The trials and tribulations of the MBA Associate: Three reality checks for your first three months

Associate 1 in IB - Ind

So there you are...look at you....the COVID MBA done and dusted, stories to tell, and a signed contract in hand to commence your (hopefully non-delayed, non-furloughed, still happening) new job as an IB Associate! As we approach July, many MBA's will find themselves fortunate to be in this position, and I thought it poignant to share with you three reality checks to help you get the most out of your first three months and do so humbly. Why three months - because this is the most critical time for MBA Associates to make their mark and get up the (steeper than it looks) learning curve...actually you could argue six months, but I only wrote three bullets so that's what it is today. What follows is based on my own experience going through an MBA Associate program. This is not intended for incoming Analysts, except the final section

Reality check one: Your Analyst will NOT respect you one iota for a long time

In the proverbial "bank-off" (pun intended), the Analyst 3 will run rings around the MBA Associate 1. Whether in financial modelling, formatting (sometimes) and general expediency and knowledge of work, you will find yourself outmatched by 24 year-old kids. Do you think you are going to walk in the door on day one and start supervising, checking work and directing your Analysts' work traffic? Think again - welcome to your new role as an Analyst 4, embrace it. This is your opportunity to learn from the guys who have been doing this much longer than you. Having the mindset that your analyst is someone from whom you can learn will see you fare better than the other MBA Associates who come in and prefer to sit at 30k feet. Put your time in, be a sponge, and everything will fall into place.

Reality check two: You're not special - sorry

M7 MBA with a 750+ GMAT? Yes...you should be exceedingly proud of that. You sit in rarefied air that many (including the author) could only dream of breathing. However, recognize that when you get in the door, it won't matter where you did your MBA and how many roman numerals sit to the right of your double-barreled surname. Your alma mater will see you promoted to VP no faster than the recently promoted A2A Arizona State kid (nothing against this school btw) sitting at the desk (what, no office!?) to your right.

Reality check three: The work you do, for the most part, will not be what your MBA promised you

Closing deals? Bottles and models? Wheeling and dealing? ... I am not saying this isn't a (very small) part of the job, but nor will be putting into action all those wonderful frameworks they taught you (Porters 5, MECE, Cotters 7 steps for whatever they're for...Consulting anyone?), but let's use an example to illustrate my point. Say you were a pre-MBA architect, building critical housing or infrastructure for an impoverished town who badly needed it. Seeing your plans being built, I could only imagine, would be enormously fulfilling for a number of obvious reasons. Then, you do your MBA and become a banker, and you realize your work involves ... formatting powerpoint until the wee hours, executing confidentiality agreements, setting meetings for seniors who could care less for clicking the mouse themselves, and then trying to work out why you've been yelled out for not using a very specific type of language when emailing a body of work to a senior banker who is actually pretty easy going anyway and doesn't actually care...getting the point? Yeah of course, there's financial modelling (not as much as you think) and a lot of structuring and client interaction, but if you fail to see the broader perspective in what you do, you will be dreadfully unhappy. This is why it is critical you select a group in an industry coverage you actually care about, and if you aren't there now - network and move there...then put up with the grunt work now and the wheeling and dealing will come in six years at director level (five if you're a star). Never get good at something about which you could care less.

Extra because you made it this far: the secret sauce to your first six months

Here it is...you don't have to pay me a dime, you don't have to buy my DVD...the secret sauce to success in the early days of your new career is an unwavering smile and an infectiously positive attitude. That's it! Even if your wife has just announced that morning she's leaving you, on the very same day you found out your whole family was killed in a crash, that smile shouldn't fade (...yeah yeah, you get the idea). If you're intelligent, you'll pick the rest up as you go. In your first six months, you should be trying very hard to get your hands on absolutely every possible deal you can. Sit with Analysts until 3am and make them teach you how to model, never assume you know better. Approach every individual with the mindset that this person has something valuable to share with me, or knows something I don't.

Good luck!

Comments (41)

May 20, 2020

Very well written, except for your use of the word poignant. I'm pretty sure you're using it wrong in your context.

