Thriving in Investment Banking: Part 2

April 28, 2021 | Blog

By Brandon Mavleos, Sr Director of Product Marketing

As a follow-up to our January blog on thriving in IB, Datasite has spoken to more bankers to capture tips and tricks on how to succeed in the industry. These fresh perspectives prove to be even more valuable within the context of the current environment. Shifting cultural dynamics and more transparency around work/life balance have made many bankers rethink their strategies for career management. Also, the flurry of new deals and deal types (e.g., SPACs) has created an exciting opportunity for investment bankers to seek experience outside traditional processes.

However, with all the new insights we have gained over the past year, several adages and words of advice for bankers still ring true. An eagerness to learn, strong organization, and comradery not only help to get through the long nights, but they also make the wins feel that much better. Here are three themes that dealmakers have carved out in 2021.

Theme 1: Stress is inevitable, but there are ways to manage it

It starts as early as recruitment

You will have long days (and nights) as an investment banker; that is a given. However, managing stress starts even before your first assignment. It begins before you even get on the desk. As Craig Gridelli, Director at Cowen, comments, finding the right bank and group during the recruitment process makes a huge difference in your stress levels when you start on the job. "Find a group you can get along with on a personal level. Do not just look for the right team or industry group… and do not make it an afterthought". While you may be attracted to a particular coverage team or product, that will only take you so far --- it's the people and culture that make the job worthwhile.

Be honest with yourself

Your first couple of years as an investment banker is a sprint through continuous learning. Any questions are on the table at first. However, as you start to get more seasoned on the desk, you might be hesitant to ask questions. Should I know this already? Doubt might start to creep in. While you might think it is prudent to figure it out on your own, this leads to unnecessary stress. As Craig mentions, "Junior bankers will sit there spinning their wheels for a couple of hours… where if they just asked the associate or VP or MD, they might get a 2-second answer that will solve their problem." This level of understanding can help juniors feel better, "Be honest. It can be scary if you do not know what to do… but asking the question frees up stress and makes it a lot more manageable."

Hold yourself accountable for the things that matter

It might feel like there is never enough time in the day to do the things that matter to you. While you might think it's okay to ignore your workout or miss a Saturday night dinner with friends… if you can make it work, it will only pay off in the end. As Brian Rose, Associate at Moelis, mentions, you need to carve out the items that are must-haves and commit. "it comes down to self-awareness. Understand what matters to you and dictate those things". "Whether its fitness, travels, relationships – recognize it and build a schedule, so you are not compromising." Identify the periods of the day or week where you can fit activities in, and keep to it.

Keep your body moving

It sounds cliché, but your body and your mind are connected. If you can get some exercise during the week, it helps. Of course, there will be days where this is not possible, or you are recovering from a hectic week, but if you do the right degree of planning, you might make it work. As Jason Weisbaum, Associate at Houlihan Lokey, calls out, it comes down to flexibility. "Everyone knows investment banking is not a 9-5 job; that is a given. However, that also means you can likely shift things around to achieve what you need to in your personal schedule." Jason calls out the importance of getting in a good workout early in the day, if possible. "Wake up a little earlier, get in a good workout, and get your mind right going into each day."

Theme 2: Skill development will happen organically, but only with the right attitude

Formal training helps, but informal is even more critical

Most bulge bracket, middle market, and boutique banks have excellent training programs for their incoming analysts and associates. Learning the fundamentals and technical know-how of the business is key to building credibility on the desk. However, critical learning comes from your colleagues. Developing relationships and trust can go a long way and is often fueled by shared interests. As Brian Rose mentions, "Much learning comes from just bouncing ideas off one another… Surround yourself with people who share similar interests or want to discuss the same topics."

Remind yourself to stay approachable

Having a tough week and wanting to disengage can feel natural. You might not be in the mood to socialize with others. Just getting your work done and going through the motions feels like the best course of action- and that is okay occasionally. However, it is vital in the long run to focus on your attitude and think about how you present yourself to the world. Your approachability is a crucial factor when senior bankers want to give you advice or feedback. As Craig Gridelli mentions, "If you maintain a good attitude and high spirits, other bankers are willing to develop in you and help you find ways to be successful."

Find time to read and understand emails, even if they are not immediately relevant

When you are on a live deal, time is of the essence. You will likely be cc'd on communications that are not directed at you. There might be components of a transaction that you will not have to work on. Since you are focused on your deliverables, it might not seem critical to understanding everything. However, if you continue in the industry, you will be at a severe disadvantage when those tasks fall back on your plate, and you are expected to understand what is going on! That is why Jason Weisbaum recommends, "When you have a little free time, go back to emails you might skip over. One day that email is going to apply to you. It might be about a purchase agreement or LOI, for example…. Make sure you are learning from them and ask questions."

Theme 3: The pandemic has been challenging, but there are key lessons

Remote work has created many efficiencies

The transition to remote work may have been a shock to those working in groups that need constant, real-time communication (like sales & trading). But for investment bankers, moving to a virtual environment was relatively seamless. Many bankers, especially those in mid-level and senior roles, have recognized the time saved on processes that previously were in person. "Taking out the travel time has helped a lot. I feel that we are getting more done with everyone at home, as it pertains to clients and their results." Says Craig Gridelli.

However, junior bankers have missed out on development opportunities

As Craig Gridelli tees up, "Developing the team and mentoring junior bankers has been a challenge. Much learning comes on the job, and that has been a struggle." Even for those with a few years of experience, the element of positive facetime has not been forgotten. As Jason Weisbaum puts it, "I miss my coworkers and the camaraderie in the job. You cannot replace the office environment which helps you get through the highs and lows". The fact is that investment banking is a people business, and the pandemic has exposed how that matters. "The importance of people has been even more important now," says Brian Rose. "Having a positive, collaborative, cordial, and people-focused approach to work" has helped Brian and his coworkers get through the times of isolation.

The new standard will be somewhere in between

While leadership at investment banks all have different perspectives on remote versus in-person work, both sides likely see the transition back to work as an opportunity to optimize. The old-school way of always being at your desk in the office is likely going to be a thing of the past for most bankers. However, the traditions of late nights working face to face on stressful deals. Turning comments next to fellow bankers, who become close friends. Or learning soft skills while grabbing a drink or coffee with your VP is essential to development. The new normal will likely be a combination of both to maximize development and an opportunity for the industry to enable bankers to achieve things that matter to them in their personal lives. As Jason Weisbaum comments, "If an analyst needs to go away on a Friday, or attend their sister's graduation- in the past, that might have been trickier to do remotely. However, now that we have seen it happen in action, there is no reason why not".

For more advice, videos, and content – straight from top dealmakers – visit our #iblifehacks hub.

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