Degrees and Certifications: Got CFA + JD + MBA + MD?

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Degrees and Certifications in Investment BankingAfter a long absence, my favorite topic is back: no, not GPA rounding, ranking the banks, or re-assuring you that your “career path” is correct, but degrees and certifications.

Despite my best efforts to bash certifications and give snarky responses to related questions, there’s still confusion on what banks care about, what you can do with different degrees, and the meaning of life.

While I can’t help with the meaning of life (42?), I can tell you which degrees and certifications mean something and help you break into finance – and which will not.

Why the Hate? You’re Already Biased!

I’ve seen lots of aspiring bankers use degrees and certifications as a distraction from more important goals, like getting solid internships, networking, and even getting leadership roles in groups.

You may also think that degrees and certifications are a magic bullet: sure, you have a 2.1 GPA from an unknown school and you’ve worked in telemarketing for 5 years, but if you get that Bloomberg certification, Goldman Sachs will give you an offer right away, right?

Maybe I should get into the business of selling certifications with logic like this…

Definitions: Investment Banking / Private Equity vs. Other Fields

The usefulness of degrees and certifications varies widely by the field of finance you’re interested in.

For example, if you want to be in risk management then the FRM exam is essential; if you’re doing portfolio management or equity research, the CFA is viewed as a requirement. And bankers, of course, don’t care about either of those.

I’m focusing on investment banking and private equity here because that’s what this site is about and what you’re interested in if you’re reading this right now.

For more on other fields and where certifications might be useful, check out these articles from Bionic Turtle:

5 Degrees Above Zero

Let’s start with degrees since they’re less painful to write about.

The only degrees that banks care about are Bachelor’s, Master’s, and MBA degrees, and only for very specific reasons.

But just for fun, let’s jump through the entire list and learn why – and what to do if you’ve taken the plunge into JD/PhD/MD land.

High School / Secondary School

Please, no more questions from 16-year olds who want to get an investment banking internship. Go outside and play in the sun, you’re probably Vitamin D-deficient anyway.

This one is just a check-the-box requirement at banks, and if you’ve only graduated high school you won’t be able to do anything real – you need at least an undergraduate degree (maybe you could work as an assistant but is that what you want to do?).

Your actual performance in secondary school matters more in countries like the UK where A-Levels are huge – in the US, listing high school grades or AP scores on your resume when applying to banking jobs is silly. And where you went to school only matters if it’s somewhere prestigious, like Exeter or Andover, where you might get some networking benefit.

University Degrees

This is the bare minimum you’ll need to actually work at an investment bank, and most other finance firms.

Every week I get comments asking, “I’m 38 and never graduated from college – do you think I can become an investment banking analyst?”

No, you can’t.

Why not?

  1. Supply and Demand – Banks have so many university graduates who’d give up a kidney to work for them that they can afford to reject 99% of applicants and still have more people than they know what to do with.
  2. Work Ethic – If you can’t finish a university degree then banks will assume that you cannot finish any project, which is a problem when you have a 100-page pitch book due in 3 hours.

Yes, I know there are good reasons you didn’t get a degree – you dropped out to start your own multi-billion dollar company, you couldn’t afford college, or you became a pop star and you’re still on leave.

That’s lovely, but life is not fair and if you don’t have a degree you’re not getting into investment banking or private equity.

Maybe you could trade for a small prop trading firm if you’re a baller trader without a degree, but even there it’s tough – they care less about pedigree than banks, but everyone else there will have the degree.

It’s approximately 100x more difficult to get into banking coming from a “non-target” school (one where banks don’t recruit) compared to a “target” school (the Ivy League, LSE, Oxbridge, and so on), so go to the best school possible.

What you major in doesn’t matter too much as long as you get decent grades and internships, but you can review your options right here.

Master’s Degrees

There are several good reasons to get a Master’s degree:

  1. You need the prestige because your undergraduate school was unknown.
  2. You had poor grades and need to press Ctrl + Z on your transcript.
  3. You didn’t get an offer and want to try again, with better access to recruiters.
  4. You’re in Europe and 5-year programs that include both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree are common.

The most common question on Master’s degrees:

“So, if I go for a Master’s in Finance program I can start as an Associate, right?”

No, you can’t, because:

  1. You would need at least 3-5 years of previous work experience or 2 years as an IB analyst first.
  2. Master’s programs are less of a time and money commitment compared to MBA programs.

I must have heard this question 500 times at career fairs and the answer is always the same: “You’ll still be an Analyst.”

MBA

This is the only advanced degree that allows you to “level-up” when you start working.

IF you have had enough experience (usually 3-5 years in a normal industry, or 2 years as a former IB analyst), then you’ll start out one rung above the Analyst: you’ll be an Associate instead.

Which means you get paid a bit more, have more responsibility, and you get to sleep 6 hours per night instead of 4.

But do not assume that just because you get an MBA, banks will automatically interview you or think that you can be an Associate.

There are plenty of ways to screw it up, including going to a non-top-tier school, not having enough work experience, or not showing a clear progression toward being interested in banking.

So make sure you learn how to properly re-brand yourself and how to use MBA programs the right way in the first place.

JD

While Damages the TV series is awesome, most law firms are not even close to that interesting in real life: the Partners at your firm might be sadistic, but they’re still far from Patty Hewes.

So many lawyers get the bright idea that they could go into finance instead and make bank while abusing their former co-workers.

Just one small problem: banks don’t give a crap about law school.

OK, that’s not 100% true and it’s viewed a little more favorably than the MD or PhD – but there’s no added bonus for going to law school and it’s a much more indirect path to banking.

You have to graduate from law school, work in corporate law for a few years without going insane, and then network your way into banking from there.

Having the law background may benefit you in areas like Restructuring and Distressed Investing where there’s legal overlap, but it’s a stretch to say that you should go to law school specifically to get into those fields.

