Breaking and Entering Into Investment Banking As an Accountant

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accountant“It’s tax time. I know this because I’m staring at documents that make no sense to me, no matter how many beers I drink.”

-Dave Barry

Got “stuck” in accounting or auditing and now you want to break into investment banking?

I discussed this exact topic with a reader recently – as one of the bonus consultations for the Investment Banking Networking Toolkit – and covered what to do.

So here’s your step-by-step plan:

What You’re Up Against

Think of every recruiting effort as a battle. Depending on your background, you’ll have some advantages and some disadvantages over the enemy.

  • Consultants: You can deal with crazy people and work long hours, but can you count? Do you know how to use Excel without the mouse?
  • Liberal Arts Majors: You can communicate, but can you crunch numbers and burn the midnight oil?
  • Engineers: You can stare at computer monitors without sleeping for days at a time, but can you talk to people? Are you really interested in finance?
  • Lawyers: You can deal with psychotic people and work until you bleed, even tracking your time in 6-minute increments, but do you know how to value a company? And give up your career?

If you’re coming from an accounting or auditing background, here’s your challenge:

“I know that you know accounting inside and out, and that you’re an Excel wiz. But are you motivated enough to work 100 hours a week? Why didn’t you do investment banking from the start if you’re really interested in it?”

So you need to have good answers to those 2 questions, because they’ll be the key “objections” that any banker speaking with you will have (keep reading for suggested answers).

In Your Favor

On the other hand, you do have some things in your favor:

  • They know you know how to “count” because accountants are pretty good at that.
  • You “get” what any professional services business is all about – doing menial work for annoying and high-maintenance clients and changing periods and decimal places in documents.
  • You may have better access to networking opportunities, depending on what firm you’re at and what group you’re in.

Telling Your Story

Before you even start recruiting, you need to lock this one down.

You want to use a variation of the following answer:

“I was really interested in accounting and finance all throughout school, and the opportunity to work at [FIRM NAME] just fell into my lap. I liked the [exposure to clients / culture / group], so I took the offer and have done very well over the past year there. But during that time, I’ve gotten increasingly interested in investment banking, because I’ve [been exposed via clients / heard a lot about it from friends / met bankers at such-and-such event]. I’m eager to move into something faster-paced that lets me actually work on transactions instead of just handling the paper-work and fact-checking afterward.”

You might expand on that (interviews) or shorten it (networking) depending on the context, but that’s the basic sketch you want to use.

Similar to any “Why investment banking?” question, specific events or people are almost a requirement. So if you had a revelation one morning after going to an alternative investments conference and meeting the top brass at SAC, make that part of your story.

Bankers love to think they are important and lead interesting lives, so play on their egos and emphasize how fast-paced it is and how you would get more responsibility / meaningful work.

Networking Ninja Tactics

Once you figure out what you’re going to say, you need to figure out who you’ll say it to.

Even if you’re working full-time, networking is not much different from what MBA/university students do: you still use alumni, referrals, and possibly cold-calling depending on what you’re aiming for.

The difference is that you’ll have a lot more co-workers, former co-workers, and clients/former clients that you can use for networking purposes.

You do have to use discretion, but all of these sources give you a big advantage over students who need to network to get in.

Unless you have amazing connections at bulge bracket banks, don’t waste your time applying there. Go for boutiques, middle-market firms, and any group where in-depth accounting knowledge might come in handy: Financial Institutions / Restructuring – you bet. Technology – not so much.

If you truly have no alumni connections, no professional referrals you can use, and no other links to finance, then you’ll need to get them.

Join professional societies, go to conferences, and look up events on nearby campuses if you want to start building these connections.

Otherwise you’ll need to do a lot of cold-calling, which is covered in this podcast, in this video, this case study, these case studies, The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit, and probably other places I’m forgetting about right now.

Transaction Advisory Services

Networking is great, but there’s another method available to accountants as well: get into the Transaction Advisory Services (TAS) group at your firm.

Not all accounting firms have these, but the Big 4 and some smaller companies certainly do.

In the TAS group you work with bankers and client companies on transactions, assisting with valuation, due diligence, and sometimes effectively acting as the M&A advisor on the deal.

This helps you in two ways:

  1. Your work looks much closer to banking.
  2. You get better access to contacts in finance.

Do you transfer to TAS first, or do you try to move into investment banking from another group first?

If it will take 1 year+ to transfer, test the waters right now and see what response you get from banks.

But if you can do it more quickly than that, make the transfer first and then think about banking after you’ve been there for awhile.

Spinning Your Resume

So now you have your story down and you’re in the midst of networking and working the phones.

Almost everyone will ask for your resume, so you need to get that right.

The number one mistake you can make as an accountant is writing too much about accounting and not enough about finance.

If you start going into details on general ledgers, journal entries, SOX controls, and other accounting topics, any banker looking at it will think, “Ok, he’s accountant material. PASS.”

Instead, you need to spin what you did to make it seem more relevant to finance.

Use the “Experienced” template here and make every client into a “Project” entry on your resume – but remember that you are applying for finance jobs, not accounting jobs.

  • “Performed Sarbanes-Oxley testing and found that client’s controls were sufficient; reviewed journal entries and determined that client’s reserves were appropriate, which allowed them to project prices of raw materials for upcoming construction project.”

This would sound much better if you titled the entry “Raw Material Price Prediction Model” rather than “SOX Testing” and wrote:

  • “Worked with client to develop Excel model that allowed them to project prices of raw materials based on previous historical patterns and proven reserves; client later used this as supplement to financial statements and in own internal projections to validate potential return on new construction project.”

In this case, we’ve shifted the focus to a very, very small part of what you did – this Excel model – and removed the parts that sound too much like accounting.

Think about which projects can be spun into sounding finance-related, pick those, and then focus on the relevant parts and cut anything that doesn’t sound banking-related.

