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How to survive in banking without succumbing to exhaustion

Banking has always been a marathon rather than a sprint, but now it's becoming more of a Marathon des Sables than a pound across the pavements. In 2021, banking jobs have involved more work than ever. 

So, how do you avoid burning out before you've even been in the industry for a decade? We asked a selection of investment banking division (IBD) and markets professionals about their techniques for managing the workload and the politics. This is what they said.

Fake it but deliver. - Director, M&A

"Carry a notebook around with you at all times, it makes you look busy. It can also help to talk in management speak so that you seem to be 'aligned' with the company but are in fact so annoying that people avoid distracting you with conversation.

"Make sure you do one really big deal a year. That way you'll be left alone. Also, get become an expert on your particular sector. This will make your work much easier and will dissuade people from giving you additional work for fear that your superior knowledge will show them up."

Seek professional help. - Head of trading division 

"Some years ago I found myself in a situation where I had been going at 105% for too long. I was standing on a burning platform and I had to do something about it. I engaged a leadership coach for a year and a half, and now I think I'm balancing the challenge of work and life a lot better. I try to delegate, to manage my time more carefully, and to avoid the trap of delivering above expectations at all times."

Use support staff, lower your standards, work hard at the start. - Associate, M&A  

"These days, most banks have support teams in Mumbai. Make the most of them and delegate as much as you can to the presentation support team. It also helps if you stop caring too much about the unimportant things like footnotes which won't really have any impact on the presentation. Avoid getting into too much detailed analysis, which won't really be appreciated.

Work hard and build a good reputation early in your career so that people like and trust you. That way, you'll have the flexibility to choose the deals and pitches you work on. Finally, try to build some boundaries between work and life outside work. It can help to communicate in advance that you have plans for Thursday, or are travelling at the weekend."

Do one thing at a time, automate as much as possible, be strict about your outside interests. - Executive director, quantitative group 

"I think a lot of time is wasted switching between different tasks with different context. For this reason, I try to prioritise tasks and to structure my day so that I'm not distracted and make the best use of my time. I'm also a big believer in automation - why press a button 10 times when you could talk to someone in technology and only press it once? And I'm protective of my outside interests. At the moment I'm taking classes in a second language. It's useful for me when I go on holiday, gets me out of the finance bubble and it looks good on a CV!"

Find an employer that's sympathetic to your needs, try not to care too much. - Director, private equity 

"There's not much way you can escape the culture at big banks. You're expected to stay in the office until 10pm and there's not much way around that. I found that the key is to go and work for small independent companies. The pay is often less good, but they will often judge you on what you deliver rather than the time you spend in the office.

"The only other thing I can suggest is attitude. If you don't care too much and don't take it too seriously, you'll handle the requirements of this profession much better."

Don't be greedy, don't be egotistical, take it as it comes. - Managing director, strategy

"Too many people take this industry all too seriously. They get greedy and greed turns to fear and jealousy and then they're sucked in and stuck because of the money. You need to take a step back, to quietly carve out your niche and to watch it all go by, without inflating your ego and obsessing about your bank balance."

Don't over-promise. - Analyst, sales and trading 

"You should almost never give the earliest date by which you may be able to complete something. Yes, you may very well be capable of completing the work in that time but all you need is for something to sideswipe you and suddenly a bad day turns into a bad week and a bad week sometimes even turns into a bad month if delays start compounding into other work. Remember: if you promise delivery by Wednesday and deliver Thursday, you have under delivered, but if you promise delivery Friday and deliver on Thursday you've over-delivered. Managing expectations is crucial."

Photo by Valentin Farkasch on Unsplash

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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