by Brian DeChesare Comments (179)

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

“Are you guys even in the office past 8 PM? Whenever I call no one’s there.”

“New York is hella lame, people are so much better out here.”

“If you say ‘hella’ again I’m going to make you pay for the bottles next time – and maybe the models too.”

“Fine, I’ll do some research and see what I can send over. NY is still overhyped, though.”

No, it’s not a short story or a new TV show about bankers – it’s a banker from NYC and one from San Francisco talking to each other.

And you read that headline correctly: today you’ll learn how banking differs in different regions of the US rather than going off on adventures to distant lands.

As one reader pointed out a while back, “Hearing about all these different countries is great, but what about how banking is different on the east coast vs. west coast of the US and everywhere in between?”

The Most Common – and Wrong – Arguments

Many people claim that the pay and hours differ significantly and that New York is more “hardcore” than other regions.

That makes sense intuitively: New York is the biggest financial center and the biggest deals tend to happen there.

But in practice, these differences are greatly exaggerated – pay is standardized at the junior levels in finance and bonuses depend more on your bank and group rather than the city you’re in.

At the senior levels, geographic differences become more important because certain offices have better deal flow and clients, and senior bankers’ bonuses depend 100% on performance.

New York bankers like to argue that they work way more than people in other regions, but there are no scientifically controlled surveys to support these claims.

Yes, maybe the hours are somewhat worse since more deals happen there – but we’re talking a difference of 85 hours per week vs. 90 hours per week: you still won’t have a life.

So the more substantial differences have nothing to do with pay or hours, but rather the industries covered, the cost of living, and the exit opportunities.

And yes, I’ll address the ever-popular models/bottles, networking, and a few other points as well.

Industries Covered

This is the main difference – banks in the top 5 cities for finance in the US focus on a different industry:

There is no “best” because it depends on what you want to do in the future and how certain you are of your career.

Some of these fields are more specialized than others; something like oil & gas requires more specific knowledge than tech or healthcare since energy companies play by different rules and require different valuation methodologies.

So if you’re already interested in a specific industry, it may be a good idea to start out in the region that focuses on that industry – but if you have no idea yet, New York is the safest bet.

Just as actors get typecast, you will get more and more pigeonholed as you move up the ladder, so you need to consider these options carefully.

One friend worked on a telecom deal at a small VC firm, then got placed into the telecom group at a boutique bank, and was then placed into the telecom group at a bulge bracket bank.

Effectively, he became “the telecom guy” all because of one small deal he worked on ages ago.

And it’s even worse once you move beyond banking: good luck interviewing for that hedge fund that wants people with European telecom merger arbitrage experience if you don’t have any.

But What About Deal Flow?

“But,” you rightly point out, “There’s a difference between deal flow, hours, and industries covered – even if you’re working a lot, you might just be building pitch books all day. And what if your industry isn’t ‘hot’ at the moment?”

I don’t disagree with you there, but it’s almost impossible to determine deal flow of specific offices without talking to real people.

So if you’re such an overachiever that you’re going to pick your bank and group based on deal flow and exit opportunities, go talk to people at the different offices you’re considering and see what they say – but keep a critical eye open because they’re likely to oversell you on everything.

And no, I’m not going to rank cities and groups by deal flow here since that changes quite frequently and since you’re likely an obsessive-compulsive person already if you’re reading this.

Cost of Living

In ancient times, New York was the most expensive city in terms of real estate, taxes, food, and so on.

Now, however, San Francisco is actually more expensive, or at least as expensive, due to the tech boom and the number of high-paid startup employees there (as of 2015).

So you are not likely to save much money during the year in either place; it’s also a bad idea to live in New Jersey or another location outside the main city to save money, since you might go insane in what little free time you have.

The “cost of living” ranking looks something like this:

  • NYC ~= SF > LA > Chicago > Houston

You will save the most money working in Houston because Texas has no state income tax, rent is ridiculously cheap, bottles are less pricey, and even the models are less demanding and will give your wallet less of a workout.

Cost of living shouldn’t be your top concern, but you should be aware of it.

Finance people are notorious for making millions of dollars and then blowing it all on luxury spending – so pay attention if you want to retire on more than $50K in that savings account you forgot about.

One other note: driving will be required in most of these places, especially in a city like LA where there is no public viable transportation.

