No, You Can’t Have It All: Why Finance Does Not Guarantee You $10 Million and Your Own Beach in Thailand

310 Comments | Consulting - Groups & Regions, Government, Non-Profits & Entrepreneurship - Groups & Regions, Hedge Funds & Asset Management - On the Job, Investment Banking - Groups & Regions, Private Equity & The Buy-Side - Groups & Regions, Sales & Trading - Groups

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thailand_beach“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.”

– Helen Keller

I almost decided not to publish this article.

But it needed to be said.

This one is long – so grab some yerba mate, take a seat, and close your YouTube window before you start.

How It All Started

“I’ve been keeping up with your blog for quite some time now and I’ve noticed that a very diverse group of people eventually “discover” that they want to become a banker (former premed students, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, …).

That said… do you find it odd that so many people always ask you about exit opportunities in the first place when they’re still trying to break into the industry? This makes me suspect that some people have the wrong mindset going into the game (models & bottles).”

Yeah, of course *I* find it odd.

But does anyone else?

No, apparently not – just look at comments like this one:

“Damn… there goes another profession I was aspiring to do go down toilet. I thought the travel involved in consulting was just exaggerated. But I was wrong. I heard from Kevin that consultants at McKinsey travel 50-75% of their time. I’m sorry but I just can’t handle that. My only other alternatives are PE and HF. How are the hours and travel like for each of those professions. I’m praying that at least these jobs don’t screw up my life…”

At least he’s done his homework though: he understands some of the trade-offs between these different options.

But he’s still searching for the magic-bullet solution: a way to become a deca-millionaire with no risk and no 100-hour weeks.

About twice a week I get emails asking, “So, if I work at a boutique can I go home at 10 PM rather than 2 AM each night?”

If you don’t work in the industry or if you haven’t done an internship, I can understand why you don’t “get it” yet.

But then the other day a friend at a top bank emailed me saying:

“Man I’m so tired of banking right now, do you know anything else that would pay me this much and give me much better hours?”

And that’s what pushed me to hit the “Publish” button on this one anyway.

What Do You Want?

It’s a broad question, but most “goals” can be reduced to:

“Become a deca-millionaire without doing much work and also getting my own private beach in Thailand while having the best life ever.”

This brings up a slew of other issues – such as, “Wait, so what then? You’ll get bored in a week of doing nothing” but we’ll put those aside for now.

Based on this goal, you may have already decided that finance is the best route to becoming rich with no risk – and sure, the hours may be bad, but they get better over time, right?

Not so fast.

If this is your plan, you don’t understand the trade-offs between finance, different fields within finance, and different options altogether.

Trade-Offs?

There are an infinite number of variables, but we’re just going to look at the most important ones here.

Pay

This is one of the biggest lures of finance: just work for a few years and you’ll become a millionaire instantly, right?

But it’s also one of the most poorly understood trade-offs: most people in finance save little money, and any money they do save they either manage poorly or not at all.

$500K per year doesn’t mean much when it’s only $250K after taxes and $240K of that goes into models, bottles, and sports cars.

Prestige

I almost cringe writing this one – but it needs to be addressed here.

The secret that no one tells you about prestige: no one in the real world gives a crap where you work or where you went to school.

I can’t even remember the last time I told a stranger where I went to school, even though it’s supposedly one of the top universities in the world.

And not to turn this into a dating column, but citing a “prestigious” school or company won’t attract members of the opposite sex – at least not the ones you want.

Lifestyle

Sure, your life may suck for awhile but once you hit 35 and have $10 million you can just deposit it all in bonds, make $800,000 per year in tax-free income, and then retire to the Caribbean right?

Except I know of no bankers or other financiers who have actually done this.

To quote a friend who finished the Analyst program at Goldman Sachs a few years ago: “Even Partners take calls in between their kids’ soccer games on weekends.”

If you’ve been working that much for that long a period of time, you’re going to be bored out of your mind if you actually “retire early.”

Enjoyment

You might actually get a thrill out of running around and being on-call all the time; you might like traveling every week; or maybe you just want to relax.

So it is relative.

But we can say a few things with certainty: for example, banking has a lot more grunt work and repetitive tasks than other fields. So you’re probably not going to “like” what you do on a daily basis compared to other options.

