You won't find many investment bankers who look back on their days as analysts and associates with nothing but fond memories. The hours are brutal, the work can be monotonous and you're on the bottom of the totem pole. Yet, there are people who bide their time, bite their tongue, get promoted and find that they're satisfied. Others do the same for two to three years and leverage the experience to jump to the buy-side. Then there is the third group -- people who tap out before they complete what is seen as the minimum service time of two years.
We spoke to four former investment bankers who found out early on that the industry just wasn't for them. None made it further than 18 months. We asked them when they knew the writing was on the wall.
When headlines don’t get your heart rate up
Investment banking is, at its essence, still a numbers game. It’s all about volume – sending out as many pitch books as possible and getting as many meetings as you can. So, when all that work culminates into the end goal – a deal – an investment banker with a future takes pride in their work, no matter how far down the food chain they happen to be. Conversely, if it’s just another day in the office, you’ve clearly lost your passion, said one former associate.
“If reading about your deal in the news isn't cool to you, you’re finished,” he said. That’s when you know all you are doing is putting in the hours. It’s the same thing when interacting with senior management, he said. "If that doesn’t get you going, you’re not long for the business."
Another former banker who worked at a boutique M&A firm that has since shuttered told us that he left, in part, because the pitch books that he worked on never resulted in deals. They were merely conversation starters. "We were building a new investment banking division, so our pitches were targeted for specific deals but really designed to introduce our team and capabilities to build a relationship for future business," he said. "It is frustrating as a junior team member to build these elaborate pitch books only to have it sit on the desk and never be opened."
When you’ve lost respect for your bosses
While banks like to claim that they have rather flat hierarchies, it’s still a food chain: analyst, associate, VP, MD, partner. When all the good people above you are leaving and the bad ones become your bosses, it’s time to go, said another former banker.
“I left because I had very little respect for the bankers who were senior to me because most of them were the ones who couldn't get jobs on the buy side,” she said.
When you have no allies
When young bankers go out to get drinks, it’s usually for one purpose: to commiserate. Complaining about the hours, the pay and the work is practically a rite of passage. But when you don’t have any friends in the business and your entire social scene is outside of banking, life can be tough.
“If none of your friends are in finance, they’ll likely end up thinking less of you,” she said matter-of-factly. As a junior banker, you’ll likely miss weddings, birthday parties and other events. You need friends who are in the business and who understand it to get through the tough early years.
When you’re not in debt
One particularly jaded investment banker offered up this clue that he knew it was over: “When I didn’t have loans to pay off and not have enough free time to spend the extra money I made by killing myself.” Yikes.
When stress is impacting your health
“If bragging about how hard you work and how little you sleep isn't cool to you,” it’s over, said the former associate with a laugh. Some people can handle the stress and the hours. Others simply aren’t meant for it.
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