If you’ve already taken the plunge, you can’t exactly abort midway through – so finish, do corporate or securities law, and then network into banking after working for a few years.

You may actually start as an Associate if you do law school and then corporate law before banking, so the JD can be another way to level-up.

PhD

If you thought bankers looked down on lawyers, you’ve never seen their reaction to PhDs – ouch.

Bankers and PE-ers don’t care about the degree because the math in both fields is trivial: arithmetic and a few circular references in Excel.

You might be the next Stephen Hawking, but that doesn’t matter because you don’t need to understand wormholes to be a banker – you just need to understand how to change the font size in pitch books.

Most bankers think that PhDs are too well-educated to go back to fixing printers and scouring through SEC filings, so there’s a significant bias against hiring them.

Sometimes you can still get into finance if you have the degree, but usually you have to:

  1. Target a boutique that fits your background exactly – like an industrials-focused firm if you have a PhD in materials engineering, or a healthcare-focused firm if you completed an advanced degree in biochemistry.
  2. Go for equity research instead. They actually care about the degree because they want people who understand an industry in-depth – again, you would focus on groups that match your background.
  3. Go the quant route (works best with physics/math/related degrees). Sure, trading will never be what it once was, but firms always need quants and smart math people to build their models.

MD

You face a similar problem here: you’re over-educated and banks will assume that you have no interest in spreading comps if you’ve qualified to perform open heart surgery.

They may also assume that you’re unable to commit to anything and stick with it: how could you have made it through years of med school without realizing you wanted to do business earlier?

In this situation you’d have to follow the PhD advice above and go after boutique banks in the healthcare/biotech/pharmaceutical space and/or look into equity research. You don’t have the ideal background to be a quant, so that’s not the best idea here.

You’ll also need a really good story about why you’re making this move – not just “I realized business was so much cooler!”

You need a specific incident or person that made you interested, and a perfect explanation of how you realized that medicine was not for you after years of doing it, but how you’re simultaneously certain that finance is for you with 0 years of experience.

Combo Degrees – JD + MBA?

Combo degrees get another “thumbs down” from me.

We already learned that adding a Master’s degree on top of a normal bachelor’s degree, for example, won’t let you start as an Associate.

But what about that famed JD + MBA combination – surely that must open up more exit opportunities, right?

No, not really. Most jobs are geared toward law or finance, but not both.

It would be most useful in areas like Restructuring, Distressed Investing, or arguably Real Estate / Project Finance where there’s overlap with the law and legal codes.

But even there, it’s a stretch to say that the JD would add much: even the MBA might not be terribly helpful if you’ve had previous, relevant experience.

You may also face a branding problem if you have a law degree and a business degree: business people will think you’re a lawyer, and lawyers will think you’re in business.

There’s always a temptation to think that more = better when it comes to degrees or certifications, but that’s just not true.

You want the minimum investment required for maximal gain – anything more than that reduces your ROI.

What about other combinations like JD + PhD + MBA, or JD + MD + MBA? Please, don’t even waste your time and money – it’s just silly.

Adding more advanced degrees like this will hurt you and make you look like more and more of an academic and less and less like someone who can actually make money in the real world.

Certifications

This part will be shorter because certifications matter far less in banking and PE than degrees.

The main one that generates debate is the CFA and whether or not it’s helpful for breaking in – others are either completely useless or marginally helpful at best.

Series 7 / 63 / 65 / 66 / 79 / 84563X2

If you have a ton of free time, you’ve already networked extensively, and you already have great internships and/or a full-time job lined up, then sure, knock yourself out.

Just be aware that if your bank requires them, you’ll complete the exams during training anyway.

If you really want to set yourself apart before you start working, you’d be better off moving to another country for a few months and doing something interesting there.

CFA

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments for and against the CFA here – go consult this article if you want to go down that path again.

The short version is that it’s not the best use of your time for investment banking or private equity in developed countries, but it may be more useful in emerging markets or in fields like equity research, portfolio management, or some types of hedge funds.

And do not think that it will cover up an unknown school, low grades, or no work experience – it won’t.

Think of it as an added bonus and something to look into if you already have top schools, high grades, and great work experience.

CPA / FRM / Other Certifications with C and F in the Names

Look, if you want to be an accountant or a risk manager or perhaps other things outside of IB/PE, then sure, go ahead and pursue these.

There’s an alphabet soup of other certifications out there, and David from Bionic Turtle does a great job of summarizing them here.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these – it’s just that they will not help you much with IB/PE, because getting in is based almost entirely on practical experience.

In the future, who knows, there may be an exam to get “certified” in investment banking – but for now no one takes anything like that seriously (yes, I’m talking to you, “Certified M&A Advisor”).

There’s another critical reason why such certifications don’t apply to IB and PE: at the top levels these fields are based on sales, relationships, and negotiation skills – skills that can’t be tested on a written exam.

Bloomberg / FactSet / Other

Don’t even bother – you’ll learn everything you need to know (which is not much) when you start working, and you don’t even use the complex features in banking.

These may actually hurt you because you do not want to be known as “The Bloomberg Guy” or “The VBA Guy” or anything else that results in annoying requests to fix other peoples’ broken-beyond-repair spreadsheets.

Standardized Tests: SAT, GMAT, GRE, A-Levels…

These aren’t quite “certifications” but why not throw them in here anyway?

None of these is as important as grades in university, but in the US most banks will still ask for your SAT scores, and GMAT scores can be helpful if you have low SAT scores (under 2100 in the new system). No, don’t bother going back and re-taking them if they’re low: not worth the effort.

As with grades, these tests are more about whether or not you meet the minimum score they’re looking for rather than “standing out” – so please do not re-take the GMAT if you got a 720.

Got Degrees or Certifications?

I hope not – unless you mean a university, Master’s, or MBA degree.

Otherwise, save your time and money and if you’re already too far down a path to turn back now, cut your losses and change direction as soon as you can.

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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271 Comments to “Degrees and Certifications: Got CFA + JD + MBA + MD?”

