking experience are in the minority, but banks have to get everyone on an equal footing. Finance and economics grads who already have a great deal of knowledge often feel the training programme is beneath them.

“A lot of people look visibly bored during aspects of the training, or simply come across as a know-it-all,” says one graduate recruiter. “If you know something, how about helping your friends, rather than lording it over them?”

2. Letting the long hours take over your life

In the wake of Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt’s death in 2013, most banks have made attempts to scale back the working hours of their juniors. This may or may not work – given that most analysts are self-driven over-achievers looking to gain an edge over their peers. However, the art of an all-nighter involves knowing when to go home, however fleetingly.

“People have been asleep at their desks when people come in at 7 or 8 in the morning,” says the grad recruiter. “This looks bad – particularly as they usually have to stay for the next day in the same clothes.”

3. Working through

On this point, a third year analyst at a large US bank tells us that you really should go home at some point, or you’ll simply never last: “You’ll be pretty useless and won’t be able to talk through the work effectively. Go home at 4am, get a few hours’ sleep and set as many alarms as it takes to get back into the office on time. At least you can function for the rest of the day.”

4. Failing to manage your schedule

It's tempting to take on whatever work your superior bundles on to you, but you need to be assertive about any potential conflicts. If you're overworked already, tell your manager, says one analyst. But, do so in a way where you can also present a solution to the problem, rather than just flaking out - which is really not an option anyway. This means communicating to the your seniors about every project you're working on, so they know how much you have on your plate and what can or needs to be reprioritised.

5. Tardiness

It seems like a basic requirement, but the transition from university to full-time work can often result in juniors turning up a little late. In this environment, it irks people.

“If you need to be in for a training session at 8.15am, don’t turn up at 8.25am. This is not a university lecture – expect to be mocked if you’re late once, and to get the hairdryer treatment if you do it consistently,” says the graduate recruiter.

6. Failing to take the initiative

The learning curve will be steep in your first year as an investment banking analyst, but the work can be tedious. Financial modelling and learning Excel shortcuts may be a far cry away from the big-swinging deal-maker you expect to become. This doesn’t mean you should slump in your chair, spinning your wheels and eliciting sighs of boredom. “There’s nothing more annoying than a new analyst with no get up and go,” says the grad recruiter.

7. Asking needless questions

Questions are good; no one expects you to know everything. Demonstrating signs of stupidity is not: “Not understanding what you are told gets you in trouble. It’s OK to ask for something to be re-explained, but then you are expected to have understood. Don’t keep asking – figure it out in your own time or ask someone else,” says Peter Harrison, a former executive director at Goldman Sachs, who now runs Harrison Careers.

8. Continuing to live off the bank of mum and dad

Why do analysts receive a base salary of $60-70k in their first year? So they can afford to live close to the office, said one analyst who lived in a house share close to Canary Wharf until recently. “Living with your parents in the commuter belt is not conducive to working 80-100 weeks. Rent somewhere near the office, so you can get home and back quickly,” he says.

9. Failing to conform

This is not the time wear something edgy; you’re entering a culture where brown shoes with a business suit would be considered sacrilege. “Dressing differently from others sounds trivial but marks you as a renegade,” said Harrison. “Do your best to conform; your employer expects it.”

10. Assuming everyone likes you

You may have spent the summer internship ingratiating yourself to colleagues on the desk you eventually secured an offer with. You may be the right ‘fit’, but does this mean you’re everyone’s friend? No. “You’re not starting from scratch, but you still need to earn the respect of your colleagues,” says one former analyst.

11. Volunteering for more work 

Yes, you want to be seen as enthusiastic, but sticking your hand up for extra projects when you're already working 16+-hour days will more often than not stretch you too thin. "Fine, you want extra credit, but you're going to be overwhelmed with work anyway," says one analyst. "It's much worse to fail at what's expected of you than to be be given a pat on the back for extra work."

12. Doing as your boss does, not what they say

You may notice your managing director behaving in an arrogant manner, or getting away with certain eccentricities. Do not try to emulate this: “One managing director on the trading desk worked in jeans and T-shirt, so a new analyst decided to copy him,” says the graduate recruiter. “I said that as soon as he starts bringing in the same amount of money, he can wear what he likes.”

13. Failing at the basics

Print out any work, review it thoroughly and eliminate as many mistakes as humanly possible before handing it in. This is not a university assignment – it won’t simply come back with a bit of red pen. If it’s wrong, expect a dressing down. “Delivering a piece of work that is plain wrong is the best way to screw up. Delivering it later than expected follows a close second,” said Harrison.

14. Believing they have a period of grace

Sadly, after training finishes, there’s no time to settle in and get your feet under the table. You’re not going to be given a quarter to come up to speed – performance matters from the get-go. “A lot of analysts think they should spend their summer travelling around Asia, when in reality they should get to grips with Excel macros and getting a better understanding of the industry,” says the third year analyst.

Contact for news, tips and comments: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

Image: Getty Images

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