Social Aspect

This one seems like an afterthought: who cares how many friends you have at work, right? It’s all about the dollars!

Well, not quite. Certain fields are lonelier than others – and one untold benefit of banking is that you’ll make a lot of close friends because you spend so much time at the office.

But in most other fields you’re either alone most of the time, or you don’t have close peers.

And what good is money if you have no friends?

Risk

“You might get rich if you start your own company, but it could also fail, you’ll go bankrupt and your life will be over. On the other hand, if you go into finance you will easily become a deca-millionaire with almost no risk of losing money or getting laid off.”

If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past 2 years, you know that the second statement here is false.

But you may not realize that the first statement is also just as wrong. The real risk of starting your own company is not going bankrupt – it’s something else that nobody ever tells you about (yes, you have to keep reading to see what it is).

Ok, Now Let’s Get Specific

“Ok,” you say, “but what about all the fields I’m interested in? Why are you saying I’m wrong about everything?”

Investment Banking

Yes, this one is well-worn ground and we’ve talked about everything from stuff investment bankers like to pay to stuff investment bankers don’t like.

But there’s more.

Besides the pay being extremely variable, you should note that most bankers save nothing in their first few years.

$60K-$70K base salary is barely enough to get by in New York, and your bonus just pays off credit card debt. Even at the VP-level and up, plenty of guys make $500K, then spend it all and have no savings.

Think you can avoid that and still save a lot? Peer pressure is tough to resist.

If you really want to “get rich,” you have to stay in the game until you’re at the MD-level, and then be a seasoned MD with regular business coming in.

And that doesn’t happen in 5-10 years.

Prestige? Well, your parents can brag about it to other prestige-obsessed parents but otherwise it has no effect on your life.

Lifestyle: if you have clients and live transactions, you’re always on call – no matter what level you’re at. MDs spend a lot of time answering email and checking their Blackberries “on vacation.”

But despite other drawbacks, banking is good for forming real relationships with people – you spend so much time at work, it would be hard not to. And that keeps you (relatively) sane.

Everyone has heard about “risk” in terms of layoffs and hiring freezes, but actually getting laid off at the entry-level doesn’t matter much: when you’re young you have plenty of options.

But when you reach the mid-levels it gets very, very difficult to “jump back in” if you get cut – which is a big problem when you have 2 mortgages, 3 BMWs, and 2 kids.

Sales & Trading

“Ok,” you say, “so banking is not that great – I know, I’ll do Sales & Trading instead and make as much or more money but also have a life!”

On the surface the lifestyle is better because you work roughly market hours – it can go beyond that, but you’re not going to be pulling all-nighters.

And hey, you can tell people you work at a bank, so it must be prestigious right?

Plus, the social aspect is quite similar to banking: you make a lot of friends because of the environment you’re in. Sure, you might get hazed but that’s just a part of any fraternity trading desk.

And many traders like their work more since there are no pitch books and there’s much less grunt work and coffee-fetching (unless you’re an intern).

So what’s the catch?

Risk and exit opportunities. Most entry-level traders at large investment banks get paid roughly the same, and it’s more dependent on group performance than individual performance.

But as you move up the ladder that changes – more so than in banking, where even a crappy VP might get paid well just because his MD did well.

So yes, if you’re a rock-star trader and can make millions effortlessly year after year, you’re set – but if you have a bad year, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And no matter what area of trading you’re in, you don’t have as many exit opportunities as bankers: as one reader pointed out, this doesn’t make much sense – but that’s the way it is.

You either stay in trading, trade at a hedge fund or prop trading firm, or you get out of finance entirely.

If you’re an intern or you’re relatively new you can move elsewhere but you don’t have the flexibility that banking analysts do.

Private Equity

Ah yes, the Promised Land: private equity. Better pay, even more prestige, and much better hours to boot – right?

Well, not exactly.

Let’s start with prestige: whereas 99% of people have heard of Goldman Sachs, the average person doesn’t even know what “private equity” means. KKR or Blackstone may sound prestigious to you, but anyone outside finance is unlikely to know them.

