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

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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.

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

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Hi Brian,

    I wasn’t sure where to post this question, so here it is: I graduated in May ’14 and have been looking for a job since. I finally got an offer at a Bulge Bracket bank in their CIB as an Analyst (more specifically, CIB –> Investor Services –> Alternative Investment Services –> Private Equity Fund Services). I would like to know what my exit opportunities from this type of role and the probability of being able to move into a front-office IB / PE / HF Analyst role in the future (1-3 years). Thank you in advance for your time!

    Sincerely,

    Anonymous

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I presume you mean Corporate & Institutional Banking (CIB)? It depends on your job description and what you’ll be doing there. If you’ll be involved in deals/valuation work then yes IB maybe easy to transition into.

  2. CJ says

    I’m 22 and just started college at Berkeley and I’m majoring in Business Administration. Assuming I maintain an excellent GPA, score internships, complete the Level 1 CFA will I have a good shot at getting a good analyst job on Wall Street? I’ll be starting at 26, is that too old?

    Also I know Berkeley is a good target school for west coast banking but will I have a chance on The Street?

    Thanks, and please be brutally honest.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you may a few years older than most analysts but 26 is still ok. Yes there are quite a few Berkeley alums on Wall Street so I’d reach out to them.

  3. JC Transfer says

    How bad would being a junior college transfer hurt your chances of starting as an analyst on the street? If I went to Santa Monica College (which has top transfer rate to UC schools like UCB and UCLA) and transferred to a UC target school how bad would this hurt my chances of scoring good internships and starting at a top IB out of college assuming grades etc were excellent?

  4. Samu says

    Hi,

    I am 28 and have two years of doing due-diligence at a consulting firm. My academic career isn’t very good, so I plan to get a Masters in Finance before applying to a target school. I currently am not able to get a finance job. My plan is to work as an analyst for two years and finish my MBA at 34.

    Is that too old? And, what kind of banks or jobs should I seek out after my Masters in Finace? I want to get into a top school and get a solid internship.

  5. Shawn says

    Hey I graduated in May ’14 and I’ve been trying to break into I.B. I have a degree in Sociology from an elite liberal arts school. I recently accepted a position as a Customer Service rep at a very reputable Investment Firm. My main concern is that I’ll get stuck only being able to do customer service jobs. I really want to start moving up the chain. I don’t have a degree in finance but I would really excel in anything that focuses on consulting, project management, operations, human resources, etc. I’m 23 years old. Any tips/advice?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d connect with alumni in the industry and see if you can gain some experience there. I may also obtain your degree from a target university to increase your chances.

  6. Anamika says

    Hello,

    I am 35 years old & targeting a top business school. I will graduate at 37-38. Will i be too old to be hired at a management consultant associate?

    Thanks,
    Anamika

  7. John says

    I have almost 2 years of venture capital experience as a seed/series a stage analyst at a small, probably little known venture fund and 1 year of academic researcher/programming. I am 25. I’m guessing I have a shot at small shops but would it be possible for me to get to an elite boutique (ideal) or Tech Banking at a BB (given how competitive these groups are, and their stringent undergrad focused recruiting schedules). I remember reading on your Private equity/Venture capital out-of-undergrad thread that it would be difficult to go from buyside to banking so I’m concerned. I also went to HYP, did engineering (and got engineering grades…) to add more color.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d probably focus on boutique banks in the tech space first given your experience and then move to a BB to increase your chances, because boutique banks are more likely to be accepting of someone with your background. Otherwise what you can do is to transition into a larger VC fund / go back to a target grad school.

      • John says

        Also when you say “move to” do you mean start with the boutiques then apply to BBs in the same cycle or get a job at a boutique then seek to lateral?

  8. monty says

    If I’ve done my graduation from distance degree and mba regular.. Can i be a investment banker?
    PLease PLease reply me..
    Is distance degree is like a curse, but mba is regular not distance.
    I’ll appreciate, if anybody will answer me .

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It is hard to say on this forum, since we have not met you in person. I’d say if you have relevant finance experience and a target MBA this can most definitely help. Otherwise, you may have less chance of breaking into the industry (versus someone with relevant experience, target MBA, etc).

