by Brian DeChesare Comments (66)

How to Win Friends and Influence People in Investment Banking by Slacking Off and Pretending to Work Hard

investment_banking_slackerAsk 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?

Wrong.

All you have to do is give the appearance of a good attitude – and here’s how you do that:

Wait, Really?

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:

  1. You get stuck in a terrible group, or your group changes and your life goes down the drain.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

First Impressions

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.

Acting 101

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Winning Friends

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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. Hi,

    I think I have a somewhat of a naturally friendly personality that may come off as flirty. Especially being female at a mainly male dominant firms, what recommendations do you have for me when I create small talk?

    Additionally, is it appropriate to ask “when do you need this by”? OR what is a more tactful way to say this and find out when they need something done by?

    Thanks!

    1. Be careful and do not openly flirt with anyone – try to keep small talk focused on topics like sports, news, etc. so it seems less like you’re extremely interested in the other person.

      You could say, “And just so I know, when is the meeting or call where you’ll need this?”

  2. I have a question with regards to winning friends by stopping to talk to people about unrelated work matters. I recently started my career in banking and I’m one of the youngest female in my department.

    A manager I managed to make friends with told me that I can come across as a bit bimbotic/ditzy at times, and that was definitely his first impression of me when he first met me :( I asked him how can I improve on this. He told me to get to the point when dealing with people and to stop making small talk with people. He told me I was pretty enough to get males to deal with me and that I didn’t need to ‘win’ them over with small talk.

    How do I go about this? I want to be known as professional, not ditzy. To clarify, I have never flirted with anyone in the office and dress professionally. Even if my manager was right and I am able to get male colleagues to work with me without the small talk, how do I win over females in the office then?

    1. That is really tough and it depends on your specific office so it’s hard to provide general advice… but maybe just take his advice and get to the point more with both males and females. And for females, maybe wait until you have had at least one business-related talk first before getting into personal matters.

  3. Great post! If I am undergoing training and working on the same time, like 1 to 2 hours training each day and other time shadowing AVP, should I act to be working hard? If so, how’s to act work hard because I am still in training. Thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      If you’re going through training, yes you’re working so I’m not quite sure why you need to act like you’re working hard. Learn as much as you can during training and shadow the AVP and do the tasks assigned to you. Ask intelligent questions and get along with your team.

  4. Corporate Monkey

    First of all I loved this post! Definitely some good words of wisdom. One thing I was curious about was the 110% capacity vs. 70-80% and the tradeoff between bonus and whatnot. Currently a first year and was wondering how big of a deal headhunters and PE/HF/VC/Corp Dev firms care about your analyst ranking? It’d be best of both worlds to land a sweet offer ASAP while also not having to kill yourself 110% of the time, but does this somewhat conflict?

    From what I’ve heard at least if you recruit before your compensation day exit firms don’t even know of your ranking, but what is your take? Does not getting top bucket and landing somewhere in the middle of your group significantly reduce the number of solid firms that will reach out (or do they even know about these rankings?)

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes they care about your ranking. What you need to figure out is how to get a good ranking at your firm without killing yourself

      Some interviewers ask you about your ranking. Not necessarily, depending on your interview and which firm you’re applying to. Yes if you get an offer before your comp firms may not know about your ranking though they may still ask for references from your firms

  5. Monkey Analyst

    Best post ever! I’m an analyst with 7-month experience and starting to unconsciously doing this. hahah! Now I can stop feeling bad.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Awesome!

  6. Hey Brian, I have two unorthodox/stupid questions that I need answered.

    Ridiculous Question #1: I noticed that you emphasize on always looking tired to convey the impression that you are working long nights. How imperative is this? I take pride in looking my best and I moisturize daily and use an eye-roller to get rid of those bags under my eyes. If I look well rested will colleagues and higher ups just assume that I actually am well rested? Or should I just bite the bullet, and accept the fact that I will in fact one day look old.

