You’ve been through interviews with 27 different banks.
You’ve talked to so many bankers that you don’t even remember half their names.
But now you’ve finally landed the offer, and you’re about to sign on the dotted line.
So what do you do between now and when you start working?
School vs. Free Time
First: what do you actually HAVE to do in the next 6-9 months?
If you absolutely need to finish classes or get additional credits to graduate or finish your program, you don’t have much choice in the matter: you need to do it.
Banks don’t like people who flunk out or fail to graduate at the last-minute.
Likewise, if you’re already working and you’re set to start on a specific date, or you’re set to finish your current job on a certain date, then you don’t have much say: your timing is already set.
But you may be graduating early, or you may not have much work to do for your last term / semester / quarter – in which case the possibilities become a lot more interesting.
What NOT to Do
This is not going to be some article filled with fluff that says everything is a good option.
I think a lot of crap is a total waste of time and should be avoided if you value your life and your last remaining free time at all.
If you’ve been reading this site for a long time, you’ll be able to guess some of the items on the “waste of time” list – but I love bashing the CFA at every chance I get, so let’s go through the list anyway and add in some new items.
First, do not start early. The following logic initially sounds appealing:
“If I start early, I can get a leg up over all my competition, be better prepared than everyone else, and ensure that I get top bonus in my first year!”
I could write about 100 reasons why this is a stupid idea and why you shouldn’t do it, but here are the top 4:
- You’re treated like an intern or even worse if you start early – so you’re not more “prepared,” you just get better at picking up dry cleaning and getting coffee.
- You’re not going to get a stub bonus in most cases, nor will you be guaranteed a higher bonus at the end of your first 18 months. In fact, you’ll get the same bonus as everyone else.
- You won’t be “recognized” as a 2nd year or viewed differently from anyone else when all the new 1st years start in the summer.
- There are hundreds of better things you could do with your time – just keep reading.
The only good argument for starting early is to network internally – there is some validity to that, but it’s still not a good enough reason to do it.
Ok, so you have 6-9 months of free time before you start working 100 hours a week. And you already have a solid full-time job lined up.
So the next logical step is to spend 500 hours studying for an exam that will do nothing for you in terms of banking / PE, right?
Yes, MAYBE the CFA will help with hedge funds or things outside banking/PE, but you need to think about the opportunity cost here.
You have limited time, and even if you’re worth $500 trillion you cannot generate more hours in the day. You get 24 of them regardless of whether your net worth is $1 dollar or $500 billion dollars.
With the 500 hours you spend studying for the CFA, you could do about 10 things that will be far more helpful for business school, buy-side recruiting, and boosting your resume – and, oh yeah, actually having fun and doing something outside the library.
Boosting Your GPA
This is a stupid idea for 2 reasons:
- How much can you really boost your GPA with only 1 semester / quarter left?
- Even if you boost it from, say, a 3.4 to a 3.5, it won’t matter much for buy-side recruiting or business school.
Yes, they still look at GPA but you need to think about the opportunity cost once again.
Let’s say you can spend 6 months and miraculously boost your GPA from 3.4 to 3.6.
Which do you think will be more useful: a GPA that’s 0.2 higher, or 6 months spent abroad doing volunteer work and learning another language?
So please forget about your GPA.
Part-Time Work / Working in Retail / Waiting Tables
I don’t even know how this one could cross your mind, but I’ve gotten emails and comments about this before so I had to address it here.
So you’re about to start a job where you’ll make $100K+ per year right out of school, and the first thing on your mind… is spending 6 months on a $10/hour job?
Even if you desperately need money in the short-term, there are better options than sitting around working at Best Buy or at your local gym.
I put this one in quotes because I’m referring to a specific type of “travel”: going on a whirlwind tour of 30 countries in the span of 6 months and trying to see and do everything possible.
Yes, I’ve done this type of trip before – but I only do it once every 5 years or so and only when there’s a good reason.
If you’re moving to a different city every week you’ll get tired very quickly, and you won’t remember anything that happened… take a whirlwind tour of Europe, and I guarantee all you’ll remember is Amsterdam.
Yes, you could get into some interesting adventures and yes, it could help you stand out in interviews, but there are better ways to go somewhere else, have a good time, and not want to kill yourself when you wake up each day.
The other big issue with “travel” is money: even if you have a lot saved up from internships and previous jobs, flying around constantly and staying in hotels gets expensive, even if you fly coach and stay in 3-star places.
“Just relax – you’ll never have so much free time again!”
- It gets boring after about a week. Don’t believe me? Head to the beach and just sit there doing nothing for a week. Tell me when you get bored… oh wait, you’re already back, guess that wasn’t fun for too long.
- You do want to have fun with your time off, but you also want to do something productive – both to maintain your sanity and to look better for recruiting purposes in the future.
If you’re the type of person who made it into banking in the first place, you’ll be bored out of your mind doing nothing for an extended period of time.
Even Forbes agrees: early retirees die earlier than those who remain active.
Ok, So Tell Me What to Do!
First, let’s think about what you actually want to get out of this free time between now and when you start working:
I won’t dispute this one: you can take sabbaticals and breaks later on in your career, but you won’t have this much free time ever again.