Comments

  1. Steve says

    Hey.

    Great article, thanks!
    I would like to know what you think about the CAIA? I looked into it a few weeks ago and it seems quite interesting. Certainly goes more into AI details than the CFA does.

    • says

      Sure either of those. It can really be Master’s in anything at some places (LSE) whereas most schools in the US something finance-related lets you tell a better story.

      • David says

        How far “down the line” would be helpful, really? For instance, Boston University is a top 25 Economics program and offers a Masters program. Still, it’s not like GS or Blackstone actively recruit there. Does this advice only work for absolute top of the line schools, or is it good enough if your Masters program is at least substantially better than your undergraduate program? (I go to a shit state school because I got a full ride :/ )

  2. madman says

    Hey Brian,

    Great article.

    When it comes to UK/Europe, the school you mention the most is LSE. Does it mean that banks dont recruit too heavily at other unis??

    I am currently applying to EDHEC France and HULT London for a Master of Finance program since their alumni base is very strong (GS, MS, Lazard, UBS) and it would be easier to network though them. Any comments??

    • says

      It just means that top schools are heavily favored, as is the case anywhere else in the world. I don’t know a lot about the schools you mentioned, but I would verify that top banks come there to recruit.

  3. Richard says

    As an undergrad, I am thinking about getting into HAAS, UCB; is this what you would call a “target” school to get a BA?

    Also was thinking about taking a private course that teaches Financial Modeling, DCF, Leverage Buyouts, Merger Consequences, etc should I go ahead and take these financial course while working on my BA, and would it give me a leg up to IB/PE? Course training is from Training The Street, or even IBT.

    • says

      Yes. Clearly as I provide my own courses I’m not going to endorse those of competitors so can’t comment there, but if you don’t know much on the technical side courses can help.

  4. Matt says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. So many young people are dead set on taking the CFA because they think it opens the door to _?_. I have literally had to tell interns they are completely missing the boat taking the CFA instead of utilizing their position to just work hard, impress the people around them, network with decision-makers as best they can, and leverage that. In the last 3 years, none of the half dozen interns have even passed the CFA level I and have thus wasted a ton of time, resulting in zero results. Nothing proves someone is useless like showing they waste time and then don’t deliver.

    I always refer our interns to this site (I’m in brokerage) because they want to go into IB or PE. I feed them much of the same advice you give. Too bad they never take it.

    I don’t think there is any overall harm to pursuing letters, so long as they don’t interfere with the task at hand. I’m wrapping up a JD and the CFA but the primary job always takes priority. And in brokerage, i wasn’t working 100 hour weeks. The letters were more just to make me versatile rather than as a means to an end, such as getting into IB or PE. Young people are much better off doing as the site says and working their ass off networking or just getting a foot in the door at the bottom and proving they can handle more and more responsibility than thinking “CFA Level II Candidate” on a resume will get them that associate position.

    The key is really just getting in, anywhere. If you have no shot at as an analyst, go in somewhere else if you can. I think the biggest mistakes young kids make is thinking they should be in a lofty position (especially with most positions in short supply). It is hard to go from the back office to the front office, but that is what some people just have to do. If you prove yourself to the people around you and show your are driven, you can at least score an interview and the interviewer will talk to the people who work with you. A personal recommendation from a decision-maker is almost better than anything you could have on your resume when it comes to scoring a position.

    • says

      That’s a great point, you can waste a ton of time studying and not even pass the exam… not a great strategy. And yeah way too many people believe that having letters trumps being interesting / having others like you.

      • Matt says

        Brings up another thing, IF someone is dead set on the CFA and already in the door at a firm, I would recommend not telling anyone until it is over. That way no one knows if you fail and it only helps when people are impressed already with your work ethic and performance and then “oh by the way, I passed the CFA Level III…” comes up. Same goes for MBA or JD programs. Take the part-time program if you are absolutely convinced you must get the letters (and if you can manage the schedule), tell no one, then surprise your superiors when it is over or nearing the end. I did that with the JD/CFA and word traveled fast up the corporate ladder to people I could call on and ask to put a word in for me if I wanted to head to IBD.

        There is literally no excuse for failing if someone is an intern. I’m blown away that these kids work maybe 12 hours while completing undergrad and can’t pass Level I. So going around telling people you are going to take the test creates a self-imposed standard that the Firm doesn’t even require.

        Don’t set artificially high expectation and then disappoint. Always surprise to the upside.

        • says

          That’s good advice, a friend at a top law school recently failed the bar exam and had to move out of the US to even practice… doesn’t look too good after spending that much time/money on the degree/certification.

  5. Helena says

    Well, I happen to have a LLM degree and a Bachelor in Business Administration, specialization in Finance (in Europe but not UK). Now I’m applying for a master in Finance at good universities in the US and the UK. So far I haven’t made any bad experiences regarding having two degrees. M&A has a strong legal side too. How come it wouldn’t be acknowledged to have a law and business degree in an area like that? Sorry for the stupid question.

    • Gekko says

      In Australia, to get into M&A, they almost literally take ONLY combined Bus(Major in Finance)/Law degrees – 5 year degree, which sucks as I’m only doing a single degree – I think it’s a bit silly and I’d much rather get my MFin but I’ll let you know how I go (was a ‘finance’ (accounting mostly back office) intern at a major BB and from the grad pull that started this year 19/20 or 20/20 were combined Commerce/Law degrees)…I do agree that LLM is useful for M&A but you can be fine with just a Bachelors in Bus/Commerce in Finance . But it will definitely be acknowledged and the law degree will teach you to express yourself.

      Only thing that I think sucks is that MFin is treated as lower than an MBA even though the Finance you’ll do in a Masters is superior to the more basic finance(it does get more technical if you do electives but in my opinion still not as rigorous as with a Masters) and random subjects that you do in an MBA. But it is what it is, life’s just like that – guess the mba is worth it if it’s going to propel you into the universe of unicorns, models & bottles and a lifetime supply of perks ;)

      Cheers,
      Gekko

      • says

        Yeah on a purely financial level you learn more with MFin but people argue that you learn more “life skills” and a broader perspective in MBA programs (skeptical).

