We speak to Alex Woodgate about his experiences on the...
When I started as a new analyst, I had eight weeks of training in London and then I flew out to Dubai. I was joining a new team in the office out there. No-one starting at a bank as an analyst really knows where they’ll end up working. Mid-way through the training process, you go out and look for a team to join, and all the teams within the bank go out and meet the new batch of analysts – it's almost like having to apply for a job all over again. Not everyone gets their first choice, though going to Dubai was mine. I was also interested in the telecoms and financial institutions teams. It doesn't matter where you've done an internship.
Once I got to Dubai, there was a lot to take in. I had to sort out practical things like where I was going to live – though the bank provided accommodation for the first couple of months, and helped me to find somewhere more permanent. I also had to get acquainted with my team, and a new working environment. Our role was to originate deals, which meant a lot of research on the ground, and then work with London on any subsequent pitches and transactions.
After about 18 months, I asked to move back, because I realised I'd got as much out of the Dubai office as I could. I wanted to get more involved in structuring and modelling, and the bulk of that was done in London. I moved into the equity capital markets team, which helps people elsewhere in the bank get a sense of what’s going on in the equity markets, and works on the pricing of equity issues.
You get as much responsibility as you can handle here. If you prove yourself, the level of supervision is minimal, as the senior bankers want to keep their time as free as possible for dealing with clients. I was surprised at how limited the time in which people make allowances for you because you’ve just graduated was – a matter of weeks. That was a bit of a culture shock for me.
You can ask more senior people questions, but you should choose your moments carefully – some people are more tolerant and approachable than others. The best practice is always initially to ask someone at your level, or just above – you don’t always want to let on to more senior people that you don’t know something. There’s a lot of training on offer to help you learn, but we often don't have time to attend. Instead, some people teach themselves what they need to know at weekends, or build up a network of people across the bank who they can go to with queries.
You can get criticised for a lack of knowledge and for not working hard enough, but also for trying too hard, because it doesn't inspire confidence – people get the impression that the job doesn't come naturally to you.
If you want to succeed at a bank, you should start working at the level above the one you're at as soon as possible. If you're an analyst, see what the associates in your team are doing and be able to do the same as soon as you can. But it's also good to have an awareness of what you're not expected to do, because some associates might try to give you more work than they should, or to delegate things to you that they should be doing. You need to push back in these circumstances, but in a way that doesn't come across as shirking.
It’s important to do your work well, but also to be perceived to be doing your work well. Get into the habit of talking about what you’re up to with your colleagues – no one's going to know how you're doing unless you tell them. Don’t be annoying or obvious, but just occasionally let people know how you're getting along and how much progress you're making.
However, much of the feedback you get at appraisals isn't just about your work, but also how well you're getting on with the people in your team. Banking is meritocratic, but merit includes how you fit into the culture.
At any given hour of any day, at least one analyst will be in the office. The hours can be very long, and unpredictable as well. I can't plan in advance, because I don't know what my schedule is going to be like next week, or even tomorrow. Weekends aren’t sacrosanct – I feel lucky when I have a free one.
Before starting at a bank, you should buy lots of shirts so you can go two or three weeks without doing any laundry, as you might often be only going home to sleep. You will spend a lot of money on laundry services, a cleaner for your flat, and taxis – it’s the only way people cope. After 7pm or so, your dinner and a taxi home is paid for by the bank, and on weekends all your meals in the office are free.
It makes sense that you have to work hard. You get paid big bucks because your job is more mentally and physically demanding than many others. Knowing that you're doing one of the toughest jobs you could be doing is a major highlight of the role for me.
Completing deals is cool. And so are the little moments like when you're on a conference call, someone asks for your opinion and, because you've been reading up on the topic, you can be the expert. Victories like that keep you going.
You're working on deals involving huge household names most of the time. It's not uncommon to hear about them in the news. Even if a deal isn’t making headlines, what we’re doing is very important for our clients, which is why they pay us so much money. It's good to know that the pitch book you worked on was well received, and winning a mandate from a new client is also a great feeling.
One of the best moments in this job is when you realise it’s the 28th, and you’ve been paid. It makes it all worth it. Some people do lots of travelling. I typically buy one or two things that I really want every month. And it's nice to be able to help people financially, and to take your family and friends out.
Recruiters often call me up – if you work at an investment bank, future career opportunities are very positive. You should see the first couple of years of a career in banking as an extension of your education. You learn so much it’s like having an additional degree, and your experience is something you can always fall back on. And if you decide you don’t want to stay in the sector forever, you have many options.
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