So if you hate driving and owning a car, your best bet is New York.

NOTE: Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are actually changing this dynamic.

If you live relatively close to the office, you might be able to take one of those to and from work every day and gain some peace of mind in the process.

Exit Opportunities

The main problem with exit opportunities is that it’s hard to interview when you’re far away.

You need to take time off work by using questionable excuses, hope people don’t notice your repeated absences, and then visit the firm enough times to seal the deal.

Since New York to SF or LA is a 5-6 hour trek, it’s not easy to hop from banking on one coast to the buy-side on the other coast. Pretty much all the analysts I knew in California stayed there, and pretty much all the ones in New York stayed on the east coast.

So you’re more likely to stay in your first region unless you can pull off in-person trips or interview entirely via video conference (unlikely for traditional exit opportunities).

Again, people like to argue that New York has “better” exit opportunities, but plenty of analysts on the west coast and elsewhere get into mega-funds as well; it’s just that they work at local offices rather than in NYC.

One legitimate difference is that there are more exit opportunities in New York just because it’s the biggest financial center.

And you also run into the pigeonholing problem if you start out in another region: go to Houston and you’ll more than likely recruit only for energy-focused PE firms and hedge funds.

If you’re in San Francisco, you’ll be more likely to recruit for tech-focused funds, or maybe even quit finance and join a tech startup.

But aside from those differences, the actual quality of exit opportunities doesn’t differ as much as you might expect.

Got Networking?

Networking opportunities are another more significant difference, and one that people overlook all the time.

Since NYC is much bigger than the other regions, you’ll simply meet more people there and you’ll be better equipped to network your way into other roles.

Just as with other financial centers like Hong Kong and London, sometimes half the people you meet in NYC will be in finance (the other half will be “aspiring” artists or models, which is great for you as a financier).

How much does the quality of networking really matter?

It depends how certain you are of your “career path” – if you’re interested in doing tech banking and then doing venture capital in California, you’re better off starting in SF and networking with tech and VC groups there.

But if you have no industry preference, you’ll gain more options by starting out in New York.

How to Satisfy the Models

Ah, now to the fun part.

The main difference is that the New York models tend to be higher-maintenance, more expensive, and more demanding; LA comes close since everyone is required to get plastic surgery, but you’ll still spend more overall in NYC.

But flashing around wads of cash also doesn’t impress as much in New York because $200K is barely middle class – not enough to satisfy models who are expecting a new bag every day.

In all seriousness, you really will spend a lot more money going out in New York if you actually enjoy it.

LA and SF can also be expensive, while Chicago and Houston are more reasonable. Some also argue that people in the South and Midwest are “friendlier” but I don’t want to get into a debate over that one.

I’m not qualified to comment on the quality of men in each place, other than to say that SF is probably the worst place to find hot guys unless you’re into tech guys with a ton of money from startups.

(Yes, a female friend recently asked if there were a lot of tall, muscular blonde guys in SF and I started laughing.)

Recruiting

“Aha,” you say, “But even if the pay and hours are not much different, surely they must ask completely different interview questions in each region, right?”

Sorry to disappoint, but no, not really.

No one sits down and says, “Well, in Chicago we should ask this specific set of questions but in Houston it will be completely different.”

Once again, the main difference comes down to the industry focus: you don’t need to be an expert on the industry of focus in each city, but you should know something about recent deals and any industry-specific valuation methodologies.

It’s not really “easier” or “harder” to get into finance in different cities – there are fewer spots outside of New York, but there’s also less competition.

Other Regions

Yes, there are banks in places besides NYC, Chicago, Houston, SF, and LA – but the offices tend to be much smaller and they don’t always recruit on-campus.

Other cities with a presence in finance include Boston (similar to SF due to the industry focus), Washington, DC (aerospace/defense), Atlanta (lots of wealth management), Miami (healthcare, Latin America), Dallas (got equities?) and maybe a few others.

I can’t recommend starting out in these places if you have the option to go to one of the 5 major centers listed above.

Maybe if you’re interested in only a very specific industry, like aerospace and defense, then DC makes sense – but you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of deal flow and exit opportunities.

A lot of boutiques are also based in other regions, so you should jump at the opportunity if you have nothing lined up in a bigger city – but otherwise, stick to the top 5 above.

