Age and Investment Banking: How Old Is Too Old to Break In?

490 Comments | Recruiting Mindset

15 Flares 15 Flares ×

HourglassThere’s no issue more sensitive than age.

Ok, maybe the CFA, GPA rounding, and Brazil come close.

But I’ve gotten many panicked “How old is too old to break in?” questions over the years.

Rather than skirting around this issue yet again, let’s jump in and see:

  • Why the problem is not your age at all
  • Why some experiences make you “older” than others
  • Why banks like less experienced and capable recruits
  • What to do if you are “too old”

Misnomers

The question “How old is too old to break into finance?” is a misguided one: in the US it’s not even legal to ask for your age when applying for jobs.

Internationally, this is not true and in some countries they will ask for your age, photos, and other information that would result in lawsuits in the US.

Still, most large banks are US-based and have standardized recruiting processes – so even if you apply in another region they’re not likely to ask explicitly how old you are.

Which means that most of the time, banks cannot measure your age precisely.

Or Can They?

Instead, they assess your “age” by looking at how much full-time work experience you’ve had after graduating from university.

Chances are that 10 years of full-time work experience makes you at least 30 – unless you were a child prodigy and graduated university at age 15, but then you wouldn’t be doing finance anyway.

And when banks see those 10 years of experience they mentally switch into “Too old / experienced to be an analyst” mode.

This has some interesting implications:

  • If you’ve done military service, worked full-time, or done something else full-time for a few years in between high school and college, this won’t necessarily “count against you.”

So even if you’re slightly older than a 22-year old college graduate, banks won’t say “You’re 3 years too old for this job! Go away!”

If you’re a recent graduate, you’ll be placed in the same category as everyone else – unless you have a really unusual situation (you started a business when you were 18, ran it for 10 years, then sold it and started college at age 28).

Yes, finance is the only industry where experience can actually count against you.

This applies to both Analysts and Associates – it’s tough to do something else for a few years after business school and then move into banking.

  • Full-time experience after university makes you “older” than full-time experience during or before university.

So if you’re tempted to take a year off and become a ski bum or do volunteer work or anything else “full-time,” then taking a leave of absence from school and returning once you’re done is a better idea.

This isn’t logical in the slightest, but nothing in finance is.

Guidelines

In the FAQ I gave 30 as the upper limit for Analyst-level hires and 40 as the limit for Associate-level hires.

Those were both under the assumption that you graduate around age 22-25.

And those guidelines are mostly correct, but it’s not because of your age itself – it’s because of how much experience you’ll have by then.

  • Analyst-Level: Banks rarely hire anyone at the Analyst level with more than 2-3 years of full-time experience.
  • Associate-Level: If you’ve done an MBA banks usually want 3-5 years of experience but not more than 10.

For Associates, it’s less about the years worked and more about the level you’ve attained.

Someone at the mid-level could potentially come in as an Associate, but a top executive will not take a pay cut and start correcting spelling mistakes in pitch books 100 hours a week.

Keep in mind that these are guidelines rather than absolute laws.

I’ve seen relatively senior people join banks as Associates, despite having more than 10 years of experience – if you find the right group and tell the right story it’s doable.

…But Realistically

On the other hand, no, you will not be hired as an investment banking analyst if you are 50 and have 25 years of work experience.

You won’t even get hired as an Associate with that kind of background.

Yes, you can break in coming from very random backgrounds, but there’s a limit when it comes to years of work experience rather than the experience itself.

Why Do They Do It This Way?

If you’re in this category you might now be asking, “Why? Shouldn’t they want people with more experience who are better leaders and problem solvers?”

And I agree with you – it’s silly to be this rigid.

But banks don’t see it that way – they have 2 main concerns with more experienced candidates:

  1. You can’t prioritize work above all else and be on-call 24/7.
  2. You won’t do whatever senior bankers ask you to without questioning orders.

Concern#1 applies mostly to Associates.

Banks assume that if you’re older you might have a family and actual responsibilities outside work, reducing your willingness to stay at the office until midnight all the time.

Concern #2 applies to everyone – banks know that only less experienced hires are likely to follow instructions all the time without pushing back.

This is why it’s difficult to break in if you’ve started a company or done something off the beaten path that required a lot of independent thought – you might not be able to follow orders.

No, not everyone in the industry thinks like this.

But it is a numbers game, and bankers want to maximize their chances of finding workhorse Analysts and Associates – so they target people in very specific categories.

So What Do You Do If You’re “Too Old”?

It might be difficult to break into investment banking if you have too much experience, but there are other options:

And if you’re frustrated with the rigidity, find a less structured industry.

As bankers might say, “It is what it is.”

