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Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted 9/27/12

When you’re meeting new people, even in casual social situations, the topic of work is never far off. Maybe this is a general commentary on The Texting Generation’s lacking conversation skills, but I always find myself getting asked about my work shortly after being introduced to someone.

    “Sooo… what do you do?”

It's a question I never want to answer...

During the bad ol’ analyst days, I’d be at a friend’s apartment or a bar, trying to pound booze as quickly as humanly possible so for a precious few hours, I could transport my mind away from the endless vortex of minutiae that dominates the life of every junior banker on Wall Street. Despite my borderline sociopathic drinking routine, some chipper friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend would always find a way to spark up conversation. For whatever reason, the topic of that conversation always eventually pivoted toward work.


Please shut the fuck up and leave me alone.

In between gulps of cheap beer and/or badly mixed whiskey and Diet, I’d catch on to the fact that the nameless mouthpiece currently distracting me from my systematic brain cell murder had a day job involving corporate sales, law clerking, or something else vaguely generic. After jabbering on about how awesome it is to live in New York City and how great living in the West Village is, inevitably, the ball would be volleyed back to me:

    “Sooo… what do you do?”

During my time in investment banking, I answered this question hundreds of times, in as many different ways. As a third party, I’ve seen it asked and answered many times more than that. Generally, the answers were a variation on the following:

    1. I’m in finance. [FYE-nance]
    Usually, I was concentrating on getting my mind off work, not talking about it. Given that literally millions of New York City residents work “in finance” in some capacity, this answer could have been interpreted as “I am a bank teller at the BofA on Canal Street,” “I am the real Bess Levin,” “I am Henry Kravis and today is wig day,” or anything else in between. Frankly, it didn’t matter. I answered tersely, and with a “let’s talk about something else, please for the love of fuck” type of tone.
    2. I’m in finance. [fin-NANCE]


    I wipe my ass with Benjis. Baleedat, son.
    What a difference inflection makes. Sarcasm is like Tabasco – it’s meant to be used sparingly, but sometimes you just gotta lay it on thick. After replying with just the right dose of pomp, I’d launch into a long monologue about my days growing up in southern Connecticut, playing on the Exeter lacrosse team, and cruising through the Wilson school at Princeton before moving on to my current gig in banking. Of course, none of these things were true.
    3. I’m in banking.
    When I was feeling polite enough to actually answer the question rather than 1) dismiss it, or 2) troll it, I’d still be pretty vague. The bottom line was, talking about work always led to conversations that led me deeper into the abyss of cynicism. What does one say to someone who’s essentially just told you he’s decided to celebrate his college graduation with 730 days of torture? In my experience, something equally depressing:

    My dad was a banker. I never saw him when I was growing up.

    You know, coffee stains your teeth.

    Really? I thought you said you were a philosophy major. How do you live with yourself?

    … or something so stupid it’s offensive:

    Oh, I hear you guys work a lot. Do you, like, do a ton of coke to stay awake?

    You work for a bank? Great! The other day, the ATM ate my check. Can you help me look into that?

    I think it is SO wrong that you guys don’t have to pay taxes. AND you got bailed out!

    … or something infuriating:

    I know how hard that must be. I worked till 7 today.

    Hey, at least you get a free Blackberry!

    You must be learning a lot.

    … or, perhaps most wrenching of all:

    Me too.

On the one hand, it’s depressing to see the sad, hollowed-out reflection of yourself standing in front of you. The downtrodden tone of voice, the rumpled dress shirt and creased slacks held up by a worn belt that’s one loop away from useless. Hell, you might even catch a glimpse of a laptop bag somewhere in the corner of the room.


Word, bro. Fuck those wussy consultants.

On the other hand, you get the strong sense of camaraderie that comes with meeting another one of your own. There are thousands of analysts on Wall Street, but one of the worst parts of the job is feeling like you’re very much alone in the uphill battle of corporate survival.

Bumping into a fellow analyst is a reminder that there are others that understand where you are mentally and emotionally. I find that this is what binds the WSO community itself - young financiers reaching out to others in the same shoes, in search of a common bond forged through the shared experience of working on the Street.