Pay: despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not dramatically different for most people moving into PE. Yes, if you come in from a banking background you’ll get a higher base salary and possibly some sort of guaranteed bonus, but you’re not going to instantly start making $1 million at age 25.

Yes, Partners at the largest PE firms make 10x more (or more) than the top bankers do.

But very few people make it to the top, the industry is much smaller, and if you’re responsible for one bad investment you could be done.

The risk of getting laid off as a junior guy or girl in PE is lower than in banking – but advancing is just as difficult, if not more difficult.

There is less grunt work than in banking, but just a quick reality check: if you don’t find valuing companies, building models, and doing due diligence interesting, you’re going to hate PE too.

The social aspect always gets overlooked – once you move to the buy-side, you lose that large group of friends you used to hang out with, and your co-workers will be much older.

Yes, lifestyle is generally “better” but that’s not true if you go to a large fund – it’s banking hours all over again. And when you get busy with a deal, you’re going to work. A lot.

Hedge Funds

Much of the above applies to hedge funds as well. The average pay may be higher, but there is so little reliable data on what people at hedge funds actually make that I’m reluctant to say this.

And once again, the lifestyle is not much different from banking at the largest and most well-known funds: You work. A lot.

The risk is even greater with hedge funds, for one simple reason: they have a habit of collapsing.

I’ve been compiling lists of regional banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds, and as I was going through the hedge fund list I kept coming across “As of last year, such-and-such fund has ceased operations” in the “business description” fields.

This isn’t meant to scare you away from hedge funds: it just means that they are more risky than you think, pay is more variable than in banking and private equity (more similar to Sales & Trading), and the lifestyle may not be as good as you think.

Management Consulting

I had already given consultants a good beat-down last year, but hey, let’s give it a go once again.

First, the pay is less than any of the other fields mentioned above – unless you’re at a small prop shop that pays $0 base salary.

It’s hard to say whether McKinsey or Goldman Sachs is more “prestigious” – but the average person is more aware of “consultants” than they are of “private equity guys.”

And then there’s the travel aspect: this seems fun at first, but you quickly get tired of flying to the Yukon Territory every week to “advise” on a new oil drilling project.

Most travel is not that bad – but if you don’t want to be away from home every week, you’re going to hate the consulting lifestyle.

One of the big lures of consulting compared to banking is that there’s less “grunt work” and what you do is more “intellectually stimulating.”

But is that true? There’s certainly more “variety” than in banking but I know plenty of consultants who find it very repetitive and think that most of the “research” you do is just fluff.

Still, on average there’s probably more “fun” in consulting.

Another big lure: exit opportunities. One consultant once told me, “Management consulting is the only industry that gives you unlimited options.”

But ask any consultant who’s interviewing for PE or finance-related jobs, and they’ll tell you a different story: yes, it’s possible to get in coming from a consulting background but it’s significantly more difficult than if you were a banker. It’s hard to “prove” you know how to model an LBO if you’ve never done one before.

It’s good preparation for business school or for “management” jobs at companies, but if you’re coming from a consulting background you’re at a disadvantage next to bankers for finance jobs.

Large Company

I don’t get many emails or comments about this one, probably because no one wants to do it or because you already know the trade-offs.

But I do get a lot of emails saying, “I want to do corporate development after banking to get a better lifestyle. Can you tell me about it?”

My take on it is simple: it’s similar to private equity, but with reduced hours, pay, and upside.

Your chances of getting laid off are very, very low unless you’re at a new startup that happens to fold – but your chances of moving to the top, especially at a huge conglomerate, are slim.

The lifestyle is definitely better than the other options presented here: not much travel most of the time, and the hours are fairly standard except for when you’re working on a live deal.

The other trade-offs vary by what company you’re at and how your group runs – sometimes you might be the only person who isn’t married, and sometimes there’s a bigger group of people your age.

If you go into this after banking – or anything else on this list – you’ll find it very slow since you’re used to constantly running around and being on-call 24/7.

Also, there’s no clear “exit opportunity path” as there is with some of the other options here. Most likely, you’ll end up going to business school or moving to a different company.

Entrepreneurship

I have a theory that everyone who goes into banking secretly wants to start their own company instead. I get a lot of comments and emails that start out like this:

“Hi, I want to stay in banking for 2 years and then use all my money to start a company afterward. Do you think this is a good idea, and if so which group do you think I should be in?”