        • Gekko says

          Bring on the models and bottles !

          How’s the visa stuff for Sydney coming along – still gonna make it by end of Feb ?

          • says

            Finally got it approved the other day after 2 months of negotiation but I need to back to the US for a few weeks (hanging out in SE Asia right now). So probably first or second week of March at this point.

    • says

      Right but you did not do the MBA degree… that is what creates problems, not just a Bachelor’s degree. Think about it from the banker’s perspective if you walk in with a JD and MBA: he’s going to say, “So, do you want to be in law or business? Are you secretly just an aspiring lawyer?” While there is a legal side in M&A, you don’t deal with it at a bank… yes you need to know the basics of merger agreements and so on but that doesn’t require a law degree, just reading comprehension skills.

      • Helena says

        Yes, I see what you mean. MBAs are for people who didn’t go to business school if I’m not mistaken? I finished business undergrad school and now I’ll do a Master in Finance. Maybe that’s the difference.

        • says

          They’re for everyone, some business undergrads still do them. Mostly used as a way to move into a new field, whereas Master’s programs don’t allow for as much re-branding.

  6. says

    Brian,

    Great post. I agree with you 100%. One little comment though. Most MSF students are fresh undergrads so they would obviously be in the analyst pool vs. associate. There are some people who come into an MSF program with work experience and can go in as an associate. I’ve seen it happen at Villanova and Princeton & MIT do it more frequently.

    • says

      Yeah that is a good point, if you do have work experience occasionally you can start higher-up there as well. But as you said most MSF students are coming straight from undergrad so not a real option if that’s the case.

  7. Ahmed says

    Great article.
    I was wondering would PMP certification (Project Management Professional) be useful, or even relevant, in the IB/PE world?
    I don’t know much about actual IB work, but I imagine it involves lots of activities like planning, scoping, scheduling, resources allocation, comminucation, etc. In that sense will the formalized approach of PMP to manage such activities add any value to the IB/PE pro?
    Thank you.

    • says

      As Stefan said below, you don’t really do any of that as an analyst. The work is mostly, “We need this in 10 minutes! Fix the font size on all these slides right now!” See the Day in the Life series under On the Job at the top for more. So the PMP certification would not be useful.

  8. Stefan says

    “I don’t know much about actual IB work, but I imagine it involves lots of activities like planning, scoping, scheduling, resources allocation, comminucation, etc. In that sense will the formalized approach of PMP to manage such activities add any value to the IB/PE pro?”

    For an analyst most tasks are going to be adhoc tasks. So you do whatever you have get on the table at any point in time and under consideration of which deadline is up next. You just need some common sense to set priorities. And your superiors and clients will get into the way of your “formalized approach” anyway. It takes just one call or one email ;)

  9. Kenneth says

    Hello M&I:

    It’s Kenneth from Toronto, Canada again, the one who wants to switch careers – from Engineering to Finance at the age of 30. I am interested in investment banking…. portfolio management, equity research and M&A
    What if I do an MBA and it’s an MBA/CFA program so they will help us pass all levels of CFA before we graduate?
    I am interested in getting into portfolio management or equity research…

    What about Quant jobs? They require PhDs right?
    Please advise.
    Thanks.

    • says

      Not an expert there but yes a lot of quants are PhDs. MBA/CFA is fine if you are set on portfolio management and doing the MBA program anyway.

  10. JFJF says

    Hi Brian,

    I learnt a great deal from your posts. Thanks a lot!

    Could you please write a post regarding the following two topics?

    – Female banker’s life (Is it really mission impossible?)
    – Which MBA programs are the target schools for bulge bracket firms?

    Thanks a lot!

    JFJF

    • says

      Thanks for the suggestions.

      1. Thought about this before and may do it, but I’m afraid to because anything on gender/nationality/ethnicity provokes a lot of controversy. I may still do it but undecided.

      2. Not worth an article, as it’s about 10-15 lines total. Top 10 in the US, then scattered ones abroad such as INSEAD – look at the MBA rankings worldwide to get a good idea.

  11. Jbanker says

    I have 2 yrs experience in a leadership rotational at a BB?
    Do you think I will be able to interview for associate roles after a MSc from LSE?

    • Andrew says

      This is what I wanted to know if it common to be promoted from Analyst to Associate after 2 years with an MSc or do you have to go back for an MBA?

    • says

      As Mikel said below, it’s questionable with only 2 years – some banks will go for it but others will not. Higher chance if those 2 years were in IB.

      • Jbanker says

        Another question.

        What would be a good way to spin the corporate finance rotational experience for IB interviews?

        • says

          Say that you learned all about making projections (if you did FP&A) and accounting, which are essential to banking; you also had exposure to the company’s high-level strategy and had to familiarize yourself with acquisitions and partnerships, also critical in banking.

  12. Russell says

    Brian,

    I’m a high school senior right now, and I’ve enrolled in Washington and Lee University next year. From everything I’ve heard so far it is a good school if you want to get into finance, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley have been some of the top employers hiring W&L graduates for the past few years. This being said, when people speak about target schools for investment banking, Washington and Lee is not usually part of the conversation and I feel like the school is overlooked by many people because of its small size (about 2,000 students). I would love to hear any feedback you or any of the other users have about the school or any other advice you might have for someone at my stage in the game.

    Thanks!

    • says

      I have no idea but I don’t think it’s a target school for front-office investment banking roles (those banks might recruit for other roles), though I could be wrong. Maybe someone else will know.

  13. Questions says

    3-5 years of pre-MBA experience? What if you have like 2yrs and 10 months? Asking because I started my work in July, and MBA starts in May 2yrs 10 months later. I have a 4 month internship I did during undergrad under my belt.