In Interviews

Most interviews will be focused on the “Are you motivated enough to work 100 hours a week rather than 60?” and the “Why didn’t you get into finance earlier?” questions.

For the first one, you need specific stories of when you’ve burned the midnight oil over an extended period in the past. Examples:

  • Talk about how busy you get during tax season and how the hours and client demands spike up.
  • Talk about commitments outside work and how those also take up a lot of time and effort, which requires you to juggle a lot all at once.
  • Talk about any projects / commitments from university (it’s better to go more recent if you can).

For the “Why now?” question you should pretend that you weren’t fully aware of all the options early on, and only became truly interested in the past year (see the story outline above).

Much of your effectiveness is determined by your body language and expressions in the interview – if you don’t seem enthusiastic and energetic, they’ll assume that you’re not.

Technical Questions

Everything’s fair game here – since you have an accounting background, they’ll assume that you know more than an engineer or lawyer trying to move into the field.

So learn financial modeling, review all your technical interview questions, and make sure you can walk through the basics in your sleep.

You may also get more advanced questions on accounting and tax-related questions.

I would be shocked if they asked a student something like, “What’s the flaw with using book values of assets when determining the goodwill allocation in an asset purchase vs. a stock purchase?” or “Here are values for the 20 different items in this purchase price allocation – walk me through the resulting Book vs. Cash Tax Schedule and how the corresponding Balance Sheet items change in future years.”

Most full-time bankers don’t even have the technical knowledge to answer those questions, but you could easily run into these topics if you have a more technically-adept interviewer.

Plan B Options

If you don’t get great responses when networking, you don’t get interviews, or you don’t get any offers, what do you do next?

1. Move to the Transaction Advisory Services Group

It’s still easier than getting into a top business school. If you’re in a situation where it will take a year or more to transfer, still consider doing it if all your other efforts have failed.

Also think about moving to another firm if it’s too difficult to move internally – some large companies are resistant to change.

2. Business School

No, business school is still not a magic bullet – but it will give you a big boost in terms of networking and access to recruiters.

If you go this route, I strongly recommend doing some kind of pre-MBA opportunity, or even taking time off before and doing an informal internship.

While they’re normally reluctant to let you do this if you have full-time work experience, they’ll be more open to it if you explain that you’re going back to business school and want to do something in the interim.

3. Keep At It

One common networking question is “When do I give up?”

I would give it at least 6-9 months before you throw in the towel.

In a down economy it will often take a year or more to find anything – so you can’t get discouraged by rejections. Networking is a numbers game past a certain point.

Just look at Rocky: he got rejected 1,500 times before claiming victory.

So unless you’ve gotten at least 150 rejections, don’t even think about quitting.

Series: Career Transitions

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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268 Comments to “Breaking and Entering Into Investment Banking As an Accountant”

Comments

  1. Summer Analyst says

    I like working with ex-accountants and ex-lawyers. They have something to add to ibanking. I spent a lot of time with an ex-Deloitte accountant whenever I could, asking about nitty gritty accounting things that only accountants would know. All ex-lawyers turned ibankers seemed very smart, and usually was better than regular ol’bankers.

    Ex-consultants added not much value… haha Brian, I had to bash them again.

  2. Sofi says

    No…even after 150 rejections, 1,500 rejections, or 15,000 rejections, you keep going. Persistence is the key to everything.

  3. Brad says

    I had an IB internship (not NYC) this summer but am not getting FT offers so far. I’m thinking about starting at somewhere small and then trying to lateral to a ‘better’ firm in NYC after a year.

    I just came up with a new idea though: what if I found a small shop in Dubai and was able to work there for a year. When I start talking to people again about lateral opportunities I think I will seem like an interesting candidate if I started in Dubai, since it’s not very common. A) Do you think this would be effective in lateralling to a decent NYC firm? and B) Is it possible for an American with IB internship experience to cold email Dubai firms and get a job there?

    • says

      It’s generally difficult to move from another region TO New York, because you need to go in-person to network, deal with time zone differences, etc. It’s possibly but it’s much easier to do the reverse most of the time.

      Honestly I would cold-call rather than cold-email, but yes, in Dubai they like Americans and ex-pats quite a lot so you could pull it off.

  4. Jason says

    Accountant here (non MBA, non-target 3.0 GPA). Given that IB usually leads to HF/PE, I am looking to bypass MBA & IB entirely in hopes of working at middle/back office at HF/PE. I know you mentioned this is DEATH at IB, but I hear that this is “easier” to do at HF/PE due to their less rigid cultures and bureaucracy compared to IB.

    Also what are your thoughts of working at HF’s as an accountant in the Cayman Islands a couple of years if this will be my first real exposure to HF industry? What are my prospects of being able to lateral back to NYC or will I be stuck in the Caymans forever?? Thanks.

    • says

      As I said above, it’s hard to move from somewhere else to NYC, but may be easier if you’re in “North America” (which I guess the Cayman Islands is, technically).

      Honestly I still think it’s hard to move from back/middle-office to front-office, even at a small fund, but it’s still a bit easier than at a large bank. I would come in with lots of investment ideas and be an overachiever from day 1 if you want to pull it off.

  5. Ray Cheng says

    Brian,

    I’m interested in S&T in the long run. I accepted an offer with the ECM group of a top 3 BB (GS/MS/JPM) in their equity converts & derivatives group. Though from what I’ve heard, ECM people are usually “lifers”, my impression was that the equity converts group would be very technical, and might open some doors for me in the long run on the trading side. Do you know if my impression was correct or not?

    -Ray

    • says

      ECM may be closer to S&T than other areas of banking, but it’s still difficult to move in unless you have solid connections there. The earlier you make the move, the better.

  6. Ashwin says

    Hey Brian,

    You said in previous articles that most people go into hedge funds or private equity after banking and you said that the majority of them would be worse off if they did so. What other careers (in finance or management) should one consider after a few years of banking that offer better hours (50-70 is fine) and opportunity to progress to senior executive management positions?