    Ridiculous Question #2: After a logging hours in the university library, I’ve taken to listening to classical music while studying, and I find that it to be extremely focusing. Do most bulge brackets support this behaviour? Or would wearing head phones in my cubicle be seen as counter-communicative?

    Thanks!

  7. CMAssociate

    This is really helpful. I do see the Analyst around me who gets burned out because they say yes to everything. Great article with a lot of practical advice that took me a good year to figure out after observing the more senior guys in action!

    Although, one thing I want to add is, once given the work, senior people like the junior guys who can speak their own mind on any additional research/piece of work they would like to add. Creative ideas are always appreciated! Did you experience that when you were in IB?

    1. Yeah that is definitely true, it just depends on how well you know the team and how much they like/trust you. After proving yourself, you can start to speak up more.

  8. 3 month old PE analyst

    After 3 months starting in PE, my senior came and asked me if I had reached my limit. Any politically correct answer so I wouldn’t look like I’m bullshiting him? Pretty sure, he’ll ask me again when we “catch up” next time.
    Problem is I told him I still had a bit capacity. And right after that, things became so much more demanding but still kind of manageable. Is there anything I can do to make him re-adjust and stop becoming more demanding? I realized I satred out pretty badly by letting people know that I had time to hit the gym.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Do you have a decent relationship with your senior? Perhaps you can be tactful though authentic in your conversation with him. Tell him you are very thankful for the opportunity to work with him, and that you have learned a lot from his guidance and him pushing you to the next level. Ask him what he thinks of your performance so far. Listen without judgement. Then tell him how you feel (in a tactful way) regarding the work, and make your request in a clear and specific manner (what do you want from him? i.e. more time for each project? if so, specify – you want 1 more hour for each project) and explain your rationale.

      Regarding gym time, I think its very important for workers to maintain a healthy lifestyle especially given the long hours. We are not made to be sitting in an office straight for 14-hour+ days – this is counterproductive. I know bankers who still make time for the gym.

      1. 3 month PE analyst

        Thanks for your comments,Nicole. After chatting wit the associate, I think this is the situation I’m really in. Apparently, after 3 months of work, they intend to “train” me and push me further and so they intend to be more demanding even though things are not really urgent, they make it seem like very urgent and give me shorter period of time to finish it. Is there any tactic I can adopt to deal with/ confront this (in a positive way)? So I dont have to stay in the office for things which are not urgent but make to seem urgent? Thanks.

        1. M&I - Nicole

          Tell them straight up how you feel. Be tactful about it and explain to them why you need more time to finish a project rationally. If you can’t stand them, start networking…!

  9. Haha..what an article..i just cant help but wonder what would happen if someone from the “occupy” movement were to see this :O

  10. Is it the same when you work in market finance ? I guess it is more difficult to use appearance in that sector…

  11. Summer Consultant

    Wow, this post is amazing – my favourite one so far!
    Hope to see more of this caliber :).

    I´ll be sure to apply some of that during my consulting internship .. oh, wait^^

  12. Excellent Article…This is absolutely true, difficult to act all the time but if followed might create wonders :) IB is more of talking I suppose!

  13. Haha! This is an amazing article. No bullshit type of advice. Kudos and thanks!

  14. sometimes i feel like ib is the abs best place to be on earth for even a harvard undergrad. i think i have to work so hard to get there, it pushes me so much farther to do better and eliminate slacking off. when you finally make it, is losing that attitude really beneficial? is it different when you leave school? the real world – is it more about discovering the inflection point (law of diminishing returns) and stopping when you reach it? or pushing harder and harder to be george soros, no excuses. maybe you can provide some philosophy for this naive soul.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      You’ll just have to try working in IB and see for yourself.

  15. How can I become a staffer at an investment bank?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Haha. Network, gain trust, make seniors like you, and volunteer to help out on various projects to increase “exposure”

  16. I have this senior MD who I run by in the hallways. A lot of times it tends to get a bit awkward because I run by him so much that we really just say hi to each other now. How exactly should I act around MD’s. Should I be more confident and speak to him like that? i.e., “Hi Greg, hows your day? Hope to see you soon!” or should I be more like “Hi Mr. _____, great seeing you. I ll see you later!” Basically, I am not sure how to deal with senior MD in that I might come off either tooo confident or too meek. Any ideas?