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Access to Exclusive Content for Members Only!

Loading the player...

Sign up for The Banker Blueprint today and enjoy:

ebook
  • Free Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews,
  • Exclusive emailed bonus material,
  • Free Banker Blueprint newsletter with more in-depth advice,
  • Unlimited access to all articles, videos, and advice - and free updates whenever new content is added to the site,

 

We respect your email privacy

Read below or add a comment...

490 Comments to “Age and Investment Banking: How Old Is Too Old to Break In?”

Comments

  1. Rganini says

    Hi, I am now 27 – have beachlor’s and master of city planning (from ivy), now in the city planning PhD program (at an ivy) which will be completed in 2 years. I will be 29 by then.

    I want to switch to finance sector and possibly get a job in IB or Real estate IB. I am now doing the fieldwork (collecting data) for my dissertation in Vietnam…..so I have a bit of time in my hand to work on my profile. There are a couple of options I am thinking.

    -Do a MBA program with a concentration in Finance at the University of London (by distance learning)
    -Take CFA Level 1
    -Get a summer analyst position at a PE firm in Ho-Chi-Min City (where I do my research)

    Do I even have a chance at IB? What would be the best course of action for me? Could you please help me prioritize my options? (Not sure I will have time to do all 3 next year as I wish)

    I want to start working by 2015. Thanks for your help in advance!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You have a chance though you’ll be competing against people who’ve had experience in the industry so you’ll have to demonstrate that you can add more value vs them

      I think the summer analyst position is the best course of action for you.

      CFA – http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/cfa-investment-banking/

      MBA – you already have a PhD. Distance learning at the MBA program may not necessarily help because you need to network on the ground and attend info sessions to increase your chances.

  2. Arthur says

    Hi, I’m considering doing 4 years in the British Army as an officer once I finish Uni, but ultimately want to be in banking. I was wondering whether you knew anything about whether this is still a viable career move, as I know it used to be very acceptable in the 80s and 90s, especially as there is a strong Army-City of London network?
    Thanks very much,
    Arthur

  3. FARHAN says

    Nicole and Team: AMAZING SITE!

    my background:I will be 33 this year in Nov 2013.
    Bachelors: 2004 – Computer Info Systems
    Masters: 2008 January – Management Information Systems

    Employers: CONSULTING FIRMS like Accenture, Deloitte and others where my main focus was Financial Clients and Healthcare clients.

    Currently working for HSBC Bank in the IT Strategy department.

    QUESTIONS:

    1. I have limited exposure to Financial Modeling and I am considering to take a class to break into the field along with everything else I read on this site.

    On a scale of 1-10; what do you think are my chances?

    2. I am networking, investing with my own money in the markets and investing has just been a sincere passion I have picked up at this age. I would have killed to be in this space if ONLY someone guided me but then again God has a plan for everyone. IS my approach something that can have a glimmer of hope?

    3. I am taking classes via IBI(investing banking institute ) who help with CV’s and jobs – your thoughts?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. A bit below 5…but take this with a grain of salt
      2. Yes there is, be persistent and network a lot
      3. We don’t work with them so I can’t comment.

  4. vikas says

    hi sir ,i am 22 recently completed graduation in
    engineering ,i want to shift my career to investment banker through getting into a ivy b schools
    my question is

    will the investment banker need any experience ?
    if i completed post graduation (mba) in ivy bschools like hardvard ,stansford

    plz reply me and help me out

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you’ll need work experience to stand out, even if you graduate from schools like HBS and GSB. However, most people who go to HBS and GSB already have experience so that shouldn’t be an issue

      • vikas says

        thank you sir for replying me

        can u figure it out what kind of experience
        and how many years required ?.
        is family business enough ?

        it is necessary for an i.b to need experience of other industry

        i am passionate man

        i already decided my future plan
        fistly becomeing an investment banker after that into private equity firm and after having own a private equity firm and after extending my business to other wings of business
        and many other thing to explain my passion in addition with gmat 780 and i believe these thing will surely help me in placing in bschools (ivy )

        my future plan might seem simple and common to you ,but i decided this kind of strategy
        living in a small undeveloped town

        please help me out sir plzzzzzzz

    • Harry says

      Investment banking is extremely competitive and extremely difficult to break into. Additionally, you need to be extremely creative and have superb analytical to survive in this field. You say you have an engineering degree. That alone doesn’t give you a competitive edge. ( A lot of people seem to think so) Additionally, you need to improve your verbal and writing skills, which you clearly lack. IB attracts some of the best in the world, so unless you really have the edge, don’t waste your time.

  5. Yomi says

    Hello

    Thanks for this article and recommended books to read.

