Ask senior bankers what quality is most important in Analysts and Associates, and 99% of them will say “A good attitude.”
If you’re going to work 100 hours per week, you need to be positive about what you do every day… right?
All you have to do is give the appearance of a good attitude – and here’s how you do that:
You might be able to maintain a genuinely good attitude throughout your 2, 3, or however many years you’re in the industry.
But in many cases, you just can’t do that:
- You get stuck in a terrible group, or your group changes and your life goes down the drain.
- You find an exit opportunity and are planning to leave early, or you simply stop caring because you know something better is down the road.
- You get tired of what you do and the job becomes repetitive – but you need to stick around until you find what to do next.
#1 and #3 are the most common scenarios and the most desperate situations because you don’t have a backup plan – whereas with #2, at least you can move to another job if you get fired.
#3 is especially common between Year 1 and Year 2 if you’re an investment banking analyst – that’s when most people get tired of the routine and all deals start to look the same.
Appearances vs. Reality
Senior bankers say “a good attitude” is essential because they are interested in maximizing profit and minimizing annoyances and problems.
“A good attitude” just means “1) This guy/girl gets his/her stuff done without mistakes, which helps me make more money, and 2) he/she doesn’t bother me at all and is usually pretty sociable if I go over to the bullpen to talk to him/her.”
Oddly enough, young bankers have the most trouble with the second part of that statement – winning friends and influencing people.
Here’s how you can buck the trend and succeed where others fail:
The most important point with the game of office politics is your first impression.
If you pull this off correctly, you’ll only have to work hard for a month or so – enough to give everyone the impression that you’re a hard worker.
A poor first impression is almost impossible to overcome, but a good first impression is very difficult to screw up.
In your first few weeks (or first 1-2 months if you’re a full-timer), you want to volunteer as much as you can for projects, helping the older Analysts, and making other peoples’ lives easier.
Even if it causes some temporary pain, it will allow you to slack off later on – and on top of that, it also gives others at your bank the impression that you’re always busy.
Working Smart vs. Working Hard
This is one area where MBAs tend to be far savvier than undergraduates – and one area where I’ve seen many Analysts who didn’t know any better get abused.
You could make people think you work hard by actually working hard the entire time, pulling all-nighters each week, and trying to make your life as terrible as humanly possible.
Or you could just make people think you work that hard without actually doing so.
If you want to work smart rather than work hard, you need to use 3 main strategies: learn to act, under-promise and over-deliver, and let everyone know about it.
If you constantly look stressed out and tired, then other banker swill assume you’re always stressed out and tired.
If you’re like this naturally, you’ll have no difficulty here: just be yourself.
For everyone else, pay attention to the full-timers around you, determine who The Star and The Defeated One are in your office, and try to make your attitude a cross between the two of them: you want to look tense at all times, but you don’t want to be quite as depressing as The Defeated One.
But don’t become The Star – or your progression toward not trying hard would be halted.
Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
Once you have everyone thinking that you’re working 24/7, you need to take advantage of the fact that you’re not really that busy and under-promise and over-deliver.
The worst response to new work is, “I’ll get this to you right away!” and then to drop everything you’re doing to rush around and finish it – especially for anything that’s not urgent.
The better response is, “I have these 3-5 other projects due tomorrow and the day after – I’ll take care of this as soon as I can.”
After which, of course, you proceed to deliver the work tomorrow or the day after in a shorter timeframe than you originally promised.
Let Them Know About It
Once you’ve made sure that you always appear stressed out, but miraculously come through in record time with your work, you need to let the senior bankers know about it.
You can’t be too obvious – don’t go around saying, “Well, I just pulled 2 all-nighters this past week…”
The best way to do this is with late-night emails. If you’re about to email your team at 8 PM, save it until 3-4 AM instead so that they say, “Wow, he/she must have been at the office really late!”
If you get home “early” (9-10 PM), then log in remotely later on (caution: some banks don’t let you do this) and send out your emails right before you go to sleep.
Two points to be careful of here:
- You need to mix up your routine every so often – don’t always send out your “team update” email at 3:15 AM. Vary the email send times between “early” (9 – 11 PM range) and “late” (2 – 4 AM).
- This is more difficult to pull off at larger banks and offices, because some senior bankers actually stay quite late and can observe who’s there and who’s not. And sometimes if the staffer has no life, he/she will walk around at midnight to see who’s still there.
And that’s how you work smart so that you don’t have to work (as) hard.
Gravitating to the Right People
Once you’ve made everyone think you work hard all the time, you need to make sure you’re working with people who don’t take the job that seriously.
If you’re an Analyst, gravitate to the softest-spoken Associate(s), and if you’re an Associate, find the VP who’s most disillusioned and therefore cares the least about work.
This takes some trial and error, and that’s why you need to observe what’s going on around you and get to know full-timers who will give you the real story on who’s good and who should be avoided.
There’s no single rule for “the best people,” but here are a couple types you should definitely avoid:
- Former consultants. Since consultants don’t actually do anything useful, they spend all their time in investment banking solving problems that don’t exist and making you do unnecessary work.
- Summer Associates who have never worked in finance before. I’m sure all the Summer Associates reading this right now are wonderful, but most of the other ones I’ve seen tend to come in with a “I know everything because I paid $100,000+ for a prestigious MBA program” attitude.
- Anyone who’s 35+, doesn’t have a family, and has been in banking for life. These people are like miniature versions of Patrick Bateman, so avoid them unless you want to end up hacked to pieces in someone’s bathtub.
Once you’ve given the impression that you work hard all the time and you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, it’s time to make them like you even more.
The best way to do this is through small talk. When a senior banker gives you work, don’t just accept the assignment and scurry off to go do it – say “Ok, sounds good” and then take a few minutes to chat with him/her about a completely unrelated topic.
It doesn’t matter what it is – baseball, travel, the news, or the client’s clueless CFO are all fine.
The point is to bond with the senior banker in question by quickly chatting about a common interest, which accomplishes 2 objectives:
- He already thinks you’re busy all the time and will be amazed that you could take a few minutes out of your all-nighters just to speak with him – he must be your favorite!
- You reinforce how much you “like your work” because you’re saying, “You know, I’m really busy – but I enjoy doing this work so much that not only will I happily do it for you later on, I can even take a few minutes right now to chat because I’m going to like doing my work so much later tonight.”
Most people are 100% business-focused when speaking with senior bankers, but that’s exactly the wrong approach.
Why So Many Tricks?
You might be wondering, “Wait, why are you suggesting all this deception? Why do I need so many tricks? Isn’t honesty the best policy? What if I just work hard all the time?”
First off, being 100% honest is not the best policy – unless you want to be abused and work more than everyone else.
You could work hard all the time, but there are 3 good reasons to avoid this:
- As with anything else, the learning curve in investment banking flattens out after about 6 months and you don’t learn much past that point.
- If you’re constantly working at 100% capacity, you will never have time to find exit opportunities – or apply to business school, or do anything else outside work.
- The marginal improvement you’d get in your bonus and/or recommendations from working at 110% capacity rather than at 70-80% capacity is not worth it (Would you want to work an extra 20 hours per week for a bonus that’s $10,000 higher? That’s about $10 per hour…).
You don’t have to follow the steps I recommended above. If you want to be The Star and you truly love to stare at Excel and PowerPoint every day, then feel free to work at 110% capacity.
For the rest of us, though, winning friends and influencing people by slacking off and pretending to work hard is a better bet.