Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 7/6/12.
As a former summer/fulltime investment banking analyst, I've seen a few waves of Ivy League migrant workers come through New York.
A few tips for success for the upcoming crop of summer analysts who will be sweating it out on Wall Street:
- Don't be afraid to say no
Summer analyst staffings are largely opportunistic. Nobody expects you to know much or do more than the very basics (and even then, your work will be checked). So don't try to be a hero and accept every request that comes your way - always keep in mind that the quality of your work is far more important than the perceived quantity.
- Take your time
In a similar vein, nobody expects you to be very fast either. You will be expected to get up to speed on simple tasks, such as printing books, assembling PIBs/data room books, but for most other tasks, you'll get tons of time. Again, focus on quality - make sure your work is as error-free as possible. Always print and check the hard copy - there's something magic about HP printers that somehow makes mistakes pop out on paper. The quality of work given to you will increase with the quality of work you have proven you are capable of producing, so slow down and get it right.
- Don't ask smart questions
The idiot who started telling summers that they should read the WSJ and "be informed" needs to be taken out back and shot. Hey, I'm sure your upper-div finance classes are cool and all, but most bankers aren't that interested in talking Operation Twist every day. In fact, most of the bankers you'll interact with most (junior and mid-level guys) are totally fucking clueless when it comes to the latest news or the outside world in general. So don't lean over someone's cubicle wall and lob in a Q about the steepness of the rate curve. You sound like a douchebag. Be informed to the point where you don't sound as if you live under a rock (although it's quite possible that you've been living under your desk, which is the same thing), but there's no need to ask these types of questions to show your intellectual curiosity.
- Do ask dumb questions
This, in a single phrase, is the piece of advice that will allow you to capture the triple crown of summer analyst stardom. Asking dumb questions is great because:
a. You will save time by avoiding the dreadful (and all too common) summer analyst wheel-spinning. Your improved knowledge base will allow you to take on more high quality responsibilities with greater confidence.
b. You will develop a rapport with fulltime analysts/associates. They will know who you are, and they will know that you are engaged and (at least relatively) busy and hardworking. They will likely enjoy passing on bits of wisdom and knowledge, and you will make them feel like the teachers they wish they had become instead of the banking slaves they are. Just don't ask the same question too many times - this means if the answer is reasonably available (google, training manual or otherwise) or you've actually asked the question already, you can probably keep your mouth shut. But don't let the fear of "being annoying" paralyze you.
c. You will show that you care about learning and improving. Nothing worse than a know-it-all summer analyst. If you happen to have a deep bench of finance knowledge, ask the work-specific questions that will help you leverage your existing skillset.
- Take notes
You're here to learn and you're not given a ton of responsibility, so take notes and try to internalize the bits and pieces you pick up along the way. Don't try to transcribe everything like the overachieving type-A you actually are, just try not to let everything fly over your head. Taking notes will help you get more out of the dumb questions you ask, will help you eat your shit sandwiches faster, and will generally help you get faster at everything.
- Eat your shit sandwich with a smile
This one's simple, but you'd be surprised at how many sociopaths make it into the summer analyst program. You're going to be expected to take on even the most menial tasks (provided you have the time - don't break rule #1) and do them well and without complaint. The difference may be subtle but it is critical. There is a huge difference between informing someone of your current project priorities and complaining. Complaining about work in any capacity tells people you're either hopelessly arrogant or weak-willed. Unfortunately, for a ten-week stint, you may get little sleep between the work and the socializing, but nobody feels sorry for you because you get to go back to college life after it's all over. So sack up.
- Be cool
You got hired primarily because you seem personable. There were simply too many overqualified candidates to choose from in the recruiting cycle, so you were selected because the people who interviewed you thought you had the basic hard skills to succeed in banking (fifth grade reading ability, third grade math ability) and the basic soft skills to succeed in banking (college junior drinking ability). One of the most important factors in converting your SA gig into a fulltime role is to show that you can be part of a group. So don't be an overcompetitive jerkoff - be part of the group. Go out for drinks when people are rallying. Go out to long lunches with the group. Make friends. Just don't black out at the summer party and throw the group head into the pool.
- Be smart about what matters
Not every classwide summer analyst event is important, and not every flyby staffing is important. This ties into rule #1, rule #6, and rule #7. You don't want to miss the big social event because you stayed in the office all night tweaking industry profiles for a pitch that won't happen for three weeks. You don't want to blow off the VP asking for industry profiles for tomorrow's pitch because you went to social events three nights in a row. There's a middle ground in terms of setting priorities, being a good soldier, and being a likeable guy - and the better you are at feeling it out, the better off you'll be. Don't be afraid to seek out advice in finding that middle ground.
- Find a mentor
Unless you're a drooling leper, you'll be able to find an analyst or associate who will gladly take you under his/her wing for the summer. This may be your "official" mentor, someone who graduated from the same college, or just someone you had a good conversation with. Don't be creepy, but don't be afraid to follow up. A friend who knows the ins and outs of working as a fulltime junior banker will be a valuable sounding board and source of good advice. They will give you off the record information. They will be more willing to stretch their time to help you with your questions. In a pinch, they might even help you with your work. If you find yourself able to establish a "go-to" relationship with someone in your summer group, you have probably done well with rule #7.
- Be yourself
There are a million guides of summer analyst do's and don'ts. However, it's very important to avoid mimicking the textbook and inject a bit of your own style into the role. Take attire for example. If you read the WSO forums, you may find some people who say you should always dress ultra-sharp and get a few nice suits. You may find some people who say pricey suits make you look arrogant and therefore you should buy cheaper suits. You will probably find a lot of people who say you should buy something in-between. There is no right answer. You should choose what you feel comfortable with. And if you have no opinion regarding your own comfort zone, you need to go back to school and develop a spine before carving out your spot on Wall Street. Following advice blindly is a recipe for disaster, because not everyone is as adept at executing on each piece of advice. Know yourself, don't try too hard to fake it. People have a funny way of sniffing out a phony, and most people don't like the smell. So don't spend time and effort stressing about whether you're following all the guidelines perfectly - just be yourself and rules 1-9 should fall right into place.
The last word: remember that in any competition, a significant proportion of the pool will self-eliminate. In other words, they will shoot themselves in the foot. Given that investment banking summer analyst gigs typically convert to fulltime offers >70% of the time (as they say, it's your job to lose), all you have to do is not royally fuck up to win the summer. And further down the road, if you're lucky, someone will give you a blog so you too can give questionable advice to future generations of summer analysts.