As for me, I’ve been out of banking for awhile and I still dance around the topic of work. Aside from writing these columns about my experiences on Wall Street, I rarely broach the subject – as it was, I spent more than enough time at work already.

How do you respond to people who ask you about your work, and how do you feel about meeting other bankers on your rare nights off the job?

Aaron Burr is a retired investment banking analyst and currently works as an associate at a private equity fund. Email him at [email protected]

8

Comments (63)

  • bankerella's picture

    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

  • HWF's picture

    Just tell people straight up you don't talk about work. Especially useful if you know you get a negative reaction once you say you're a banker. Then while you are talking about work, you are also being told how bad your decisions, and how low of a person you are. Awesome!

  • George87's picture

    Can someone please remove the ads above?

  • Unforseen's picture

    ^^^ what

    I love this post. My friends in college used to be fun and now all we talk about is work and/or how much work sucks. i will use this post as my inspirations to bitchslap everyone who talks about work at social gatherings

  • AllDay_028's picture

    Even though I don't work in banking, number 2 is always my response. I don't think i've told the truth about what I do/my life to a single female i've met in a bar since I left college.

  • In reply to bankerella
    TheLastCall's picture

    bankerella:
    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

    Don't know what city you're in, but don't S&T/hedge funds/PE/bankers all hang out at the same joints? I would think that finance professionals making decent money congregate at the same watering holes. This is certainly true in manhattan.

  • George87's picture

    Awesome. Thanks. I usually just use a combination of the above. The topic always comes up nowadays, and as Aaron mentions about this generation, I find myself doing it (can't stop it even though I think to myself how retarded I am for falling into that cycle). I usually start of with finance (fye-nance), then if they press on it, i'll say banking (at this point most people quit or assume I'm a teller, either of which is fine if I'm drinking), and then if they press more I'll assume they have a clue (been wrong here many times) and go into a spiel about what I do and consequently, if they're not bankers themselves, blow their f*cking minds! haha Sometimes though, asking that question will get you talking to people walking a whole different path in life (i.e. artists, musicians, formula 3 drivers, etc.), so the conversations can become interesting and quite fulfilling. I hate doing this rodeo in a club or bar, where the music is pumping hard, and I can't hear a word ppl are saying... most times I'll just smile and nod.

  • Magilla's picture

    You think having that questioned asked to you as a banker is bad? Try having that asked to you when your job title is: U.S. Marine. Holy shit stick was that the one question I prayed I was never asked... Anywhere... Ever. Why? Because all of those stupid answers above x1000. Oh.. And people look at you like you're poor.. Because you are.

  • blastoise's picture

    just say screw up the economy, people will go oh those people

  • TechBanking's picture

    Easy answer to that question - Rodeo clown (we're doing a show at MSG) or architect that specializes in something really random, like next gen porto potty design or restoring gargoyles

  • In reply to Magilla
    miz03's picture

    Magilla:
    You think having that questioned asked to you as a banker is bad? Try having that asked to you when your job title is: U.S. Marine. Holy shit stick was that the one question I prayed I was never asked... Anywhere... Ever. Why? Because all of those stupid answers above x1000. Oh.. And people look at you like you're poor.. Because you are.

    It only sucked to answer if you weren't combat arms or do any good deployments.

  • In reply to Magilla
    miz03's picture

    Magilla:
    You think having that questioned asked to you as a banker is bad? Try having that asked to you when your job title is: U.S. Marine. Holy shit stick was that the one question I prayed I was never asked... Anywhere... Ever. Why? Because all of those stupid answers above x1000. Oh.. And people look at you like you're poor.. Because you are.

    It only sucked to answer if you weren't combat arms or do any good deployments.

  • Tommy Too-toned's picture

    So people slave away to become investment bankers because it's prefteejus, and then once they're bankers they don't want to talk about being a banker because it's embarrassing or irritating?

    Makes everyone seem a bit .....

  • In reply to TechBanking
    Otter.'s picture

    TechBanking:
    Easy answer to that question - Rodeo clown (we're doing a show at MSG) or architect that specializes in something really random, like next gen porto potty design or restoring gargoyles

    That is awesome and I am definitely using that. I am a "freelance architect specializing in gargoyle restoration."

