How to Succeed On the Job in Investment Banking: Are You a STARR or a TWAT?
“That new analyst we just hired will definitely be a STARR.”
“But that one from last year is turning out to be a TWAT so far.”
I looked at my 2 banker friends in confusion.
“Um… what are you talking about? I’m assuming those are acronyms?”
They looked at me like I was crazy.
I explained that I had already left the industry, so I was no longer up on all their jargon.
But my one friend didn’t accept that as an excuse.
He replied, “The easiest way to predict someone’s success on the job is to figure out whether he/she is a STARR or a TWAT early on.”
Hook, line, and sinker… now they had me.
“OK,” I said, “Stop building this up and just give me the full explanation.”
They explained that a TWAT is a Technical Wizard with Antisocial Tendencies.
The TWAT species of the IB Analyst genus displays many of the following traits when found in nature:
- Excel Wizard – He/she has been using Excel since middle school, when he/she first managed the family investment portfolio. He/she knows VBA and uses it extensively in his/her models, including multiple scenarios whenever possible.
- Finance Guru – He/she graduated summa cum laude from a top school, and knew more than most of the instructors in summer training.
- Relentlessly Competitive – He/she is hesitant to help out other analysts because he/she views them as competition; when he/she learns new tricks or shortcuts, he/she always keeps them a secret.
- Anti-Social – He/she doesn’t participate in social events or go out with co-workers, doesn’t have a wide co-worker network, and often wastes senior bankers’ time with basic questions as a result.
- Poor Communicator – He/she sounds nervous or “young” when speaking, and cannot coherently explain all the technical wizardry to senior bankers, who sit there dumbfounded as they try to recall what VLOOKUP means.
- Overlooks Administrative and Logistical Responsibilities – For example, he/she may not print enough hard copies, may get addresses wrong, or might mix up meeting dates or times. If it’s not related to Excel, who cares, right?
- Leaves His/Her Fate in the Hands of Staffers and Senior Bankers – He/she constantly gets staffed with the worst senior bankers, and rarely gets anyone to support him/her during bonus season.
You might look at this list and say, “OK, but who would consciously act this way? You’d have to be an idiot!”
But this behavior is often not a conscious choice: you end up acting this way as a result of specific, subtly incorrect decisions you make when you start working.
While the TWAT Analyst is recognized for his/her technical prowess, he/she is a poor team player and is disliked by associates, VPs, and senior bankers.
The STARR, which stands for Strategic Try-hard with an Awesome Reputation & Relationships, stands in stark contrast.
When encountered in nature, the STARR species displays many of the following traits:
- Outgoing and Socially Adept – He/she will organize group dinners with analysts, gets to know every analyst in the office, and has a good network.
- Always Positive Attitude – While any sane person would get bitter working at an investment bank, the STARR does a masterful job of concealing his/her bitterness, and expresses enthusiasm with each new assignment.
- “Good Enough” at Excel – Before joining the firm, he/she had some exposure to Excel, but he/she doesn’t know VBA and doesn’t know every shortcut 100% perfectly. However, the STARR makes sure his models are always very well-formatted.
- “Good Enough” with Accounting and Finance – The STARR is often a non-finance major, so most of his/her knowledge comes from self-study or classroom training. But he/she has developed a strong understanding of 80% of what is required on the job – even if he/she does not know all the advanced nuances.
- Always Prepared – Before any meeting, the STARR is adept at checking logistical details such as dates, times, and the number of attendees, and is always ready to speak to data and models.
- Relationship Strategist – Instead of spreading himself/herself too thin, the STARR spends most of his time working for only a few “Defenders” – senior bankers who respect and mentor juniors – as opposed to “Pillagers,” who burn down villages and take all the loot for themselves.
While the STARR is only in the middle of the pack in terms of technical prowess, he/she is excellent at submitting deliverables on-time, and at working with senior bankers who will fight for him/her during bonus season.
Why Does This Matter?
In 9 out of 10 cases, the STARR will rank higher, earn a higher bonus, and also get better exit opportunities than the TWAT.
And if you look at the senior bankers who have been promoted to positions such as Group Head, many of them have minimal technical knowledge but are excellent at relationship development and sales.
The conversation I quoted in the beginning took place a long time ago, but this concept has only become more important over time because the quality of junior bankers has declined.
Put simply, it’s easier to become a STARR, earn a higher bonus, and get better exit opportunities…
…if you use the right strategy from the start.
How to Become a STARR
While the lists above seem clear-cut, in practice it’s easy to make subtle mistakes that put you closer to the “TWAT” end of the spectrum.
Becoming a STARR is a broad topic, but we’ll start this series with an overview of the 5 most important points: starting off on the right foot, executing assignments, and managing your relationships with the support staff, other analysts, and senior bankers.
Starting Off on the Right Foot
The first 3-6 months on the job are critical because you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
However, many new hires fail to understand that the time you spend on “reconnaissance” is just as important as the work you deliver.