    1. Only start a conversation if you actually have something substantial to say and/or are working with him in some capacity.

  17. Great article!

    Same rules also aplly to Big4 (audit and stuff). Nice to know that I already do most of it ))

    I also believe that senior guys prefer people who can argue against unnecessary work but concentrate on critical pieces over those who simply does everything at 130%.

  18. I am one of those weird people who wants to stay in banking for the long-haul. Would you suggest I exercise maximal output for minimal input or actually work at 110% and show that I want to stay on?

    1. Do not work at 110% all the time or you will die

  19. 5month-old-consultant

    About ex-consultants:

    Well, since majority of the work consultants do is fluff, I would assume they master the art of making really long pitchbooks and presentations. Man, I like paying attention to details, however, I hate working on details… I think I am not a good fit for consulting. :D

  20. Doesn’t this contradict your article(s) and advice on dominating your summer internship? How are you supposed to “under-promise and over-deliver” but yet volunteer to help out with as many projects as you can as an intern? Aren’t you supposed to work work work work as “The Star” as an intern?

    1. This advice applies more to full-timers than summer interns. As a summer intern you definitely want to impress, because you’re only there for a few months.

  21. If I am a “summer intern” can I still put “summer analyst” on my resume? I’m clearly doing analyst work so I wouldn’t want to dilute the experience. Is this misleading?

  22. Good stuff! I feel that these are important things to keep at the back of the head, when you’re on the desk.

  23. Very funny and quite a few kernels of truth here. One of the key mistakes people really early in their career make is not recognizing the importance of building relationships. You’ve got to get the job done without errors and on-time (if not early), but that’s not enough. People need to KNOW you and LIKE you.

  24. ChrisChilds

    Is it possible to find a boutique where the culture involves working fewer hours? If so, is it a good idea to go here to avoid early burnout?

    1. Theoretically, yes, some boutiques may have better hours.

      However, there’s no such thing as “good hours” in finance – so if you are concerned about that, I wouldn’t enter the industry to begin with.

      Generally it’s better to start out at bigger firms as well, though this is more difficult to do these days.

  25. hey i am actually a summer analyst working in a boutique, my questions are:

    1. what if you went in the job for three days, and after reading this article, realised that you already made a poor impression in front of the VP and MD of being really nerddy – not talking or joking with them when other people were….how do you change it?

    2. If your office of people “seemed” to be really nice – they actually work till 9 most of the time, joke around each other (except that some times what they say are kinda too polite and fake).. As an intern over there, are you supposed to joke with them as well? Or you are supposed to “act” appropriate and polite?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. 1. In this case, just try to fix it by acting more normal and less serious. Don’t be too obvious with it, but try to lighten up and be more relaxed around them.

      2. Don’t try too hard to fit in, but you can go and talk to them about non-work-related stuff as well. Don’t be as casual as they are, but you don’t need to be 100% work-focused either.

      1. Thanks for the reply!!

        ..If the office goes out clubbing together almost twice per month, and this time two of the analysts invite you to go out as well – should you really go? …I am worried because some VPs might be there as well…Thanks!!

        1. Yes, definitely go. But avoid the VPs if you’re concerned.

  26. Analyst 3

    An excellent article…

    I cannot emphasise how crucial the part about making a good/poor first impression can be…. it amazes me after 3 years just how “normal” some of the “stars” are but they made the right connections and worked on the right deals at the right time and are now sorted!

    For anyone about to embark on a career the advice given in this article is like gold dust – just dont try overly hard and make it blatant.

    Lastly I passionatley hate ex-consultant summer associates; there was a story from one of my fellow analysts of how one had a nervous breakdown when faced with an LBO (this was back in the heedy days in ’06).