  14. Mikel says

    With re. MBA you MUST have exp to break in as an associate. My friend from school did 2yrs at GS but had to start at the analyst level b/c she did not have prior banking experience.

    CFA – Only relevant for equity research, portfolio management and private banking since grad schemes tailored to those roles pay for you to do it and it is MANDATORY.

    Masters – Really and truly are luxuries but if you go to a target school then its another 2 year shot at the recruitment cycle.

    Bare in mind with networking, it takes a very long time to build up any momentum and get the relationships to work for you. In fact its better to not even see it as networking but relationship building. You really don’t want to be the guy who just emails/phones people for help and gives nothing back.

  15. killa k says

    What do you think about the JD/MBA. I’m in PE and already a pre-mba associate with close to 3 years experience at an MM firm. I’m thinking of going to do a 3 year JD/MBA at Penn, Columbia or Northwestern starting in 2012… my goal will be to start out at a top BB in IBD afterwords. Good idea? Waste of an extra year of my life?

  16. Jim says

    I’m currently an undergrad and thinking of going straight for a JD/MBA. My background and goals are a little different though, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are and if it sounds like a good plan… or maybe just a plan.

    – After about a year of so-so grades in college I joined the Marine Corps reserve. Activated for a year, went to Iraq.

    – Got off active duty (but still served reserves 1 weekend/month 2weeks every summer) and started working as an operations manager for an airline that did troop movements.

    – Didn’t enjoy it, so I became a personal trainer – being a marine it was an easy opportunity. I excelled at sales and ended up moving to the membership sales office where I sold high end memberships for luxury clubs

    – did very well, broke records etc. Got an offer for a bigger/ more expensive club in NY and moved here. Same, did very well. Got poached to a competitor club (they offered more money).

    – Found out about IB, private equity, etc (in LA most people have no idea what any of that is – at least where I grew up.)

    – Started going back to school to obtain a 4-year degree (not IVY, but not a bad school). Have 4.0 so far with multiple extra-curricular activities, volunteer, student organizations, honors societies, doing a double major, etc.)

    – I grew up “problem-solving” and from what I’ve learned PE/Distress Investing/Restructuring seems ideal. Have been thinking of starting in consulting as I know many PE shops recruit from there.

    – About 6 months ago landed a part time gig at a hedge fund. Great exposure, and experience, but very very small firm.

    I have a fascination with law but no desire to be a lawyer. I like the idea of working on the edge of bus&law. I’m much more drawn to the business aspect tho. The only MBA programs I’d be applying to would be top ten.

    ANNNNNNY advice would be extremely (desperately) appreciated.

    Thanks

    • says

      I would just do the MBA. I don’t think your background will be a huge issue since you’re still an undergraduate technically, but an MBA would still help with breaking in. Consulting may not necessarily help as much as you think, unless it’s a top firm like MBB or unless you deal with restructuring specifically, so you might want to think about doing IB right away if you can network your way in.

  17. Darren says

    Would it be preferable for someone to go:

    Undergrad business -> IBD -> MBA -> IBD
    or
    Undergrad business -> IBD -> JD -> IBD

    The reason I ask is that having studied finance as an undergrad, it seems rather pointless to invest further in a business education when I could be learning a whole new skill set that would help in IBD.

    • says

      The issue is that the JD skill set doesn’t really help in IB. If anything, it’s arguably more useful on the buy-side. As a banker you just need a very basic understanding of merger agreements and maybe some securities regulations in ECM/DCM. So the MBA option is still better, because of the credibility/re-branding/networking factor.

  18. jc says

    You frequently mention that lawyers should practice corporate or securities for an IBD move. I am a tax lawyer (working on M&A/PE), and have anecdotally heard of tax attorneys moving into investment banking, although I don’t know any myself. Thoughts? Have you ever seen this actually happen?

    • says

      I’m sure it happens, but tax is a bit further away from IB work (or at least it’s viewed that way). If you can position it properly though (all work on M&A/PE deals) it’s possible.

  19. beedubs says

    I am currently working in Operations at a bb and want to break into a front office role. I was considering a part time MBA (NYU hopefully). Will the part time be a waste of time/money or will the rebranding be strong enough (if at all considering part time) to make an MBA worth it?

  20. Noah says

    Which is a better path for long term career in IB/M&A at the PRE MBA Level, 30 yrs old, coming from 5 yrs exp in real estate finance I have these options I am entertaining:

    -Starting at a relatively small buy side MM firm, in deal origination
    -‘Middle’ office at Blackrock, in securities lending

      • Nate says

        Pretty funny I am in similar boat, kinda; 5 years mortgage origination exp to private wealth clients, 29 years old, pre-part-time-mba (hopefully Michigan) but my question is, what are best types of roles to take on in the interim to best position myself to later transition into Inst Sales/AM or IB/M&A? Or do you think I should be able to get in now? (Crappy undergrad GPA though, from Michigan, 6 years ago)

        And a big thank for all that you do, may the Good Karma Gods be with you.

        • says

          Try for part-time or informal internships at local banks or PE or AM firms… sometimes you can find pre-MBA programs locally as well.

  21. Ed2010 says

    You say: “You may actually start as an Associate if you do law school and then corporate law before banking, so the JD can be another way to level-up.”
    Actually what levels it up is the work experience!

    • says

      Maybe, but the advanced degree definitely helps. Much tougher to jump in as an Associate if you just worked for 3 years at a normal company (and probably impossible).

  22. JY says

    Just read your article while studying for the tedious cfa level 3, great article…One point, the cfa actually teaches you to MAKE MONEY, not through building relationship, negotiating deals, etc., but through analyzing data and making investment. So if you are money hungry but shy, cfa may be a way to go.

