by Brian DeChesare Comments (57)

How to Break into the Finance Industry as an Older Candidate: 6 Paths to Beating the Odds

Too Old for Finance?Are you too old?

No question generates more insecurity.

And it’s especially bad when it comes to the job market and industries that prefer “younger candidates.”

A long time ago, I wrote an article on Age and Investment Banking and attempted to answer a simple question: How old is too old to break in?

But the answer wasn’t so simple: in the years afterward, hundreds of readers left comments and questions, mostly asking, “So, am I too old?” and “If I am too old, what should I do?”

Consider this article a follow-up feature that answers that second question of what to do if you’re too old to pursue traditional finance roles.

Say What? People Still Want to Make This Move?

I thought interest in this topic would disappear in the aftermath of the financial crisis and the tech/VC boom after that.

What’s the point of fighting an uphill battle to break in when both compensation and prestige are down?

But that hasn’t happened – we’re still getting a ton of questions on this topic.

The bad news is that it’s getting tougher to break in if you’re an older candidate.

There are a few reasons why:

  1. Business schools are encouraging younger and younger candidates to apply each year; programs like Harvard 2+2 also add to this trend. As a result, incoming post-MBA Associates have been getting younger.
  1. Bankers are more likely to tell you, “Go to business school” these days if you have a non-finance-looking background. One coaching client received this advice from bankers even though he completed a part-time IB internship after two years of “less relevant experience.”
  1. Finance firms are looking for candidates with more of a long-term, demonstrated interest in the field. So if you’ve been in audit at a Big 4 firm for 10 years, you better have an incredible story that explains your sudden interest in hedge funds if you want to make a move.

With that said, it’s not impossible to get in if you have 10+ years of work experience, or you’re in your early 30s or beyond.

But you have to be realistic about your options at that stage – here’s the process I recommend:

Step 1: Ask Yourself WHY You Want to Do This

Just like most university students cannot articulate why they want to get into investment banking or private equity, many career changers also struggle with this question.

But you have to ask and answer it honestly, or you could waste a lot of time barking up the wrong tree.

Most reasons I’ve heard from older candidates are horrible:

  • “I want to make more money.”
  • “I want a more exciting, faster-paced job.”
  • “I want to meet high-powered executives and power brokers.”
  • “Didn’t you hear me? I need more money! Really! Like, now!”

For each of these reasons, there is a better strategy that will get you better results:

  • The Desire for More Money – Start a side business, do freelance consulting, do some day trading on the side, or do something that doesn’t entail a 180-degree career change.
  • The Desire for Excitement and a Faster-Paced Job – Um, go skydiving? Bungee jumping? Off-road racing? Volunteer at an ER so you’re surrounded by emergencies?
  • The Desire to Meet Executive and Power Brokers – Join a non-profit or volunteer group with well-known executives on the Board, join a local professional group in your industry, or start going to conferences.

There is only one good reason to enter the finance industry as an older candidate: because you are passionate about deals (or, for buy-side and public markets roles, investing), and you have to be an investment banker to work on deals full-time.

“Passionate about deals” means that you must treat deals like football fans treat football.

If you are not constantly reading about deals, talking about them, reading the filings yourself, and running the numbers for fun, you won’t have much of a chance.

Likewise, you won’t have much of a chance at buy-side or public markets roles unless you’re constantly thinking about investments and trading stocks on your own.

Step 2: Consider Roles Outside of Traditional Investment Banking

Investment banks are extremely reluctant to hire anyone significantly older and more experienced for Analyst or Associate roles.

This fact means that it is very difficult to win Analyst roles past, say, the age of 25 (or ~3 years of full-time work experience), and that it’s also difficult to win Associate roles past the age of 30 (or ~5-7 years of full-time work experience).

Even if you do win an offer, it is tough to follow the traditional IB to PE path because PE firms want young candidates or very senior ones, but not people in the middle.

