Don’t expect a ceremonial welcome when you enlist – yes, the word (enlist) is meant to remind you of the military – in an investment bank. Especially, if you’re to have a Front Office (e.g. client-facing, revenue generating) role.
An attractive facade
During the interview process, and particularly when you’ve reached the later stages of recruitment and are close to obtaining an offer, you’ll begin to daydream about all the wonderful times ahead.
Unusually confident and impeccably dressed, the interviewer will leave you salivating for an offer to join the exclusive world of high finance. Your imagination quickly gets to work and you think of all the greatness that awaits you:
- The action on the desk --> phones going off, multiple monitors displaying graphs / charts, presentations and e-mails, people jumping up and down with exuberance and excitement
- The learning --> collaborating with super intelligent colleagues from all over the world
- The celebrations --> giving high fives after winning mandates and closing multi-billion dollar deals
- The great pay and the perks --> saving up lots of money, inviting friends to sumptuous dinners on your corporate card, flying business and more
- The pride of being a banker --> being seen and treated as a high flyer by your friends and family
Let’s fast forward a bit…
The news arrives and you get an offer – hats off to you my dear. You start to experience that special feeling one gets before doing something life-changing and adventurous, like setting off on a month-long sailing trip across the Greek isles. At this point you’re feeling so joyful you’d happily agree to spend a whole Saturday morning and afternoon helping a friend move. Why? Because what’s a Saturday when you’re set for life now.
Time to celebrate?
Naturally, then, you invite your girlfriend or boyfriend to a romantic dinner. No 2-for-1 coupon eligible restaurant tonight. No, no, no. You won’t be printing off any coupons tonight. Michelin-starred fine dining establishment “for my darling”. The kind that serves flower petals on your starter.
And so it was that, years ago after I received my offer, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a flavorsome French meal a few nights before the big day. Not a worry anymore…all was going to be well.
Morning of day 1
The morning of my start date I woke up a half hour before the alarm clock went off. I was about to embark on a new journey. The excitement wasn’t conducive to peaceful sleep. In fact, I barely slept a wink. I was supremely excited, like a Roman general dreaming of history book immortality on the eve of an epic battle. Hell, I think I even shaved thrice to make sure I don’t miss a straggler.
I left the house and got on public transport headed toward Canary Wharf (London). I stepped out of the station and made my way toward the Paris Berkeley Capital building. When arrived at the entrance of the building a few minutes later, I paused and looked up at the edifice which would serve as my home for the foreseeable future. I made it. I felt great. I finally became an investment banker. I took a deep breath. Be assertive. I entered the building.
Mesdames et Messieurs, que la fete commence (French: ladies and gentlemen, let the fun begin).
Arriving at the desk
I arrived, and checked in, at reception. Minutes later an Analyst came down, greeted me and then escorted me to my desk.
I couldn’t help but smile after being shown my chair. I thanked the Analyst, took a seat and marvelled at the equipment and technology at my disposal. Shit. I’m freaking important.
So far so good. Mind you I was only a few minutes into my first day. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. After all, I knew next to nothing. You’re just starting out and you’ll pick things up quickly. I was eager to learn so all would be well, I reassured myself.
Then, without warning, it struck. Like an unexpected bitch slap when you’re dead asleep.
It’s unexplainable and practically impossible to define. The best description I’ve heard thus far about the way you hit the ground running at an investment bank was from another banker named Alex, who started the same time I did. Whenever anybody asked him what the first few days were like, he’d told them to imagine the following scenario:
“You’re a nomad, ok? So you don’t have a fixed home. Nothing is stationary. You live in a tent. You’re living in Dallol, Ethiopia. It’s one of the hottest places in the world. You literally sweat out any liquid you drink within seconds, as if you were Swiss cheese. You’ve spent your whole life in, and never left, Dallol. Ever. What you’re most accustomed to in the world is Dallol and extreme heat, and it defines your every day life. It’s something you now cannot live without. You love it. In fact you’ve loved it for that last 25yrs of your nomadic existence.
You’ve seen photos or films about the arctic and various snow covered regions of the world but the last thing you would ever want is to set foot anywhere near the cold. As far as you’re concerned it’s a thing to see in magazines or on television.
So on one scorchingly hot day – like any other day, while walking toward a well to fetch some water, you’re struck in the head and knocked unconscious with a baseball bat. You’re then put on a plane and flown across the world to Antarctica. Then you’re placed in a helicopter and flown right above near-freezing water, the kind surrounded by icebergs and penguins. All of a sudden, you’re bitch-slapped awake. Then, while still disoriented, you’re pushed out the helicopter and you fall into the freezing water. Your body has never felt anything even half as cold. You are in complete shock. That’s what it feels like. Shock has rammed itself up my German @ss!”
Every time someone asked me what those early days were like, I simply called in Alex to deliver his monologue.
You can’t be prepared enough for what is to come. It shocked you to the core and it’s what happened to yours truly very soon after my arrival on the desk.
So it was my first day and I had been at the desk for 20 minutes. Then it happened. The man who hired me walked in and sat just two chairs away from me (the person who sits between us had not arrived).
“Good morning,” I said.
But there was no response. I waited a few more seconds. Still nothing. Odd. My mind must have played tricks on me for I heard the sound of crickets. The guys didn’t even nod to acknowledge my presence.
Maybe I wasn’t assertive enough. I decided to raise my voice. Time to sound like a true banker. “GOOD MORNING!”
With his gaze fixed on his computer screen, my line manager shouted, “Get me the latest S&P, Moody’s and Fitch reports, including latest financials for Dubai World. ASAP!”
“I’m sorry but which reports? Dubai?”
“ASAP. I need it in five minutes exactly. Get it done. Now.”
Were it not for someone sitting nearby who helped me out I would have been toast. That was my first hour on the job and the day got progressively worse.
Welcome to the jungle
Don’t expect a warm hug and a high five on your first day. From the moment you take your seat you’re in the jungle and you’re only mission is to survive.