I get a lot of questions on how you can better “prepare” for investment banking once you land an offer, and how you can give yourself an edge once you start.
In the past I’ve suggested going to Thailand and sitting on the beach, but I now have a more formal recommendation:
Go back and re-watch all the old seasons of 24 (You can skip Season 6 – it was bad) and take notes on everything Jack Bauer does.
He could give you quite a few tips about investment banking.
(Warning: Spoilers for all seasons of 24 follow. The following may resemble an Entertainment Weekly article…)
1. Pull All-Nighters Whenever Required (But More Than Once Every 3-4 Years)
Every few years, it seems that Jack has a really, really bad day. Immediate family members die, nukes go off, planes get shot down, and his best friend turns out to be a traitor. And he’s forced to stay up for 24 hours cleaning up the mess as a result.
You’ll encounter the same challenges in investment banking, except you’ll need to pull all-nighters a lot more often than Jack does. Forget about once every 3-4 years – try once every 3-4 days (or weeks, if you’re lucky).
Stock up on the stimulant of your choice and start conditioning yourself right now.
2. Learn How to Defuse Bombs Correctly
Hypothetical scenario: 1 nuclear bomb blows up half your city, with a few undiscovered bombs remaining: what do you do?
Go find them and defuse them, just like Jack would do. Don’t know how to defuse bombs? Just get instructions over the phone and follow them precisely.
In banking, there are always fires to put out and bombs to defuse – and you must remain calm and realize that your survival and your bonus both depend on you defusing everything without causing any nuclear meltdowns.
3. Watch for the FBI Agent with the Brown Shoes
See an FBI agent whose shoe colors don’t match everyone else’s?
Yup, he’s probably a terrorist. And the only way you’ll find him is if you’re more attentive to detail than everyone else there.
If there’s a footnote that doesn’t tie, an i that’s not dotted or a t that’s not crossed, you know what to do.
4. Don’t Hesitate to Invade the Chinese Embassy to Get the Job Done
Let’s say you’re tracking a Mexican drug dealer and you need to become a heroin addict yourself to get him. Or maybe you need to invade the Chinese embassy to get the suspect you need. Or maybe you need to kill your friend to keep a terrorist alive.
How do you proceed?
You do it all, without question.
If you need to get a pitch book to your MD who’s leaving on a red-eye flight in an hour, you get it done, even if you need to speed and take a few off-road shortcuts to get to the airport.
5. Rescue the Secretary of Defense Before the Terrorists Assassinate Him
Let’s say you only have 6 minutes to stop the Secretary of Defense from being assassinated and from having the event broadcast to the world.
So you make it happen, storming into the compound and not taking “no” for an answer until you find him, kill the terrorists, and rescue him.
If it’s 6 PM and you just received word that that 100-page pitch book is needed by 6 AM, you get it done by the deadline and not a minute later – no matter how much Red Bull or yerba mate it takes.
6. Don’t Regret the Decisions That You’ve Made – Because, Sir, You Don’t
Senators in a trial are questioning your use of torture to get information out of suspected terrorists. Do you regret your decision?
“Don’t expect me to regret the decisions that I’ve made. Because the truth is, sir, I don’t.”
This one comes up when senior bankers are going over your work and asking about your analysis – is there ever any reason to say that you’re “not confident” of your numbers?
No, of course not. If you’re correct, you look bad; and if you’re wrong, you look even worse.
You should always be confident, even if you’re not always correct.
7. If You Screw Up and Let the Nuke Go Off, Take Responsibility and Clean Up Your Mess
Despite your best efforts, you couldn’t stop that nuke from blowing up a good portion of LA – so what do you do?
No, don’t cry about it – spend the rest of your day fixing your mess, even going after your father if he’s involved with the conspiracy.
If you make a major mistake and look like a fool in front of your MD, don’t try to hide it – accept it and don’t make the same mistake in the future.
8. Learn Spanish, Russian and Serbian (and Firearms, Explosives, and Resistance to Interrogation)
Don’t take my word for it: In addition to a “high proficiency with firearms, explosives, and resistance to interrogation,” Jack Bauer also knows Spanish, Russian and Serbian.
And I’m sure if he had gotten around to learning yet another language while locked in his jail cell in China, he’d certainly know how to say “Goldman Sachs” in Mandarin.
If you have the time and resources to do so, learning another language could be incredibly helpful. Even if you’re based in the US, if a lot of your clients are international you can immediately make yourself more useful and less likely to be fired if you have such a skill.
9. The President is a Traitor? If That Audio Tape Says So…
Wait, the President and his cronies are behind this plot to steal nerve gas and kill everyone? Your fellow agent is now a traitor?
Never say never. When in doubt, you need to trust the evidence - just like Jack does.
No matter how good that star intern was at spreading those comps or how confident you are of the numbers that someone else came up with, you can only be certain by going back to the evidence and checking it yourself.
10. Is He a Terrorist? No, He’s Just “Alive and Doing Something Dangerous”
Your best friend is back from the dead and helping the terrorists? Really?
You’re not sure, but you do know he’s “alive and doing something dangerous.” And there must be a reason he’s doing what he’s doing.
Never jump to conclusions. Are bonuses really going to be $0 this year? Are you getting laid off tomorrow? Is every bank rescinding their offers? Are those numbers in your LBO model correct?
Prepare for the worst and check everything you do, but don’t take action until you know one way or the other.
11. Always Have Chloe Check Your Work
You’ve just hijacked a passenger plane to get an audio tape that implicates the President in a huge conspiracy. Unfortunately, the President then finds out and decides to shoot you down with an F-18.
Where do you land? Some airstrip you just located?
No, of course not. You have Chloe check it for you and find a free 4,000 ft. strip on an LA highway you can use to land (relatively) safely.
Never trust your own work 100%. Always get a friend to look it over, because he or she is much more likely to see that you set up your sensitivity table incorrectly, or that you forgot to convert Euros to US Dollars.
Rethinking Investment Banking Preparation
So forget about the CFA, that expensive class you were going to take, or even independent study.
Just watch some TV instead.
And take notes on everything Jack Bauer does.