    1. Wow, an ex-consultant summer associate. Worst combination ever!

  27. Sounds excellent! Best article ever!
    ;-)

  28. Hmmm…is this advice restricted only to banking, or does it work for other areas of finance as well (i.e., HF, PE)?

    1. It works for any job you have… be it HF, PE, consulting, accounting, or what ever. Always make it look like your working hard so you don’t actually have to.

      Its funny, my finance professor actually taught us everything the post mentioned, and then tested us over it lol.

      1. Yup it’s all about appearance.

        You can use the same tactics for almost anything btw…

  29. fudgepudge

    this article would most relates to who gets the boot during the meltdown.

    1. ??? If you do it right, people will like you enough not to fire you…

      1. Summer Analyst

        Yea. The point is not letting people know you’re slacking or taking it easy every once in a while, but letting everyone know that you CAN pull your weight and work like “the star” when needed. It’s about being there when you’re needed the most. SAs and Analysts who juggle everything mentioned in this article are actually more favored by seniors than who seem to be working on EVERYTHING.

        Seniors will just consider them as slaves who would never say no to anything – and when review comes around, it’s not always positive.

        1. And actually, sometimes people who “work” the hardest are also the first to get fired if no one likes them… interesting bit of irony there, and something they never teach you in school.

        2. Cookie Cutter Pro

          Never thought or looked at this before, sort of surprising to hear.

          It would be interesting to for a discussion about working too hard, burning out or how to keep your sanity while putting in taxing amount of hours.

  30. 1st Year

    So true on consulting bit – my MD is a former consultant and we do more unnecessary work than anyone else in our sector.

    In response to your point that we should avoid being “the star” – do you think most uber-successful buysiders that most of us dream of becoming down the line were IB stars? Just curious….maybe i’m still naive, but I feel like I need to be at least a partial “star” if I hope to get the experience, knowledge, and recs to transition to a buyside gig and then dominate once I’m there. Thoughts?

    1. Nah, not necessary at all, you only think it is. It’s really hard to work 100 hours per week for 10 years, just not worth it past a certain point.

      You do need to be able to speak to good experience etc., but you can use spin and exaggeration there to get your points across… it’s all in the presentation.

      Since when do former consultants become MDs?

      1. 1st Year

        He was a consultant before going back to b-school 20-odd years ago.

  31. can’t agree more on the ‘ex-consultant’ comment – utterly beyond annoying. although the one i know seems to have mastered the skills you mentioned here – extremely good at slacking off and pretending to be busy, under-promise and over-deliver (other people’s work) to the seniors, and ‘broadcasts’ his ‘busy’ schedule day in and day out…urrrgh

    1. It’s amazing that he made it that far in banking as an ex-consultant.. broadcasting your schedule is probably taking it too far haha.

  32. Summer Analyst

    In summary, when you’re working in ibanking as an analyst, you should be working like an ibanker. Minimal input, maximize “value” (whether it be sheer bullshit appearance)…

    1. Yup, maximal output for minimal input… whether that output is real or imagined.

  33. Mirabeau

    This is probably your best post ever!! thanks

    1. We have real names now, unfortunately…

      But yeah, seems there’s a lot of interest in this area haha

  34. Summer Analyst

    Spot. On.

    A few things I want to emphasize is never working with consultants – since these guys are trained to find “prolems” and never really moving forward from one task to another, it gets REALLY annoying working with them.

    Another thing is never working with MBAs who have a grin on their face, about the size of the check they’ve written to their business school. Folks who never did analyst years and jump right into banking from MBA are particularly annoying because they think they know a lot from their hoorah class training, but in reality they have no idea what actually happens in the real world. Particularly dangerous to befriend an MBA summer associate with no prior banking experience as a summer analyst since what you seem to have learned from these folks are usually not the way it works in ibanking.

    1. Man, don’t even get me started… I (purposely) annoyed Summer Associates so much that most of them never wanted to deal with me by the end of their second week.

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