    Thanks!

    • says

      I didn’t say you’d be “worse off,” I just pointed out that there are advantages and disadvantages to each one. My whole point is that there really are not many options in the traditional corporate world if you’re ambitious and want to move up quickly, aside from finance.

  7. R says

    I’ve been working in NYC at in business valuation doing purchase price allocations (141s) and goodwill impairment (142) work…just wondering:

    (1) what exit options do I have?
    (2) how easy would it be to transition soon into banking? PE or hedge fund? Asset management?
    (3) is it harder for me to get into harvard, wharton, stanford working for a Big 4 valuation group compared to a banker or consultant?
    (4) if i were to transition into banking, would i esentially start out as a new analyst? Would pay be the same as new hires?
    Thanks

    • says

      1) Banking or maybe TAS would be the easiest options.

      2) Banking and asset management would be easiest of those – PE and HF are tough without banking / transaction experience first.

      3) Yes, but keep in mind that b-school admissions is highly dependent on what you’ve done outside of work.

      4) Depends on the bank, but you would probably be at least a 2nd year analyst and pay would be higher. I doubt they would bring you in as an Associate.

      • R says

        Cool…thanks for those response – very helpful…I’ll start building the relationships I have made with bankers already and see what comes of it…I’m a little nervous that if I put my resume out there, the Big 4 firm I work with may learn I am looking into banking and will frown heavily upon it.

      • MS says

        Dear Brian,

        I am from Taiwan and love your website! I have had about 4 years of audit experience and am now considering the following three opportunities. Which one do you think works best if I want to break into PE/VC after MBA?

        1) doing IPO or follow-on offerings at a regional security house;
        2) doing valuation and business modeling at one of the Big4’s TAS division; or
        3) being an institutional client advisor assistant at a big asset management firm.

        Cheers,
        MS

  8. a says

    Hi I would really appreciate it if you tell me what your take is on BO finance (ie controller, planning&analysis, profit/loss, development, treasury etc), instead of big4 accounting?? I know you have strongly recommended against BO, but the advice seemed to be directed at ppl who wanted to eventually move to IBD.

    I am someone who is less interested about big$$ or making PE/HF my profession. Rather, I am wanting to stay at a bank and become senior management, or senior managemnet in other industries. So my priority is acquiring good long term foundation and experience rather than $$. Do you think then finance will be a solid start? I would say the skills could be useful and transferable to any other company, because most coys have CFOs and finance divisions.

    I interned at IBD, and I think the lifestyle is just too ridiculous. And other FO like S&T (too risky a profession) or Wealth management (too much quant) dont fit my interests or career progression. I still love the finance industry. So if I stay in a bank, finance is the only logical choice out of the divisions left, because ops or IT are definitely dead ends. Risk management could be another choice.

    Finally, could finance give a good chance for bschool exit, if i realise finance is not for me ? Sorry for a long question. I just really respect and value your insight. Wanted to hear your advice on this.

    • says

      BO finance is not completely useless, but if you want to do something like that I would suggest going to a normal company instead and doing some type of CFO/Finance-type role there. You could still get into business school from there but its definitely harder than from banking/consulting

  9. Friend85 says

    Hey Brian..

    Like many others, Love the site!! Amazing Amazing work!!

    Now to my question, what according to you would be good exit options for someone who joined a Regulator fresh out of college and is nearing about 4 years in his current role supervising Financial Advisory firms and Fund Managers ? and am looking for options other than legal and compliance related roles.

    Cheers

    • says

      Go to the Finance division at a company, or consider boutique/middle-market banks – you could also consider moving to PWM or asset management since you’ve worked with fund managers before.

  10. TC says

    Hi Brain,

    Love the site. Keep up the good work. I am a senior manager at a big 4 firm in Houston and I am desperate to transition into PE. For a person at my level, what is the best route? I keep thinking TS at another big 4 but that group is not doing so well right now especially at my firm. Is this really the best way to go? What are my other options?

    • says

      At your level making the transition directly is tough – I’d still say that TAS is your best bet, because getting into PE with 0 transaction experience is almost impossible. You could also try going to boutique banks and using that experience to get in, but they may not take you on if you already have a lot of experience. Business school is possible, but it’s hard to move into PE from there unless you’ve done banking beforehand.

  11. Jason says

    Hi Brian,

    You say that MBA is a great route used primarily for networking and recruiters. Assuming one is working as an Auditor at Financial Services Group (Banking or Alternative Asset Management) of Big 4 where one has great networking opportunities, would you say that this would override the need for further networking web from MBA which comes with a much heftier price?

    I just don’t see the need for an MBA if it’s primary value is networking, when I am dealing with large BB as clients and I can try to schmooze in that way. One can argue “finance education,” but that’s already been disproved (banking is not rocket science), therefore as a Senior Associate auditor getting exposed to large banks, it seems like MBA is not worth it, since I can just schmooze via my current network. Thanks again.

    • says

      More than just networking, an MBA from a top school gives you DIRECT access to recruiters. As in, you submit your form online, and then you get interviews at bulge bracket banks.

      That’s the real value of doing it – networking is certainly helpful, but automatically getting looked at by banks is even better.

  12. KA says

    Brian,

    Great site. I’m a junior at a BB target school. I took a Big 4 audit internship in the fall for this coming summer and am starting to think I should have held out for i-banking interviews. What’s my best option for getting a full-time at a bank? It sounds like you may recommend switching to TAS. How will a summer audit internship look to BB during full-time applications?

  13. James says

    Brian, what an amazing site! I had a a few queries for you.

