So, What Should You Do at Investment Banking Summer Training Besides Getting Wasted Each Night?
You’ve just been through a warzone to get your offer: 53 interviews, 3 weekend trips to New York, and so much time spent staring at Excel that you’ve developed a monitor tan.
But things worked out, you accepted your offer, and you’re about to start work in 2 weeks.
You just need to make it through the training program first.
But that should be the easiest part of the entire process, right? Right?
Does This Really Matter?
When I first got questions about training programs, I was confused: it seemed like a topic that didn’t warrant much advice.
“It would be about as stimulating as all those suggestions over the years to create a recommended reading list,” I thought.
But then I sat down to think about it in more detail and started asking around, and realized that there might be some important and not-so-obvious points to make.
Why Training Programs?
They’re a combination of marketing and education: banks pride themselves on offering “the best investment banking training” – even though banks use the same companies to train you – and they want to get people from non-finance backgrounds up to speed quickly.
Beyond just teaching you about accounting, valuation, and finance, lots of banks bring in speakers from different groups and use them to introduce you to their culture and how things work.
For some inexplicable reason, a few banks really like to tout their training programs and use them as a selling point when interviewing candidates, which might just be the strangest recruiting tactic ever.
No one joins Goldman Sachs because their training program is so great – they join because of the name “Goldman Sachs.” Their training program could disappear tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter.
The “education” from these programs is most helpful if you’re not from a finance background.
You will indeed have a tough time at first if you know little about accounting, valuation, and finance – but then it would also be difficult to get an offer these days without knowing those topics to begin with.
Even if you are completely new to finance, training programs are still not that helpful because different groups have different standards and it can be hard to focus when everyone is talking to each other and chatting online.
So don’t stress too much over all the content – there are more pressing concerns during training, beyond just getting enough bottles every night.
What is a “Training Program”?
Right before you start working, the bank will fly you and all the other incoming analysts and associates to New York or London (or wherever your bank is based) and spend 1-2 months “training” you.
Translation: You get to spend each weekday in a crowded room learning all about Excel, accounting, valuation, and finance from outside training firms and occasionally internal speakers from the bank.
You follow along on your screen as they instruct you, and you keep Facebook and Gmail open so you can chat with everyone else about how bored you are and how the instructor has a receding hairline.
You may also get tests and case studies to complete, and group exercises similar to what you find at assessment centers. And then there are those fun standardized tests you have to pass – the Series 7 and 63 back in the day, and the Series 79 in recent times.
You’re not working banking hours during this time – weekends are mostly free and you rarely stay late at night, which is the first and last time that will happen as long as you work in the industry.
If you’re going into an internship rather than a full-time job, you’ll get just a week-long crash-course rather than the 1-2 months that full-timers get.
Many boutique banks don’t offer training programs at all because it’s beyond their budget – you’re also not likely to go through training at private equity firms or hedge funds, because they’re small and they expect you to know everything you need once you start working.
If you’re going into sales & trading or another non-IB area at a bank, you’ll probably have some type of training as well but the material will be different and it might be shorter.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the 2 most important words in everything I’ve written above are “crowded room.”
If you’re not meeting other people and networking during training, you’re wasting your time.
So How Do You Approach Training?
Ask most bankers about what to do during your training program, and you’ll get 1 of 2 responses:
- “Just get drunk every night! Party! It’s the best part of the analyst/associate program.”
- “Study hard and take all the homework assignments and case studies seriously! Oh, and if you don’t pass those exams, you’re screwed.” (This one usually comes from students who aren’t even in the industry yet)
Neither one of these is quite right.
On #1, yes, you should go out and have fun since this will be one of your last chances to do so in the next few years.
But you need to be strategic about how you do it and also make sure you meet the right people in the process.
On #2, despite rumors to the contrary, most of the work they give you does not matter that much. Just do reasonably well and pass what you need to pass – it’s almost irrelevant next to your deal experience in your first year.