Just curious, how long did it take for you to get the respect of the analysts under you?

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  • Associate 1 in IB - Ind
May 20, 2020

I'll stand corrected on your comment! I think it varies person to person, but it's probably about six months to a year.

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
May 20, 2020

As an analyst and have dealt with new MBA associates (both good and bad) if you're willing to sit through the bs and actually go through the tedious turns of the book with me instead of trying to push it off to me because you're an "associate" I will 10/10 do my best and prioritize my work for you to make you look good for every staffing I am with you.

Later on (i.e. 6 months - 1 year) when new MBA associates start to get it and become more hands off I will still do my best because I like doing work for you. May sound dumb but trust me its just human nature.

Seriously, good attitude and actually treating analysts like professionals/co-worker instead of just an expendable resource will make your life easier for you in the long run

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May 20, 2020

As an incoming MBA Associate starting this July, I appreciate the post. I'd argue though that points one and two (and hopefully three) should be pretty self-evident after your prior work experience, two years in b-school, and, most importantly, your summer internship.

Still good things to keep in mind, and I'm sure those first six months are critical in building trust and rapport with your team, both senior bankers and Analysts.

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  • Analyst 1 in HF - Other
May 22, 2020

Those are mistakes that I'd say at minimum half of new associates make, regardless of what MBA they went to etc. Never make the assumption that people in banking are smart because of their background.

May 20, 2020

This 3rd year analyst won't respect 1sr year associate is just a dumb concept. It's like saying foreman who has been in the plant for 5 years won't respect the new supervisor. Sure - but eventually new guy catches up. It's just a learning curve. Also unlike the factory, 2/3 year analysts leave soon and you are godly senior associate or VP to people who come after you.

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  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
May 21, 2020

Because they are leaving soon, they might not even bother hiding their disdain to some of the associates who just joined from MBA

May 22, 2020

If this comment is at all remotely indiciative of what it's like to work with you, I feel so bad for your juniors.

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May 22, 2020

Junior team doing fine. Actually saved one from getting killed by another VP recently during this WFH no one is watching world

But this whole 2nd year analyst is so much better than stub associate is such a dumb comparison. Have you looked at a first year analyst when they hit the desk? Banking or any other job, even basketball, is a learning curve at a new environment and evens out over couple of years. Not all analysts make partner at KKR with their excel skills and not all associates go on to be Frank Quattrone or something.

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May 21, 2020

All the incoming associates, best of luck to you.

Funny OP mentioned "commence your (hopefully non-delayed, non-furloughed, still happening) new job" as if OP knows something bad is coming.

Heading to a NY EB in July and I have no idea if I really have a job offer at this point. Won't believe it for a second until my first pay check is in.

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  • Intern in IB-M&A
May 21, 2020

why don't you know?

May 21, 2020

many banks have yet to tell incoming full timers an actual start date, and furloughs are a real possibility, so at least for me I'm sitting on my hands hoping for an email to give me some peace of mind.

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  • Associate 1 in IB - Ind
May 21, 2020

Same here man. Haven't heard from my EB since March. This waiting game is rough but I'm sure HR is working on everything behind the scenes.

May 21, 2020

Those of you heading to an EB haven't even heard about studying prep for SIE and other regulatory exams? Seriously?

Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
May 21, 2020

Great write up - thank you.

One small piece to add to point 1, on acting with humility. For context, I work for a firm/group regarded as one of the best for analyst exits. What I have found, as an MBA associate, is that it is NOT very hard to work side by side with the analysts who have been at the bank for 2 -3 years. Most are incredibly smart and driven and, even though they have a signed offer at a top MF, they still work with you to get the work done.

What IS incredibly grating and frustrating are the Analyst 0s, and even summer analysts, who begin to act like their shit doesn't stink because they are sitting next to the guy headed to Apollo next year. These kids (probably correctly) assume that they are going to get a top offer too and read on WSO and IG that MBA associates are garbage, so they will act a bit entitled. If and when you encounter somebody like this, you can't let yourself stoop to their level- YOU (the MBA) are the person getting hired for soft skills. Don't bring it up - just keep doing your best to work side by side with them, snide comments and all. Generally, it works its way out of their system, and even if it doesn't, a new MBA associate is not the person to tell them they need an attitude adjustment.