    I am a senior accountant in a Big 4 firm and i am quite sure i can get a transfer into the TAS practise. My questions to you is as follows:

    a) If i were to apply to an IB from working in TAS would i be applying for the “first year” analyst position or will a skip a few levels and maybe have a chance of being an associate. Also how much TAS experience would i need for it matter. I mean i am 24, but i assume the older i get the lower my chances are to get into IB.

    b) When i do apply, will they care that i DONT have an MBA and DONT have amazing grades (unlike the majority of my fellow job seekers in IB). I did spend a lot of time post grad getting my Chartered Accountancy designation, and would hope this counts for something

    c) Is getting into a big IB firm virtually impossible for a person like me?, it seems they love MBA’s and everyone else pretty much is given the boot, who do not go down the tradional IB path aka awesome undergrad, top mba school, crazy high grades

    thanks!

    James

    • says

      You would probably not be an associate, but might skip to 2nd or 3rd year analyst. Probably 1 year exp. in TAS is enough.

      MBA and grades don’t matter much at that level.

      Large bank is difficult unless you have a great connection. I think you misunderstand MBAs – it’s just a way to get into a bank at a different level. Not “everyone” has them and many senior bankers don’t.

      • Mike says

        Thanks so much for your response. I would love to try out IB and i really want to. But i work for one of the biggest companies in my industry at least, and the thought of having to go to a smaller or boutique IB is troubling for me. My network for IB is decent, but like you said cracking a bulge bracket is close to impossible. My dream was always to work for a bulge bracket, and it seems tough for that happening in the next 3-5 years. I have no clue how turnover works in IB, and how “easy” it is to move from a boutique to a bulge.

        Anyways thanks for your help with this, overall you have a wonderful site here.

        Mike

  14. Mark says

    Hi Brian,

    Can you help me decide between these two summer internship offers? Big 4 TAS group and boutique investment bank. I’m not sure if I want to do banking full-time, so I wanted to try it for a summer but Big 4 name is very attractive and should keep my options open next semester with banks/consulting/etc. Also, I go to a target. If TAS group’s rep with banking recruiters is not that much lower from a no-name boutique ibank, then I will take Big 4 for sure.

    Thanks!

    • says

      I would still go with the boutique because you can more easily move from that into other fields / accounting rather than the other way around. “Investment Banking Analyst” on your resume makes a huge difference, far more than even a well-known firm’s TAS group.

      • Mark says

        Thanks so much for your response! I’m just worried that I might not like if I don’t like banking after the summer, I won’t be able to get consulting interviews with a no-name boutique on my resume. This place isn’t Perella/Gleacher level and also my GPA is pretty low – so my concern is just getting pass the interview screen.

        When you say “more easily move from that into other fields” you mean, consulting firms would prefer to see boutique investment banking summer analyst over TAS group summer analyst?

        Thanks!

  15. Chris says

    I’m finishing my sophomore year at Brigham Young University, applied to a few dozen finance internships and contacted dozens of local smaller financial services firms (PE, VC, asset mgt, boutique IB, M&A, valuation, financial consulting, etc.) and received only one interview and zero offers. I would’ve had several offers if I applied as a junior but I was hoping for SA in IB at that point, and finance professors tell me I need previous finance internship experience to get an IB SA offer as a junior. I won’t have that previous experience though. Long term I would prefer corporate finance or something along those lines. My main interest in IB was for the training/experience and mostly the exit opps into top MBA programs and the best corp fin jobs like strategic planning, corporate development, etc. Since BYU is a non-target in finance but is always in the top 3 in accounting, would I be better off doing an accounting degree because of it’s national exposure and heavy recruiting? I’m concerned that if I choose accounting instead of finance it may put me at a disadvantage for IB and corp fin jobs. But I wonder if the prestige of the BYU accounting program would make up for that. And if I don’t get IB or top corp fin jobs (like GE Financial Management Program and such) thet at least I’ll have accounting job options like Big 4. What do you think? And one final question, you advised accountants to transfer into TAS in this thread. Can you start out in TAS right out of school or is it a higher level position you have to transfer into after years of audit experience?

    • says

      You can start out in TAS right away. As far as your own situation, personally I would not settle for accounting unless you really have no other options. The major itself is less of an issue than the internships… bankers really, really look down on accountants and so you want to do some kind of finance internship if at all possible next year. Your major can be Accounting if that’s the stronger program at your school.

  16. Mike says

    I graduated from a non-target state school with undergraduate majors in accounting and internal audit (3.5GPA). After that I have been working as a financial accountant in a manufacturing company for almost a year. I want to get in TAS and even breaking into banking/finance(like IB, asset management, M&A, etc). I have been thinking the following different plans to get me there: Make up for some math and computer classes, then try to get in a financial engineering master program to complement my accounting undergraduate degree; or try to apply for a finance MBA (but I am afraid the chance to get in the top school is very slim because of the experience I have).

    I think of doing the financial engineering master is not because I want to be a pure quant and I guess many of those positions do not require heavy quant skills, but the quant skills and accounting background may make me stand out and get me into the door.

    I understand the importance of networking for getting that job but I think I may need to work on a better background first in order to be more attractive along the networking process. I want to know what you think of my plan, and what better path you will suggest me to follow. Thank you in advance for your generous advice!

    • says

      I wouldn’t do either of those at the moment because they’re unlikely to help with getting into TAS… I would say, stay focused on networking for right now and then in another year or two think about the MBA program.

      • Mike says

        Hi Brian,
        Thank you so much for the advice! I am still curious about what advantages a financial engineering master degree would add to the accounting background. If I have the capacity of pursuing such a master degree, what career options will be available to me combining the accounting background and the financial engineering degree?

        • says

          Honestly I’m not really sure, but probably more on the trading / quant side of things rather than front-office client work.

  17. INTSTU says

    Hi Brian,

    I am in a very unique situation. I am an international student that started off as an auditor at a Big 4 firm . The way this works is that every international student has to get the h-1b visa (offered by lottery) to continue working in the US or go back to school to remain in status. I didn’t get my visa in 2008 and hence went for a Masters in Accounting. I have completed the CPA exam and I am a level 2 candidate for the CFA. I recently got offered a job as an auditor once again (I am going to take it, cause it will guarantee me my working visa) but I am looking to break into investment banking, what advice would you give?