Outside of IB: Sales & Trading, Hedge Funds, and More

You run into the same differences in other fields like private equity, sales & trading, hedge funds, and asset management: a different industry focus and more geographically limited exit opportunities.

Some cities also tend to be stronger in certain fields.

For example, Chicago is great for prop trading and the SF Bay Area is the spot to be for venture capital.

One downside to any type of markets-based role such as trading or hedge funds is that you have to wake up very early if you’re on the west coast because you work New York market hours.

If you’re fine waking up at 4 AM, getting off work at 5 PM, and sleeping at 9 PM every night, you might be OK; if you’re not a morning person, though, you may want to stay away.

So, Where Should You Work?

If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do and don’t mind spending more money, New York is your best option – there’s more networking, more opportunities, bigger deals, and you don’t even have to drive.

But if you have a more specific goal such as going into VC, joining a tech startup, or working in the oil & gas industry, you could make a good argument for starting out in a different city.

There may be slight differences in pay, hours, and how much you save in your first year (with bigger differences on that last one), but those don’t matter much in the long-term.

To figure out which office has the best deal flow, network with bankers and ask directly – that information changes quickly and you’re always better off going straight to the source.

And whatever else happens, make sure you don’t end up doing equities in Dallas.

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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (73)

How to Break Into Finance in London Coming from an Unknown School in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe Investment BankingWhen this interview series started awhile back, I expected most submissions to come from Europe since the UK is the second biggest country in terms of readership.

But that didn’t happen – instead, we covered the Middle East (which is awesome) and parts of Asia instead.

This time around, though, we move back toward Europe with an interview from a reader in Eastern Europe (Poland specifically) who broke into the London finance scene.

Read on to learn all about Eastern Europe, why you might want to go to London anyway even if there are hot emerging markets out there, and how you can use ruined travel plans and flight delays to impress bankers.

Introductions & Eastern Europe Recruiting

Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you first got interested in finance?

A: Sure. At the time I was in my final year at a top university in Poland doing a Master’s in Finance and Accounting – a 5-year program, which is common in Europe. I had also done a combined investment banking and corporate banking internship at the Warsaw office of a French bank.

In my first 3 years at university I did a lot of volunteer work, had roles in a lot of student groups, and had lots of other activities and hobbies.

Even though I said “top university” above, it was not well-known outside the region and very few banks actually came there to recruit. You’re at a big disadvantage in Europe if you’re not at one of the top schools in the UK.

Q: So even though it was well-regarded in the country, not many banks came there. Does that mean the recruiting environment in Eastern Europe is not that good? Or is there not as much of a need for bankers there at the moment?

A: Overall the recruiting environment and the investment banking market here are completely different from what you see in the US/UK.

Most large companies in Eastern Europe are still state-owned, so most foreign investment banks that come here advise governments on how to take their holdings public and divest companies.

So, for example, when the Polish government announces plans to sell a large number of companies, the international banks come over here and start pitching themselves while increasing the number of Polish-speaking graduates they recruit (they do still recruit a few candidates each year regardless of the government, but you’re likely to get pigeonholed as the “Central / Eastern Europe banker”).

Since the market is dependent on government announcements, there’s less of a consistent recruiting cycle than in developed countries.

The banks that do come here recruit mostly for investment banking – specifically M&A and ECM – and not as much for other divisions like S&T, PWM, ER, and so on.

In terms of the market as a whole, Poland and Eastern Europe still felt the effects of the credit crunch and financial crisis and lots of banks with Warsaw offices had hiring freezes, with very few graduate opportunities available.

Q: Right, so that’s what motivated you to move to London rather than staying at home?

A: Yes – there just aren’t that many investment banking or even corporate banking opportunities in Eastern Europe. The main banks in the region are retail banks, and most of the big M&A and IPO deals are done in London instead.

Sometimes London-based banks have local partners (for example, a co-lead manager on an IPO) with more specialized expertise – so there are a few investment boutiques and investment/corporate arms of local banks here. But they work on smaller deals, there are no established internships or graduate programs, and the same opportunities don’t exist.

Salary is also important, and as a graduate you can earn up to 5x the local pay in London. And most of the successful senior guys who are doing deals in Poland right now have international experience, mostly in London.