Here’s how the 2 Analyst species approach the first few months differently:
- STARRs: They will take the time to understand which senior bankers are good/bad to work for, and which ones bring in the most deal flow; they also will establish a reputation of being reliable and having a good attitude.
- TWATs: They will spend this period less focused on reconnaissance and more focused on ‘proving themselves’ by volunteering for as many assignments as possible, and/or otherwise trying to show off their advanced technical skills.
It sounds nice to prove yourself as a “workhorse” by volunteering for as many projects as you can; in practice, it often backfires because you take on too much, or because you work for senior bankers who don’t care about you.
To get around this, the STARR will spend time figuring out which senior bankers are “Defenders” and which ones are “Pillagers.”
“Defenders” tend to offer responsibility, client interaction, solid reference calls, and mentoring, while not requiring face time or unnecessary fire drills.
“Pillagers,” by contrast, tend to force 35 iterations of a presentation when 5 will do, and often wait until Friday night to review drafts and offer feedback; they also force junior bankers to work for the sake of appearing busy.
New senior hires and bankers who are dry on deal flow fall into the “Pillager” category most often.
As a newbie, your job is to observe what other analysts and associates are saying about senior bankers, and then to gravitate toward Defenders as much as possible.
We’re not going to cover the actual work product in the form of Excel files or PowerPoint slides here, because you’ll learn more effectively with videos.
Outside of formatting, finishing on time, and getting the correct answers, new hires frequently overlook the chain of command when completing assignments.
In other words, they direct their questions to senior bankers when they should be asking other analysts, or they ask support staff or analysts inappropriate questions.
Example: Let’s say that you started working 3 months ago, and now you’ve been tasked with preparing an internal memo for your bank’s Leveraged Finance (LevFin) committee to help a client raise debt.
You would obviously go to a 2nd or 3rd year analyst first and ask for an example memo from them…
BUT let’s say you do that, and then you run into a problem: the memos the 2nd year analyst shared with you were all for high-growth, low-profit businesses, whereas your client has a long history of strong cash flow.
At this point, the TWAT Analyst would attempt to “figure it out” by himself, or build multiple cases into the model, or, even worse, show the VP what he/she has gathered and ask for guidance.
The STARR Analyst, by contrast, would instead reach out to another analyst in the LevFin group and ask for more relevant example memos.
The STARR does that even if he/she barely knows the other person (e.g., they just met briefly during training), or he/she has to get a referral from someone else on his team.
By the time you show this memo to your VP, he’ll be impressed and will make a mental note that you were able to figure it out by yourself – at least, if you’ve done it the STARR way.
Support Staff Relationship Management
Many new hires overlook and undervalue the support staff because they have no say in bonuses or promotions.
But this is a huge mistake because support staff will save your life in situations with urgent deadlines (e.g., if you need to make last-minute formatting changes to a client presentation).
A TWAT Analyst will view support staff as a “resource,” and will ask them for help with tasks big and small, sending over documents and presentations whenever work is required.
Technically, there’s no “rule” that says this is inappropriate behavior.
But… the support staff also speak with each other, and they have their own priority lists.
They will be FAR less likely to help you if they know you as “the guy/girl who sends poorly defined, complex tasks at the last-minute.”
The STARR Analyst, by contrast, will tend to do as much as possible before offloading work.
He/she will show the support staff more appreciation by mingling during holiday parties and company events, and by doing small things such as buying holiday gifts.
Example: Let’s say you have to create a “public information book” (PIB) to prepare a senior banker for a meeting with a potential client.
This consists of printing out pages from the company’s website, looking up funding information, Googling related companies and competitors, and assembling it all in one package… not exactly Ph.D.-level work.
A newly hired TWAT Analyst would likely offload this entire task onto the support staff, assuming they actually help with these tasks (it varies by bank).
By contrast, a newly hired STARR Analyst would finish most of it, send over a preliminary version, and ask the support staff member if he/she could review it and see if anything is missing.
Sometimes it makes sense to offload the entire task:
- If you’ve already been there for a while and/or are a 2nd /3rd year analyst or beyond, sure, offload away.
- Or if it’s a last-minute urgent request and you physically don’t have the time to finish it, offload it.
But if you get in the habit of sending over every possible request to the support staff, they’ll get in the habit of prioritizing your tasks at the lowest level or ignoring you altogether.
Remember: middle and back office staff members are more valuable than you are initially.
Analyst Relationship Management
To make your analyst relationship management successful, pretend it’s the exact opposite of midterm/finals preparation at a competitive school.
There, you purposely avoid helping “the competition” by sharing tips and tricks; you might ruin the curve!
But when you start working, you have to do the exact opposite and be helpful to others … because you never know when you’ll need to ask for help.
The TWAT Analyst incorrectly believes that if he/she helps anyone else, his/her end-of-year ranking will decline because other entry-level hires will have higher relative scores.
This logic is flawed because 99.9% of other peoples’ rankings has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.