    Hi, Eric Stratton, rush chairman, damn glad to meet you.

  • In reply to Otter.
    Otter.'s picture

    Double post.

    Hi, Eric Stratton, rush chairman, damn glad to meet you.

  • In reply to TheLastCall
    Bobb's picture

    TheLastCall:
    bankerella:
    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

    Don't know what city you're in, but don't S&T/hedge funds/PE/bankers all hang out at the same joints? I would think that finance professionals making decent money congregate at the same watering holes. This is certainly true in manhattan.

    joshua tree and turtle bay?

  • In reply to Bobb
    holla_back's picture

    Bobb:
    TheLastCall:
    bankerella:
    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

    Don't know what city you're in, but don't S&T/hedge funds/PE/bankers all hang out at the same joints? I would think that finance professionals making decent money congregate at the same watering holes. This is certainly true in manhattan.

    joshua tree and turtle bay?

    I'd think that by after two years in NYC, most buy-siders would know better than to waste their time at either of these sausage fests.

  • mr_gondola's picture

    "day job involving corporate sales, law clerking, or something else vaguely generic"

    Maybe it's just me being in an MBA for the past two years, but when I think "vaguely generic", white male in finance is at about the top of the list. Oh we've met before? Sorry, I have a hard time remembering, what with your fabulous stories of fraternities, exit options, money, and only living in one city on the East Coast your entire working life.

  • kyleyboy's picture

    I'd probably answer this question with "I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women, BUT! I have weekends off, and I am my own boss." -Arthur

  • In reply to kyleyboy
    SirTradesaLot's picture

    kyleyboy:
    I'd probably answer this question with "I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women, BUT! I have weekends off, and I am my own boss." -Arthur

    Haha

    I always say "Fye-nance"

    OR

    Other person: "What do you do?"
    Me: "You know how they say the rich keep getting richer?"
    Other person: "Oh, yes...of course."
    Me: "It's because they know guys like me."

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • honeyoak87's picture

    great post, its nice to see someone characterize the bottomless well of uninteresting conversations that is typical of our human brethren. I often try to make the job sound as boring as possible -on their terms- to change the direction of the conversation.

    For example:
    --Bohemian Artist is ruffling through her overstuffed apartment--
    Bohemian Artist: So...how's your job?
    Monkey: I am sure that you wouldn't want to talk about boring excel spreadsheets.
    Bohemian Artist:--Silence--

    Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

  • In reply to TechBanking
    TerpStreeter's picture

    TechBanking:
    Easy answer to that question - Rodeo clown (we're doing a show at MSG) or architect that specializes in something really random, like next gen porto potty design or restoring gargoyles

    Art Vandelay, the architect

  • In reply to Tommy Too-toned
    TechBanking's picture

    Tommy Too-toned:
    So people slave away to become investment bankers because it's prefteejus, and then once they're bankers they don't want to talk about being a banker because it's embarrassing or irritating?

    Makes everyone seem a bit .....

    Not everyone goes into banking because of the bs "prestige." Some go into it because they actually want to learn (at least they used to), then they get there and realize that there is this entire East coast d-bag culture associated with it.

    Back in the day there was no WSO or Deal Breaker to tout a models and bottles lifestyle.

  • In reply to TechBanking
    neomanxllp's picture

    TechBanking:
    Tommy Too-toned:
    So people slave away to become investment bankers because it's prefteejus, and then once they're bankers they don't want to talk about being a banker because it's embarrassing or irritating?

    Makes everyone seem a bit .....

    Not everyone goes into banking because of the bs "prestige." Some go into it because they actually want to learn (at least they used to), then they get there and realize that there is this entire East coast d-bag culture associated with it.

    Back in the day there was no WSO or Deal Breaker to tout a models and bottles lifestyle.

    You could learn how to use excel anywhere couldn't you ;P.

  • In reply to holla_back
    Bobb's picture

    holla_back:
    Bobb:
    TheLastCall:
    bankerella:
    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

    Don't know what city you're in, but don't S&T/hedge funds/PE/bankers all hang out at the same joints? I would think that finance professionals making decent money congregate at the same watering holes. This is certainly true in manhattan.

    joshua tree and turtle bay?