Non-Target University to Internship

Q: So how did you get an internship in London if banks didn’t recruit at your school?

A: In Europe, you can still get interviews by applying online without doing any networking. It is not easy and your application really must be perfect for you to have a chance. And I don’t recommend doing this, especially if you’re in the US or another region where online applications go into a black hole.

To stand out, you need to have previous experience, have an interesting personality, and get lucky – I had the previous banking internship at the Warsaw branch of the French bank and a lot of activities, and all of that came across in my application.

One additional point is that since most people study for 5 years to get a Master’s degree here, they have more time to “build” an interesting CV by getting internships and by being more active in student groups.

Q: Right, so you had the previous experience and an interesting personality… but what about the luck factor?

A: The day I flew to London to attend an assessment center there, my plane had to make an emergency landing and so I was late by around 2 hours.

But that actually worked in my favor – everyone was impressed with how I stayed calm and how I was still able to complete all the numerical tests and group exercises as if nothing had happened.

HR also told everyone about my situation, so bankers heard my story before I even arrived at the office, and then when I arrived they were asking me about it. So that helped me stand out from everyone else there and showed how I could handle stress and deal with the unexpected.

Q: I can already predict that someone will take that story and post a comment below this interview saying, “But that’s ridiculous, that hardly ever happens and he just got really lucky. How can you possibly say that applies to me?” Any thoughts?

A: Obviously, you’re not going to make emergency landings and be late to the assessment center all the time. But you can always focus on what sets you apart from everyone else.

As you’ve mentioned before countless times, plenty of people are good at math and can work 24/7 cranking out pitch books – but hardly anyone has an interesting story to tell.

So if you don’t have anything that sounds cool – study abroad experience, an unusual activity or hobby, or a good set of student groups – then fix that right away.

Sure, that kind of story gave me a bigger advantage going into interviews, but even without that I still could have talked about all my activities and hobbies and made them remember me like that.

Q: Most people would also say that it’s impossible to go to London and get even an internship offer if you’re not from a well-known school and you’re not doing a lot of networking.

How many recruits from continental Europe get in each year, and do you have any tips on how to stand out?

A: Truthfully, it is extremely difficult to get into London full-time if you’re not at a top university in the UK (Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial College, Warwick, etc.). You need to get a summer internship first, as the conversion rate from summer interns into full-time hires is quite high.

To give you some numbers, there were around 115 interns at my bank across the front office, middle office, and back office, and only around 10 were studying in continental Europe.

In local offices in Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, etc.) they take almost 100% local people, but most people prefer to work in London because the largest deals are done there.

To actually get that all-important summer internship, it’s pretty much what I said above: get local finance experience in your own country, be interesting, and hope for some luck.

One other point: don’t try to compete directly against everyone else. There are lots of people who claim to be finance wizards or who say they’re smarter than everyone, but that’s a poor way to stand out because everyone else is saying the same thing.

Rather than doing that, I focused on my background and internship in Eastern Europe and how I could help the bank expand its business in that region – not many other interviewees were using that angle, so it worked well.

Internship Life

Q: Speaking of internships, what was yours like?

A: It was a rotational program, so throughout the summer I got to see different desks, from sales through trading and research. Each week we presented to bankers based on what we learned that week – for example, a new trading strategy, thoughts on a new bond issuance, or where interest rates were going.

I was never bored at work, and didn’t have to do (too many of) the “coffee-fetching” tasks that you hear horror stories about. Everyone also had their own individual projects, from developing complex spreadsheets to be used by traders to analyzing business opportunities to writing research notes.

Q: So it sounds like this was more of a capital markets / sales & trading-oriented internship, even if technically it was a rotational program.

What about the working environment, culture, and hours in London?

A: I’m not sure these are universally true, but my observations were:

  • Markets-based groups and European banks have a better work-life balance. I usually started at 7 AM and left by 6:30 PM, with the senior guys leaving even earlier. All weekends were free.
  • M&A / ECM had longer hours. But you still get at least one day off in a week, and you may only have to come in for a few hours on Saturday.
  • DCM Origination hours were somewhere in between – it’s still very client and relationship-driven but it’s not quite as intense as M&A.
  • American banks have much worse hours, with the exception of Sales & Trading. The culture is much different and free time isn’t valued as highly.