  9. Katie says

    Hi,
    i am 37 and a student in comunity college in first year. I think that i will finish BA economics when i am 41-42. Is it too old to find an investment banker job?
    I graduated 2002 in my country with a computer science major, and i had 7 years experience working in IT field and 1 year in sale (about software product).
    Now i am living in the US, and i go back to school in economics major. I really want to work into investment banking. Can you please give me some advices.
    Thank you very much.
    Soooo sorry that my English is not good.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d suggest that you look at middle office roles in finance. Without relevant deal experience it can be challenging to break into IB at your age. If you start with middle/back office roles first the transition maybe easier.

  10. CS says

    Hi, I’m 25 and graduated from a red brick university in the UK in 2012 and interned with a bulge bracket for 4 months after graduating in a trade analyst role. I made a mistake in taking a job in a completely different industry and am now trying to get back into investment banking, but not in operations. What would be your best advice? Thanks.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d try your best to transition internally if possible. Otherwise, perhaps getting a Masters/MBA can help you rebrand yourself.

      • CS says

        Sorry, I meant I no longer work in the bank so internal wouldn’t be possible. I have two offers outside of banking right now – junior market analyst in a small financial services and associate researcher in one of the top consulting firms. Would either of these be worthwhile experience to try and move back in? I don’t think a masters or MBA would be feasible right now financially. Thanks!

  11. JB says

    Hi, I am 30 years old and have 6 years of professional expereince in the real estate industry as a property manager. I have been doing my MBA (finance concentration) part time now for almost three years from a mediocre school and will be finished this December. Ive also completed CFA level 1 and will be registering for level 2 next

    Do you think it’s possible to break into Investnment Banking at this point in my career? If so, would I most likely start as an Analyst? Or is an Associate level a possibility? Or am I better off focusing on buy-side opportunities?

    Note: I’m in Canada so the CFA is often considered an asset for IB job postings. I also wanted options to go buy-side…

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d look at real estate buy-side roles in your case to improve your chances. You may start of as an associate depending on how releant your experience is and if the firm values you. Yes, CFA is useful if you want to move to the buy-side so you made a good call here.

  12. says

    hi
    I m 34 and I m planning to continue my studies in business and want to become an investment banker ,My goal is to work in wall street .But I do not know what is the age criteria to be an analyst or an associate .Because now if I start my UG program and by the time I m done I m like 38yearsold .So do I stand a chance in getting a job as an investment banker in Wall street?.As a matter of fact I do not even have a work experience as I was a homemaker till now.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you haven’t had any experience in finance, you may want to check out buy-side, asset management roles – this maybe more suitable for you. Most analysts and associates are below 30, and unless you’ve had some sort of deal experience under your belt, you maybe a bit older than the usual age.

  13. FE says

    I worked as an analyst at a hedge fund in structured products from age 25-27, then got my MBA at a non-target. After MBA, I launched a hedge fund and ran it from age 29-33. I have burned out on running the fund solo, and it never got big enough to add employees. Now I’m at a bit of a crossroads in that I’m unsure of which direction to go next. I’ve always been interested in IB, but I have zero experience in that space. Is it worth me pursuing IB now at 33, or should I focus on trying to latch on to another hedge fund? Or should I look into other areas like PE or AM?

    Thanks.

  14. says

    Hi

    I’m 32 and am studying my master of applied finance at a pretty good school in australia

    I’m a geologist originally and want to become a mining analyst, am I too old to break in? Am I doing the right thing in order to get into the industry?

    Thanks

    Alex

  15. Tony says

    Hello BIWS!

    Great article!

    My background is the following:

    Top Undergrad School (Top 15)
    MBA from non-target school (but Top 50 ranked)
    5-6 years work experience (sales & operations analysis and most recently, 1 year in a non-IB finance position)
    Age 30

    I caught the IB interest in my most recent job working in a non-IB financial analysis & management position for a conglomerate that acquired many businesses domestically and internationally. My goal is to work in IB in NYC.

    My question is this: Given my background, what position and types of banks should I target in the USA?

    a) Based on the article, I should be applying only to Associate level positions. But should I be open to Analyst level positions too?

    b) Are bulge bracket level banks out of the question? Should I focus on middle-market and boutiques instead?

    Any suggestions are warmly appreciated! Thanks. :)

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