Investment banking – it is one of the most coveted roles outside of college, finance, and in life in general. From the moment you enter “The Street” you will get unprecedented exposure to leadership, some of the world’s brightest business minds, and unprecedented exit opportunities. Needless to say, there are a lot of reasons why one would want to become an investment banker even if we exclude the generous compensation packages. However, it’s important to note that churn, both voluntary and involuntary are extremely high within financial services. Because of this, one has to remain on their toes and be constantly successful. One thing that baffles a lot of prospective within the finance industry is how so many individuals without finance backgrounds are able to break into the space. Simply put, this is because joining an investment bank as a junior employee does not require any industry or technical knowledge beforehand (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). Anyone from any background can succeed as long as they have the right mindset and follow the right guidelines. Below, I will outline some of the key skills that can help you succeed within the financial services industry during your first few years:
- Time Management: Here is something that separates investment banking from a lot of other careers – you’re going to be working on a lot of COMPLETELY different things all at once – and everyone that wants something wanted it three hours ago before they even asked. A lot of bankers get really OCD about their keyboard shortcuts, and rightfully so, every second in investment banking counts – when decks and financial models are flying in eight different directions, you must be able to keep up with the pace, otherwise, you will fall drastically behind and anger your managers. In my opinion, efficiency is THE MOST IMPORTANT skill that you can develop as an investment banker. And as someone who is now on the corporate side, I can say that my time in finance and consulting has enabled me to complete tasks in half of the time it would take some of my peers. Do not underestimate this. Once you hit the desk, ask your analyst or associate to take 30 minutes to teach you some of their Excel, PowerPoint, and Office Suite shortcuts – it will save you 30 hours per month, and that’s an extra hour of sleep per night that you’re desperately going to need.
- Communication: Echoing back to what I said about balancing multiple projects at once: you will have to work around multiple tight deadlines and meet the expectations of various senior team members – a big challenge of investment banking that you won’t face in other careers is that you will be put into situations where it is impossible to make everyone happy. In my current role, I could probably finish every task that I was assigned if I chose to work 14 hours per day. In contrast, even when I was working 19 hours per day in investment banking, there were multiple situations where I was unable to complete all my work even while being as fully attentive (as a human can be) during these hours. If you fail to tell your leadership what you are and are not capable of completing until the deadline – you will be putting yourself in a pretty nasty situation that will not end well for you or your reputation. When planning decks and financial models, make sure that you communicate to your senior and staffer the deals that you are working on instead you need to learn to prioritize your staffing assignments based on the order of their respective importance. Not all staffing assignments, models, and decks are created equal. Additionally, if your strategy is “I will stay up later than everyone else” or something similar where you just try to grind harder every single second, this will burn you out quickly in this industry. Part of being a good analyst is knowing your limits and being able to work around those and leverage your team’s resources and abilities as effectively as possible.
- Independence: I must admit that, now that I have finally started to take on a managerial role at my company, my perspective on what a “stupid” question is has changed a bit. Yes, there is some truth to the idea that there are no stupid questions, but in reality, there are. Let me be entirely clear – if you are not entirely clear on instructions, be sure to ask for help, but at the same time, there is NOTHING more irritating than a junior that asks for people to repeat themselves over and over again, or immediately returns to their senior every five minutes to ask a new question. Instead, work up the seniority ladder – if it’s a question about an Excel function or PowerPoint organization, begin the journey by asking your analyst for advice. Your VP will not take too kindly to you asking him or her about something so mundane. In contrast, if the question is about the narrative of the deck, or perhaps restricting the approach – this is definitely something that you would want to run by your supervisor before making any “self-guided” changes or assumptions. There is an age-old saying that you will never make your own assumption in a model until you’re a VP, and while this might be true, this is not an excuse for not being able to run with a financial model or PowerPoint on your own. Whenever you’re working, make a note of an MD’s preferences and style of work so that you can work faster on the next assignment. Remember, your job is to make the life of those above you easier!
It is important to keep in mind that being an investment banker is not rocket science, despite the heavy emphasis placed on elite “target” institutions. Check out some of the additional resources here at OfficeHours or connect with our coaches in order to get more information about the junior banker experience and tools for success!
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