    I'd think that by after two years in NYC, most buy-siders would know better than to waste their time at either of these sausage fests.

    Sarcasm...

  • In reply to SirTradesaLot
    DonVon's picture

    SirTradesaLot:
    Other person: "What do you do?"
    Me: "You know how they say the rich keep getting richer?"
    Other person: "Oh, yes...of course."
    Me: "It's because they know guys like me."

    Using this.

    "An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows."
    - Dwight D. Eisenhower
    Check out my blog!

  • Ron Paul's picture

    I like to tell them I'm a recently released convict but now I'm clean, done with "The Game" and trying to get my life on track. Then I ask them if they know Jesus.

  • sandsurfngbomber's picture

    This absolutely shatters all my IB expectations.
    I was under the impression that once I break into the field I'm suppose to plug my earning potential in every conversation I can audibly reach. If I don't then what is the point of all this hard work? How do I tell my dad I got it better than he ever had and that he was never at my games? How do I rub my leather heel in the faces of those HS cool kids who never invited me to their parties? How in the world do I get laid???? Excel isn't exactly the best thing for your skin and if you say personality then we must be on different forums.

  • In reply to sandsurfngbomber
    SirTradesaLot's picture

    sandsurfngbomber:
    This absolutely shatters all my IB expectations.
    I was under the impression that once I break into the field I'm suppose to plug my earning potential in every conversation I can audibly reach. If I don't then what is the point of all this hard work? How do I tell my dad I got it better than he ever had and that he was never at my games? How do I rub my leather heel in the faces of those HS cool kids who never invited me to their parties? How in the world do I get laid???? Excel isn't exactly the best thing for your skin and if you say personality then we must be on different forums.

    I'm sure whatever you were planning would work for you.....

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • In reply to Bobb
    holla_back's picture

    Bobb:
    holla_back:
    Bobb:
    TheLastCall:
    bankerella:
    Aaron, this post is good. Don't get me wrong. But it made me want to shoot myself and/or drink before noon.

    Come on, you know the code: if you're having a bad day, don't share. You never know who else is hanging by a thread that day. Just douche extra-hard, troll some poor scrubs, and wait for tomorrow to come.

    This is why, if I walk into a bar or restaurant full of bankers, I walk out. I want to be with people in S&T, hedge funds, MBA programs, consulting, accounting, whatever... fuck, I'll take PR, politics, media, even art school over bankers any day. Junior bankers are shit conversationalists. There's very little left in them once the bank finishes taking its cut.

    Monkeys, for what it's worth, approach #2 in Aaron's post is what you should be aiming for when people ask you what you do on those rare nights you get to yourself. Troll the world, kids. Do your auntie proud.

    Don't know what city you're in, but don't S&T/hedge funds/PE/bankers all hang out at the same joints? I would think that finance professionals making decent money congregate at the same watering holes. This is certainly true in manhattan.

    joshua tree and turtle bay?

    I'd think that by after two years in NYC, most buy-siders would know better than to waste their time at either of these sausage fests.

    Sarcasm...

    My internet sarcasm detector has been failing me recently. I think I'm just getting old.

  • In reply to Magilla
    Don'tyoudoit's picture

    Magilla:
    You think having that questioned asked to you as a banker is bad? Try having that asked to you when your job title is: U.S. Marine. Holy shit stick was that the one question I prayed I was never asked... Anywhere... Ever. Why? Because all of those stupid answers above x1000. Oh.. And people look at you like you're poor.. Because you are.

    At a bar, I prayed someone asked that question. Free beer and women loved it. Anywhere else, I avoided it because I never wanted to talk about it.

  • In reply to neomanxllp
    lostmonkey007's picture

    whitemamba1309:
    TechBanking:
    Tommy Too-toned:
    So people slave away to become investment bankers because it's prefteejus, and then once they're bankers they don't want to talk about being a banker because it's embarrassing or irritating?

    Makes everyone seem a bit .....

    Not everyone goes into banking because of the bs "prestige." Some go into it because they actually want to learn (at least they used to), then they get there and realize that there is this entire East coast d-bag culture associated with it.

