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Former Analyst’s Career Path

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This is something like an interview with a former analyst of a bulge-bracket investment bank. She worked in a New York bulge-bracket bank for three years. Afterward she attended a top business school, worked in management consulting between two years at business school, and currently works for a small company. Her experience gives you an idea if you are planning to take a career path similar to that of this analyst. Read on.

You've said you considered going into consulting. Why did you choose investment banking instead?

I wanted breadth, and I felt like I would get exposed to different industries and companies in investment banking, whereas in consulting I would get stuck on one project for two years. The last straw was comparing the type of grunt work I'd be doing in each industry. Some consultant told me a story about standing outside McDonald's for two weeks counting parking spaces and keeping track of what people ordered. And I decided, you know what, I'd rather write a [computer] model, which, in retrospect, I don't know if I still believe. It was just that, at the time, consulting sounded tedious.

Why did you choose to join your particular firm?

I had offers from several brand-name firms and Kidder Peabody. I ruled out Kidder Peabody immediately. Since my job was going to be a big resume builder and launch my career, I thought it was real important that the firm I chose was going to hold its value as a name over time. So it came down to two firms-Company X and Company Y, the one I joined. My decision was based partly on the culture of the firms and partly on the positions they offered me.

What did you perceive to be the cultural differences between Company X and Company Y?

I felt that Company X was really "fratty," like a fraternity. When I visited the firm, I noticed a lot of guys that I felt were aggressive--they talked about having beer in the office on Fridays and that sort of thing, like in a locker room. I wasn't impressed with the women there either. The women were scarce, and they acted more like men--they were forced to act that way. I remember thinking that they weren't women there like me. And people had told me that there was a "star system" at Company X as opposed to a team culture. Company Y I thought of as being good guys, nice relationship bankers. It didn't seem to me to be like Liar's Poker at Company Y. Of course, I interviewed with people from Company Y that I loved, and then I got in there and I had never seen the people I was actually going to work with.

How did your role as an analyst change over time?

As a first-year analyst, I crunched numbers, managed and analyzed large amounts of information, analyzed comparable deals, prepared a lot of exhibits. As time went on, I did less assisting in developing presentations and client relationships and more of taking these roles on fully. When I was a first-year analyst, for example, a vice president would ask me to develop four exhibits for a presentation on Tuesday. Sometimes I was invited to the presentation, sometimes I wasn't. By the time 1 was a second-year, there were times when they would say, we want you to make a presentation next Tuesday, let's talk about what the content should be. And I would get to make decisions about the content.

What do you want to tell people about the culture in investment banking?

I think your perception of the culture depends on what type of person you are. But to summarize my opinions, I think that banking is by necessity team-oriented because no one person can get all the work done. I think that investment banking is a little locker roomish; there are a lot of guys high-fiving and people standing around playing in football pools and fantasy baseball leagues. There's definitely a lot of male bonding that goes on, which alienates a lot of women. It's male-dominated, and many women bankers feel the need to emulate the men that work there. Also, I think that people have real strong work ethics. There's not a whole lot of understanding about what's going on in your personal life. It's looked down on to bring your personal life to work. I think there's some spirit of helping people to develop professionally, but I don't think it's as evident as in other business settings.

What other skills or assets helped you to be successful in investment banking?

You need to be pretty confident in your abilities, because people don't fork out a lot of praise. You need to be relatively tough. People will eat you alive if they think you're weak or can't take what they're dishing out. They'll talk about you and joke about you and be less likely to want to work with you if you're not tough. I remember reviews where they'd read me comments like she's "tough" and has got "killer instincts." It wasn't what I wanted to be known for, but they thought this was positive feedback. Being very detail-oriented is also important. People will never forgive you for putting the wrong company name on a book, or making a mistake on a number. Forever you'll be known as the person who is careless. People form impressions very early, and for two years you'll have to live with those impressions.

What's the biggest perk you receive in investment banking?

You get a big stamp of approval on your resume. Everyone assumes you're a hard worker, you're smart, and no one ever questions your analytical skills. It gets you over a lot of hurdles in getting into business schools and getting jobs later in life. And contacts, too, are great contacts.

So the biggest perks aren't the money and other material goods?

The money at first was really impressive to me, but then I saw how fast it went. It's fleeting. I definitely liked taking chauffeured cars home and using car phones and going to the Plaza for lunch. But it wears a little thin when you realize that a two-hour lunch at the Plaza means you're going to be at work for two extra hours that night.

Did it ever seem weird to you that at twenty-two, you were making $50,000 a year and staying at Ritz Carlton's across the country?

It always felt to me like our company was buying my time. They were buying those years from me. What they were doing was paying me to live there and give up my personal life. So, the Ritz Carlton and all the rest of the compensation didn't strike me as odd because I felt early on that I deserved those things. They bought my life.

Exactly how many of your hours did they buy each week?

I think I worked on average from 7 A.M. until 10 P.M. Just enough time to get eight hours of sleep, but not enough time to do anything social. To give you a point of reference, our company pays for a chauffeured ride home if you work past 8 P.M. I only took the subway home twice in my entire first year. I'd also work one day on the weekends.

Could you summarize the positive and negative impacts on you of working in banking?

On the positive side, you carry around a stamp of approval for the rest of your life, and it gets you into business school. I learned that I was tougher than I thought I was. I gained a lot of confidence dealing with senior people. I developed strong quantitative and project management skills.

On the negative side, I think my attention span was permanently shortened. It was so fast-paced that you didn't have the time to do planning and analysis, and I adjusted to that. I think I have less patience for long-term analysis.

What were your managers like--did they help you develop professionally?

There's an emphasis on short-term, monetary results in investment banking. The questions that are asked are "What have you done for me, what money have you made for the company, what transactions have you closed?" There are people who are horrible managers who can make managing director because they're profit centers unto themselves. They have no social skills, never contributed to anyone's development, and it doesn't matter because they're getting deals done.

Where has the analyst job led you?

Well, as I said, it helped me get into business school. In terms of getting a job, I think that the banking experience would have helped me a lot more had I wanted to stay in finance. After business school, I had a lot of opportunities in principal investments, business development, and other finance-oriented jobs. But my experience didn't help me get a job in marketing beyond just a general stamp of approval.

That's interesting. Would you therefore recommend to undergraduates to take a job in a field that they might be interested in pursuing long term?

That's always my advice to people. If you know what you want to do, get in there and get some experience and credibility. There were so many people coming out of business school with me who only had consulting or banking in their backgrounds and no recruiters wanted to talk to them about doing marketing or operations or line jobs. They wanted to talk to them about strategic planning or finance. The good news is that once I was able to work my way into a marketing position, the fact that I had done consulting and investment banking gave people the impression that I was a high-quality employee, that I was responsible and reliable. It's given me a cachet for life.
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