Schools and universities are already out for the summer, but junior investment bankers are only just about to get their report cards, and they have very good reason to hope they get top grades.
"You're not going to be able to move out of banking and into private equity unless you're top ranked as an analyst," says Richard Hoar, director of banking and financial services recruitment at Goodman Masson. "Private equity funds only want banks' best analysts," he adds. "If you're not top ranked they won't even want to see your CV."
While most people in banks' analyst classes are exceptional, only a few of those exceptional juniors can come away with a top ranking. Ranking systems vary by bank, but in most cases analysts are allocated a score out of five, with one being best and five being worst,
Analysts in the first and second tiers get higher bonuses than the rest. They also get the pick of the jobs - and not just in private equity. "If you want to move to another bank and you're not ranked in the first or second groups, it will be tough," says Hoare.
So, how do you achieve that top ranking in your first few years of banking? Those who've done it say it's pretty simple. You'll usually be ranked by a special ranking committee comprised of staffing associates and human resources people which takes soundings from people you've worked with. If you want to come out on top, you'll need to impress them as follows:
"Working hard is the top priority for a high ranking," says one current Goldman Sachs M&A associate.
If you're asked to do something, do it. If you say you'll do something do it. Don't disappoint. Ever. "If there's one thing you need to remember, it's deliverables," says ex-Goldman Sachs and Perella Weinberg associate Mark Hatz. "It's hard when you haven't slept and you have five projects at the same time and you're given an assignment at 10pm which needs to be handed in the next morning, but if you want to be top ranked you need to be known as the person who can be depended on," adds Hatz. "You need to be someone who will always get the work done."
"The only way to become top ranked is to get really good at financial modelling," says another ex-Goldman associate. "You need to get really quick, really fast," he adds.
"Try not only to do the task, but to really understand what you are doing," says Ferdinand Petra, affiliate professor of finance at HEC and a former M&A banker at J.P. Morgan. "- Ask intelligent questions, but make sure they are not always the same ones."
In these days of corporate goodness, banks will also reward analysts who work with their peers and 'live the values.' "It's all about an ability to crunch the numbers, diligence, attitude and corporate values," says one former MD in M&A.
If you're a team player and your colleagues rate your work, you'll also find it easier to choose people who will compliment your work during the ranking process. "You'll usually be asked to provide a list of people you've worked with who can assess you," says Petra. "They will mostly be more senior you, but some may be your peers. Create a good network of bankers who work in other teams- they will be invaluable."
Junior banking jobs are all about attention to detail. If the work you produce contains mistakes, they will be remembered and you will be marked down accordingly. "If you want to be top ranked you need to make no mistakes, ever," says Hatz. "You simply cannot mess up."
"Attention to detail is the most important thing," confirms Petra. "Check and recheck your work. Back it up in case something goes wrong or someone else wants to look at it."
Everyone we spoke to said that analyst rankings are fair and not subject to politicking and favoritism. Nonetheless, it will help if your MD is aware of your work and on your side - because MDs can and do game the rankings for analysts in their teams. "As an MD it makes sense to rank the people in your team as highly as possible," says one J.P. Morgan managing director. "The higher they're ranked, the more they'll get paid and the less likely they'll leave and give you all the hassle of hiring someone new."
Finally, you need to look like you're living the dream. "Always smile and look like you love what you're doing," says Petra. "Make sure you do it well, even it's not very rewarding."