    I think it’s quite different in the UK to what obtains in the US . In UK age and years of experience isn’t the barrier and they don’t care bout your qualifications from top schools but the fact that you’ve been in the industry matters most.

    Well I’m 36 with an MBA ACCA chartered accountant postgraduate in financial risk and years of experience in finance with CFA in view with no luck yet getting into any bank or financial services firm for a financial reporting accounting role in IB.

    Any thought on breaking through in the UK market?

    Thanks

  6. mike says

    Hi,

    I’m 36 now. I graduated with BS in mechanical engineering 5 years ago and have been working as a mechanical engineer since graduation. I am a senior engineer now. I want to get into an MFE program next year and work as a quant later on. Can you give some advice if I should go for it or not?

  7. mohamed says

    Hi,
    I am 30 and few months now,
    i am at amiddle mangement level in a securities services dept (custody services) in a multinational bank, and i passed CFA level 2

    do you think i can switch into an investment bank?

    thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you haven’t had much experience in IB, it will be challenging for you to move into a FO role at an IB, especially at your level – they’re looking for people who can potentially originate deals (i.e. rolodex of clients) and can execute deals (i.e. have deal experience). However, for MO/BO roles at IBs, yes I think your chances are higher

      • mohamed says

        thank you for the advice, a little bit depressing but its ok :) , do you think i should continue in earning the CFE L3, or i will be wasting money and time, also do you think i am having the same weak chance in breaking into portfolio manegment industry? thank you

  8. al says

    Hey guys, great site. I’ve recently completed two years in IB and I was looking at a number potential exit options including doing a short 6-month stint in non-profit abroad.

    I was just wondering, if I were to go ahead with this plan, would my chances of re-entering the industry either continuing in an IB role, or potentially moving to the buy side be adversely affected?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • says

      It would be harder to go back to either of those, yes, but you could still do it. It would be tougher to get back into IB because they would be suspicious of a move like that.

  9. ANS says

    Hello

    I hold a bachelors in Engineering as well as Law. I am licenced to practice in India. I am 33 years of age now but my full-time work experience is only 2 years. A lot of years were lost in un-paid volunteer work for social causes & preparing myself for that engineering degree.

    I am preparing for the CFA Level 1 now. What do you think are my chances of breaking into the world of finance, especially the bond & the commodities trading scene?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You may be older than most candidates. I think networking a lot would really help in your case. Perhaps you may also want to start trading your own portfolio if you haven’t already done so to demonstrate your passion

  10. Chak says

    I am 24 and have two years of work experience in strategy and negotiations in retail/consumer products. My background is finance and marketing from top university. How can I switch to IB analyst position?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Perhaps you can explore consumer coverage groups. This maybe the most straightforward way though the competition can be keen and you’ll have to demonstrate your finance knowledge.

  11. Julian says

    Hello,

    I’m 19 years old and graduated in Germany beeing 17 years old. After graduation I did one year voluntary work in sports and after that year I started a year abroad in Canada. During this year I’m actually working fulltime in a skiresort.

    I’m interested in break in into the IB. Therefore I want to figure out which my best way would be:

    Starting out as a trainee bank clerk at a german federal state bank for 2 years and start studying at an university afterwards.
    Or otherwise start to study directly when I come back to Germany with the age of 20. The Bachelor degree will take me about 3 years.
    In both ways I’m not sure, which subject of study I should choose.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes studying at a target school in Germany, perhaps majoring in Finance and Accounting, can potentially help you. Quite a lot of financiers ski, so you maybe able to strike up a few conversations with bankers and network there.

  12. Rob says

    I am 25 and just started as an analyst in corporate banking at a BB. I have a BBA in Finance and graduated in 2011. I most recently worked in a small commercial bank for 1 year and held other finance related roles before that. After working for a year in this department would I be able to lateral into IB at the same bank?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes though you may have to network extensively internally and prove that you have knowledge in IB and the drive to succeed

  13. MIchael says

    I’m 31 turning 32 in 2014. Currently work as a relationship banker and want to switch to the investment industry. Through hard work, dedication and networking are my chances slim to none to becoming an analyst?

  14. Archibald says

    Hey, I have a son who is 12, and he has wanted to be a investment banker for years… Do you think he could start doing somethings now, would that help him?? And also do SATS, & GCSE’S & A Levels matter to be a investment banker? Thankyou.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Reading about investment banking can help. Yes I’d suggest him to get into a target school to increase his chances. In order to get into a target school, he’ll need to have good test scores (i.e. SAT, GCSE, A Level) depending on the university he goes to. So his test scores matter.

  15. Frank says

    Really great website. I am wanting to do an MBA at york university and get into investment banking. I will be 33 years old when i start. I have a Bachelors and Masters degree in electrical engineering and have been working as an electrical engineer for the last nine years with progressive responsibilities.

