Wall Street can be tough on juniors, that much is obvious. The hours, the work, the lifestyle – investment banking just isn’t meant for everyone. Do you have what it takes to make it today? Could you have made it back before the crisis, when banking was even wilder and juniors had no work-life rules to keep them upright?
For a raw and satirical look, we turned to @GSElevator, the voice of the old boy’s club on Wall Street. We asked for his advice for those early in their career or who are thinking about getting into banking.
Any tips for new analysts/associates on getting through the first couple years? What kind of personality do you need?
- Expect the worst in terms of your own quality of life as an analyst. Happiness (and disappointment) are simply a function of expectation. I worked 6+ days a week as an analyst, cancelled vacations, and pulled all-nighters, and still loved nearly every minute of it, because that’s what I signed up for.
- Kids think getting a job on Wall Street is a great achievement, like winning a marathon. But it’s actually the starting block, not the finish line. Once you start, it’s a constant battle with your peers, competing for the respect and attention of your superiors, and for one of the coveted Associate positions.
- Before you start, know the cultural differences between different banks and then between the various divisions within each firm. I’d rather let Shaquille O'Neal sit on my ____ than work at Morgan Stanley, and I’d rather let Gordon Ramsay give me a Sriracha enema than work in M&A (over the excitement and flat hierarchy of a bond trading floor).
- Don’t get fat. Fat people don’t get promoted on Wall Street, period. People assume they are lazy or lack discipline. Get your boss’s travel schedule from his/her secretary, and carve out quick 45-minute gym sessions during the week while they’re on an airplane or at a kid’s piano recital.
- Never say no to a social invitation from a superior. Let them set the pace and keep up. If they want to rage all night, go with it. Just make sure you’re the first one in the next morning.
- If your boss smokes, smoke. This will get you a solid hour of valuable one-on-one time during the day. Make sure you talk about something other than work. Let your boss in on some junior-level gossip; it’ll bring back memories of when he hooked up with an intern.
- Be interesting enough that your seniors don’t mind getting stuck in an airport lounge or hotel bar with you.
- Keep a secret. A few weeks after I took a debaucherous business trip with a senior colleague to Amsterdam, there still wasn’t a peep around the water cooler. After that, he knew he could trust me – I became his go-to wingman for business trips and fake business trips (FBTs).
- Sabotage your classmates. Get them wasted at company events. Steal that tie they keep in their desk drawer for when they get invited last minute to a meeting.
What’s the feeling among veteran bankers on all these new workplace initiatives aimed at improving the lives of junior bankers? Any jealousy of ending the fraternal tradition, or does no one actually believe the rules are anything more than lip service?
It’s largely lip service. When I was an analyst, we had no quality of life and we didn’t have a choice about it. Nowadays, there’s more leeway and flexibility for junior bankers to enjoy evenings and weekends off. But there are still going to be the kids who are happy to work all night and skip their sister’s wedding. Which kid do you think is going to get promoted? Just because they offer you more time off doesn’t mean you should take it.
The genesis of some of these measures stems from Wall Street losing talent to the buy side or to Silicon Valley. But, that party won’t last much longer.
There’s none of that “when I was your age…” jealousy, only sadness. Pranking, bullying and hazing are an important part of character building, essential for long-term success on a trading floor. I’ve been the bully and I’ve been bullied, and I’m far better off as a result.
How/when do you know investment banking isn’t for you?
If you have done well in school, but have no idea what to do with your life, banking is perfect for you. You get world-class training, and spend the next two years surrounded by amazing resources and some of the brightest and most ambitious people around. You gain incomparable exposure (through clients) to different industries and sectors of the economy.
There is no better platform to figure out what you really want to do. From there, you can go work for a favorite client (buy side or corporate) or even a start-up. Still not sure what you want out of life? Go to business school. Worst-case scenario – stay in banking. You’ll end up with a respectable career and can retire in time to coach your kid’s football team.
If you get to Wall Street and are miserable as an analyst, aren’t willing to pay your dues, or don’t get ranked near the top of your class, you should consider something else. You’re gonna get fired soon enough anyway, and life is too short.
You’ve worked across the globe. What’s the difference between typical investment bankers in New York, London and Hong Kong?
To quote @GSElevator, “In New York, don’t trust a guy with a pocket square. In London, don’t trust a guy with a pinky ring. In Asia, don’t trust anyone.”
Broadly speaking, banking culture is fairly similar around the world – it’s more a function of degrees. In less established markets, there are definitely fewer rules. We did some pretty outrageous things in Europe and Asia (in the office, with our clients, and late at night).
When people read your book, will it inspire them to get into banking or run the other way?
For some, it will inspire them to want to work on Wall Street. For others, they might run in the other direction, and pray their daughter never dates a banker. Either way, everybody will appreciate and enjoy the illumination of a culture from a totally unique and colorful vantage point.
I can’t give away too many details at this stage, but suffice to say, it is a collection of true stories from my experiences in banking around the world. I can promise you, in addition to being both outrageous and insightful, it will be the most entertaining book you’ll read in a long time.
John LeFevre is the creator of the @GSElevator Twitter feed and the author of the soon-to-be-released Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals.