You might have had to sit in reception for half a day waiting for the last of the Managing Directors to become available from back to back client meetings to give you your final interview to be told afterwards – thanks for coming in, we’ll be in touch – with no idea whether that means you’ll be waiting for 2 hours, 2 weeks or longer.

Then on the train home your phone rings from either an unrecognised number or from “No Caller ID”. The adrenaline kicks in and you wonder whether all your hard work practicing financial modelling on made up companies in your spare time and writing numerous job applications is about to pay off. As you listen to this voice you recognise from a couple of hours ago, you struggle to contain your excitement from all the other commuters on the train and realise you have just landed your first job in M&A – congratulations.

Your corporate finance career is about to begin.

Walking in for the first time

It can be a daunting prospect to walk into a corporate finance or investment banking office for the first time and meet the team. Then you have a multitude of new deal management systems and internal databases to get acquainted with before you can get involved in live M&A deals.

If you get your first 3 months right, then you will likely have a hugely rewarding first 3 years in corporate finance whilst you complete your Analyst programme. The first thing to do is to recognise that the corporate finance office is a high performance environment where people can be under a lot of pressure. You need to be mindful of this as you interact with others and manage your energy levels accordingly.

Here are some top tips to help you succeed in the early days

Get the basics right: Turn up on time, or earlier. If you are going to be late, provide a heads up. If you have a personal appointment, provide notice. If you need to pop out, check it’s not at a critical time. Whilst you might think “James, that’s obvious”, I can tell you that not everyone does it.

Be humble: You likely have a lot to learn, from accounting and financial statements, to financial modelling to communicating effectively with your colleagues and clients. Everyone in the office probably knows a little more than you do right now. If you disagree with something, ensure that your default reaction is to seek to understand, rather than to challenge or defend yourself. Consider the need to recalibrate your own judgement and don’t try and run before you can walk. Admit when you get things wrong and learn quickly.

The importance of accounting as an M&A Analyst: A key responsibility as an Analyst will be to analyse company financial information and provide commercial output on the numbers. This takes great care and requires a diligent and accurate approach. When you send work to be reviewed, make sure you have reviewed it yourself first. Many understandably struggle with the numbers at first, so investing time on getting to grips with accounting and financial statements will be well worth your while as well as employing a good dose of perseverance. As you prove you are a safe pair of hands, you develop trust which enables you to move onto other M&A workstreams to develop your experience further. If you are wishing for more responsibility over and above the numbers though aren’t performing to a high level, my advice for you is to focus 100% on the numbers and your quality of output. This will ensure any requests you have to become involved in other workstreams on deals land well.

Demonstrate a great work ethic and be a team player: It’s a team game and you might be one of 3 or 4 other bankers working on a corporate finance transaction. Deals typically complete between the hours of 11pm and 4am, and there will be plenty of late nights running up to the point of Completion. Fortunately there is more flexibility than ever in terms of working arrangements which means that corporate finance and investment banking is a genuine career option for all though some firms are much more flexible than others, so choose where you join wisely based on your preferred work life balance.

Clarify instructions early: If you don’t understand an instruction, then clarify it before starting what you think the task is. The longer you leave any uncertainty unaddressed, the more hesitation you will feel in checking in as the deadline approaches (this is speaking from experience!). If you are taking instruction over Teams and Slack where instructions can easily be misinterpreted, pick up the phone or arrange a virtual session for added assurance. There is no downside to confirming your understanding and it will give others greater confidence in you. You should spend as much time as you can in the office so you can clarify regularly and easily. This also enables you to listen to the conversations going on around you which are a great learning resource.

Be helpful: If you have finished what’s on your list, try and find out how else you can help. Never sit at your desk doing nothing or browsing the internet. People make a habit of looking at screens as they walk past to see what you are up to. You will do that too! Email your sector team and put in the subject title “Available – let me know if I can help with anything”. Or, even better, just walk up to their desk and ask them. It demonstrates your appetite to help others and learn, and sets a great impression.

Go beyond: Partners and Directors really value Analysts who think about Origination, as long as this doesn’t come at the expense of the core Analyst role. Find some interesting privately owned businesses, send them to your sector head and see if they have heard of them. If it’s a good business, chances are they have it on their tracking list already but sometimes you can find a gem which has to date gone under their radar. By doing this you will also learn when the MD says “Yes” to some companies and “No” to others thereby gaining a greater understanding of what a good business looks like. It’s never too early to start thinking about business development which, after all, is what pays for your salary and bonus.

Enthusiasm: This counts for a lot. Hopefully you are genuinely enthusiastic about starting your M&A role. Corporate financiers don’t really want to work with people who appear disinterested. There is a long queue of people who would happily replace you, so make sure you look happy to be there!

Best of luck as you start your new role and let me know if I can provide any other advice to help you hit the ground running.

You will be great.

I made many mistakes during my own experience which I regularly talk about in class but that’s the way you learn. Just make sure you take feedback in the way it is intended no matter how it is communicated – to help you develop and get better for your own benefit!