We all make mistakes. We’re human, after all. The problem is not everyone is in M&A, IB, or PE, and their mistakes don’t kill multi-million dollar deals (no pressure). Luckily, not every mistake is a deal-killer, but it still never feels good to mess up at work. That’s why we’re going to look at some ways to avoid easy mistakes when working in M&A.
So, whether you’re a newbie about to start your first day, a seasoned vet looking to stay sharp, or maybe even a hardo who will read any article that has to do with M&A, this is for you.
Assume Everything is F’d
One of the best ways to fix mistakes before they become problems is to catch them before anyone else does. That means having your own elevated sense of due diligence. The best way to keep your guard up? Assume everything that comes across your desk is absolutely F’d. Even if you were the one to do it, pretend it was the least competent person in the office that turned it into you (if that is you it’s okay, that’s why you’re here).
Having a sense of skepticism will keep you sharp and encourage you to always double and triple-check the work you have in front of you. The more you do this, the more mistakes you catch before they actually become mistakes. And if you’re working on a limited schedule — which you always are — make sure you at least check the stuff you did at 2 a.m. the night before.
Become a Master of the Mundane
The boring jobs usually aren’t our favorite, but they also tend to be the easiest. Jordan didn’t have to think about dribbling a basketball, it was second nature to him. Whether it’s always making sure your presentation formats are spot on, decimals are in the right spot, version control is updated, or your CRM interactions are properly logged, make it second nature. You’ll be less likely to make easy mistakes.
Don’t Jump the Gun
It’s easy to start looking up the ladder and getting excited about where you’re headed, but don’t forget about where you are. For some people, the promise of more helps push them forward, but for some, it can distract from what they should be doing right now. Remember that your current role is the only thing that matters to your performance right now, and the more you focus on that, the sooner your climb will come.
Find the People You Can Trust (Especially Above You)
Let’s be honest, M&A isn’t necessarily the place to be blindly trusting of everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for the right people to trust. No matter where you are in your career, one thing you should always do is find someone who is a direct senior to yourself and build a relationship with them. Call it ass-kissing all you want, but when it comes time for reviews, having a strong rapport with one senior who can advocate for you is invaluable.
Now, if you are an MD or similarly positioned, finding a capable junior you can trust is also going to be beneficial. Obviously having someone competent you can trust to knock out tasks is great, but they can also provide an ear to the ground when it comes to who isn’t cutting their weight (and who’s making mistakes that are costing the team).
Ride Out the Tough Times
Odds are you will make mistakes from time to time, especially when you’re new or learning. While it might feel like the world is crashing down on you when that happens, view it as a learning experience rather than a death sentence. The biggest mistake you can make is letting a small one turn into defeat.
If your goal is to have a long career just remember: Never quit on your worst day.
Don’t Forget Who You Work For
If you’re looking for success working in IB/PE, then one of the best things you can do is realize you really work for yourself. Don’t believe me? Then check out this absolute gem by an anonymous user on WallStreetOasis:
Always remember who you work for. You definitely don’t work for your VP. You don’t work for your Partners. You don’t work for your company. They might review your work, they might pay you. They might benefit from all the amazing hard work that you do. But it isn’t about them.
You work for you.
When you’re double and triple checking your work, it’s because you are a detailed oriented professional. When you bang out presentation comments, it’s to learn how to effectively and attractively synthesize information. When you stay up until 2 AM modeling, it’s to become technically proficient. When you work 3 weekends straight to get an M&A deal closed, it’s to add a win to your resume and deal sheet. Even when you’re handling random bullshit asinine tasks, you do it to develop mental fortitude, patience, and resilience.
You work to make yourself better, stronger, faster, smarter, more capable, more skilled, more valuable, more adaptable. You’re just using your company as a resource to get mentorship, deal experience, institutional capability, learning opportunities, client relationships, etc. Always, always, remember that everything you’re doing is for you, and do it to the best of your ability because it’s you who will reap the reward in the long run. Go get what’s yours.
Stay Up to Date
One of the easiest ways to avoid mistakes is to be aware of what’s the latest and greatest in your field. Easy example, if you’re using a crappy old VDR, you’re flirting with disaster. Instead, use a VDR like CapLinked. One less thing you have to worry about…and seriously, double-check all the decimals in your presentations.
Cyrus Grant is a writer from Southern California with a background in content marketing, dispute resolution, law, and politics. When he isn’t writing he can be found deep-diving into the latest business trends or simply spending time at the beach.