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  • Investment Manager in AM - FI
May 21, 2020

That's an interesting point on AN0 and summer analysts. I mean from a bank perspective wouldn't a AN0, AO0 and summer analysts and associates ALL be on the same level, in that they have minimal insights on how the bank/group/team works and operates?

Crazy to me that someone can act entitled for something that usually happens in 6 months (getting that MF PE or HF offer) given that you literally have done nothing as yet.

  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
May 21, 2020

To your first point - I think that all are assumed to be very green when it comes to the technical work underlying the deliverables, but MBAs have (generally) worked in an office environment before. There is a higher expectation that they understand how to work with people and get a deliverable over the finish line. In that sense, if an MBA summer is complaining about a 20 year old, the MBA is gonna look worse than the 20 year old.

To your 2nd point - They haven't (that's why it's so grating ha) - we are literally in the same position. But a confluence of things like a prestigious school, talking with 2nd year analysts with one foot out the door, and reading about how MBA associates offer no value make them feel confident to treat MBA associates that way. It usually does correct itself though- in one example: during my summer, an SA from an absolute tip top target UG school didn't get an offer because he outright ignored a FT MBA associate asking him to do things. In another case, the older analysts gave a young-gun a "come-to-jesus" talk over beers when it became clear he had a reputation for this, and it was affecting that analyst's year-end and even exit opportunities.

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May 21, 2020

As an A2A, an additional word of advice: never mention b-school. Literally no one cares and you sound like a massive tool.

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  • Analyst 1 in Other
May 21, 2020

From what I have seen, some associates out of MBA can be incompetent to the point that you start to question how that is possible.

I have directly worked with a previous top BB senior associate (s/he went into ib after MBA according to him/herself, later got into a large PE fund) and the quality of this person's product is highly questionable. I wonder how this person got into that top BB.

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  • Investment Manager in AM - FI
May 21, 2020

Tell us some broad pitfalls to avoid that you saw from this BB senior associate.

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  • Analyst 1 in Other
May 21, 2020

She disappeared from time to time during a live deal. After a month, she came back and confirmed that they were having internal difficulties regarding xyz. She could have said that earlier, not a month later.
The balance sheet did not balance.
The monthly numbers did not sum to the annual numbers.

Cannot remember more details now, but I was shocked how she managed to get into GS/MS at first place, and why she was still ike that coming out of GS/MS...

Funniest
  • Prospect in IB - Gen
May 21, 2020

WomenEmpowerment #WomenintheWorkplace #Diversity

(satire)

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May 21, 2020

Brilliant and absolutely spot on. You've been hitting that Veritas serum hard today. Kudos.

May 21, 2020

Humility, politeness, and drive go a long way in this industry.

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May 21, 2020

Thanks for the post. Frustrating that such a post and discussion is necessary, but it is. Stay humble and positive with a growth mindset, and all will be well, new hires.

  • Analyst 1 in Other
May 21, 2020
Associate 1 in IB - Ind:

Sit with Analysts until 3am and make them teach you how to model, never assume you know better.

Do NOT sit with your analysts until 3am just asking them to teach you modeling, showing that your are humble...
Do: hey, it's (Monday) 4pm and it's a great day outside. Fuck the client fuck the VP and MD, go home !!!

Good Luck !

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May 22, 2020

There is no secret sauce. These tips make it sound a little more difficult than it is.

Quite simply - get good at the job (effort + time) and be likable.

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May 25, 2020

Agreed. I always cringe when I see/hear so much effort being put into gaining respect.

Just focus on yourself. 1) be good at what you do and 2) be a decent person. That'll do 100x more good for you than being insecure about whether your analysts respect you or not.

It's really pretty simple and no different than what's needed in any other job.

May 22, 2020

All I can say is, if you are an MBA associate starting up, do yourself a favor and read that new book *Discussion Materials *- this books outlines how to navigate dealing with senior analysts and MDs.

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  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
May 22, 2020
Comment
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