No, that’s a stupid idea because: 1) You will barely save any money over 2 years. 2) Banking is terrible preparation for entrepreneurship.

This one is almost impossible to write about because it depends on what kind of company you start – offline, online, products, services – and whether you aspire to be the next Google or you’d rather just start a bar with your friends.

But there are 2 important points that no one else ever brings up:

  1. The real risk is not going bankrupt or ruining your life, but rather wasting time going nowhere.
  2. This is the loneliest of the options here, because you don’t have peers – you’re either flying solo, or you have employees.

Yes, you could completely fail, but your life isn’t over – this happens all the time in Silicon Valley and everyone bounces back. More often than not, you might spend months or years on something and not get much traction – so you don’t get rich, but you also don’t lose everything.

On the social aspect: even if you end up with employees, you can’t really “hang out” with them. Especially if you started everything alone or with 1 other person, it’s quite lonely.

Pay, enjoyment, and lifestyle vary so much by what you do that it’s impossible to generalize: you could work 100 hours a week and hate your life, or you could treat your business as a simple part-time job.

If you’re wondering why everything I do is online, it’s for exactly those reasons: offline requires far more work, doesn’t give you as much leverage, and restricts your lifestyle a lot more.

Cliff’s Notes

Ok, that was really long. And maybe you didn’t read everything.

So here are the major points:

  1. Wanting to stay in finance for “just a few years” to “get rich” or “have enough experience to do something else” is a poor strategy. You’re not going to be rich after that short a time – and if you want to do something else, be like Nike and just do it.
  2. Most finance-related jobs entail a lot more risk than anyone ever talks about. And the lifestyle never matches what people with “normal jobs” get, no matter how high up you are.
  3. If you want to reach the top of anything listed here, it requires work, sacrifice, and risk. This doesn’t happen in “a few years” – it happens by spending 10-20 years or more excelling. There’s no magic bullet.
  4. The social aspect of all these options is huge and it’s something that almost everyone ignores. Hopefully you’re thinking about it now.
  5. Be aware of limits on exit opportunities. Hardly anyone tells you, for example, that once you’re at a specialized hedge fund it’s tough to move somewhere that uses completely different strategies.

So, What Should You Do?

Hey, I can’t give you all the answers.

I’m just like Fox News: I report, you decide.

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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310 Comments to “No, You Can’t Have It All: Why Finance Does Not Guarantee You $10 Million and Your Own Beach in Thailand”

Comments

  1. Siddharth Nath says

    Hi,

    I’m a law student in India, and have been offered an internship at CIB Centre, Deutsche Bank in Mumbai with a view to recruitment. Since I had never really considered ibanking before, I have a few basic questions. There may not be too many answers out there but a newbie still needs to ask.

    How good are these jobs considered within finance circles? Considering that it’s at DB, but at the CIB Centre so I will be working offshore for my team. Pros/Cons?

    The role is as an analyst. What sort of work, pay, travelling etc would this entail? (I know there are voluminous articles on the same, but I was wondering if anybody knew anything India specific, since I’m guessing it will be quite different.

    Lastly, How would this job be only to gain experience and in 2 3 years, move on to something possibly working in the Indian market? (I would rather live in India, though am open to moving for a couple of years)

    Also, if any Indians reading this, would you happen to know the scope of ibanking in Delhi if I want to move there eventually?

    Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  2. Josh says

    Hey Guys,

    Really love the stuff written here, consumed about 15-20 articles in last few days before interview tomorrow.

    My question is, if one were to aspire to be an Entrepreneur, what WOULD you suggest??
    Feel free to link me to relevant article etc…
    All love from UK

  3. Taylor says

    I want to be a low key franchise entrepreneur. By that I mean, buy a few little Caesars or something else and run them with managers. So I need to learn how to read financial statements and understand them inside and out. I have narrowed down some great career paths that would help me do that or at least give me some good finance fundamentals. Consulting, Commercial/Corporate banking, and Corporate Finance. Which one do you think that I should go for?