My social life during the internship was great: the bank organized once-a-week networking events with free drinks, the hours weren’t bad, and on Fridays we left earlier and hung out with the other interns.

People were friendly and helpful if you had a problem, though as you’ve mentioned before you don’t want to ask the same question twice or take a simple question to someone who’s high-up on the ladder.

Internship to Full-Time Offer & Beyond

Q: So how did you make the move from internship to full-time offer? Was it at the same bank?

A: I stayed at the same bank but got an offer from a different group. Since it was a rotational internship, we moved through a number of desks in the first few weeks there – that actually worked out well because interns could decide whether or not they liked desks, and desks could say “no” to interns if there wasn’t a good fit.

If you have this type of internship, you need to work hard to impress the specific desk where you want to work – don’t spread your efforts too thin or try to become best friends with everyone at the bank, or no one on the desk will push for you to get hired.

I liked the people on a research desk the most, so I spent a lot of time analyzing a market for them and then wrote the industry section of a real equity research report that the bank issued. That was above and beyond what others did, so based on the quality of the work, their feedback, and everyone liking me, I got an offer to work for that desk.

Q: So do you think you’ll stay in London for the long-term, or will you move back to Eastern Europe or go elsewhere eventually?

A: During my internship, one of the senior bankers said that if you want to be really successful in the industry you should “go abroad” to gain experience. He suggested a rotation between New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, so I’m considering doing that and will try to get a placement in one of those locations.

London is definitely the best place in Europe to learn finance, so I do want to spend most of my time here over the next few years.

Q: What about a Master’s in Finance or MBA program? You already completed the Master’s degree in Poland, but do you think there’s any value in going to a better-known school?

A: Given that finance is prestige-driven, I do want to try for a part-time Master’s in Finance program at LSE or LBS after working for 2 years. An MBA might be interesting but at the moment I think a Master’s degree from a better-known school would have more leverage.

I don’t think I would learn much about finance in those programs; it would be solely for networking and a prestige boost.

A lot of high-level bankers and CFOs in Poland followed this exact path: they worked for a few years in a large financial center, got a well-respected degree, and then went home. At the senior banker level, the salary difference is much smaller and when you take into account lower taxes and the lower cost of living, you might actually come out ahead.

Q: Awesome, thanks for your time. Good luck!

A: Sure thing, I enjoyed speaking with you.

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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (81)

The 4-Hour Investment Banking Body: How to Keep Off the First Year 15 and Get In Shape While Sitting In a Cubicle Staring at Excel All Day

Fitness Investment BankingIt’s midway through your first year as a banker.

You just got back from the holiday party, and after taking a day off to recover from your hangover, you’re ready to rock and roll.

You pull out your favorite pair of slacks from the closet, fumbling to put them on…

…and as you do so, they split in half – far too small for your waist, which has gained 4 inches (10 cm) in the past 6 months.

You’re fat.

And now you’re naked from the waist down, too, but that’s a smaller issue.

Here’s what went wrong, and how you can lose all that weight you just gained – with only 4 hours of free time (or less) per week.

Got Corpulence?

Back in school, you were an athlete – a powerlifter, a marathon runner, or even Michael Phelps.

Or maybe you weren’t, but at least you were in decent shape and had clothes that fit.

Now, you’re just a sleep-deprived, borderline-alcoholic, overweight banker – though you have gotten better at Excel.

You gained 25 pounds (~11 kg) in the past 6 months, but it’s not your fault – the universe has been conspiring against you to make it near-impossible to stay in shape as a banker.

The Demons of Fat Gain

You have a lot going against you and very little working for you as a banker:

  • You sit motionless for extended periods – and might even have bad posture when doing so.
  • You’re addicted to SeamlessWeb and eat horrible takeout food all the time.
  • Too many bottles, not enough models.
  • You never do any exercise because you’re busy fixing pitch books when you should be going to the gym.
  • Your co-workers will ridicule you if you don’t drink every single day.

Taken alone, any of these would make you fatter – but altogether they create a deadly cocktail of fat gain and will result in multiple trips to the “plus size” store.

Oh, and remember: no amount of money or fame will save you from health problems. Bill Clinton, former leader of the free world, earned over $100 million USD since he left office and that didn’t save him from quadruple bypass surgery.