  23. Killary says

    It was soooooo much easier to get into finance back in 70’s 80’s, wasn’t it?
    My dad was able to go to b-school right out of college and started his career at GS. Similarly, his colleague went on to get his JD and MBA right out of college and got a banking job at GS in mid 80s. As far as I know there are at least 3 others like my dad and they all made partners/MDs. Maybe demand wasn’t as high as it is today, but it has become so unbelievably competitive that more students show up at info sessions than maximum room capacity! If I had a choice, though, I would definitely want to work at a law firm with a starting salary of $160K vs. a mere $70K base at a bank…

    • says

      I don’t really think it was easier, you had to be from a privileged/wealthy family, know the right people… today there’s more competition but it’s also possible to get in even if your family isn’t worth $500 million.

  24. David B. says

    Hi,

    my plan is to get into Equity Research (Analyst or Associate position, see below) at a BB IB (London).
    The core question: Which of the following 2 paths is realistic (referring to your comment on starting as an Associate)?

    my academic background (at a leading German University):
    – Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (focus Finance, Accounting, Quantitative Methods)
    – currently preparing for CFA Level I (June 2011)

    professional experience (at one of the five largest German banks):
    – training as certified bank officer [full-time, two years – it’s a typical German way to start your banking jobs]
    – Trainee Capital Markets & Investment Banking [part-time (60%), three years during my Bachelor, focus: staff division IB&CM, Fixed Income Capital Markets, Equity Research]

    Now the core point, I have two options:
    1. Bachelor is nearly finished –> apply for Analyst positions in Equity Research (very few banks offer Analyst level in ER)

    2. Do a Master’s in Finance and continue working at my current bank as Junior Equity Researcher (Life Science oder large cap banks) [again part-time (60%), during my Master of Finance, one and a half years]

    Is it possible to start as an Associate after option 2?
    If there isn’t a chance, the Master will be useless and starting as Analyst will be the wiser option?

    Thank you
    David

    • says

      Ok, so first off, “Analyst” in Equity Research is actually a higher-level position. You start as an “Associate” and then move your way up to Research Analyst. So that may be part of the problem here, and why banks don’t advertise Analyst positions in ER.

      Personally I think you’re better off applying right now to banks for Associate positions in ER – if you don’t get in, then apply for the Master’s program and continue working in ER at your current bank.

  25. FYI says

    Hi M&I,

    I’m a long-time reader and the information you’ve written has actually helped me significantly in getting me to where I am in IB today.

    That said, I just wanted to point out a possible correction. I am 95% sure that no one can take the Series exams without being an employee of an investment bank. These are SEC licenses and in fact, if you are fired from your job, you lose your Series certification.

    I could be wrong but that was my understanding. Keep up the good work.

    • says

      I think you’re actually right but I’ve gotten dozens of questions from people not working at banks about the Series exams so not really sure there.

  26. Rubens N says

    Hey there!

    Have posted here before, but this article raised a question:
    – I’m from a developing country, and studied at the best business school at undergrad level here. Although, I want to go international, and my school isn’t well known abroad (as expected).
    – I have over 3 years of IB experience at boutiques, both in Brazil & China, but no bulge bracket names in my CV, and I’m already working at the Associate level for almost 2 years

    I want to rebrand myself – this would be helpful to leap into bigger and better companies or funds, and go international. MBA is sure an option, but my question is about Master’s in Finance. A few years of experience & a Master’s in Finance at top-school would be a good shot to rebrand myself and go Associate at bulge brackets / investment funds?

    Tks!

  27. MSUS says

    I agree with most of the conclusions made here except for the JD MBA (I’m not JD or MBA). A bunch of my friends have ended up at banks as associates. Given the JD MBA is so small, the yield is on par and at times exceeds that of some MBA programs. One of my best friends completed a JD MBA without much work experience last year, after a summer at GS is now at Paulson & Co. Granted this doesnt happen a lot but I would still argue that a JD MBA is still a great choice for people that have some sort of interest in learning about the legal side. Also if you think about all the great bankers like Bruce Wasserstein, Greg Fleming, Robert Rubin and Stephen Friedman are all from JD backgrounds.

    • says

      That might be true. But I still don’t think the cost-benefit is really worth it for most people, even if it could give you an advantage in certain areas of finance.

  28. JBanker says

    If I will be attending LSE as an international student, and given the fact that the UK government is cracking down on issuing work permits to foreigners, would my chances of landing a banking job in London diminish significantly?

    • says

      Not sure how serious it is but I think banks still issue a lot of work permits to foreigners.. more of an issue in other industries.

  29. Miha says

    What about if you are a law bachelor, which is the case with us europeans.
    My finance knowledge is more or less limited, because the program is 90+% law, so I really can’t see why would an IB pick someone like me instead of a business major.
    I believe that my best chance is go to a top law firm. (What about a bank’s in-house legal department? Better or worse?) (I am also planning to take a Finance LLM to land a top job.)
    And than an MBA after a few years of practice to make a career change.
    Too indirect? I don’t see any other way
    Thanks

    • says

      I think in Europe there isn’t as much of a preference and law can be OK but not 100% certain there; I wouldn’t do law –> MBA –> banking rather than banking directly without at least checking around first and seeing what other students have done.

  30. Zach says

    So after reading your articles about MBA’s and the CFA, I’ve decided not to go for either of those at this point in my life. However, an M.Fin. is still something I am strongly considering. If I am interested in going into IB, more specifically into M&A/leverage finance or even restructuring and later on into private equity/venture capital, I’m wondering what sort of masters I should be going for??? Masters of finance, finance and economics, finance and private equity, financial mathematics, economics??