    • says

      I would take the job and then network on the side so you can move into the TAS group. If you do anything else first you may not get a work visa for the US, which is a big problem when you go to look for investment banking jobs.

  18. RA says

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for keeping this site up.

    I currently work as an internal auditor at a large oil&gas operator and have 4 years of big4 experience (not TAS). I am considering a b-school to get into IB or PE and have the following options prior to the start of the program:

    1. Stay in my company and transfer to the M&A department.
    2. Stay in my company and transfer to the Corporate Finance.
    3. Go back to big4 and do business valuation and modeling.

    Could you please advise on what could possibly be the route to take?

    Cheers

    • james says

      Correction, does EVERYONE hate accountants that much? Seems that profession gets no love. Why all the hate?

      • says

        It’s not really hating, it’s just that bankers look down on anyone who isn’t a banker. They think accountants are just “bankers who couldn’t work 100 hours a week” and think they have it easy.

  19. NFG says

    Brian,

    I just recently graduated from a non-target school with a 3.85 GPA with a degree in Accounting. I accepted a Big 4 position as an auditor. However, I am attending graduate school in the Fall to get my Master’s of Accountancy for CPA eligibility purposes. Questions:

    1. Should I apply for IB analyst positions or just start at Big 4 firm and apply after a couple years experience? Should I apply for a transfer to TAS? Or a back office position at an IB?

    2. Also, does attending graduate school for a MAcc turn recruiters away?

    Thanks.

    • says

      I would go to the Big 4 firm, transfer to TAS, and then move into banking from there.

      Graduate school doesn’t necessarily turn recruiters away but it doesn’t help that much since you already have the accounting background.

  20. rizwan says

    I’ve received an offer from a tier 1 swiss bank in Dubai. They are keen to start me off as an analyst 2.

    I have worked two years with a top 4 firm in their M&A practice and another 1.5 years with a boutique IB in the middle east region.

    just wondering your thoughts on whether the A-2 is a fair representation of experience?

    • says

      It sounds “market” to me if not necessarily “fair” – larger banks frequently bump you down a year or two if you’re moving in from another industry or a smaller bank.

  21. edwin says

    Hi Brian,

    This is such a great site! I wish I had found it earlier. I go to a top 6 business school (undergraduate program). I am turning senior this year. I’m majoring in Finance and Acctg with a minor in Public Policy. I wanted to do consulting but ended up w/ an internship in Internal Audit at a top Nasdaq-1000 company in Silicon Valley. Yet, I just realized that I really want to go to i-banking now. I have no experience and am applying for a fall internship. I know that I don’t have a good chance to get into banking unless I can pull off one internship this Fall and another one next spring. Or, do you think I have a good chance to get into small boutique i-banks? I have a 3.8 GPA and will be sure to maintain it around there, if not bump it up to 3.9 by the time I graduate. Otherwise, do you think it’s the best for me to start with TAS? Is it hard, btw, to start with TAS at a Big 4? Do I have to start w/ Audit first then transfer to TAS? I don’t really wanna do audit first. Thanks

    • says

      Full-time recruiting at banks starts in a few months, so your options are 1) Do a Master’s program and re-apply for banking internships next year. 2) Go to TAS and then move over after working full-time. I don’t know how hard it is to start there, but if you have the right connections it’s probably not too difficult compared to getting into banking

  22. R says

    I’m about to start my senior year of college and currently have ft offers from a BB middle office analyst program and Big 4 TAS business valuations. I’m still pursuing IB right now but with what I have on the table currently which do you think would be better for transitioning into ib?

    • says

      Probably Big 4 TAS since at least you are doing client-facing work; middle office might be better if you wanted to move into S&T

  23. Alex says

    Hi!
    I have 2 offers:
    1) TAS (financial due-diligence) at big4;
    2) Valuation and modelling at big4.
    Which one is better assuming next move to IB M&A?

    Thanks.

      • Javi says

        I am not agree. I work in both.

        V&BM is closer to IB than Due Diligence (you build financial models, calculate discount rate, DCF, Multiples, perpetual growth…).

        However, due diligence is much similar to audit job (checks, ticks, documents…).

  24. tax manager says

    Hi Brian

    I’m currently a M&A tax manager at a Big4 (CPA qualified). All the work i do is deal based and revolves around managing tax due diligence processes, tax structuring for inbound/outbound investments, reviewing tax aspects of models and sale agreements etc (basically all of the tax aspects of a M&A transaction). I’m now considering a career change into IB. I’d say I have pretty solid transaction experience although only from the viewpoint of a tax professional.

    Couple of questions re transitioning into IB:
    1. What are my chances of entering IB at the Associate level?
    2. A key weakness I can identify is a lack of experience in valuations/modelling – does this put me at a significant disadvantage to other applicants?
    3. Any disadvantages of going straight into buy/sell side? (as opposed to general M&A where there should be an opportunity to experience both)?

    • says

      It’s hard to get in at the Associate level without an MBA first; if you do tax you tend to get pigeonholed a bit because it’s not directly related to valuation / modeling. Overall you would have a much better chance with a top MBA. I’m not sure what you mean by general M&A – if you mean buy-side M&A deals vs. sell-side M&A deals, opinions vary but most would say that sell-side are better because you get to know the company more.

  25. Tim says

    Hi Brian

    I’ve just finished an audit summer internship for a non-big 4 firm and hated it. I decided not to apply for IB internships last year due to poor first year grades and thought accountancy would suit me more. I go to LSE and am studying Acc & Fin and about to enter my final year. I have an offer with this firm but they don’t offer TAS as part of their advisory services, just CF, IM and Valuations. I realise I’m not exactly painting a great picture here but I’m wondering whether there are any options for me to get into IBD. I see it that I have the following options:

    1)Apply directly to IBD for graduate positions
    2)Apply directly to IBD for an internship position for next summer
    3)Apply to a big 4 firm for TAS
    4)Apply to a big 4 firm for audit and then move to TAS (as there are more positions available in audit)
    5)Stay with the mid-tier audit firm for 3 years until I get the ACA

    Realistically, which of these options would put me in the best position to get into IBD?