How to Vanquish the Demons and Lose Fat

You need to combine diet and exercise and modify habits like drinking and how long you sit in your chair.

That seems simple, and if you’re not an investment banker, it is – but as a banker, you have a lot of problems that the average dieter never faces.

Most fitness advice online assumes that you can work out whenever you want for as long as you want, and that you have infinite time to cook food for yourself.

Rather than repeating those unrealistic suggestions, we’re going to focus on specifically what you must do to stay in shape as a banker.

The most common problem is fat gain, so that will be the main goal – but the advice here goes beyond that and will address issues like lower back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, and your overall energy level.

Assumptions and Sources & Uses

I’m assuming that you:

  • Have very little free time (< 4 hours per week) and no flexibility in your schedule.
  • Cannot cook because of this lack of free time.
  • Are often in social situations where you’re pressured to eat junk food and drink alcohol.
  • Care more about losing fat or not gaining fat in the first place than you do about gaining muscle or building endurance (there’s nothing wrong with those, but they’re much harder to pull off as a banker).
  • Have an inkling of common sense. If you think that donuts are better for you than vegetables, please press Alt + F4 right now.

We’re not going to get into a debate over different diet plans, like Atkins vs. South Beach vs. Paleo vs. Slow-Carb – the specific details matter far less than following the high-level ideas, which are similar in different plans.

I’m also not going to turn this into science class and get into a technical explanation of everything, because that’s off-topic and you can read all about the science elsewhere.

The focus here will be how to avoid getting fat as a banker – through diet, reduction of social pressure, exercise, Starbucks (the lifeblood of any banker), the right kind of bottles, and some secret ingredients.

Diet

As a banker, the usual habit is to skip breakfast altogether, get takeout for lunch, and then eat a huge dinner with 2 desserts from SeamlessWeb.

When you first start, this seems great: you’ve gone from being a starving student to eating steak and tiramisu every day.

The only problem is that you’re also getting fatter every day.

Modify this routine by:

  • Eating smaller meals at least 4 times per day – and more if possible. It helps your metabolism.
  • Avoiding SeamlessWeb and similar takeout and going for healthier options.
  • Always eating immediately after you wake up.

What do you eat, and how can you possibly have time for 4 meals per day?

First, each meal should have protein, fat, carbohydrates (optional – keep reading), and vegetables, with about half as much fat as the others (since it has twice the calories).

Examples that you can easily get at restaurants or from stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, with minimal prep time:

  • Sashimi with salad
  • Chicken salad with olive oil and vinegar
  • Tofu, beans, and vegetables (the vegetarian option)
  • Egg whites with avocado, cheese, whole wheat bread, and spinach
  • Low-fat cottage cheese with nuts and fruit
  • Sardines and whole wheat crackers

The last 2 are missing vegetables, so you can just add in a mixed salad there.

In keeping with the “no science class” rule above, I’m not going to spell out the mix of protein/fat/carbohydrates in each of these but feel free to look up the facts yourself if you’re curious.

Use your $20-30 dinner allowance to buy these, and try to get pre-made meals as much as possible – otherwise you’ll be pressed for time.

To take care of breakfast and your snack in between lunch and dinner, you can order extra the night before and save it for the next day, you can run to a store close to your building during a break, or you can use one of my ninja tricks below.

If you do it properly, eating 4x per day takes no more time than eating just 2x because you’re at your desk anyway, and you’re eating food you already have.

Wait, Aren’t Carbs Bad? / What Should I Avoid?

Ever since the Atkins diet became popular there has been a crusade against carbohydrates: “Don’t eat them,” critics say, “or you’ll turn into the Pillsbury Dough Boy.”

There is some truth to that, and cutting out foods with a lot of carbohydrates – especially simple ones like white rice – will help you. But as a banker, it’s probably not viable to completely cut out carbs because you need the energy for all those all-nighters.

So if you can do so, reduce carbs, especially when it’s late at night. But rather than obsessing over that, make sure you avoid anything with sugar – that’s the absolute worst thing you can eat if you want to stay slim.

You’ll be pressured into ordering dessert all the time, going to Starbucks constantly, and harvesting as much junk food as possible from your office’s kitchen, so avoiding sugar is easier said than done.