  31. H.K says

    Hi,

    I did a B.Eng Mechanical from a top school in Canada. In my last years of school, I started to realize that I was more interested in finance than Engineering. I did an IB internship at a small boutique and I liked it! I also passed CFA level 1 while at school. After graduation, I got an offer from Schlumberger Oil services (before I even start applying to IB) and I accepted it just because i thought working for a big name would have helped me to get into investment banking later on (I was probably wrong!). few months later, I decided that the engineering experience i was getting was totally irrelevant to finance, and so I quit (after 4 months) to study for level 2 CFA and apply for IB jobs! I’m also fluent in English, Arabic, Spanish, and French.

    my questions are:
    1- Do you think my short work experience at Schlumberger ( 4 months) would serve as a good or bad point. i.e. do you think i should mention that on my resume?
    2- Do you think I should have continued working for the big name until I found another job (although the experience was irrelevant) rather than quiting and studying for CFA level 2 (given that my finance background is not very strong and i wanted to learn more about finance through CFA)? I am asking because a friend of mine is almost in the same situation now.
    3- How are Engineers viewed in investment banks? Do they have an “edge” over finance graduates?
    4- Do you think I should target more small boutiques or big banks?
    5- I almost see no entry level energy trading positions! Do you know whether someone can start his career in energy trading, or that there are no entry level jobs in energy trading and the person should get experience in other financial fields (what?) before making the move?

  32. ashish sahu says

    hello sir , i read your article which is full of information , I am from india , i did my Bachler in economics and one year diploma in financial planning , i also cleared almost all certification of stock market like capital market , derivative , mutual fund etc ..
    sir , i have keen interest to work in global market , i have one and half year ex. , sir i just want to know that these qualification are enough to work abroad or i have to do other things like CFA , and if these are ok so how i can apply ..
    pls sir help me i will be highly obliged to you …

  33. monad2000@aol.com says

    Just wanted to say I have found this site one of the most usefully tools yet.

    I am in a unique situation because of my lack of corporate and banking experience. I started a successful marketing company 6 years ago and now looking to get into a PE group. I applied to top full-time mba programs but just got wait listed. I currently live in NYC and was thinking about going to NYU part-time and trying to find a nonpaid internship with a PE group. First, is finding a nonpaid internship possible or should I try again next year to apply to full time programs?

    • says

      Answered on another thread where you asked it – yes you can get in part-time but it is harder. Please do a search here for “part-time MBA” via the search bar at the top to see a few reader interviews.

  34. MS says

    Hi M&I:

    Thank you for posting this great article. As far as my situation concerned, I’m a High School graduate, attended a 6-month Investment Operations training. Earned a certificate and landed an Internship at Bank of America, received a full-time Investment Operations Analyst offer afterwards. Worked for about 2+ years as full-time. Given my situation, do you think there’s a chance to get an internship into IB? If not, is there any other options than getting a Bachelor Degree from a prestigious school?

    Please note: I have been accepted to Ivy League school, however, have not started yet.

  35. Brad says

    Hi, I just got accepted into NYU PT and the Columbia’s EMBA. I currently own a marketing company but would like to transition into PE. I’m able to take off 2 years in order to intern or even work part time if possible. It’s too late to apply full time and really don’t want to wait another year. Which program would be the best to transition into PE and difficult would it be to get an internship? I’m very good at networking and money is not an issue.

    Thanks for your all your help and building a great website…

  36. EdwardStern says

    I am in my mid 30’s and want to do an MBA to break into Private Equity and or Investment Banking.

    I do not and cannot stop working.

    Would it be worth it to do a top Executive MBA like Columbia or do a Part Time MBA like Stern at NYU?

    • says

      Probably not. Without former IB or PE experience, getting into PE post-MBA is tough. IB is more feasible but recruiting is spotty at EMBA programs so check with students there first.

  37. says

    Hi ,
    Thx for all the answers , very informative. I am working as a sales and Mrktg manager in a BPO/KPO firm. I have a bachelors degree in computer science and 5 yrs of sales experience. I will be pursuing my MBA in 2011 (from a tier 3 colege) and am also planning to prepare for CFA. What career opportunities will I have taken my experience senario.

    Thanks

  38. Dre60 says

    Hello Brian thanks for all your advice,

    I was reading the Washington Post, Business section Sunday August 14th 2011 Title: A golden ticket (if you could get in) by Cezary Podkul. It covers top MBA programs…One quote is “And definitely tell the school if you’ve earned professional designations such as the Chartered Financial Analyst-that counts as well.” by Tiffany Gooden an admissions counselor at Wharton School of U Penn states.
    Would you know how much weight top MBA admissions puts on the CFA and other licenses i.e. series licenses exams?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’m by no means an expert on b-school admissions so I can’t say for sure though I presume spinning a good story on why you want to get into B-school is more important than professional qualifications like the CFA. Getting the CFA can show your interest in finance, and I think portfolio managers are more interested in your CFA than B-School admissions officers

  39. zoronto says

    Hello Brian,

    thx for this topik, which is extrimly importan and intresting. I also would like to ask for your opinion in my, probably a little bit off topic, situation.

    I’ve got 8 years of exp in Business Development de with US state organizations and private companies, serving different economics issues, such as privatization and reforms (iencluding 2 years on BD Director) on emerging markets + 1 year of being as financial&business analist. Than I had 5 years contract as a GM in credit reporting industry and risk management. Now, already for almost 2 years I’ve worked as a Independent Director – Member of board of interstate PE foundation. Each position on emerging market
    I’ve got Bachelor Degree in cybernetics+MBA (emerging markets)+ getting LLM in Management and Economic law in Europe (full time).
    what do you think, will all my background be usefull in getting well paid position in PE in Europe?

    Thx in advance

    • says

      To be honest I think you’d still have a tougher time because you don’t have previous transaction experience (IB/PE) as in working on actual deals. Maybe in Europe it’s somewhat easier without that but still tough competition vs. bankers.

  40. capricorn0801 says

    I am a 24 year old Chartered Accountant from India.I have done my Bachelors in Commerce.I am also a Company Secretary and I know it wont be relevant.I took it up when I was 17 and dint plan properly.I am planning to build a career in IB.I dont have relevant experience.I have plans to pursue masters.I have given my gre exam and I have a score which could get me through atleast top 20 schools but I anticipate some difficulty in getting employed because of being an international student.I really want to build my career in that field and grow.Do you think pursuing IB is a viable option for me ?Can you recommend some good books for learning everything about investment banking.I am trying very hard for an entry level postion in India.