    Thanks

  26. D says

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks to you and your team my girlfriend broke up with me as I was spending too much time checking this out hahaha good stuff!

    Let’s prioritise though: I’m an accountant applying for a job (boutique internship+) soon and I was just wondering if I sent you my CV would you have a quick look at it? I’ve followed the template but just think I need to strip it out bigtime. No worries if you don’t do that, I just thought I’d ask on the off chance.

    God loves a trier eh?!

    Thanks, D

  27. Marty says

    Great article for an accountant! I am a Canadian CA and Senior at an accounting firm who wants to break into P/E. I have 3 questions:

    1. Is there actually a decent chance to do so without IBD or MBA? I know nothing is “impossible”, but…

    2. Is it much more difficult for a Canadian to break into US or possibility Europe?

    3. If there are multiple analyst postings in one company for say: a.) M&A advisory analyst; b.) Corporate P/E c.) Real Estate P/E, would it a wise idea to submit 3 applications for all 3? It does provide a contact/email, so I don’t know if the same person reads it. My 1st choice is corporate but I am interested in all 3 – would this show a lack of commitment?

    Thank you so much, any assistance is greatly appreciated!

    Marty

    • says

      1. It’s very difficult without doing banking first, at least in North America.

      2. Yes, mostly due to visa issues and insane immigration policy in the US… Europe may be easier.

      3. It’s better to focus on 1 or possibly 2, otherwise you seem unfocused.

  28. Jaime says

    Hello Brian,
    Once again antoher amazing article! I am a Canadian CA and Senior Accountant at a Big 4 who wants to break into Equity Research. I have 2 questions:

    1. I have contacts in the TAS and can easily transfer in. So which group will position me better for ER? For example, Valuations, Corporate Finance, or M & A Transactions?

    2. Will I be able to switch after to ER, or should I try to get into IBD first and then switch?

    3. My ultimate goal is HFs, so what will be better, IBD or ER?

    Thank you so much, any assistance is greatly appreciated!

    Jaime

    • says

      1. Corporate Finance
      2. ER is difficult to get into because they accept so few people… not really a growth industry. It’s probably easier to do IBD first.
      3. Either one works but I would say IBD simply because they take more people and the odds of getting in are higher.

  29. Kashi says

    Hi Brian,

    I’m an Indian CA and I came across your amazing website AFTER completing my CFA, which I did simultaneously with the CA degree. So don’t sulk on me! I don’t think its a complete waste of time either, especially in India. And I wanna break into IB. Right now I’ve got three options:

    1. Join a Big 4 TAS. (Let me tell you that I’ve already worked in the TAS/Consulting division in my earlier firm – a non-big 4, top ten local firm – doing due diligence, valuations, restructuring, etc, though the deals were of a much smaller scale)

    2. Joining a boutique firm.

    3. Joining a third party KPO/equity research firm.

    4. Joining a captive KPO of a BBB.

    Which one do you think is the most viable option considering the fact that I’m also looking for a target school mba after couple of years of workex? Do mba schools value the actual IB experience at a small unknown boutique compared to a research experience at a BBB KPO.

    Thanks in advance!!!

  30. Question says

    S’up Brian, top site by the way.

    I’ve recently accepted a 3 year offer with a big 4 to get my ACA but ultimately want to get into investment banking. My undergrad is in Finance/Accounting from a target school (just..). I’m considering applying for a masters from a top uk business school but wanted to know which you think would be better, or more favoured by recruiters. An MSc Finance or MSc Management? Or are they both irrelevant?

    Cheers

  31. Big4Aud says

    I just started working in Audit at a Big 4 firm. What is the best way of trying to transfer into Transaction services. Is it usually difficult or relatively easy?

    • says

      I’m not sure offhand but I would imagine you work there for a few months to a year, network with people in TAS, and then ask about transferring once you have proven yourself.

  32. Jerome Zouein says

    Hello Brian

    I love your site!
    I have 2 years audit experience at a big 4 firm and a one year and a half internal audit experience (capital markets unit) at a commercial bank. I have passed all CFA exams consecutively. I hold a personal portfolio which gives me exposure to asset management. I am applying to asset management and wealth management positions but with no success; what do you think I need to do now to get into the investment management industry?

    Regards,
    Jerome

    • says

      Network a lot more… you mentioned work experience and a portfolio but that doesn’t help much without networking… co-workers, friends, alumni, family, LinkedIn, online sources, anything you can think of helps a lot more than just a blind application.

      • Jerome Zouein says

        Thanks brian for your reply!
        I have to ask you; a transitory move to Transaction services department of a big 4 company can help me to ultimately move to asset management in the future; or its not relevant?
        Thanks again

  33. John says

    Hi Brian,
    I am currently in the Masters of Accountancy program at and just accepted an offer at GT because I am weak and thought it would be best to accept any offer right now. Problem is, I know I do not want to do accounting for long. I was thinking of working for a couple of years and then going to a top MBA program (3.85, 680 GMAT). What would be my options at that point? My firm doesn’t have TAS so it looks like I will just be doing audit.

    Thank you, any advice is greatly appreaciated

    John

    • says

      You should try to do something finance-related before business school… otherwise you will be up against lots of ex-bankers going for those same spots. So you may want to leave early and do some kind of pre-MBA internship or take another opportunity that takes you closer to finance.

      • John says

        Would getting an undergrad degree or a masters in finance do me any good? I really don’t have a great deal of financial background, so it might be tough for me to break into something finance related. Also, my firm does have TAS, but not at my location. How do I would you suggest I break into there? Sorry for multiple questions. Thanks!

