When you first hit the desk as an investment banking analyst, there’s a good chance that you’ll be filled with nervous energy and excitement. It’s a great privilege to get an investment banking job, but you’ll likely encounter some competition from your analyst class as soon as you start your job. You’ll be competing with a bunch of smart people who are also angling for good staffings and recruiting recommendations. The investment banking analyst job is lucrative, but it is definitely intense and competitive.
Therefore, it’s really important that you take the first few months of your job seriously because it will really set the tone for your analyst stint. Trust me, the time to slack off and enjoy the city is after you have a buyside offer in hand.
The vast majority of your performance as an analyst is going to boil down to hard work and having a good attitude, but there are a few tactical things you can focus on in the early days that are going to have a disproportionate impact on your opportunity set.
Focus on the Relationship with your Staffer
There are going to be a lot of mid-level and senior people that you can spend time networking with, but by far the most important contact in the first few months is going to be the staffer. The staffer is the person who decides which analysts get which projects. This is extremely important because those first few staffings are going to be the ones that you’ll put on your resume to recruit for buyside roles.
Most of the time, the staffer is a well-respected mid-level employee. At most firms, the staffing responsibility is like an extra-curricular for an up and coming VP. Some larger groups at bulge brackets (like Goldman) will have dedicated staffers who are also responsible for other group administrative tasks.
It’s not supposed to be a secret who the staffer is, so just ask someone in the group you’re joining.
You should prioritize getting coffee / doing calls with the staffer and getting in their good graces. Offer to help them out if they have administrative side projects (like organizing social events or sorting through an e-mail directory). Try to add and demonstrate value with your initiative in the early days.
If you think about any investment banking group, there’s going to be a huge disparity in the quality of deal assignments, so it’s important to try to get on a good deal right away.
If the staffer is stone-walling you, then you can try sucking up to a second or third-year analyst and get them to put you on one of their good projects.
Relatedly, I find it’s helpful to do your research on the specific types of deals that each MD and VP is responsible for. MDs will tend to specialize in an industry (so they don’t interfere with one another). If for example, you read online that your bank does a ton of Aerospace & Defense deals, you can assume that the Aerospace & Defense MD will have good deal flow where projects are likely to turn into live transactions. It would make more sense to spend more time networking and talking with people in the Aerospace & Defense team than with an MD in an unproductive vertical.
Position Yourself for Good Deals
In general, for buyside recruiting, there is definitely a hierarchy in the attractiveness of different deals.
Your ideal deal is an acquisition where you can clearly talk about the investment rationale and diligence of the buyer. Here is how we would rank the different categories of deals (if your goal is to work for a private equity firm or hedge fund). We’re going to exclude restructurings because that tends to be a group-specific type of deal that many analysts won’t have exposure to.
Advising financial buyer (e.g. private equity firm or hedge fund) on acquisition
Advising strategic buyer on acquisition
Advising seller on sale
Initial public offering / financing (equity financing is better if you want to do PE or HF)
Fairness opinion / advising Board
Strategic alternatives / general strategy pitch
In general, you want to be on M&A transactions because it gives you tangible deal metrics to talk about.
A lot of fundamental business strategy goes into an M&A transaction and I find it makes for a much better interview conversation than talking about a refinancing or pitch. Financings tend to be more market-oriented and guaranteed in nature (i.e. a company will always have to refinance periodically).
It’s intuitive but worth saying: if you want to recruit for private equity, the absolute best deal is a private equity transaction. You really just want deal experience that’s relevant to whatever you want to recruit for. If you want to recruit for distressed investing, then restructuring and debt-deals are going to be a lot more valuable.
Befriend the Senior Analysts
The second-year analysts at your bank will be extremely helpful in giving you intel. Each firm and each group is going to have its own unique attitude towards recruiting. Some groups are very supportive of recruiting and some would prefer if you waited until your second year before talking to headhunters. The best way to navigate this is to learn from the second-year analysts, especially ones who have already successfully recruited. Some questions you’ll want to keep in mind:
Who is the contact that headhunters reach out to?
Do all headhunters reach out to this group or will I have to proactively reach out to some?
Which private equity firms and hedge funds does this group have the best track record with?
Are there any staffings or accounts that have a bad effort / reward trade-off? I.e. clients that require lots of work, but never actually do deals
Are there any MDs that are supportive of recruiting and will actively help analysts?
If yes, which firms do those MDs have relationships with?
Check your Work (10-20% of Your Total Time)
This is not as tactical, but it’s by far the best piece of advice that all new analysts need to adhere to. You might be an extremely smart student and be excellent at standardized testing, but most new employees in every field of business are absolutely terrible at checking their work. Myself included.
Most new analysts don’t have an eye for checking their work and consequently submit poorly formatted, error-laden work.
Checking your work means ensuring your work has a high level of quality, which you can do by taking the following steps.
If you like mnemonics, then try to remember that you should always check the “FACTS”. If you don’t like mnemonics, then just refer to the unordered list below.
Formatting: Making sure that things are reasonably formatted and presentable.
This means that you have consistency with page numbers, font sizes, page titles, color scheme, etc. Compare the formatting to a completed deliverable that your MD has worked on.
If it’s an e-mail with a graph or image, you should send a trial e-mail to yourself to make sure it appears OK on mobile.
Apply Intuition: Making sure that everything makes intuitive sense from a high level.
This means that all financial inputs and trends make some logical sense. If it’s a financial forecast, things should probably keep growing in a relatively steady manner.
If there are any big lumps or spikes in the forecast, you should be able to explain why they occur.
Most financial accounts (e.g. cash, revenue) have a default proper sign.
Comments: Make sure that all of the MD or associate’s comments are reflected.
This means you’ve gone over and highlighted or crossed out every single comment. Even one missed comment means that your file is wrong.
Time: Try to spend 10-20% of the total deliverable time on checking.
You need to treat checking work as its own discrete task. It’s not just a cursory thing you do at the end – it’s a vital and important step of creating a high-quality product. You should try to allocate 10-20% of your entire time on a deliverable towards checking work.
The modern school system greatly optimizes for speed (e.g. timed tests), so we just want to emphasize that you might need to break that habit and get into the mindset of checking work
Save Up and Print: Lastly, make sure to save up and print out the output so you can read it one final time.
Save your changes and edits from the previous steps and create a new version of the file.
Print out the document and do a final review before submission. It is much easier to catch mistakes when things are printed out. It also helps to review things after waiting some period of time (if possible), so you can have a set of fresh eyes.
You really need to be on your A-game during the first few months of banking.
Network and have good conversations with people who can put you on the best staffings. Make sure you find out all of the recruiting nuances that might impact your specific group. When you’re on staffings, take special care to make sure you’re checking your work and delivering a high-quality product.