  4. Gekko93 says

    Hey Brian, I was just wondering, with a computer science degree from Stanford, why did you choose to work in finance and investment banking instead of Silicon Valley? It seems like right now the tech sector is hot with great pay, lavish perks, and really nice hours. I am also a computer science major who has an S&T internship coming up with a bulge bracket in NYC. But my friends in California’s tech scene are getting way better compensation. First year S&T analyst is 70k but Google/Palantir are paying 80k+ with free meals and housing. Personally, would you recommend someone like myself, with strong quant and coding skills, to continue pursuing a career in finance or to switch to tech?

    • says

      See: http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/how-i-started-this-site-part-1-2007-2008/

      Keep in mind you also get a significant bonus at banks, which takes total cash compensation above those offered by tech companies.

      It really depends on what you want to do in the future. Working as an engineer = lower stress, still good pay, but a much lower pay ceiling than finance unless you get lucky and join the next Facebook. Finance is higher-stress, sometimes lower per-hour-pay at first, but offers a higher ceiling especially on the buy-side.

      Plus, you have to factor in whether or not you actually like trading vs. coding more.

  5. Dave says

    Hi Brian,

    I found this article extremely helpful. I am 25 years old and currently working as a consultant (not management consulting), and applied to different financial engineering schools for a second master’s degree. However, I quickly realized that financial engineering is tailored to risk management (middleman), and the program will cost at least 100k out of my pocket. I do not have any internship or experience in finance, even though I did study finance on my own.

    Granted I get admission from a top program, would you recommend taking this route? This seems like a very risky move after considering opportunity cost. In the best case scenario, I will be able to pay debt two years after graduation and hopefully make +150k to compensate opportunity cost. How likely do you think this will be? I am not dreaming of making half a million in five years or anything. I just don’t want to become a burden to my parents. I would sincerely appreciate your response.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Unless you get into a target school like Haas it may not necessarily be useful. Yes it is quite risky especially if you’re not interested in the subject. However, if you are, you may be able to open some doors. You may also want to consider an MBA at a target to increase your chances if you’re not sure what you want to do and want to increase your options

  6. Mlevine says

    Brian:

    I’m curious as to why you repeatedly mention that a first year analyst (or second year, etc.) won’t be able to save much of their ~$100k salary+bonus. Is it so impossible given the peer pressure, or are there people who are able to do it. Speaking relatively to friends of mine as first years at big4 making $60k total in NYC, they seem to be doing okay.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Some people can do it, most may not given peer pressure and influence from banking culture. It can be challenging to save in NYC, especially if you like to eat out, go out, shop.

      • Key says

        So in other words, a large portion of this article is dedicated mainly to people without self discipline.

        Whilst I agree you don’t want to try attracting woman with your job title, you can’t deny that it doesn’t add to your total package, increasing your SMV (sexual market value). In other words, you’ll be able to pull more tail.

        I think everything else you wrote is spot on though.

  7. Jimmy says

    Hi Brian,

    Would corp development at a tech company like facebook, google, microsoft or apple be good preparation for developing your own tech start-up? Seeing that a lot of tech start-ups are acquired by these companies and I think being able to work in corp development would give a person a more in depth knowledge of the industry? Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, I think so. Even if you don’t work in corp development, working at these companies HQ can also offer you insights, network and experience which help you with your startup.

      • Jimmy says

        Hi Nicole,

        Thanks a lot for the advice! I am really in a dilemma right now, I am not sure what I want to pursue after I am done with school. I am really fascinated with technology and dream one day after I gain some work experience of doing a startup or working in venture capital. However at the same time I feel like I do not know enough about the finance/investment banking industry and tech industry to really know what I want to do.

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Jimmy, the best way to go about this is to gain experience in tech and finance. Perhaps you can start networking with people via LinkedIn or cold calling? Taking an internship maybe the first step. What about attending tech conferences? This may increase your knowledge and broaden your network too. http://techcrunch.com/events/

  8. Chen says

    This is a wonderful article. I am a college senior, Math and Eco double majors. I was planning to go to wall street, but after reading some articles about people’s life there, I realize that is not what I want. So now i am rethinking about my career direction.