    Am i too old to start a career in investment banking or management consulting ? I am really interested in finance. please advice.

  16. Chris says

    I want to transition into either an Investment Banking Analyst or a Venture Capital Analyst from Asset Management without going the MBA route (25 years old).

    Graduated May 2011 from Non-target state school (3.6 GPA)

    -Very well know Investment management firm-1.5 years (currently working there)
    -Corporate sales Intern with Top Tech company in Silicon Valley
    -Analyst intern with small asset management firm

    Do I have a solid chance as an entry IB or VC Analyst? I Took the BIWS financial modeling course and feel pretty confident cold calling for informational interviews as well as networking. Would your resume critique packages help someone in my situation (less than 2 years of full time experience)?

    I just wanted some honest feedback from someone who’s seen it all. Anything would help.

    Thank you so much guys!

  17. AZ says

    Hello, I am 34 now and plan to attend B School next year. I am interested in I-banking. I need your feedback regarding difficulty in having an Associate level position after MBA. I am a university lecturer with more than ten years of teaching experience.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes with the lack of experience this can be challenging in your case unless you have clients and can originate deals.

  18. Annie says

    Hello, I am 33, i willing to start my career in Equity research in USA again after 5 years of gap, due to family reasons(as i mother of 2) right now i am living in USA. I have work experience with wealth management industry back in India with masters in Commerce and MBA in Finance from top business school.

    Am i too old to start my career in Equity research with 5 years of gap?
    Please advise!!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes 5 years can be perceived as a long time, especially in the finance industry.

      I’d start contacting people in ER on LinkedIn and start getting some informational interviews. Chat with people, get back in the loop, and slowly weave your way back to a job in the industry.

  19. ralph says

    Hey first off great article!! I have literally been searching to find a constructive article rather than a “too old so split” type article.

    Im currently 32 and half way through my undergrad with a dual emphasis in Finance and Accounting. I spent the previous decade doing a 4 year stint in the Marines and then doing odd jobs here and there but primarily at a non profit in a supervisory role, mainly due to lack of focus. I finally gained some sense and realized I needed to make a change and so here I am.

    A job at Goldman or J.P Morgan would be ideal but it’s kind of unrealistic, so Im shooting for a boutique bank. I plan on going for my CFA I during my senior year.

    What would you recommend my course of action be if my ultimate goal is to end up in Private Equity.

  20. aNewBeginning says

    hey! very informative article!

    I’m 24 and currently work in retail after dropping out of university due to incapacitating depression. I intend to go back to university at age 25 (hopefully king’s college london or ucl) to read Physics, graduating at age 28. Will that be too old to break into finance with only retail experience?

    In the meantime, I am applying for a year long apprenticeship at a BB in securities services. Assuming I get that and complete it before going to university, what are my chances of breaking into finance after graduation?

    Many thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Assuming you have a decent pitch and some work experience you maybe a bit older than most incoming analysts so banks may be concerned that you can’t work as hard as your peers. You’ll have to demonstrate your passion and knowledge of the industry very well. I’d say your chances are 50/50

  21. Omar Javed says

    Hi, I dropped out of London School of Economics 6 years ago due to anxiety and depression and have irrelevant work experience. I will be attending Cambridge University this year studying for a degree in Economics however I will be 31 upon graduation. Realistically what chances do I have of entering Investment banking and what advise could you give me?

    Regards

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You may be slightly older than the incoming class of analysts. Interviewers may also question why you started later than others. I’d suggest you to work as hard as you can during those 4 years, gain as much experience as you can in the industry, network (as usual), and be persistent.

  22. jen says

    Hi, I went to a HPY Ivy, but took a leave of absence after my sophomore year to figure out my goals: I was a TEFL teacher in China for a year, went to culinary school in ny for a year, and landed a job at a nonprofit in dc that deals with food insecurity for 2 years. I’m back at school finishing my last 2 years and I’ll be recruiting on-campus at the age of 25 and 26 when I graduate. With my unusual circumstances, I’m not sure how desirable a candidate I am for IB, more specifically for equity research and eventually VC. Thanks for your time!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you haven’t had experience in finance, I’d focus on getting that first. For IB and VC roles, they’d require people with deal and startup experience. I’d say it maybe less challenging for someone with your background to try research roles in buyside though this can still be challenging. If you don’t have any experience in finance at all a CFA may help if you’re looking for research roles, not IB/VC roles

      • jen says

        Thanks for responding so quickly. I just wanted to make sure that my not graduating in 4 years wouldn’t be a deal-breaker to getting an internship or other finance experience.

Leave a Reply