So I would suggest one of the following six alternatives instead:

1) Aim for Operational Executive Roles at Private Equity Firms or Go for Operationally Focused PE Firms

Plenty of PE firms hire operating executives to help manage and “improve” portfolio companies’ operations, but you can make this type of move only if a few conditions are true:

  • You’re applying to larger funds – small places tend not to hire as many operational experts unless they are strictly focused on turnarounds or operations.
  • You rose to a senior position in your industry – a Director or VP of a division at a mid-sized company, at least, with 7-10 years of experience. And your chances would improve further if you were a C-level executive.
  • You’ve taken the time to learn deals and finance – there’s no way you’ll fit in and thrive without this knowledge.

This strategy works well if you’re not as interested in working on deals directly, but you want to be in a deal-making environment.

2) Move in Through the “Side Door” of Finance / Operating Roles

Another option is to move into the industry “through the side door” by pursuing operational and financial roles at normal companies, and then leveraging that experience to become an executive at an investment firm.

This plan can work well, but there are also some conditions here:

  • You’re usually limited to smaller funds if you follow this path because larger investment funds would hire someone higher-profile or someone in-house for a CFO/COO-type role.
  • You also need to be fairly senior for this move to work – a new PE fund is not going to hire a 2-year FP&A Analyst to be their CFO.
  • You need to get deal-related experience in your operational/financial roles – for example, experience negotiating joint-venture agreements or partnerships.

This path tends to work best if you’re a “late decider” and became interested in deals only after you began working on them directly.

3) Invest Your Own Account, Take the CFA, and Move into Asset Management Roles

While it can be tough to win hedge-fund roles without a pedigree from a top school and experience at a large bank, the same is not necessarily true of asset management firms.

As Mike, one of our contributors, has pointed out before, asset management firms tend to hire from a broader set of schools than large banks do.

Sometimes this also translates into better chances for non-traditional hires and career changers.

One example is a story we published a few years ago from Tim Piechowski, who went from law school into asset management.

Yes, he did have previous finance experience, but he was still an “older candidate” at the time.

To use this strategy, you’ll have to:

  • Potentially go back to school to make the move – you don’t need a top 3 MBA program because of the wider recruitment base for AM firms, but it should still be a relatively good program (top 20?).

I don’t have any firsthand examples of individuals who have followed this path, but it is theoretically possible – though not the easiest option.

4) Move into Equity Research in a Group Where Industry Expertise is Critical

As one of our previous interviewees pointed out, equity research groups sometimes look for more senior hires with deep industry expertise.

This strategy works best in highly technical groups where you need to understand topics that require years of schooling – medicine, physics, or advanced hardware.

I’ve seen people move from academia to equity research in those groups, but I could not find great examples for less technical ER teams like consumer/retail or transportation.

Also, if you want to go this route, you’ll have to make the transition quickly after finishing medical school, your Ph.D. program, etc.

It gets much harder to convince a bank that you want to be in equity research if you graduated then spent the past 10 years working in a hospital.

If you’re a recent graduate, you can more plausibly go to them and say, “I realized that medicine is not the path for me, but I do want to apply my knowledge in other ways.”

5) Work at a Bank, But Not in a Client-Facing or Front-Office Role

“Blasphemy!” you say, “How can you possibly recommend non-front-office roles? Didn’t you explain how bad they were before?”

This option may not be “ideal,” but there are a few reasons to consider it:

  • It’s easier to get into large banks in operational and compliance roles, especially if you’re making a big career change.
  • You may be able to leverage the experience to move around internally in the future.
  • Operational experience at a normal company or starting your own company may translate better to these roles at banks.

You have a better shot if you’ve done supply-chain management, procurement, compliance, or something else that screams “operations.”

6) Join a PE or VC Firm’s Portfolio Company and Leverage That Experience to Move in

One of our previous interviewees, a 17-year senior executive in PE, recommended this one as the best alternative if you don’t get the right experience immediately out of undergraduate.

You could work in finance or operations there, expose yourself to major deals at the firm (e.g., when the PE firm is planning to take the company public), and then position yourself as an industry/operational expert who also has deal experience.