The easiest solution is to use artificial sweeteners, such as stevia, if you need your fix of sweets. These are not great to have in huge quantities either, but in small doses they are much better than real sugar.

Social Pressure

As a banker, your co-workers will pressure you into ordering more food than you can possibly eat just to use up your entire dinner allowance.

There are 2 ways to deal with this: avoidance and limited acceptance.

Avoidance

You could tell them you’re slammed and have no time to take a break and eat – but you don’t want to do that all the time or you’ll end up with no friends.

Maybe try this one 2-3x per week, but don’t rely on it every day or you’ll be excluded from group outings.

Limited Acceptance

For the times when you do have to go eat together, just follow the guidelines above: make sure your meal has a mix of protein, fat, carbs (optional), and vegetables.

So if you go out and they say you have to order a steak or they’ll laugh at you, go ahead and do it – just make sure it’s not massive (because you’re eating 3 other times throughout the day) and that it has vegetables on the side.

When it comes time for dessert and drinks, say you need to finish a few more things at work so you can’t drink much, and that you’re too full for dessert because you ate a few hours ago.

Exercise

Just like the controversy over carbs and whether or not they’ll turn you into the Pillsbury Dough Boy, another debate rages between cardio (running, swimming, etc.) and strength-training exercises.

We’re going to ignore that completely for one simple reason: you do not have time for extended cardio workouts as an investment banker.

You might be called back to the office at any time, on any day of the week, for any reason, so you need to think in 15-minute increments rather than hour-long or multi-hour-long sessions.

So the only option is strength training, for 3 reasons:

  1. As mentioned above, you need to get intense exercise in a very short amount of time.
  2. Unlike the equivalent amount of cardio, even a short and intense weight lifting workout will help you burn more calories for over a day if you do it properly.
  3. Doing resistance training will help your body absorb more calories and carbs immediately afterward, so you can loosen your dietary restrictions a bit.

If you have extra time, sure, go for a run, a bike ride, or go swimming whenever you can.

But if you’re a banker with an unpredictable schedule and almost no free time, you need to do quick but high-intensity strength-training workouts each week for the highest ROI.

What to Do At the Gym

Ideally, you will go to the gym 3 times per week for very quick workouts: I suggest Friday night, early in the day Sunday, and then once more whenever you have time during the week.

You are more likely to have free time on Friday night because senior bankers leave earlier – and you’re less likely to be called into the office early on Sunday.

A simple plan would be chest and triceps on one day, back and biceps on the next day, and then lower body on your final workout day.

Before the powerlifters reading pick apart this plan, remember that I’m assuming no knowledge or previous experience and extremely limited time – so please resist the temptation to argue for something more complicated.

If you’re pressed for time, you can condense this to 2 workouts instead and do upper body all on one day and lower body all on the other day – but if you do that, you should leave at least a few rest days in between workouts.

Finding Time to Go to the Gym

This can be tricky, and it depends on how your group operates: you’re best off asking if it’s OK to leave for 30 minutes in the early evening, and then getting in the habit of always going at that time.

Don’t ask for permission when you first start workingyou should use the first month or two to prove yourself as reliable, and then “make the ask” once the senior bankers know you’re good.

If your group is not open enough to discuss non-work issues, then you’ll have to follow my suggestion above and go on Friday and Sunday, and then whenever else you have time in between.

That might be 2 AM on a Tuesday – not an ideal time to work out, but far better than doing nothing at all.

Oh, and if you’re a female banker you still need to do everything above and focus on strength training: you’re not going to turn into the Incredible Hulk, since male and female bodies react much differently to working out.

In fact, arguably females need strength-training more than males due to the threat of osteoporosis.

Trips to Starbucks

This is yet another problem if you’re a banker who wants to stay in shape – you’ll be called to Starbucks and pressured into ordering that grande chocolate frappuccino all the time.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: avoid anything with sugar or milk in it. That means you have only 2 options at Starbucks: americano or espresso.

But you could turn this restriction into your advantage by ordering triple espressos all the time to make yourself look hardcore and then say that you need the caffeine for yet another all-nighter.

Critics will say that this results in too much caffeine, but that’s far better than having too much sugar: as a banker you must pick the lesser of two evils.