    I enjoy courses like Probability,Statistics, Accounting,Economics and Finance. I also like teaching. I want a career that have good life-work balance. I am considering doing data analysis/statistics, but I am a little worried because i don’t write very well due to the fact that English is my 2nd language. Besides this option, do you have any suggestions about careers that fit me? Thank you very much!

  9. Banker says

    Hi Nicole – I was wondering how hard is it to come to Banking after 3 or 4 years of entrepreneurship? Lets say one completes his/her 2 years of analyst program at a BB or elite boutique and then goes into entrepreneurship but wants to come back into banking/PE after few years. Do you think it is doable?

    • says

      It’s possible, but the obvious question will be: “So your business failed, and now you’ve come back to banking/PE as your Plan B?”

      So you need to have a credible story for getting around that because it’s an uncommon transition. Prior experience will help a lot but it’s still tough to explain.

  10. Jonathan says

    Hi Brian, thank you for the tremendous knowledge and insights you provide.

    I’m planning a move to NYC in a few months and working on finding a decent fit career-wise, but my situation is complicated (I know, aren’t they all).

    I have a B.S. in Bus. Admin – Corporate Finance & Management Entrepreneurship from 2006. I just turned 30 yesterday and have run my own companies since graduating college. Now after 8 years of being an entrepreneur, I need to start over and get a job to pay the bills.

    I got chills when I read, “The real risk [of being an entrepreneur] is not going bankrupt or ruining your life, but rather wasting time going nowhere.” Even though I feel like I have an MBA in real life entrepreneurship, I’m starting over writing resumes and wondering how to equate my experience to something of real value to a company.

    I’m an INTP all the way – Introverted Dominant Thinker and Ideation person with dozens of business ideas and I love analyzing them to death, building spreadsheets, and putting the people together to help make it happen. I’m definitely not a customer-focused person, as I’m rather impatient and cannot stand small talk. I have no interest in notoriety and don’t need a lot of social interaction.

    Would you be so kind as to help a fiercely independent, deeply analytical, idea focused entrepreneur find some kind of new direction in the finance world?

    If I want to spend my time valuing companies and building valuable skillsets, while still having some time to work on my side ventures, is PE the best option or should I try to get in with VC (great interview posts- read both parts) or something else?

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes I think both PEs and VCs are better areas to be in in finance if you’re interested in entrepreneurship.

  11. Sakith says

    Hwy Brian ,I am an electrical engineering student and was wondering what a good route would be to get into investment management. My current route I was thinking was EE->Masters?->MBA->CFA . Any advise on how I should make the switch from engineering to finance?

  12. Joseph says

    Hi

    If you want to work in some area of finance with ample opportunities to move “up the ladder” into top level positions, must you live in New York City? I understand lower level positions — such as anyalsts, etc. — are common in many other states such as California, but can you live in California and have that same reach for the stars “ladder” potential that exists in NYC? Are there many opportunities for top positions like VP and MD in California with comparable pay? I understand these positions are extremely hard to reach no matter where you live, but it would be great knowing that they are there in the first place, and I want to live in California.
    Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you can and yes there are. However California is more tech focused so if you want to do tech IB being in California maybe more useful to you. There are plenty opportunities in California so if you want to live there, I’d go for it

  13. Dev says

    Hi Brian,
    Thank you for that great article. Its very useful for people like me who have very little experience working in corporate.
    I have done B.A. in Political Science from India and a Masters in Business Management from the UK. Can you tell me what opportunities are available to me in finance as well as business in America. Thanks in advance.

  14. RV says

    Great article. I am trying to break into finance from the healthcare sector. Am in my mid 30’s and considering an MBA to make up for a lack of background in finance. What are my options

      • RV says

        Would EMBA be an option if I am looking to make a complete career switch out of healthcare. Not really interested in healthcare consulting etc. I was thinking about a program from a top MBA school, but what are my chances of landing a job in finance graduating at 40 with nothing other than healthcare to fill my resume (I’d have the MBA of course). Just trying to gauge ROI etc since I make ~ 90K right now.

        • M&I - Nicole says

          I’d say 50/50. Otherwise you can network with funds/banks in healthcare space and try to leverage your experience there.

  15. Steve says

    You mentioned management consulting, but what about IT consulting? Could you break down the trade-offs? Thanks!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I am not 100% sure re. IT consulting, since our site is focused on finance roles, so I’d leave this to readers.

