No, I’m not just quoting those annoying Princeton kids from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle here.
This is a terrible question to ask when you’re networking, but it’s a crucial question to ask yourself if you’re just starting to learn about the industry.
And there’s more misinformation about this one question – what it’s really like being an investment banker – than anything else.
So I’m going to do some myth-busting here and debunk the bad information you’ve heard from other sources – and then I’ll show you what being an investment banker is really like.
Myth #1: You Work 100 Hours a Week, Every Week
There is no investment banker alive who has actually worked 100 hours a week, every single week since becoming an investment banker.
You might average between 80 and 100 hours per week, but individual weeks vary a lot.
Sometimes you’ll work 120 hours, and sometimes you’ll only work 60 hours; just like any other profession, there are slow weeks and hectic weeks.
Myth #2: Things Get “Better” As You Move Up, or At Boutiques, or In Different Groups
“So, Brian, if I go to a boutique or middle-market firm can I go home at 10 PM rather than 2 AM each night?”
NO!!!!!!!!!!!No matter where you work, you’re going to work yourself silly if you’re an investment banking analyst or associate.
Some groups may be slightly better than others, and yes, smaller firms tend to be marginally better than bulge bracket banks, but you should not be making decisions based on “lifestyle” factors.
Myth #3: There’s A Lot of Advanced Math Required
Most of what you do in investment banking is very, very simple math-wise.Addition… subtraction… multiplication… and maybe division if you get really fancy.
As an Analyst or Associate, you spend most of your time on administrative work and random tasks for senior bankers.
Even if you’re working in Mergers & Acquisitions or a more technical group, you’ll still spend more time on qualitative rather than quantitative tasks.
Myth #4: You’re Ari Gold
OK, OK, this one is my fault. The first article I ever wrote on Mergers & Inquisitions explained in layman’s terms what investment bankers actually do: We’re all just Ari Gold.
And that analogy holds up well for senior bankers – they really are just miniature versions of Ari Gold, running around and wining and dining potential clients.
But if you’re an Analyst or Associate, think “Lloyd” rather than “Ari Gold.”
What It’s Really Like Being an Investment Banker
So then, what is it really like being an investment banker?
1) Unpredictability is Worse Than Long Hours
The long hours in banking get a lot of attention, but the unpredictability is far worse.
Forget planning weekends, let alone vacations – you never know when you’ll get called into the office to create a last-minute pitch book.
If you don’t believe me, just check out the story of how my Saturday night dinner was completely ruined right here.
2) You’re On Call 24/7, and All Your Clients Are Crazy
You know how they say that spending too much time with the same people over and over again can drive you crazy?
Well, here’s the bad news: All your clients in investment banking will be crazy – and you have to deal with them all the time.
They will call or email you in the middle of the night, make ridiculous last-minute requests, and expect you to pick up their dry cleaning twice a week.
They can do this because they’re paying your bank a lot of money – at the minimum, at least $1 million USD and often up into the $10 million+ range.
So you have to do what they say.
3) It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Investment banking is less about quick thinking and more about plowing through dozens of PowerPoint slides and Excel files.
You’ll spend days tweaking text in presentations, and it’s not uncommon to go through 50 to 100 revisions of the same presentation before a potential client sees it.
If you’re quick with numbers, you like periods of intense focus, and you want work-life separation, you’re better off as a trader.
4) Communication Skills For The Win!
Most of your work is administrative – researching companies, updating lists of information, scheduling meetings and conference calls, sending out emails, and keeping everyone in the loop.
You already know there’s not as much quantitative work as you’d think, but there’s another counter-intuitive conclusion as well: You need excellent communication skills to succeed.
Reading, writing, and talking to people are more important than advanced math – liberal arts majors, there’s hope for you.
5) Your Co-Workers Will Preserve What’s Left of Your Sanity
One of the hidden benefits of investment banking: your co-workers.
Most professions are lonelier than investment banking, because you sit alone working in a cubicle all day – or you’re always on the road traveling by yourself.
But in banking, you’re always chatting, hanging out with, and eating with your co-workers.
And even though most of your water cooler and dinner conversations will be about work gossip, your co-workers are one of the best ways to maintain your sanity as a banker.
So Why Do It?
Now you might be wondering, “Why should I bother doing this in the first place? It doesn’t sound glamorous.”
That’s an easy one: the exit opportunities.
Banking has its downsides, but it puts you in a much better position than if you did a “standard” job like accounting or working at a Fortune 500 company because you learn a ton about business and give yourself a valuable network and skill set.
And if you want to get into fields like private equity, hedge funds, or venture capital – or go to a top business school – banking is one of the best ways to do it.
More on Being an Investment Banker
For even more on this topic, check out all these articles that I’ve written for you on this topic:
Investment Banking Analyst – A Day in the Life:
Investment Banking Analyst – A Week in the Life:
What You Do as an Investment Banker:
Thanks for reading, and see you again in a few days.
P.S. Get here from an email forward, a friend’s link, or a random Google search?This lesson is part of The Banker Blueprint newsletter – which gives you all the tips and insider information you need to break into investment banking. Learn more about it and sign up here.