    Back in the day there was no WSO or Deal Breaker to tout a models and bottles lifestyle.

    You could learn how to use excel anywhere couldn't you ;P.

    Haha that "want to learn" feeling lasts till you're stuck in office for Christmas and New Years of your first year.

  • bankerella's picture

    No way. My first year, I (along with half the analysts in the group) didn't work at all on Christmas Day, beyond the usual quick-turnaround stuff from home. I also only worked for 75 hours of Christmas week. I also got out on New Year's Eve at 9:30 PM. Learn to choose the right bulge bracket, son.

  • SECfinance's picture

    I interned in the IB arm of a bank better known for their commercial/retail activity. When people asked this summer, I just told them that I worked for the bank in general. Got me a lot less shit.

  • Sandhurst's picture

    Aaron Burr:

    “I am the real Bess Levin,”

    My dream girl.

    Aaron Burr:

    How do you respond to people who ask you about your work, and how do you feel about meeting other bankers on your rare nights off the job?

    Where does one learn to be so condescending?

    "There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat."

  • Stringer Bell's picture

    Here's your answer: Sell shit to get you more money. That's it.

  • Disincentivy's picture

    "I am a secretary"
    This usually brings that topic to an end.

    When I feel especially adventurous I use this: " I kick ass for a living- I am a kickboxer"
    This also brings the topic to an end.

    I may not be on the Jedi Council, but I sure am great with the Force.

    See my WSO blog posts

  • In reply to holla_back
    gammaovertheta's picture

    holla_back:
    Bobb:
    holla_back:
    Bobb:

    joshua tree and turtle bay?

    I'd think that by after two years in NYC, most buy-siders would know better than to waste their time at either of these sausage fests.

    Sarcasm...

    My internet sarcasm detector has been failing me recently. I think I'm just getting old.

    Hah yeah that was a little painful to see unfold. 9 out of 10 people in Joshua Tree and Turtle Bay on any given night during the summer are AXP corp fin and MS interns. Also the cast of the Jersey Shore (not joking). Not exactly where the big fish spend their time

  • In reply to SirTradesaLot
    mikesswimn's picture

    SirTradesaLot:
    Other person: "What do you do?"
    Me: "You know how they say the rich keep getting richer?"
    Other person: "Oh, yes...of course."
    Me: "It's because they know guys like me."

    Hilarious! But watch out, people may assume you're in politics.

    "My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

  • BlackHat's picture

    Why tell the truth? I've been a bank teller or a mailman since 2006.

    I hate victims who respect their executioners

  • In The Flesh's picture

    "I'm not at liberty to discuss that."

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • In reply to In The Flesh
    BlackHat's picture

    In The Flesh:
    "I'm not at liberty to discuss that."

    That's verbatim what my brother says, it's awesome

    I hate victims who respect their executioners

  • In reply to BlackHat
    In The Flesh's picture

    BlackHat:
    In The Flesh:
    "I'm not at liberty to discuss that."

    That's verbatim what my brother says, it's awesome

    Better than, "I'm sorry, were you saying something important?"

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • Bondarb's picture

    When someone asks me that question i usually ask them "what do you think i do?"...its actually a good way to learn alot about how other people perceive you and it is more fun then launching into a conversation about financial markets.

  • In reply to Bondarb
    SirTradesaLot's picture

    Bondarb:
    When someone asks me that question i usually ask them "what do you think i do?"...its actually a good way to learn alot about how other people perceive you and it is more fun then launching into a conversation about financial markets.
    I would love to know the context of when you say this, because I could imagine it as very irritating in certain instances.

    I imagine sitting next to you on a flight.

    Me: What are you flying for today?
    You: Business trip.
    Me: Oh, what do you do?
    You: What do you think I do?
    Me: Molest children? How the fuck would I know?

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • International Pymp's picture

    Wow, I'm so glad my young working life was/is so much more interesting than that.

  • In reply to Bondarb
    BlackHat's picture

    Bondarb:
    When someone asks me that question i usually ask them "what do you think i do?"...its actually a good way to learn alot about how other people perceive you and it is more fun then launching into a conversation about financial markets.

    This always works well when hitting on chicks

    I hate victims who respect their executioners

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