But I Heard This Person Got Kicked Out for Slacking Off!!!
Most of these rumors are greatly exaggerated. Yes, if you do something incredibly stupid – kidnap the Managing Director’s son, start drinking at work, etc. – you might be removed from training, but that hardly ever happens.
If you already have your group placement, homework assignments and tests during training aren’t important – the senior bankers at your office don’t have time to read the details of what you did and then change your group based on that.
If you’re really concerned about not knowing enough or being disadvantaged next to everyone else there, learn some material before training starts.
If you’re reading this site you’re probably a Type-A overachiever anyway, so you’ve already signed up for modeling courses before you even got interviews.
Just dust those off and start going through all the material and you can doze off during training and still do well.
What About the Series 7, 63, and 79 Exams?
These are actually important to pass because some banks won’t let you start working for real until you’ve cleared the exams.
They’re horribly boring and you’ll forget everything you learned in about 2 days, but you need to pass them anyway.
I’m never going to produce a course on these because they’re too boring even for me – but I’ve heard that the Knopman materials are good.
Do not underestimate these exams because they are more difficult than you initially think.
There’s a lot of rote memorization (certain questions will give you choices of 5 days, 10 days, 15 days, or 20 days and you just have to know which one is correct), and it’s hard to cram and learn everything in a few days.
So yeah, make sure you pass these – but don’t spend every waking moment studying at the expense of networking.
OK, So Then What About Networking – What Do You Mean by “Make Sure You Meet the Right People”?
Going out and getting bottles every night is almost a good idea, but there are a few problems:
- You won’t have much money yet since you just started and may not even get a paycheck until training ends.
- It’s more helpful to know people in different offices and different groups instead of always hanging out with the same crowd.
If you don’t know anyone there, you’d be screwed – yes, you could just email the entire office and ask for someone to help you, but everyone is busy with their own fire drills and deadlines so they may ignore you.
But if someone sees your name and recognizes you from training, you’re in much better shape and you might actually get the answer you need.
It’s almost impossible to get to know people from every group and every office, so focus on 5-10 analysts/associates.
Get some geographic diversity (if you’re in the US, know people in a few different cities and also a few in Europe and Asia) and industry diversity (if you’re in an M&A group, get to know people in industry groups and also ECM and DCM).
Doing this is not difficult and I would feel silly writing a “guide.”
Each day there are plenty of breaks, and most banks throw lots of events and parties during training – take advantage of these and go up to meet new people there.
Just think of it as a big information session, only without seasoned bankers. And it’s even easier than information sessions because you have an enforced time limit and everyone else is new and wants to meet others.
Does It Really Help?
The main problem is the high turnover rate in finance – by the end of your first year, at least 50% of your incoming analysts/associates will be gone.
So it won’t help you forever, but it doesn’t matter too much because your first year is the most critical anyway – do well at first and you’ll get better work and better exit opportunities, and do poorly at first and you’ll get the MDs laughing at you and bottom-tier bonus.
During training, I made the mistake of constantly going out with the same group of people and not getting to know others.
Things still turned out OK (see: this site), but there were quite a few times when it would have been helpful to know people in different groups.
It’s not a question of life-or-death, but it will save you some headaches and possibly let you get 6 hours of sleep rather than 4 hours – at least on some nights.
So do what you need to pass everything and learn the material, but don’t take any of it too seriously at the expense of meeting other people.
If you’re concerned about not knowing enough when you start working, start preparing beforehand and learn as much as possible from classes or training programs.
And make sure you find out about your office and who makes decisions there before you start working as well.
Get to know 5-10 people well so you have contacts in other groups and other geographies when you need something and no one else in your office can help.
It’s tempting to befriend only the incoming bankers in your own office or your own group, but that defeats the purpose of training: you want to spread your net wide and meet people from all over.
And if you’re already doing all this and you know accounting, valuation, and finance like the back of your hand, have some fun and try to show up for training every day without passing out on your desk – they might actually notice that, especially if you’re in the front row.
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