How to Prepare for Your Full-Time Investment Banking Job
As a follow-up to the article on investment banking summer internship prep, one reader wrote in asking about how full-time prep would be different.
I never wrote about this because I always thought of them as being the same – you’re not treated too much differently from an intern in the beginning.
However, there is one important difference: with a summer internship, your only goal is to get a return offer. With a full-time job, your goal is to move into something else better in the future (or advance within investment banking, if you’re crazy).
So what do you differently?
Let’s start with the similarities.
It’s still a good idea to review or learn basic finance concepts, especially if you’re coming from an engineering or liberal arts background and haven’t had the exposure in school.
But it doesn’t help too much to go crazy with learning everything beforehand, because you learn best under pressure and because each bank does things differently.
For summer internship prep, I said networking and gathering intelligence are the most useful tactics you should use before you actually start, and the same applies to full-time jobs.
However, the reason why they are important (and arguably even more important) with full-time opportunities is that your group and your co-workers often determine where you’ll go next – your exit opportunity.
The Elusive Exit Opportunity
If you’re like most soon-to-be bankers, you don’t have any interest in staying in investment banking for the long-term: who wants to make pitch books forever, right?
And that’s what’s different about preparation: summer interns only need to focus on getting a return offer, whereas you need to think about where you want to be in 2-3 years or beyond (even if you’re coming in as an Associate, let’s be honest: you probably don’t want to stay in banking either).
This means that you need to decide fairly early on what you want to do afterward, and then act accordingly. If you already know what you want to do before you even start working, you have an even bigger advantage.
How to decide what to do is beyond the scope of this article, because we’re just focused on preparation tactics here.
But knowing the exit opportunities you want to pursue allows you to “prepare” for your full-time investment banking job in 3 distinct ways:
- Making sure you get into the right group.
- Making sure you get to know and work with the right people.
- Making sure you do the right work.
Some of these are more important or less important depending on what you’re pursuing specifically. For example, if you want to go to business school right after, then the right people matter more than your group or what you actually do – because you need strong recommendations.
But if you’re more interested in going to private equity, then being in the right group and doing the right work matter more (getting recommendations from senior bankers is still important, of course).
A lot of emphasis is placed on being in the right group, but that may be a mistake: for many exit opportunities, the group you’re in matters less than you realize.
The one exception is for private equity jobs, where they really do care that you had exposure to Mergers & Acquisitions and/or Leveraged Finance – you can get in coming from a different background, but you stand a much better chance if you’re in one of those groups.
Similarly, if you want to do Distressed Investing, then Restructuring is your best bet; if you’re more interested in venture capital, then you probably want to be in a technology or healthcare group.
But if you don’t end up in one of these groups, it’s not the end of the world. Especially for opportunities outside traditional PE, bankers from all different groups get in… so your industry or product expertise matters less than you think it does.
One of the first articles on Mergers & Inquisitions was a guest post from a former analyst friend on group selection – and as he said within, the process is very random. Sometimes you get a group long before ever starting; other times you get “evaluated” at training and then placed accordingly. And sometimes they just throw darts to determine group selection.
The best way to find out about this and make sure you get placed in the right group is to talk to full-time Analysts you already know at your bank, or go out and find some.
They will be able to tell you all the details behind how you get placed and who makes decisions – and which groups are “best” to be in.
If you can’t find anyone, then your best bet is to speak with the bankers you met in your interview process and ask them directly – usually you have the highest chance of getting placed into a particular group if a lot of bankers in that group know who you are and push for you to end up there.
Working with the right people matters for 2 reasons:
- You want to work with bankers who are likely to give you strong recommendations – whether for business school or for exit opportunities.
- You want to maintain your sanity – at least, what’s left of it – and avoid working for crazy people 100% of the time.
Figuring all this out goes along with the points above about proper group placement and asking Analysts and other bankers there about what to expect.
Another tip is to find bankers who are actually going into whatever you’re interested – whether that’s working at KKR or heading to HBS – and asking them about who they got recommendations from and how to approach those people. If someone has already done the work for you, you need to leverage that.
The second tip on maintaining your sanity often goes overlooked, but it’s an important one – your lifestyle will already be bad enough, so why make it worse with senior bankers who care even less than the average senior banker?
Again, the best way to find out who’s reasonable and who gives recommendations is to spend your time asking Analysts who are already there or anyone else you met in the interview process.
Similar to getting into the right group, doing the right work matters more if you want to pursue something like private equity where they have specific requirements and want to see that you’ve worked on certain types of deals.
While getting into a group with a lot of deal flow might sound good on paper, keep in mind that that’s not always the best strategy – in fact, sometimes you’re better off going to a group that’s not busy or is known for better hours.
For exit opportunities like corporate development and venture capital, your network matters more than what work you’ve done or what group you were in – so if you’re interested in one of those, you want as much time as possible to network.
Which is hard to do if you’re working 100 hours per week in an M&A group.
Most of the email I get about “preparing for full-time jobs” comes from readers looking for a magic bullet solution: a book, program, or training you could go through that would ensure you are worth $20 million and conquer the world within the next 2 years.
But things are never that simple and the “easier” your preparation is, the less you’ll get out of it and the less prepared you’ll be.
This means that you have to ask yourself the difficult questions that you’ve been avoiding – like where you want to be in the future (as opposed to where you told interviewers you wanted to be) – and then get there by speaking with others at your firm to make sure you get into the right group, work with the right people, and do the right work.
This is difficult to pull off and requires going well outside your comfort zone, but that’s the point – and that’s the best way you can prepare for your full-time investment banking job.
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