        • says

          Not really if you already have the Masters in Accountancy. For other locations, get referrals to people there or ask directly if anyone in your group knows people in TAS, maybe set up a weekend trip at some point in the future or work a trip into that city into your schedule / combine it with client-related travel there and use it to meet people in the group.

  34. Dan says

    Hi,

    Thanks for this article. I study at a top school in the UK and have only one more year of study left. I’m down to do Tax internship at KPMG after which, assuming I do well, I will be moving onto Transactions & Restructuring Programme. Is this the best direction I want to go in if I am considering moving into IB one day? Obviously applying directly for IB would be great but I’d quite gain the ACA/CFQ before hand as a security blanket for stormy times…

    Also haven’t interned in a bank so not very likely to get in.

    Finally: ACA/CFQ – which one is going to be more useful for breaking into banking when I7m older?

    Thanks in advance.

  35. Chris says

    Brian,

    Great site! Thank you for all of the advice.

    I graduated summa cum laude from a non-target school in 2009 with a 3.9 GPA and degrees in Accounting and Information Systems. I am currently working (in my 2nd year) for a Big 4 firm in audit specializing in financial services clients(in NYC).

    I wish to apply for an entry level IBD analyst position at one of the mid to larger sized banks in NYC. My resume has some finance experience as I worked briefly on an M&A deal this past summer creating models, performing limited due diligence etc. The rest of my resume I have “spun” to create the sense that my valuation work with options, commodities etc is more exciting than it really is.

    My question is as follows: Since I am basically still fresh out of school can I apply to the same positions as recent graduates and start in the fall class with everyone else? Or… Do I have to apply through the experienced hires and if so what is the best way to go about this? I know several people at BB firms(some in HR which I know you said are useless but they said they would forward my resume along, and a few analysts).

    Thanks in advance and sorry for the long post!!!

    • says

      Your best options are networking and possibly headhunters – networking is definitely more useful at top banks (see the networking and lateral hire articles here). You can still apply for analyst roles but you would not be competing directly with new graduates.

      • Chris says

        Thanks for the quick response!

        I was wondering if you could comment as to the timing of sending out my resumes to these banks. My plan was to hold off until around mid-summer (after audit busy season) because therefore I would be eligible to get my CPA license too. Is there a “best” time to look for jobs or does it really all depend on the market? Do you think waiting this long diminishes my chances of a transition?

        • says

          Usually June/July is best because that is when analysts/associates start taking off and leaving unexpectedly. You could start looking now but it’s mostly smaller places that hire year-round.

  36. MO says

    Hi Brian,

    first of all great site. this article relates to my situation, however, i am from australia.

    anyway i am about to commence work as an auditor at a graduate level at one of the big4. due to the size of the australian market, it is very tough to get into IB or TAS for that matter as there are not many smaller firms.

    my current plan is to get my CA (popular accounting body in Aus) and thus will require 3 years work experience. i will then push for a transfer into TAS – preferably M&A.

    However, what are your thoughts on transaction services? i heard it is mainly due diligence.

    also do you think its possible to break into a top MBA program in the US? my gpa is decent enough. does the prestige of the firm i’m working for matter much? it is only a big4 though and not MS or Goldies.

    cheers

    • says

      It’s not ideal but it’s better than doing nothing related to banking. For top MBA programs in the US, yes, the name of your firm matters – a fair number of international students get in each year so you should have a decent shot.

      • MO says

        cheers for the fast reply.

        is it only worthwhile going to a top 20 school though? (for the purposes of gaining some leverage, be it minimal) i dont mind relocating to US for work, but obviously it is still gonna be tough to break in regardless of MBA or not.

        unfortunately MBA’s are not that useful in australia, so i wouldn’t want to study where i live.

        also, do you have any other tips in trying to break into finance? i will be applying for other graduate programs for this year’s recruitment, but should i miss it again, i will be stuck in audit for a minimum of 3 years. would honors be worthwhile???

        • says

          It’s only worth it if you go to the top schools (HBS, Wharton, Stanford, INSEAD in Europe, etc.). If you’ve read all 300 articles on this site I don’t have any advice beyond that – networking may not be as effective in Australia but that is still your best bet for moving from audit to finance. Maybe a Master’s program in finance in another country if that does not work.

  37. PD says

    Hi Brian,

    Great site.

    I am a big 4 recently-qualified CA (4 years experience in audit),with an undergraduate degree in electronic engineering. I am working in product control at the moment (just a filler as I have recently moved country), but would like to get into IB and eventually PE.

    Would you recommend:

    a) applying to get into a top MBA program
    b) looking to get into TAS / Corporate Finance in a big 4 firm first for a few years
    c) biting the bullet – network and apply directly to IBs

    Please bear in mind im 28 so time is not on my side!

    Thanks in advance.

  38. Mark says

    I have corporate finance and strategic marketing experience from a leading retailer and am interested in directing my search efforts on banking groups with a consumer retail focus. Is there a section on the site that discuses switching from the covered sector to the respective banking group? If not any suggestions?

    Thanks

    • says

      It’s addressed in the interview guide and networking guide but basically you should contact headhunters, alumni, and anyone else you can find at those groups in banks and pitch yourself as the industry expert who can switch into finance; if you have more than 3-4 years of experience consider business school.

  39. late says

    Hi Brian, great site. Wish I had found this earlier.

    I am currently working in fin reporting at a bank (after 4 years of big 4 audit experience). I would like to transition into ibanking or research.

    1 Do you have any advice on how I can do that?
    2 Do you think it would be easier for me to transition into ibanking or research?
    3 I should also mention that I’m in my late 20’s. Do you think this is a realistic career move?

    • says

      At this point you might be better off going for an MBA and using that to move in. Otherwise you will need to network a lot and go through headhunters. I-banking is probably easier than research because there are more spots available.