  41. Desperate Undergrad says

    Hey Brian,

    I am an 18 year old undergrad majoring in Economics and just applied to the Kenan-Flagler Business school at UNC Chapel Hill (I’m also minoring in PPE – a poli sci, philosopy, and economics program they offer where i take classes at Duke). I finished my freshman year there and got a 3.8 GPA the first semester, but got into trouble the second semester for plagiarism and got suspended for the fall term of my sophomore year (which is right now). It was a minor offense (i didn’t cite one paragraph i had in my bibliography but since that is a violation they had to follow the books and issue out the usual sanction of suspension) and it will not remain on my transcript once this semester is over. I also got a failing grade for the assignment in the class (which was an Asian history class -a random elective) resulting in a D+. I also did poorly in the rest of my classes that semester and took some summer classes at UNC to pull my overall GPA up – it is a 3.134 cumulative now, which is still verryy low. I know I can do better and I plan on getting serious next semester(and the next two years), but the highest i can pull it up to is a 3.4 by the end of my sophomore year. I have no experience in Investment Banking or finance- although I have been reading through your website extensively and trying to learn on my own during my time off. I did get an offer for a “back-office” internship at AIG for the fall (in IT and Project Management) but I do not know whether that will be a wise decision after reading your articles. I think I am interested in possibly getting into Mezzanine Investing eventually but as of right now I have not networked yet or anything – what would you suggest I do given my situation? I know I have gotten myself into deep waters, but what can I do to turn this around and get my foot into this industry?

    • Desperate Undergrad says

      Also, I plan on taking finance classes next semester if the B-school will allow me (I will not be in Kenan-Flagler until fall semester of Junior year, that IF i even get in after my poor second semester performance where i got a C+ in of the pre-reqs, which was Managerial Accounting. but i got A and B in the other two pre-reqs). If I am only an Econ major, I could pull my MAJOR GPA up to a 3.5 by the end of sophomore year. However, my plan was to double major in Economics and Business (w/ an emphasis on Corporate Finance, where I will be able to take a lot of relevant finance classes and gain valuable contacts/skills) – what do you think I should focus on?
      I also plan on joining the Investment Society at Kenan-Flagler, but like I said, as of right now, I have no experience or any knowledge really in finance or investing. I was hoping you could point me to resources/books/etc. where I could find useful information to help me learn and be more familiar with this industry.

      Sorry for this long comment, but I appreciate your help!!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Get your GPA back up. Network like a ninja to land yourself interviews. Know how to pitch your story – how to explain your grades etc. In your case, I would look closely at which areas of finance I’m very interested in, research such areas and network in such areas extensively. I’d do whatever it takes to obtain the skills/knowledge pertinent to such areas. It is extremely vital, especially in your case, to network, know what you want, how to pitch yourself and demonstrate your skills in the areas you are interested in.

      • Desperate Undergrad says

        Thanks for your reply!

        Also another area of finance I might be interested in is Corporate Finance – which I know is not as prestigious as IB or PE etc, but I was wondering how easy/difficult it would be transition from or into Corporate Finance – like say I started out with some IB analyst internship or work experience in M&A, but decided I wanted more sleep and was looking to transition into Corporate Finance (like become a Financial Analyst or something)… will that be easy? I know the two types of jobs are very different and IB is much more stressful and difficult, but I was just wondering if Corporate Finance could possibly be a sensible exit option. I saw some articles on this website kind of hitting on this subject, but I just wanted clarity.
        Also, my second question is if it is possible to make a decent living in corp. finance or any other finance fields that are considered “lower”/generate less rewards than IB on Wall Street or other major cities like Chicago or even internationally like London?

  42. Ralph says

    If CFA is crap, if Masters in finance is crap, if PHD is crap and if MBA is crap, how can one enter Goldman sachs, JPM and the IB sector in general ??

    experience ??? fine, but to get the experience you need at least one of those, right ??

    All I can realize is that you’re a lazy person or deficient in quantitative skills (you were most likely interested in literature at school rather than science and maths) . If it’s the case, write novels or articles and leave the finance to its specialists.

    If you prefer to socialize instead of committing to rough study (i.e, the CFA program), open you’re own business and get the “900 hundred clients”.

    Watching the empty half of a bottle (pessimism) all the time is a psychological issue and might lead you to depression in the long run;

    Sorry but it s a fact that more than the half of CFA charterholders are working in GS, JPM, MS, UBS, Barclays, Credit Suisse – Agricole, BNP …

    Sorry but it s a fact that top MBA schools are keys to the above mentioned banks.

  43. Sandra says

    I love your site but I simply cannot digest this article. If you are so against certifications,how do you advertise that with your ” Breaking into Wall Street” program, people have broken into IB/PE in a weekend? I am quoting you, Brian, based on an e-mail I received from you. Sorry, but I think you are being too hypocritic- you are downplaying the MBA and CFA and promoting your own course so that you can make a few bucks.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Sandra, thanks for your input though I don’t think Brian is downplaying the MBA & CFA to promote his courses. First of all, certs & his courses are not mutually exclusive. Secondly, having worked in finance myself, I think an MBA/CFA is losing its value. While some people still respect MBA (Top tier ones) & CFA, there are plenty people w certs but not enough people with good deal experience. If you are good at what you do and have good deal experience, no one cares if you hv an MBA/ a CFA. They care if you can bring in revenue, originate deals and bring in clients.

  44. T says

    Hello,

    Graduated with a B.Com from one of the G-8 Unis in Australia 2.5 years ago….but no IB/Bank work experience….how about getting a Diploma in Finance from McGill’s (Canada) school of continuing education to find something in Canada?

    Master’s/MBA is not an option now due to financial reasons!

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