TWAT Analysts will also repeatedly ask for help from the same senior analyst(s), instead of spreading out their question-asking and expanding their network in the process.
STARR Analysts tend to do one or more of the following:
- Share the Pain – If they see a co-worker getting killed and have some downtime to spare, they’ll offer to help. Don’t do this all the time or it will lead to burnout, but it’s worth checking 1-2x per week if someone else might need help.
- Share the Wealth – If they discover a useful macro, a comprehensive guide, or industry research that’s relevant to someone else’s deal, they’ll send it over.
- Stick Together – If a co-worker’s VP or MD comes looking for him and he/she is not there, they’ll cover for the person and text him/her; if they hear senior bankers criticizing the analyst’s work, they’ll let him/her know about it.
- Make Life a Bit More Pleasant – If they have a free afternoon on the weekend, they will organize a fantasy sports team, a game of basketball, or some other low-time commitment social activity and invite everyone to participate.
Senior Banker Relationship Management
Understanding that senior bankers often hold the keys to exit opportunities, business school, and more, STARR Analysts will proactively demonstrate a positive attitude:
- They’ll say, “Sounds good, will do!” instead of just “OK” when accepting instructions. This sounds small, but bankers will judge you based on attitude until they see your deliverables.
- If they see the senior banker in the hall, they’ll ask how a recent meeting for a project you worked on together went, and if they can help with any follow-up (assuming the banker is a Defender).
The STARR Analyst will also think carefully and act deliberately before contacting any senior banker:
- Questions: The STARR will only ask the senior banker if he/she is the only person at the bank who can answer the questions, and if there are dire consequences for being incorrect; also, the STARR will include all his questions in a single email or a single office visit rather than wasting time by asking them separately.
- Presentations of Deliverables: STARRs will come with a long version and a short version prepared, and will anticipate likely questions and points of contention before stepping into the room – see our article on effective communication.
To test yourself, walk through the presentation and see if you can answer questions such as:
- What’s the purpose of this analysis?
- What is the conclusion? How does the conclusion change if the drivers or assumptions are adjusted?
- What’s the biggest weakness in your analysis?
- What areas do you need more data on?
And whenever an email with an attached deliverable is required, the STARR will always summarize the points above in a few sentences and then offer to discuss it live if necessary.
Are You a STARR?
Maybe not yet, but you can start moving in that direction now – as long as you remember the full list of differences between both species of Analysts.
This just scratches the surface of on-the-job success, so up next will be:
- Different types of senior bankers (Pillagers vs. Defenders), and how to avoid getting “pillaged.”
- Staffing strategies to work with the best team and get the best referrals.
- Tips and tricks for Associates and for non-IB roles.
For Further Reading
- How Investment Banking Analysts Get Ranked for Bonuses: Roll the Dice, Please
- “Great Communication Skills”: Talk Your Way Into Top Bonuses?
- How to Win Friends and Influence People in Investment Banking by Slacking Off and Pretending to Work Hard
- From Analyst to Associate and Beyond: How to Get Promoted In Investment Banking
- The Investment Banking Analyst Job
- Investment Banking Hours
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Just wondering where is the article “Defenders vs. Pillagers: How to Pick the Right Senior Bankers to Work With”
It’s gone now because it wasn’t getting much traffic. But we may bring it back and update it in the future.
My aim is to graduate at the top of my class, and be a technical wizard, while still being a STARR. Is this possible?
Unlikely, and it’s not even clear why you’d want to do all of those (as you don’t need to be the top of your class or a technical wizard to win exit opportunities).
I’m starting at an investment bank in a couple of weeks as an analyst and was wondering what is the best way to act on the first day? I know everyone says “be eager to learn”, but there’s also the side that says not to spread yourself too thin and take on too much work. There seems to be a thin line between being a hard worker and being the annoying over-achiever that no one in the office likes.
Also, what are good ways to show your associate that you want to work hard and be committed without turning into a TWAT?
I’d say be eager to learn, *listen* more than you talk – this is very important. I wouldn’t try too hard to prove yourself as a hard worker. I’d make sure you ask the right questions, listen and fulfil your duties/tasks. And by listening to others you’ll have a better understanding of what they need, and are in a better position to go above and beyond to fulfil their needs.
This is one the most acurate behaviour analysis I have ever read, its also the best article I have ready by you so far.
Thanks for reading!
Scary how accurate this is. I fell into the trap of being a TWATT during my first year – is there any way to recover as a second year once the reputational damage is done?
Yeah it’s tough if you already have that reputation, but one trick is to work with newer hires and/or people you haven’t had much experience with so it’s more of a blank slate. Or, you could just approach people you have worked with before, tell them you made mistakes in your first year, but you’ve realized the error of your ways and are prepared to be a more effective team member on future assignments now.
Brian, this is definitely one of the most useful article you wrote. Most people just don’t get this. Will you write a similar one for buy side?
Thanks! Yes, I want to cover the buy-side as well but might need to bring in a guest author or interviewee.