There are a few distinct moments in life where we seem to remember in high levels of detail exactly where we were, what we were doing, and just how we were feeling. For me, one of those moments was receiving my investment banking offer phone call. I was sitting in the airport waiting to board my flight post-interview when I got the call I felt like I was waiting a lifetime for. I remember shaking with so much excitement, I spilled hot coffee all over myself after hanging up the phone. Finally, all my hard work was finally starting to come to fruition.
As a bright eyed 22-year-old, I naively thought the difficult part ended here. I knew I had a lot to learn, but didn’t everyone? Looking back now, I laugh at how little I truly did know. You know when you are learning something new and you know so little that you don’t even really know what you don’t know? Yeah – that’s where I was at. Here are a few of my mishaps and misbeliefs, so that you can hopefully start your analyst year better equipped than I was!
Working Hard Matters, but Working Smart Matters More
When I started as a first-year analyst, I thought that the “read between the lines” message of my job description was insure that I was always there. I figured that if I was always reachable, always in the office, and always eager to take on more work – I would surely be ranked the top of my class. As a result of this misconstrued belief, I burnt myself out very quickly my first year. I was so sleep deprived, that after one particularly long week, I actually drove my car right into a parking meter.
These sorts of “war stores” are funny in retrospect, but if you really want to do well – what’s more important than facetime is the ability to consistently produce a strong product. If all you are doing is grinding and pulling all-nighters, it will eventually become impossible to muster the brain energy to check your work as diligently as you should be doing. What I learned over time was that the most successful analysts treated each assignment as a “make-or-break” moment. To them, spreading comps was as important as building a model for a $3Bn+ deal. As a result of this mindset, they gained the trust of senior bankers and were given increasingly more challenging and more interesting work. To maintain that consistency, they went home on slower days and avoided the office on weekends where weren’t expected to go in. They were able to catch up on sleep, and mentally recuperate when given the chance. Facetime is less of an element of the job now than ever before, so take advantage of the positive changes in banking culture – focus more on consistent and strong results, and less on being the guy or girl who is “always there”.
Politics is a Part of the Game
The second mistake I made was undervaluing the importance of “politics” – which is just another way of saying, I didn’t put any effort into building professional relationships. As a business school student now, networking is a part of my everyday life. I only wish I had understood the importance of this skill in my analyst days.
As an intern or first-year analyst, take advantage of the slow weeks before you get staffed to schedule coffees with all the senior bankers in your group. Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable! Those coffee chats will get you further in your career than anything else you do on the job. Learn how to feel excited about truly getting to know the people you work with, and make sure you ask them about more than just work. Get to know who they are as people, be curious about their personal motivations and what enticed them to make their career decisions. Not only will you build a relationship with the very people who are extremely influential in your early career trajectory, but you will be gifted with some very valuable advice you can use to guide your own professional trajectory. Take this a step further and set up coffees with junior and senior bankers in other teams as well. If you aim for just one coffee chat per week, you will be surprised at how much you will learn by the end of your first year.
Preparing For Post-Banking Recruiting is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
If you are taking an investment banking job with a desire toward pursuing a longer-career path elsewhere, it is extremely important to be intentional about this decision from day-one. I knew early on I wanted to work in private equity, but I made the mistake of waiting for head-hunters to reach out to me before really getting started with recruiting. Had I thought through next steps earlier on, I would have been much more competitively positioned once PE funds began their interview processes. Spend a lot of time learning about the industry you think you want to move into. Speak to as many people as possible, learn about the recruiting cycles and recruiting processes, and develop a detailed plan outlining what you need to do to achieve your end goals. Once I received my first outreach email, I had an interview scheduled with a fund very high-up on my list within a week. This would have been great news, had I been better prepared. To make matters even more difficult, I was staffed on a high-stakes deal and had very little time to prepare for my first-round. The variability and lack of control over allocating your time during your analyst years is precisely why it is important to plan accordingly as far in advance as possible.