by Brian DeChesare Comments (17)

The Holiday Party: Time to Hook Up With Your Assistant?

Investment Banking Holiday PartyYour MD is standing on top of a table downing shots of whiskey.

Meanwhile, your assistant is pole-dancing in front of everyone as the associate you’ve been thinking about murdering the entire year offers you tequila.

The bottles are free and the models are looking even better than usual – most likely due to those free bottles.

No, it’s not a lucid dream: it’s the holiday party at your investment bank.

Or at least, it was – before holiday parties were banned.

The Grand Tradition of Holiday Parties

Back in the day, holiday parties at banks were huge – in financial centers like NYC and London thousands of people would show up and get obscenely drunk.

Banks held them at places like the Waldorf Astoria in New York and rented out entire hotels for the night.

Everyone from the CEO and the most senior Managing Directors all the way down to admins and support staff was invited – everyone except for the clients themselves.

And you got unlimited food, drinks, and mayhem as the icing on the cake.

One year Barclays even spent $1.2 million USD on its 3,000-guest party in London.

It fit in perfectly with the banker mindset: work hard, play hard. The holiday party was the one night of the year when you could have fun no matter how many all-nighters you had pulled.

Work slows down around the holidays – unless you get an insane client who just needs to close a deal by December 31 – so taking a break is easier.

In my first year in banking, there were 2-3 week periods where my roommates didn’t see me at all, so they assumed I was locked away in a Siberian prison.

But after I got back from the holiday party that year and told them all the juicy details, they started asking me what’s it like being an investment banker and whether I could write them a recommendation.

(At which point I told them to stop thinking about it and ran away.)

What Do You Mean By “Play Hard?”

Holiday parties are (were) amazing because you could do things that would normally get you fired – but then escape the ax by claiming it was all a drunken shenanigan.

Spending millions on parties happens whenever there’s a bull market and all desire to maintain a good image goes out the window.

You’d see:

  • Secretaries and support staff going home with bankers
  • 60-year olds dancing hip hop
  • People relieving themselves in… places that were not the bathroom
  • “Extracurricular activities” afterward like strip clubs (and yes, females tagged along)

Sometimes banks even had traditions at their parties:

  • A certain secretary would pick a different analyst to go home with each year
  • All the analysts had to perform a skit or sing or doing something else embarrassing
  • New hires would have to give speeches

So even if your bank didn’t spend millions on a holiday party like Barclays did, you’d still have a pretty good time there.

Aside from training, it was the most fun you could have as a junior banker.

The Pathetic Shell of Holiday Parties

In a post-bailout world, though, most banks have cut back on or eliminated holiday parties altogether.

When you’ve just accepted a $50 billion bailout from the federal government, the last thing you want to do is rent out the Waldorf Astoria and have drunken people jumping out of windows.

So in times of recession and financial crisis, holiday parties are more likely to be individual groups or teams going out to bars and the MD buying drinks for everyone.

Or maybe a quick trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the cafeteria, or… the public library.

Sometimes there won’t even be an official holiday party at all – in which case you invite friends out and turn it into the best night possible given that you’re worth a few million less than your MD.

What NOT to Do at Holiday Parties

I won’t lie: it would be a miracle if you got to go to a real holiday party in the smoldering remains of the post-bailout financial world.

But in case that happens, you need to know what to do and what not to do – and as with fashion, it’s easier to give advice on the “what not to do” part.

Get So Drunk You Assault Your MD

You can get away with a lot at holiday parties, but you can’t get away with everything – so avoid getting so drunk that you start fighting people or accidentally reveal your secret life as Patrick Bateman.

Comments you make could still be held against you later on – just like every interaction with a banker is an interview, everything you do as an analyst or associate counts toward your ranking and bonus.

Bring Your Significant Other

If everyone else is bringing theirs, sure, go ahead. But otherwise you’ll run into problems as you blurt out things that no one else should hear, or as you start eyeing that cute guy/girl you’ve been interested in since training.

You’ll probably break up with your significant other before you even get to the holiday party – but just in case you defy the odds, watch out.

Hook Up With Co-Workers

This is still a terrible idea, and it’s even worse if you do it in a drunken stupor.

Imagine the awkwardness of dating co-workers in normal times… and now realize that instead of 40 hours per week, you’ll be seeing them 80-100+ hours per week.

Once (not “if”) you break up, you’ll have an awkward situation at work.

So resist the urge and if you really have to satisfy your needs, go for the support staff rather than fellow bankers.

Be Boring

There are 2 big mistakes to avoid here:

  1. Not show up in the first place due to “too much work.”
  2. Stand around by yourself and not talk to anyone else.

No matter how slammed you are, you can always take 30-60 minutes out of your day and show up to say hi to everyone.

If you don’t show up, it will backfire as senior bankers start to wonder if you’re a loser and whether you’re social enough to get promoted and wine and dine clients one day.