Outside of coffee, you should only drink water (ideally liters per day), tea, and yerba mate (the loose-leaf variety, anything else is too weak).

Sugar-free Red Bull and other drinks with artificial sweeteners are fine in small quantities, but try to shift over to tea for your caffeine fix as much as possible.

What about alcohol? I’m glad you asked…

Bottles and Bottles

Most hardcore fitness buffs will tell you that alcohol, like sugar and carbs, will instantly turn you into the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

That’s not far from the truth: alcohol (especially beer) has a lot of calories and even if it doesn’t, it prevents your body from burning off calories until the alcohol is processed.

As a banker, though, you can’t completely cut out alcohol because you’ll be pressured into drinking with your co-workers, with clients, and at events like holiday parties.

So follow these guidelines instead:

  1. Avoid beer and anything with a lot of sugar, like soju or sugary cocktails, at all costs.
  2. Stick to whiskey shots and other hard alcohol when you must drink – it’s not ideal, but it’s “less bad” for you than beer because the calorie count is lower.
  3. Red wine in limited quantities (1-2 glasses per day) is arguably OK as well, or at least “less bad” than beer.
  4. Try to drink no more than once a week if you can help it – just say you’re busy the rest of the time.

I can’t help much with the models, but that’s how to handle the bottles side of the equation.

The Cherry On Top

Those are the key principles, and if you follow everything above you’ll be better off than 99% of incoming bankers who haven’t even thought about how they’ll stay in shape as cubicle monkeys.

You’re supposed to avoid dessert, but just this once as a cherry on the top of the rest of this advice, here are a few tips and tricks to take it to the next level:

Think Thin Bars

As you can tell, I’m borderline obsessive-compulsive about fitness and nutrition – and I’ve searched far and wide for the best way to eat decently with no free time.

The best solution I’ve found is the Think Thin bar: each one is 240 calories and has a mix of protein, fat, and “limited” carbs (the sugar alcohols in the bar are not fully absorbed by your body), and you can easily pack them for consumption whenever you want.

The one flaw is that they have relatively high saturated fat, so you shouldn’t go overboard: use them as a backup plan when you need to eat but don’t have anything else.

You can easily sneak these in and avoid drawing suspicion to yourself while you’re at your desk since they’re so quick to eat.

NEPA

NEPA stands for Non-Exercise Physical Activity, and it’s one of the most important – and easiest – things you can do as a banker to stay in shape.

If you’re staring at the monitor without moving all day, you’ll quickly develop lower back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and slow down your metabolism.

But if you take quick breaks to walk around for a few minutes every hour, you can avoid much of that, or at least reduce its impact.

Unless you walk for hours and hours a day you won’t lose much weight doing this, but taking these breaks is more about preventing back problems, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome than burning fat.

So use all those trips to Starbucks with other analysts/associates as a way to get NEPA, socialize, and get your caffeine fix.

It’s easier to take breaks late at night when senior bankers are not around to watch everything you do, but even during the day you can take breaks during your downtime and do something as simple as walking to the bathroom or pretending that you have to go talk to someone else.

Does Any of This Actually Work?

Like most bankers, I got out of shape in my first year and then lost around 40 pounds (~18 kg) in the last 6 months of my second year by following the plan above.

Other friends in banking have followed this plan to similar success.

I’m not a doctor and this tutorial does not represent a scientifically controlled experiment – like everything else on the site, it is advice that has worked well for others.

This plan is admittedly more difficult to follow in countries outside the US and even in cities outside NY/SF/LA because there are not as many options for food, and many places don’t have 24-hour gyms.

So you may not be able to follow everything precisely, but as long as you avoid the most common mistakes you’ll still be in better shape than most bankers.

What Now?

First, find a 24-hour gym close to your office, and then locate several restaurants and grocery stores nearby that have the food you need.

When you first start working, go to the gym whenever you have a chance. After 1-2 months, ask the senior banker you work most closely with if it’s OK to go for 30 minutes 3x per week around dinner time.

Rather than ordering takeout on SeamlessWeb all the time, use your dinner allowance to get the proper food at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and save some so that you can eat immediately when you wake up the next day – and if you run out, keep Think Thin bars on hand as your backup plan.

Do all that, and hopefully when you reach the midway point of your first year all those Brooks Brothers clothes you bought before training started will still fit you.

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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