NO PAIN NO GAIN: 5 Reasons the Boondoggle Assignment Actually Helps You in the Long Run
Jay Croone, Breaking Bay Street
In many aspects of life we use animals to represent different types of people. Leaders are the “top dogs”, big spenders are “whales” and the list goes on. So what animal do junior bankers get? They get stuck with the monkey, the idea here being that their nearly-human level intelligence gives them the ability to work long hours on the most mindless tasks and do it with smiles on their little monkey faces. Throw them a bunch of bananas every couple hours and they will keep working away and won’t bother you.
Why then, do so many intelligent, competitive, and highly employable people choose to start off their careers as monkeys? Well, the truth is that even the most seemingly mindless tasks that the young investment banker monkey will come across actually helps to develop some very valuable skills that enable the Monkey to quickly grow into a Top Dog. To help me prove my case, I’ll tell you the story of particularly crazy boondoggle assignment I witnessed when I worked in investment banking.
“We need to make a map of every gas station in Canada.” I have always been amazed by how MDs and Directors can generate so much work by saying so little, and this was the textbook example. The group that worked next to me got hit with this task and it was a nightmare. Take a second to really think about how crazy this task is. How many gas stations do you think there are within 10km of wherever you are reading this right now? How many are owned by small independents owners that may not even have a website? How often do they close down? Open? Move? Now think about what you would have to do to find the information for the entire country. Also, in case you were wondering…. there is no allgasstations.ca or any other shortcut to give you all the information.
What did they do? Well a team consisting of a senior associate, 2 analysts and 2 summer students traveled to the end of internet and back, working 18+ hour days over a 7-day period. They checked the websites of the biggest players and looked at listings by province or
city. They searched for the medium-sized players that would own a dozen locations or more. They Googled “gas stations”. They used the satellite feature on Google Maps to actually digitally locate them. Then they had to cross- check their work and make sure they weren’t double counting, and to be sure that none in their list had moved or closed.
So, why am I telling you that this massive data- digging task actually benefited the poor monkeys that got staffed on it? Well here are few things they learned:
How to Determine What’s Possible: As they started the project, they tried out tons of different search techniques. Some worked, some didn’t and the validity of the data would differ as well. Eventually they would start to get a feel for what was possible given the deadline, communicate that up the chain and then negotiate when they inevitable get asked for more.
Prioritization: Going down the wrong path for too long on this type of assignment can be deadly. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, you have to systematically tackle your best leads first and work your way down to your 2nd and 3rd tier sources of information.
How to Find Anything on the Internet: You may think that anyone born in the last couple decades can do this, but believe me, people with investment banking experience are on another level. As the monkeys desperately looked for ways to make finding the gas stations easier, they became true experts.
How to Push Back: These types of assignments will push people to their breaking points. The MDs will always want more accurate and more comprehensive data but there are only so many hours in a day. Eventually, everyone working on this project would have to tell someone senior to them that what they were asking for was impossible.
How to Leverage All the Tools at Your Disposal: From Google Chrome, to Excel to Powerpoint and various industry resources, this type of project forces you to learn all the shortcuts, tips and tricks. When you’re working on a project like this, you value an extra hour of sleep the way most people value a two-week vacation. You’ll do whatever it takes to learn something that will save you time.
Are these monkey skills? Definitely not. These are some seriously powerful skills that help people prosper in variety of career paths. So if you find yourself doubting your decision to pursue a job in investment banking, because “even a monkey could do the work”, try to remember the bigger picture.
Jay Crone and Josh Emberson are the co-founders of BreakingBayStreet and are passionate about helping students break into careers in the capital markets. Through their website, BreakingBayStreet.com they offer a range of interview prep tools including the IncuBanker, their online interview prep
course, the interactive All Star Team Program, mock interviews with industry professionals and more. They also offer tons of great free content through their daily blog and podcast. For more information, check them out at BreakingBayStreet.com!