  40. banda says

    Does your advice apply to accountants abroad? How would you view breaking into IB from being an accountant abroad?

    Suppose I am an international student in the US, who went back home and became an accountant at a Big4 for 2 or 3 years and had good grades and GMAT scores. Would I have a decent shot at a top 10 MBA program in the US? If I did make it, what then?

    What are the main problems/obstacles to this approach?

    • says

      Yes it applies to accountants anywhere. That approach is fine but top 10 programs are competitive so normally you need something more outstanding than just accounting experience (usually something outside work).

  41. MO says

    Hi Brian, me again.

    Quick question: what are your thoughts on the Corporate Finance divisions of Mid-tier accounting firms (ie. not the big4). the work should ideally be the same as the big4 apart from the value of deals right? i’m trying to apply for a graduate position in finance and break out of audit.

  42. BG says

    Hey Brian,

    Great site. I currently am in a commercial banking training program (18-24 month) and want to get into I-banking. I recently graduated from Cal and got my BS from HAAS. Unfortunately, I didnt take the traditional path and wasnt able to get an I-Banking internship or a full time offer. I finished up with a 3.6 and was wondering what your advice would be to break into I-Banking? Additionally, prior to reading your blog, I signed up for the CFA, figuring it couldnt hurt and would provide added emphasis to my interest in finance. Any feeedback would be great. Thanks

    • says

      CFA wouldn’t add much if you already have the commercial banking background. I would say network with Haas alum, cold-call local places, and give it at least 6 months before reaching conclusions; if that doesn’t work, maybe work for a few years and do a top MBA program.

  43. RH says

    Hey Brian,
    You have a great site and quite frankly, you are answering a lot of questions people have on their minds but can not easily find answers too.

    I am a senior associate with CPA in a Big 4 TAS (M&A diligence) practice with focus on Tech companies. I spent my audit years before that on a fortune 50 client with focus on revenue recognition. I have been known to burn the midnight oil and work the 100+ hour weeks. I’m considering making a jump into IB and have a few questions. Apologies if my questions are repetitive from those asked before.

    1. Does it help to sit and pass the CFA level 1 just to show I understand finance?

    2. I’ve been trying to teach myself some basic investment valuation modeling in my spare time. I ordered a few highly recommended investment modeling books on Amazon. If I mentioned this during an interview, would it impress the interviewer or open a can of worms whereas the recruiter will go “o so you know modeling huh? let’s see how much you know”?

    3. I have friends who have left IB and have told me I can enter anywhere from an associate position to 2nd year analyst. Which position do you think it is most likely to be available to a person with my background?

    4. From your experience in IB, did you look more highly upon the former Big Four TAS interviewees or the freshly minted MBAs?

    5. How difficult is it to transition from a TAS background to banking?

    I know I’m late on this thread but thank you for all your help in advance!

    • says

      1. I am not a fan of the CFA, and especially if you already have a CPA and work at a Big 4, it will not add much so I wouldn’t bother.

      2. Potentially both, but you have to be prepared and learn enough to be able to explain the basics. If they throw super-advanced questions at you, just say you don’t know, and it won’t matter too much if they’re complex anyway.

      3. Depends on how many years experience you have, I would say 3rd year analyst or 1st year associate though.

      4. We mostly recruited MBAs so I’m not sure what the process with others was – but if you have the right background you can compete (we had several non-traditional hires such as VPs at large companies as well).

      5. Easier than anything else in accounting, but still difficult especially if you aim for large banks.

  44. AAA says

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions!

    I have 8 years Big 4 experience (2 of which were in TAS and 6 in Private Wealth), I am close to completing my MBA, currently working at a small accounting firm in the Private Wealth field. I’m looking to move back into TAS (FDD)or IB.

    How different are the two roles (having not been in IB before)?

    What would be the difference in title and salary (previously a Assistant Manager – TAS), while the market is probably offering either a Manager TAS role and a Analyst IB role, would this be a fair move either way?

    In terms of the compatibility of skills from one country to another which would be better TAS or IB (i.e. if I wanted to move from US to Asia say)?

    Again thanks for all your advice!

    • says

      Manager TAS is higher up than an IB Analyst role, but that offer is not unusual. Most would say that IB is more compatible between different countries because valuation is valuation anywhere… whereas with TAS there may be more (perceived) differences since people assume it is more closely linked to accounting and audit.

  45. Big 4 says

    Hi Brian,

    I’m a Canadian CA working at a Big 4 firm and just wanted your opinion on the options below.

    If you had the choice between Valuations, Corporate Finance and M&A TS, where do you feel you’ll get the most relevant experience given an ultimate goal of breaking into Investment Banking at a Canadian bank?

    Just to add a bit of background:
    Valuations – fairness opinions, goodwill impairment/intangibles valuations, tax assists, some financial modeling for more complex company vals

    Corporate Finance – about half buy-side and sell-side deals (assisting with handling the process), some financial modeling, raising capital, usually deal with companies with enterprise values of roughly $100m.

    M&A TS – primarily due diligence and target screening

    Thanks for the advice and great post!

      • Big 4 says

        Thanks for the prompt reply. What would your rationale be your Corp Fi?

        Also, what would you say is a reasonable amount of time to wait prior to looking for a switch to IB? (i.e. applying to IB)

        Should I also be wary of the firm finding out about me trying to transfer over to IB given it’s a small world?

        Thanks!

        • says

          The work is closest to IB work. Try to switch over at the 1 year mark around the summer. I would not worry about them finding out.

  46. Deloitte MBA says

    could you advise:
    I was Manager in Deloitte in Audit and now finished MBA in Europe.
    the market is down and it is hard to get into PE (where I want to go).

    Will you advise to go to Transaction Services first?
    it’s not the best option after MBA, but will PEs consider it as a good step?

    I agree with everybody that this website is a golden with all articles and comments!

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