So you need to take advantage of it – yes, models and bottles are fun the first time around but there’s way more interesting stuff to do outside your own backyard.
2. Business School / Future Recruiting Boost
One problem you’ll face when applying to business school as an ex-banker is your lack of outside-work activities: it’s hard to compete with the 40-hour per week guy when you were pulling 100 regularly.
Free time before you start working gives you a perfect chance to fix this: you can spin even minor things into sounding major and stand out by having experiences that no one else has.
Plus, even in buy-side recruiting these types of adventures are sure to come up. I once had a Partner at a PE firm spend 30 minutes in an “interview” asking me about living in Japan – do something interesting and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time.
3. At Least Some Constructive Activity
This ties in with #2 above, but there’s more to it than that: you really will go crazy if you just sit on the beach all day and go drinking at night.
I did this for a few weeks after I left banking, but then I got bored – which explains everything on this site and related sites since then.
You don’t need to “work” 40 hours a week but you do need some type of mental activity to stay engaged.
The Problem With All This
You might look at all of this and say, “Of course! Why wouldn’t I follow everything you just said above?”
The problem is that you’ll be inclined to go to extremes. Some people will just want to hang out for 6 months, while others will want to study for the CFA, GMAT, take 15 training seminars, and start a side business too.
Both of these are flawed plans – so I’m going to give you a formula that spells out exactly what you need to do.
Here it is:
- Go abroad to live there (as opposed to just “traveling”).
- Once you get there, find one “fun” activity. Spend half your time here.
- …and then find one “mental” or “work” activity. Spend half your time here.
So why is this the optimal formula for fun, getting something productive out of this time, and boosting your admissions chances later on?
Sorry, but “I spent 6 months in Iowa” just doesn’t sound as cool as “I went to Mongolia and learned horseback archery, Genghis Khan-style.”
Bankers tend to be very well-traveled and this is a great discussion topic for networking purposes – plus, you’ll grow and develop a lot more overseas than you will by staying in your own country.
The more exotic the location the better – just make sure you don’t end up with bullet holes in your torso by accidentally venturing into a war zone.
Staying in one or two places also lets you save on expenses and actually get to know your new home rather than just going to the tourist destinations.
Keep in mind that the cost of living elsewhere is often much, much less than staying in a country like the US or the UK with obscenely high living expenses – $1,000/month lets you live well in other parts of the world outside the “developed” countries.
This should preferably be something physical – a new sport, volunteer work if it involves using your hands and actual exercise, or even something like music.
It’s easy to skip out on the “physical” part of the equation, but you will go insane / get grossly out of shape if you do this.
This doesn’t need to be traditional “work” – it might be learning a language, studying for the GMAT, doing volunteer teaching, or anything else.
You could spend some time learning modeling and Excel if you want, but that’s not enough to take up 6 months of time – just make it one of your activities if you decide to do this.
And if you really need cash, teaching English overseas can pay much better than minimum wage jobs if you can stand doing it.
Personally I can only take it for about 5 minutes before I want to kill myself (which makes you wonder how I can possibly survive in Asia with everyone asking me to fix their English mistakes, but we’ll save that story for another day).
Now to some examples of how you could spend this time before work to do something constructive, have fun, and boost your networking / b-school admissions / buy-side recruiting chances.
You get there and decide to relocate to Sao Paulo, where you start learning Brazilian Ju-Jutsu as well as Portuguese at a language school there.
You party until dawn every other night, but you still have a few spare hours each week to brush up on your Excel skills, so you spend your first 3 months learning Excel and basic modeling, then spend your spare time over the next 3 months preparing to take the GMAT right before you start working.
Result: Now you have something cool to talk about in interviews and on business school apps, you had a great time there, and you might even be able to transfer to Brazil and work there in the future.
I don’t have a great relationship with Thailand, but everyone except me seems to love it, so I guess it has to be mentioned here.
You arrive in Thailand and head to Chiang Mai to volunteer at an elephant camp (!) and teach English part-time while going to a Thai cooking school there.
You’re not sure about business school, so you don’t worry about the GMAT for now – and you did an i-banking internship so you don’t need to learn much modeling.
Result: Come on, who else will have something this ridiculous to write about or talk about in interviews? The night life in Chiang Mai is quieter than Bangkok, but hey it’s still Thailand.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg.
Whatever you do, don’t just sit in your room hanging out with your friends at home. Yes, it can be fun for awhile but you’re not going to remember it in 10 years, and it won’t help you stand out in the future.
But write “Volunteer at Thai elephant camp” on your resume, and I guarantee that will come up in every single interview over the next 5-10 years.
But I’m Afraid to Do Anything This Crazy!
Then you may want to re-consider going into finance – because you will be getting exposed to crazy people and crazy situations all the time.
You might get called away to go travel on an hour’s notice, and it won’t look good if you say, “Sorry, MD, I’d rather stay in the office and learn Excel.”
The best way to describe banker culture is “Work hard, play hard” – and you will not fit in if you’re constantly staring at Excel and never hanging out / getting into adventures.
This is just a reality check – I’m sure some people succeed without having this mindset, but fitting in socially and having everyone else like you is really, really important and something that gets overlooked all the time.
So get out of your house, go somewhere else, and come back with some good stories.