The downside is that this is more likely to work at smaller funds than at large ones, but the upside is that you have better access and an improved ability to network in this situation.

Step 3: And If You Want to Go the Traditional Investment Banking Path…

If you still want to get into investment banking even if it kills you, more power to you.

I have seen a few people get in at the VP level after working for 5-10 years, but several conditions were true in each case:

  • They went to middle-market or boutique banks.
  • They accepted significant pay cuts, and were brought in “below their level” (e.g., a 4th year VP starting out as a 1st year VP in banking).
  • They all found jobs in strong hiring markets – if banks are reducing their headcount instead of ramping up their hiring, well, good luck.

I don’t have much to say about the process because networking is networking is networking: use LinkedIn to reach out to bankers in relevant industry groups at smaller firms, present your story, and ask about open positions.

The interview process for senior candidates is a whole different story and not one we have the space to get into here, but I may cover it in future articles.

Success Stories, Please

So do any of these strategies work?

Is it possible to move into the finance industry, even after you’ve had 10+ years of work experience elsewhere?

Yes.

To illustrate this point, I’m describing below the stories of a few clients and readers (with personal details removed and changed) who have made the move:

Story #1: Director at Large Tech Company to Middle-Market Bank

This individual majored in engineering at a top 5 university and then went into product management at a technology company (hardware-focused).

She moved over to marketing after about 5-7 years on the job and then moved into business development from there.

She made it to the “Director” level and then completed a part-time / evening MBA while working in business development.

Then she moved into investment banking at a middle-market firm, joining a technology team there (and then ended up not liking it and quitting, but that’s another story).

A few notes on this one:

  • I don’t think it would have happened without the MBA – otherwise, you don’t sound credible when you explain how you suddenly want a change after working at the same company for 10 years.
  • She took a substantial pay cut – 50-60% – because the bank brought her in at a lower level (3rd or 4th year Associate) and agreed to raise her to the appropriate level based on performance.
  • I don’t think it would have worked with lesser-known schools or a non-target MBA program.

Story #2: Treasury and FP&A to Group COO

This story was a good example of moving in “through the side door.”

The candidate here was based in Europe and had almost 10 years of corporate finance experience working at a multinational firm there.

He moved from a Treasury role to FP&A, and then switched industries (from energy to transportation) and took a role where he negotiated JV agreements and led entries into new markets.

Since he had both operational and financial experience, he spun that into sounding relevant for a private equity firm that was raising a new fund and looking for a new COO, and won an offer there.

He was in an operations role at the firm, so this was not the traditional “IB Analyst to PE Associate” path.

However, since the firm was relatively small and was expanding rapidly at the time, he did get to participate in various acquisitions and exits.

  • I’m surprised this one worked without an MBA – maybe because it’s easier to get into PE from non-banking backgrounds in Europe (???).
  • It would not have worked as well if he had stayed in a Treasury role instead of moving into FP&A and advancing up the ranks there.
  • And the move to PE worked since the fund was new and expanding; it would have been much tougher at an existing mega-fund.

Story #3: From Entrepreneur to Operations/Compliance at a Bulge-Bracket Bank

A few years ago, we had a client who had worked in strategy roles at both “normal companies” and Big 4 / other professional services firms.

She then quit to acquire an underperforming business and turn it around (think: a small business providing localized services).

It worked remarkably well, but she wanted to move on after a few years of doing it and work at a large bank instead.

She spun the experience to sound very “financial” and then said she wanted to combine that finance and operational experience with the scale of large banks, which led to a role in operations/compliance.

No, this wasn’t a traditional investment banking, equity research, or investment analyst role, but it was more in-line with what she was looking for: a chance to apply operational knowledge at a greater scale.

  • The strategy experience at other large firms made this one a lot more feasible – otherwise, it’s quite tough to go from your own company to a large bank.
  • Spinning the entrepreneurial experience to make it sound “financial” (e.g., by writing mostly about forecasts, managing budgets, and optimizing profits) was also essential.