#2 is easier to avoid because everyone else will be moderately to extremely drunk – so unless you go out of your way to hide in the corner, others will approach you.

Yes, you need to burn the midnight oil as a junior banker but you also need to be likable – being boring subtracts from your “likability” points.


If you’re in a more senior position (i.e. not a newly minted 1st year analyst or associate) and you’re making tons of money for the firm, you might still get away with inappropriate antics anyway.

It depends on who likes and defends you – if the head MD of the office worships you, he’ll overlook how you were hitting on the associate’s wife, even if the associate wants you fired.

And if you’re on your way out anyway, you might get away with even more since it won’t matter much.

But take those risks at your own peril – and don’t blame me if you get fired for hooking up with that assistant who used to be your MD’s mistress.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. I could not stop laughing when I got to do not assault your MD. Can just imagine an analyst swinging at a MD.

  2. Hey, Brian
    As someone with very limited finance knowledge, what would you recommend I start doing to learn as much as I can about finance/banking? Any specific books? I’ve already read Liar’s Poker and I’m currently reading Monkey Business. Thanks.

  3. Hey Brian,

    As someone considering a career in banking, my biggest concern is not securing an interview, putting in the long hours, or learning the actual work (accounting, valuation, etc..). It’s the culture.

    I grew up in a fairly religious household, and while I’m not overtly religious, I don’t drink or do drugs, and I generally adhere to other religious standards. Do you think that can actually hurt my career prospects in banking? During your time in the field, did you come across anyone with strong religious/spiritual beliefs, and if so, how were those individuals perceived?

    1. Yes it will probably hurt you a bit if you can’t drink or go to social events with friends, no one really talks about religion in banking so I’m not certain but there is a certain culture you have to fit into

      1. I’m not sure that’s entirely true any more. In London I know several bankers who are religious (practising different religions!), who start the day (discreetly) with a visit to a place of worship, and quite a few of them don’t drink. The bank even provides prayer rooms! It seems that it depends very much on the team you are in and the team leader and his beliefs, and of course it also depends on the country/region team you work with. (i.e. Middle East/US/certain parts of Europe).
        The majority of banking work is not very glamorous at all, as Brian often points out in his excellent myth busting articles, and contains a lot more of Excel than Veuve Cliquot.

  4. Hello,

    I have a question similar to AS. I’ve read your opinions on the CPA already, but since I already have mine I can’t change that. I’m starting my second year at a Big Four Acc. firm and graduated with a double degree in Accounting/Finance. My question is, since I’ve only been out of school for about a year and a half will banks consider me for an analyst position?

    Also I may have the opportunity to transfer to the TAS practice in the next year, I know that is preferable, but would a bank like an MBA after TAS work to move into an associate position?

    Thanks for your help,

    1. They may but its still going to be an uphill battle because they prefer to hire current undergraduates. Yes an MBA after TAS would help.

  5. I’m still unsure about hooking up with anyone, finance is tiny even the tiniest mention of anything spreads like wildfire its insane. I can’t even talk about taking up new hobbies without my most senior bosses knowing and asking me how its going.

    I can attest however, these xmas parties are insane.

    1. Yup, as I said “buyer beware.” Rumors do spread quickly, but if you’re on your way out soon anyway it might be time to indulge…

    2. The only thing worse than hooking up with your secretary is hooking up with someone in the back office who might have even the slightest ability to mess with you on stuff you have almost no control over.

      And this might be a good lead into a post on the importance of meeting women in the fashion industry ahead of holiday parties. A friend of mine termed it “Road Shows for Smoke Shows” where they’d get bottle service at a few clubs throughout fall, invite some girls out they knew in fashion along with their friends, try to make an appearance at some fashion show over the next few months, and have their pick of 9 or 10 ready as a date by the time the holiday party came around. This was in LA.

      Ah the good ol’ days …

  6. Unrelated: What do you think of the CPA?

    1. * For an Engineer. CPA + Networking? Or Raw Networking? Still low GPA :P

    2. Still not a fan, in fact it’s even worse than the CFA because bankers don’t respect accountants too much. If you really want a certification do the CFA or if you don’t have that much time just stick to networking.

      1. Lol! Thanks man! Bunch of “finance wizards” who know nothing about i-banking recruiting were advising me to do MBA, CPA, CFA and all sorts of irrelevant shit that is just not needed at the analyst level (do NOT want to be an associate stuck with banking). You just need to know Excel well, have a low tolerance for Red Bull and have “a good attitude” to be a good i-banker!

        Btw, how is a PWM or an accounting internship mixed with an unpaid Summer Analyst internship for a <3.0 GPA resume? This is for a BB Analyst job (it is possible, right?).

        1. It’s fine, but GPA will still be a major issue when applying to banks (no way to fix it, just put in more effort networking).

        2. How about CA?

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