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Rising Stars: No Premium on Kindness: Banking on Brains

By Lucas Laursen

Neil turned his summer internship at a Manhattan bank into multiple investment banking offers before he even graduated. After six months in the saddle, he offers some insights into banking's intellectual and interpersonal sides.

Name: Neil
Major: Applied Mathematics
Years Out of College: 0-2
Title: Analyst

First Steps

Neil signed on with a prominent investment bank in New York his senior year in college. Most of his work involves mergers and acquisitions, which he says gives him a chance to observe top executives at the negotiating table. "I want to continue to be surrounded by a large number of smart people," he said. "That makes the work rewarding. That was something my college roommate pointed out to me: once you leave college you aren't necessarily around intellectual people unless you seek them out."

Neil credits his job at another investment bank the summer before his senior year with helping his career decision-making. "You get to see what the job can be like at its best. It can be very fast-paced, and it can feel like you're getting a lot of exposure for a 22-year-old. It's a tantalizing glimpse of the real world."

Challenges Faced

It's not all ivory-tower-on-Wall-Street. "At its worst," Neil says, "it's very repetitive, and it can be a lot of number-crunching in a non-intellectual way."

"It's also clear that there's a hierarchy, no matter how excited they are to have you.
There's no premium placed on kindness. It's hard to say what drives this. It could be because people are so well-paid, everyone assumes that if someone isn't happy they can go elsewhere."

"People also get 'broken in' at a very early stage, so there's this sense that 'this was done to me, so it's ok to do.'"

"Maybe it's also that you're so nice on the front end, dealing with clients, that you end up taking out your frustrations on each other."

My Experience

"On a day-to-day basis, I come in around 9:30, spend the first hour catching up on email and reading up on things that are relevant. We cover a bunch of different clients, for instance, a major credit card company. I will scan the headlines to see if there's anything related to them. I try to be up-to-date with the twelve companies that I'm involved with. There is a lot of anticipating what other people's needs are."

"We work on a meeting-to-meeting basis with our clients. After an initial meeting, you put together some analysis, present the ideas, then have another meeting where they discuss your recommendations."

"Associates will give you a guideline or a shell for a book. You try to flesh it in. At its worst you get an exact outline and they even tell you what to wear."

"At it's best you get to consider the big picture. You get to watch to CEOs hammer out a deal, and see the way two people 'fall in love,' in a corporate sense! And you see the questions that smart people ask."

Next Steps

Neil emphasizes that the training provided in investment banking can lay the foundation for lots of future finance careers. "It opens the door to business school,and from there you can go to any other thing. It's also popular right now to transition into asset management, hedge funds, or private equity. The training that you get in this business can take you far in other industries. You can go work for a company like Exxon or GE: this background is pretty highly regarded. Even non-profits."

As for Neil, he "will try to stay around for a third year and transition into a different group or location. Then I'll take a year to do something random, maybe abroad, then business or law school."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

Neil knew he would be going into some kind of finance career, but given his mathematical training, he says, "It is maybe a little bit of a surprise that I didn't go work for a hedge fund. Often the math types will go into hedge funds because the pay is a lot better. They're smaller and people care about you more, but you don't get as broad an overview as in investment banking."

Advice for Others

Worried about the interview process? Neil points out that it's rough even for successful applicants like him. "Understanding what you're getting into is probably the bare minimum to make it through any interview. Until I spent a summer at Bank of America I didn't understand what banking really was. Reading the Vault guide is a good first step. Talk to someone and get them to distill their job for you. Anyone would be impressed in an interview if you understood the business at that level."

"Also, don't be intimidated by the interview process. They call it the 'stress interview' in a lot of banks. The idea is to see how you react under pressure because the job can require a lot of pressure. Anticipate that, but don't be intimidated by it, because that's not what the job is about."

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