The purpose of this post is to give a realistic, accurate picture of what it is like to be an investment banker out of college. These views have been formed over the years based on 3.5 years of experience at Goldman Sachs.
Investment bankers provide advice to corporate clients and institutions on strategic decisions including public offerings, debt offerings, and mergers and acquisitions. At its fundamental core, it is a relationship driven business where the senior bankers bring in deals and the junior team executes.
Investment banking is one of the best jobs out of undergrad. As a 22 year-old you are given a ridiculous amount of responsibility having had no previous work experience. Helping executives make informed strategic decisions based on financial analyses you created is rewarding. There is also a sense of routine and comfort at a junior level knowing you are not responsible for bringing in any business but rather just doing what you are told. Work flows downstream and you always know when work needs to get done. If you are looking for something unstructured and entrepreneurial out of college, investment banking will not be a good fit. Investment banking may also be one of the most difficult desk jobs. The long, unpredictable hours, difficult personalities, and expectation to always be available is exhausting. The majority of junior bankers leave after two years because they are burned out or want to try something different. Lifestyle and culture are formed at a micro level. Investment banking divisions at bulge bracket banks have dozens of groups and culture can vary significantly across groups. If I were a college student interested in banking, I would be keenly focused on finding a group with great culture. Key cultural traits to focus on include work from home policy, start time, dress code, and frequency of social events. The people you work for will have the greatest impact on your experience as an investment banker. Try to align yourselves with smart, competent individuals who respect and value you as a person. The best bankers to work for are efficient and honest individuals who went out of their way to teach you. Working for incompetent, disorganized senior bankers is the most frustrating part of the job and should be avoided if possible. Structurally there is a survivorship bias in banking where lots of the talent leaves. There can only be so many group heads and partners. Consequently, those who remain try and differentiate themselves by working extremely long hours. This then creates a culture driven by face-time and the need to be available at strange, unnecessary hours. If everyone focused during normal working hours, the late hours could be significantly reduced. Bankers tend to be inefficient and the nature of the job creates several distractions, some are out of your control.