Without a doubt, one of the scariest aspects of a career in investment banking is the sheer brutality of the hours. It’s easy to be attracted to a career like banking because of how lucrative it is (even at the junior level), but sooner or later you’ll have to confront the grim reality: investment banking requires a lot of work.
There’s no way around it – getting any deal done takes a crazy amount of firepower and energy. There are a large number of moving pieces in even the simplest of financial transactions. As such, mergers and acquisitions require large amounts of effort to complete and they are typically accompanied with tons of analysis.
I do think, however that there tends to be a brutal exaggeration of investment banking hours.
I personally don’t think anyone consistently averages 100 hours or even 90 hours over the course of months. There is a limit to the human soul and it breaks well before that point.
I find that many bankers (mostly post-MBA associates and college students with <2 months of work experience) often view the hours they work as a vanity metric and are tempted to exaggerate about how much they work.
It’s not necessarily intentional; the grim nights are what people remember and the memory of grim nights often leads us to believe that we’re working harder and longer than we really are.
In this post, I’ll summarize observations from my own experience in banking and the experience of many of my peers.
Distribution of Hours Worked
I was an investment banking analyst at an elite boutique in New York for two years. I did my best to keep track of the hours I worked back then (using taxi and Seamless receipts as a reference). Below is how I would generally chart out my experience in investment banking.
I think the median of my hours worked was around 70 hours per week. The vast majority of my weeks were spent in that 60 to 80 hour range.
I would say that this distribution is probably true for most analysts and associates across most bulge brackets and elite boutiques.
What 60 Hours per Week Looks Like
60 hours is tough, but it’s still pretty doable for most people.
Many non-banking professions require you to do 60 hours of work (consulting, scrappy startups, some accounting firms). In fact, most private equity and hedge fund people probably average 60 hours. Although the buy side tends to be a much more grueling 60 hours, the point stands.
60 hours means you get home between 8-10pm (depending on your start time) and you have a few hours to yourself before you have to go to sleep. Considering you’d probably have to cook and eat dinner if you worked a normal job, you’re not losing that much free time compared to a 9-5 gig.
You’re probably losing 1-2 hours of pure free time a day and you’ll have to do a little bit of work on the weekend.
At 60 hours per week, you can still celebrate a glorious work-free Friday night. You can get off around 5-6 pm and not touch your laptop until Sunday. At 60 hours, you can have one full free day off and generally only have to do some light work on the other day. You might not get to choose exactly when that time is, but in general, this is survivable.
You’ll see from the schedule that most people get into work around 10am in banking. This is the hidden gift of banking… the days can sometimes start super late. This is partially because people don’t always know when you stopped working the night before. You typically start way later than other professions. I’ve seen some banking groups have people stroll in at 11am or noon.
What 80 Hours per Week Looks Like
The difference between working 60 and 80 hours is pretty dramatic.
And the difference is often based on whether you’re on a live deal or not. You can get to 60 hours just being on pitches and doing face time, but getting to 80 hours often means you have consistent deadlines or you’re pushing towards a deal announcement.
I do think 80 hours is the point when your physique starts to noticeably erode. You have time to maybe go to the gym once or twice per week if you're willful.
You’re generally getting less than 6 hours of sleep and you don’t have a single day off, so you almost never feel well rested. And let me tell you, the difference between 2 days off and 1 is already enormous. But the difference between 1 day off and 0 is even bigger.
I’ll note that for me at least, I still always needed an hour or 30 minutes at least after I got home to decompress, watch TV or have a lonely drink. Regardless of the hour, even if I got home at 3am, I still generally needed some amount of time to myself, even if it was coming directly out of sleep.
Secondly, I do think that Friday nights are still sacred. Even during super busy seasons, people do their best to honor Friday nights as best they can.
Consistently Working 100 Hours is Torture
I think people tend to gravitate to the 100 hours trope because 100 is a nice round number.
100 hours is not a nice round way of life.
I can tell you that 100 hours is pure insanity, far past what the human psyche can typically withstand.
It takes an extraordinary level of commitment to consistently work at this level, because this is well past the point where you start infringing on your sleep, your social relationships, the gym, eating, and basic hygiene. I probably only worked 100 hours when I was either in the peak of a live deal, I had two projects blowing up at the same time, or I was working on some cross-border awfulness.
I would estimate that I probably had a 100 hour week only about once every few months.
Quiet Periods Don’t Last Long
On the other end of the spectrum, there still tends to be a floor to how much work you’ll have. Non-deal mode doesn't mean you get to completely slack off. The bittersweet part about having a chill week in banking is that you know in the back of your head that it won’t last. Not for long.
If you consistently have less than 60 hours of work, that generally means you’re not on live deals and your group’s partners are about to start pitching. Partners try to operate their groups like efficient teams and if there’s a lot of excess capacity, they’ll take on additional projects.
I found that whenever things were getting too quiet in the office, our firm’s partners would just ramp up the amount of pitching and client servicing they did. There would always be a steady amount of work to do.
The weeks when you can most reliably get to 40-50 hours of work are around the holidays. I would say the week of Christmas, the week of the holiday party, and that last week in August when all of the senior people go on vacation are times when you can perceivably get to 40 hours.
Second Year and First Year are Different Beasts
Another important distinction is that your schedule can be completely different as an analyst in your first and second year. This is extremely bank dependent, but I’ve observed some groups having a very strong “pay your dues” culture, when the first years get grinded like crazy while the second years waltz around like aimless cherubs.
I’ve also seen the reverse, where the second years are the only ones that can be trusted with the actual work to do and so they’re the ones who get grinded. This can be hard to predict and difficult to make career decisions around, but it’s a trend worth noticing.
In summary, I think you can generally expect most of your weeks in investment banking to be between 60 and 80 hours. I’d say 60 hours is doable, while 80 hours will really start to push you.
I think anyone who says that they work 100 hours on average is probably lying.