Story #4: From M.D. or Ph.D. to Equity Research

Look carefully at a set of biotech or pharmaceutical equity research reports, and you’ll likely see “M.D.” or “Ph.D.” after a few of the names.

I don’t have any stories from clients, but I found a few via my research, including:

  • Marko Kozul, M.D. – Completed med school, worked as a consultant and research director for medical groups, then got into healthcare equity research at a few firms before taking a strategy role at a pharmaceutical company.
  • Howard Liang, Ph.D. – Finished an MBA and a Ph.D., worked as a senior scientist at Abbott, and then worked in equity research at various firms before taking a CFO / Chief Strategy Role at a pharmaceutical company.

With some exceptions, such as the second person above, moving in early seems to be essential.

Other examples I found included people who worked in clinical research for a year or two, but then quickly moved into business strategy or consulting roles and then equity research.

Are You Too Old?

To answer this question, you need to clarify it first: “Are you too old… for what?”

You won’t win an entry-level investment banking analyst role at age 35 or 40, nor can you follow the traditional IB to PE path at that stage.

But there are still ways to get into the finance industry if you’re willing to think creatively, give up some seniority and pay, and accept a role that may not be exactly what you’re seeking.

And you’re never too old for that.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi Brian,
    Very interesting read.
    I hold a BSc and a MSc in Energy Engineering at a top European University. Did a 6-months internship before returning to uni for the Master. After graduating in 2013 I started to work as Energy analyst for the European Union (Brussels/Beijing -1.5 years) and after that I got my first finance-related job, a Market analyst position with a research/advisory firm focused on the oil markets (Geneva, less than 2 years). I loved working in this field because it merges my field of study (Energy) with my biggest passion (Finance). I am now aiming to work on a larger scale and break into Sales&Trading (commodities desk) at some IB in London. In September I returned to study and started a Master in Finance at a top European business school. I got few offers for internships in Sales&Trading at BB banks (through campus recruitment), and I will soon have an interview for an Associate role in a MM bank (through careers website). I will soon be finished with the Master (I will be almost 30 by then) and would like to start in a full-time role.
    So, I have a few doubts/questions: should I target an Internship and (hopefully) turns it into a FT analyst role and pursue my career goals from there, or should I start as an Associate at a smaller IB? If I start as an analyst level, this will translate in a pay-cut from my current level (swiss salary)? Do I have some possibility to start as an Associate in Sales&Trading for a BB or other bank and would networking help in this case?
    I know that my age and previous experience don’t help, and at the same time starting again as an analyst feels like a step backward in my professional growth.
    If you have some tips/ideas they would be much appreciated. Thank you very much in advance for your time!

    1. 1) It’s better to target an internship at a large bank and turn it into a FT role.

      2) Yes, you will probably take a pay cut if you start out at the Analyst level instead.

      3) You probably won’t start as an Associate unless you have an MBA degree.

      1. Thank you very much for your reply.
        Everything pretty clear. Just one thing, is an MBA necessary even for Sales&Trading?
        When I decided to go back to school a year ago I initially considered an MBA program, but then I was advised by a Director working in the Trading division (for a BB bank in Zurich) to do an advanced Master of Finance instead. This was because they have no MBAs in their division, and in my case studying finance would have been a better choice. He didn’t mention the level (Analyst/associate) at which I would have been able to start, just that an MBA would have not made any difference.
        After your reply I am wondering if I took a wrong choice back then, and if doing so limited my possibilities to get into IB. Thank you

        1. No, an MBA is not required for sales & trading. Something more technical is a better choice, so the Director was right. Yes, you did limit yourself for IB roles a bit since they normally only take experienced candidates if they are completing an MBA.