  16. TurningIntoAHippie says

    Thanks Brian, great article and it came at the perfect time as I have been thinking a lot about this recently. I’m currently working in growth equity, and applying to top MBAs, wondering what it is I actually want to do. Your points about prestige really struck a chord with me … it’s such nonsense. Out of all those options, I think entrepreneurship provides people with the most fulfillment overall and even if it’s a flop, at least you worked for yourself and probably enjoyed every moment because it was your project. I like this quote, and try to think about it when deciding what career path to take:

    “You only get one shot at life so make it count. Make it last. Make it worth every heartbreak, every smile, every tear, every memory.
    This is your life, your destiny, your fate.. this is your
    only chance, your one chance to make a difference in the universe, when you are gone, your life is over.. thats it, there’s no
    more re-runs. this is the main show and youre the star.”

    At the end of the day, I’d rather make a real impact than live in some false sense of prestige, “big money” and 100-hour work weeks just to make money for other people while I fade in the background, grow old and die without having made a difference in anyone’s life.

  17. Julien Aponte says

    Good morning Nicole,
    I have a difficult decision to make within the next year and was hoping you could offer your intellectual insight. I currently work at a wealth management firm (have been working there since I was 18 now 21) and summer is looming around the corner. I have struggled with deciding whether independent wealth management or investment banking is the path to forgo. My work-life balance is great right now but I will admit that sometimes work gets very stale and the office environment is not always exciting. Wealth management would require me to attain clients and at a young age it would be extremely difficult. In addition, most of my pay would be based on commision, so paychecks would be quite inconsistent in the first 5 years. With investment banking I feel the environment would be more exhilarating and fun and challenging, although work-life balance would severely lack. Pay would also be much better at investment banking up front and be more secure than wealth management. However, my boss is the sole owner of his company and looking for someone to succeed his business in the next 15 years when he retires. So my question to you would be how do I possibly decide between the two? And which one do you prefer?

    Brief Credentials
    University of South Florida Alumni
    Degree in Finance
    3 years Financial experience and Sales experience
    GPA 3.9

    Reply

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Julien, I’ve already responded to your comment. Please post your comment only once on our website to avoid duplicate comments.

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Here: I don’t think you need to make any decisions here, unless you have an offer at an IB. What I’d do is continue working at your current firm and network with bankers at IB. If an interesting opportunity comes up in IB, you can take it. 15 years is a long time; I wouldn’t count on your boss retiring and taking over his company, unless you really love what he does and your current firm. Even then, I think its good to gain some IB experience if you have a chance.

  18. Robert says

    Hi hello,

    Thank you for your insight. I am a graduate management consultant that has recently started in a boutique firm (17 locations worldwide and 300 consultants). I have previously interned at a fortune 500 company as an internal strategy consultant and the experience was so exhilarating that I decided to take a consulting job over banking. However, I have found my job to be quite different to what I expected. We hardly travel, my manager does not like visiting clients so therefore 80% of our time is spent on Google. The office atmosphere is terrible and there are lots of face time even when we have completed all out work. I was just wondering if this could happen to any consulting firm and I just had bad luck with my case manager. Also, would it be difficult for me to find a new job since I have no other experience and have only worked here for 5 month (p.s. I have not had my induction yet and my training was simple 2 powerpoints on formatting conventions and Microsoft office tools)

    Thank you for your help

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d try to network as much as you can and transition in the next few months if possible. Yes it can be challenging but it is doable.

  19. Bryan says

    Hi,

    First of all, thank you for this insightful article crafted without the veil of political correctness. It is precisely the raw truth that I require and need, and it is hard to come by.

    Here’s some context for you before I ask my question:

    I am a young undergraduate (BBM majoring in Finance and Operations Management) looking for a career path that provides practical remuneration and some degree of enjoyment. I am certainly not looking for the million dollar job but one cannot hope to survive on a career purely based on passion. I have a strong interest in video games and I did an internship with a video game MNC as a business analyst dealing with big data. While I enjoyed my time there and made a several friends despite my extremely busy schedule attributed to studying at the same time, I felt that the career progression and job security in this company and industry as a whole isn’t practical enough for me to sustain a family in the future. In all honesty, the only thing keeping me from joining this company and industry is the pay and lack of true meritocratic progression. However, I also discovered that I liked an intellectually stimulating job that are project based as opposed to business-as-usual.

