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How to survive as an analyst in banking, by a gladiator who has been there and done it

What I present to you, below, is based on knowledge of the actions of great bankers, whom I have closely watched over the years. Here, I have done my utmost best to encapsulate the best of their strategies and cunning methods into a concise and digestible list.

You may ask yourself what qualifies me to write this.

I have breathed, fought and eaten in the den of financial gladiators. I have stood in the arena shoulder to shoulder with fellow bankers, many of whom perished early in their careers and went on to practice lesser arts.

During that time I carefully observed the most senior and influential members of the audience above, in order to discern their tastes and motivations. Do not forget, it is they who bestow upon you the gift of life, death and the bonus.

Remember, your time in a bank is short. And will likely end just as you begin to truly appreciate the tricks of the trade. What use will that knowledge be to you when you are no longer a banker? Read. And learn.

1. Learn to sit on a chopstick, and enjoy it

Take a stressful episode in your life. Consider the pressure and tension you shouldered. Recall the pain it caused. Now square it. Then, imagine it recurring several times a day, unannounced. Without the slightest warning. That will be your life the moment your gluteus maximus gently kiss your chair at work for the first time.

There, the stakes are larger; the rewards greater; the competition more brutal; and life shorter. You will be taken by surprise, repeatedly. Especially in the early days. And those shocks slowly grind you down. You become vulnerable to victimization. Eventually, you succumb to a firing or voluntary resignation.

The survivors never become complacent. They are constantly alert. Even those who outwardly appear at peace. There is an unseen reservoir of activity - machination, care and concern - running through their mind. They expect the unexpected. They learn to love it. Their apprehensive constitution enables them to sit and balance on a chopstick. The weak, on the other hand, at some point become self-satisfied. And as soon as they relax...well, the chopstick disappears.

2. Find your Yoda

I have seen in my time some of the most embarrassing imbeciles known to finance hold on to their seats while other, more learned and capable young bankers are culled en-masse. How so many fools manage to survive is a bewildering mystery. Yet upon close inspection one finds there is always a protector, usually a senior and influential banker, behind scenes casting a protective shadow over their subordinate.

When competition is fierce, currying favour is a fact of life. Obsequious behavior, however, is easily seen for what it is, particularly by experienced bankers. Pathetic peons are tantamount to court jesters. They make the king laugh for some time. When they cease to be funny, they get their head chopped off.

The most skilled analysts are subtle in the way they build relationships with those they hope will be there for them in times of danger. They nurture the connection carefully, demonstrating loyalty whenever possible but in unsuspicious doses; they never ignore their protector’s rank even as their relationship evolves. They will boast to their protector but only insofar as their achievement is illuminated in relation to their peers, and, in doing so, will also manage to indirectly credit the protector.

3. Let it go

Stress cannot be eliminated. The person who tells you it can ought to be slapped. Twice. One time for lying to you. And another time for thinking they can get away with it.

A life devoid of stress is impossible. It's a part of everyday living. Managing stress, though, is very much possible. And there are few better ways to deal with it than to change your overall outlook. Two simple yet invaluable tools can help you in that respect. The first is a concept known as Sarnevesht. A word that means destiny in Persian. The second has to do with life.

1) Sarnevesht (destiny): The literal translation is 'written on the head'. In other words, some things are beyond your control and have already been decided. How can you predict that one morning, exactly 100 days after you join the bank, you will turn a corner on your way to the bathroom and bump into a senior member of human resources, causing the folder they're carrying to fall to the floor, and as you bend down to help the lady pick up her papers your eyes meet and she examines your face, and for a split-second you remind her of the bastard who recently mistreated her sweet, lovely and innocent daughter? Or that later that afternoon as she reviews the list of analysts in line to be fired, she goes on a vendetta against you and suggests to the head of your team that another analyst "needs to go from the team." And with some persuasion ensures that victim is none other than you.

The sooner you accept that you are an insignificant part of a highly unpredictable universe, the sooner your temperament will equip itself to weather the storm you will face in banking life.

2) Life: there is no elegant way to say it. You're not going to live forever. One day you will take your last breath and cease to exist. When that will happen is a mystery. What's indisputable, is that you're headed in that direction now, as you read these very words. Every second you inch your way closer to the end. Correspondingly, time is the most significant resource you have. To waste it is one of the greatest crimes imaginable.

We are given a limited amount of time. But there is a way to pack hundreds of years into one. Do what you really want.  Be very cautious about the state of busyness, which is perpetual in the world of high finance. It is the most treacherous and stealthy of thieves. Before you know it, ten, fifteen or even twenty years have passed. Just being busy.

Therefore, when you feel the job is no longer worth it, simply step away. That choice is yours and never forget it. You will be indoctrinated to think that you have the greatest role in the world and that without it you are nothing. But it is they who are nothing without you.

The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment firm. He has written a guide, Breaking Into Investment Banking: An Unorthodox Approach, for students who want to break into investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds and other financial institutions. If you use the offer code ‘efinancialcareers’ to buy this guide, you can get a 35% discount. 

Photo credit: gladiatoby Hans Splinter is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORThe ibanker Insider Comment
  • Sa
    4 February 2016

    My grandpa always spoke to me about sarnevesht.
    I guess in banking sarnevesht decides if it's a $100K bonus or 0.

  • an
    1 February 2016

    Hail ibanker, gladiator and financial general with wise advice

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