Joining an investment banks graduate programme is no guarantee that you'll go on to become a real investment banker. Not only are more millennial analysts heading out on their own with increasing frequency, but juniors often call it quits of their own accord. 11% of front office analysts left last year, according to analysis from Quinlan Associates, and 20% of associates departed.
Getting through the door is only half the battle. Once you're in an investment bank not only do you need to ensure that you don't screw it up in the first few weeks, but you need to think about longevity in your career. With the benefit of hindsight, these former investment bankers give their insights on how to survive.
1. Never ask for work
Think you’re showing conscientiousness by demanding extra work from more senior colleagues during relatively quiet periods? No, you’re setting yourself up for a fall, says Mark Hatz, a former M&A associate at Goldman Sachs and Perella Weinberg Partners, who now helps students get into investment banking.
“You'll always be busy anyway, and people remember the quality of your work, not how much you can take on,” he says.
2. But don’t get comfortable
The first few years in investment banking are a steep learning curve and, combined with often punishing hours, it can be difficult to think beyond your current job function.
“Never miss an opportunity to learn,” says Ziad Awad, a former Bank of America Merrill Lynch managing director who now runs his own boutique Awad Capital. “If a senior person offers you the opportunity to work on a project that is outside of your comfort zone, do not be shy about taking it up. That senior person probably believes you have what it takes for the job, so prove them right. The worst that can happen is that you learn from your mistakes.”
3. Ask for help, but try to avoid bothering your manager
After the initial training programme, it’s tempting to assume you have a period of grace to get to grips with the job. The reality is that you’ll be expected to perform from day one. If you’re set work and are struggling with the task, don’t be afraid to ask for help – but never from the person who assigned the work to you.
“Ask every single other person on the planet for help, before you go back to your manager,” says Ben Rick, the former European head of prop trading at Bank of America Merrill Lynch who is now managing partner at Social and Sustainable Capital.
4. It is, sadly, really all about the team
You may think you’re a super-star paying lip-service to the banks’ insistence that they only employ team-players. You will, however, get nowhere if you don’t get on with those around you.
“Fitting in the team is the most important thing,” says a DCM analyst in London who is three year into his first banking job. “I have been lucky enough to be in a team with great people and at the same time enjoy the product. However, many analysts have found it much harder to click with the team they're in, which makes it a much tougher environment overall.”
5. Don’t get drawn into competition with your peers
Considering that investment banks pitch analysts against one another from the get-go, it’s difficult not to compete with your peers.
But it’s best to concentrate on your own objectives and not dwell on others around you, advises Graham Ward, former co-head of Goldman Sachs’ European equity business and adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD. "Only compare yourself with yourself. The rewards in banking can be great, but only one person can be the best,” he says. “People may earn more than you, and they may be given career breaks you feel you deserve. Advancement programmes are by nature imperfect. Learn to live with that. If you are happy, keep working at it. In the end you will be recognised. When you have been unhappy for too many months in a row, make tracks.”
6. Have a clear career plan
To succeed you need to have a long-term view of where you see your career heading – don’t think that your current role is forever, know the exit options and where it will take you, advises Hatz. “Have the vision of where you would like to be in 10 years, and try and find the best and easiest path to get there,” he says.
7. Move around
Hatz advises getting as much exposure to different business areas as possible – the best way to progress quickly is to gain a broader product knowledge he says. However, this is equally as applicable to being open to an international move.
“Geographical mobility is another crucial factor in career progression and will become even more important going forward as the world becomes more global and the relative economic weight of North versus South and East versus West shifts,” says Awad. “Although I moved from Paris to London and from London to Dubai, I did once turn down an opportunity to work in New York, and I sometimes wonder what impact that would have had on my career."
8. Don’t let your job title define you
Analysts may be bottom of the pile, but you’ll need to display the sort of characteristics that banks expect to see further down the line, from the moment you enter the organisation. “Don't imagine that just because your position is lowly that you are not expected to lead,” says Ward. “Thought leadership, influencing, helping to build and consolidate teams are all leadership attributes that will be recognised and valued from entry.”
9. You should be in this for the long-haul
From the outset most junior bankers are focused on short-term gain – the biggest bonus, the flashiest job title and the best review possible. However, investment banking careers can last for a long time – there will be ups and downs. “Looking back, a lot of people who were successful early on disappeared from view after a few years, while others who were overlooked for promotions at first went on to be very successful,” says Rick. “A lot of what happens is outside of your control, you have to be patient and wait for the opportunities to arise, which they invariably will if you’re good enough.”
10. Don’t assume your boss cares
A family crisis? Cancelled dinner plans? All of this will have to fit around your job – your boss is only human and will express sympathy for your situation, but this doesn’t mean from a business point of view, they won’t take decisions that don’t favour you.
“Do not assume that they actually 'care' about your personal issues, whether it is a family tragedy or your impending wedding and honeymoon,” says Awad. “They may or may not be polite enough to show some sympathy, but, particularly in a large organisation, they have a business to run and you need to make your life fit around that, not the other way around."
11. Take care of yourself
In a job that can eat up 90 hours of your time a week, it’s difficult to find time for outside interests. Friends can fall by the wayside, physical health can suffer and mental well-being becomes a secondary concern. Remember, though, it’s just a job.
“Don't allow others to define how you feel about yourself. There is a big world out there, and no matter which bank you work for, there are other great things to do that will offer you meaning and purpose,” says Ward. “The chances are you won't be at the same firm when you are 65. So take time to nourish yourself, make time for exercise and keep your body in shape, take all your vacations and look for learning opportunities outside of finance.”
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