    From there, I decided to look for lucrative jobs and hope that it grows on me on the basis that I like intellectually stimulating jobs. With the assumption that jobs in the finance industry were well-paid because they were difficult jobs for intelligent people, I looked for my 2nd internship in that area. Today, I am in a large well-known bank working as a corporate banking intern. While the people I work with are very nice and willing to teach, I feel that the job in finance isn’t really for me. I don’t have any passion in finance per se, but rather an interest in the challenges that finance brings (or so I thought), which I frankly don’t find in what I do.

    So here comes the question:

    I am thinking of doing a 3rd internship and moving into consulting before finally exiting into a large video game company to circumvent the entire issue of pay grade in starting from a video game company after graduation. This way, I get the sufficient pay grade I so desire, while also working a job that I at least have a passion for in the subject matter. What are your thoughts on this strategy and what advise do you have for a person like me?

    • says

      I think it sounds reasonable, but I’m not sure why you’d want to do consulting full-time for several years without having had any experience in it yet. If you do the internship and like it, sure, go ahead – but if you are lukewarm on the idea, I would skip full-time consulting roles and just go straight to the gaming company.

      • Bryan says

        Hi Brian,

        Thank you for the swift response.

        As you’ve rightly mentioned in your article, there are trade-offs in the career decisions we make. Something (time and sleep) has to go if you want all that money that investment banking gives you. I believe this phenomenon applies to everything in life as well, and bearing that in mind, it is highly unlikely (impossible) that I can find a career that gives me what I like to do, doesn’t demand my entire life, and pays me decently (You cannot have everything). I spoke to a trader once in my bank and he told me something that I felt resonated with me very deeply.

        “If you want to work for a company, you will do everything you can to get in there. It all depends on how badly you want to go in. The front door, side door, back door, window, chimney, it doesn’t matter how you get into the building. You will claw your way in to where you want to be.”

        Having said that, I came up with a workaround to help me get there by sacrificing my earlier years in life and putting in the hours so I can end up in that position where I am given a good enough pay and a job I enjoy. In essence, I aim to improve my pay grade using consulting, then subsequently capitalize on the exit opportunities to break into that industry.

        You brought up how you are unsure why I am heading into consulting. There are 2 reasons, one being the above mentioned attributes of a career in consulting (Money and Exit Opportunities) that will eventually allow me to get to where I want. The 2nd premised on how I believe, on a balance of probability, consulting is an intellectually challenging job where you are brought in to fix problems no one else could. Who knows, I might actually stay in there at the end of the day. I had a taste of what it is like to work in consulting by taking part in a case challenge, but I am not sure how reflective that is of such an experience. I feel that all the networking, research and asking around did little to tell me more about the job and nothing compares to going into it first hand. I hope this does not turn into another case of me working as a corporate banker once again.

        I hope this clears up your doubts. I’ll be happy to hear from you again.

  20. sajonny says

    Hello Brian
    I have been reading couple of your articles and others in the website and found them quite helpful. I am a recent graduate with finance major but without any internship. The investment banks always intrigued me but i guess most of what I perceived was superficial info. This article does give a more comprehensive realistic insight of the practicality of the lifestyle and expectations at investment banks.

    Yet, I still want to pursue my career in this field to start of as an analyst. I’m already looking at the different resources provided from this website but can you suggest any strategies that I can undertake that can enhance my marketability.

    Also you mentioned the job is likely to take a toll on the social lifestyle outside of work and i do understand that considering the long hours that this job entails. My concern was how many hours do we have to work on the work days? And is this like this every day or just certain times of the year or during live deals? Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d make sure you gain relevant work experience to enhance your marketability. And depending on the market you are aiming at, additional language skills maybe useful. People usually work 14+ work days as analyst in IBD at an investment bank, especially if it is a BB. Some days maybe slower than others, but all nighters are not uncommon. Most likely during deals, but sometimes you may get staffed on a ton of different deals, especially if the season is busy and the bank is a famous one.

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