  2. Hello Brian,

    I am currently in off-shore medical school and i am not happy with pursuing medicine in general. I want to break into Finance (IB/PE/VC) because i know my true passion lies in it. I wanted to ask your advice on how would that be possible for me? I dont have a bachelors degree – the medical school i was accepted in only needed a diploma in science. I cant pursue MBA because (again), i dont have a Bachelors. I wasted a few years before i got on to the med school path. So I am currently 25 years old and want to break into Finance. What would you advice?

    1. Not sure about that one. Maybe look into fields like real estate or something sales-related where the lack of a formal degree doesn’t matter. It would be tough to get into finance without a BS (not sure I have seen an example of it before).

  3. Hello Brian

    Currently I am a relationship banker at chase bank with 5 years of experience. I recently started school at a decent university in the Chicagoland area. when I am done with my BA in business administration I will be 30 years old with 10 years of retail banking experience. I also have my series 6,63, and life and health. My question would be how hard is it to get a investment banking position with this background? And would it be hard to transfer within my company and go from the chase retail side to the JPMorgan side? Also since I am not going to a top university would that effect me negatively?

    Thanks.

    1. You’re not likely to get into IB with that background because you have too much work experience (and you are not going to a top university). You would have to get an MBA to have a realistic shot, or you would have to go for some other type of role such as the ones described above.

      1. Thank you for the feedback!

        I do have some additional questions. What if I transfer to a top school and received my BA with them? Would that help my situation enough to have a shot? And what if I had a masters from a top school as well? Would investment banks look past my work history even if I am 32 at the time?

        What would be your recommendation for me to go into investment banking?

        Thank you for your time and advice!

        1. None of that matters if you have 10-15 years of work experience. An MBA is your only shot at that point, and even then, it’s tough. My advice is to not worry so much about IB – if you are ambitious and hard-working enough to get in, you can earn a lot in plenty of other ways (real estate, your own business, sales, go to a tech company, etc.).

  4. Daniel Oluwole

    Hey,

    I wanted to say your videos are fantastic and you have helped me a lot in improving my knowledge and application in investment banking! I was even fortunate to gain a investment course through your CV template! I’m going to start university this October in a non-target school. I will be 22 when I start and will graduate around 25/26. I have had around 2 years of experience in consulting and finance roles.

    After reading http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/too-old-for-finance/
    Do you think it is too late to break into investment banking in an analyst role?

    Thanks once again,

    Daniel Oluwole

    1. Thanks, glad to hear it. You’re not too old for an IB analyst role as long as you go into it directly upon graduation.

  5. What qualifications do I need to take the series 63 exam?
    Will taking the exam and passing it give me a better shot at investment banking? His long is the 63 license active for if you remain unemployed?

  6. Hi Brian. I have about 7 years commercial banking experience-back office. Managed a branch in the process. I have also worked in an audit firm and in the budgeting unit of a manufacturing firm. I am a CPA and have 2 graduate degrees-one in Economics, the other in International Trade. (Both non-targets, the former in US and the other in the UK). I am 38. How do I break into the US Financial space?

  7. Tyrone Thorpe

    Guess that means with my struggle to get expeirence and my age, even with the degrees (B.S. Finance and MBA) I’m pretty much done. That’s hella crazy, as I can’t see myself doing anything not related to finance or supply chain (not counting Accounting because accounting is mind-numbingly boring).

    So what’s left for a man in my position? I love financial analysis and supply chain analysis.

    1. Maybe try to move into corporate development or join a startup where supply chain analysis is essential, move into the finance department, and advance up the ranks there.

  8. Dear Brian,
    Thank you for the insights and advices. I graduated with a high 2:2 in an economics related degree from Oxbridge few years ago. Have since worked as a management trainee in a financial regulator role. Turning 25 this year and am going for an IB analyst role in a BB. I had always considered S&T instead of IB until early 2016 when I realised valuation was my thing- I got very excited learning how tech companies are valued in the US and in China. I took action by immediately taking an intensive IB course last month and have since been thinking about it. I perform well in my current role but this is not what I want.

    Will you shed some light on the 2 questions that always bother me please? I speak fluent English and Mandarin and have good people skills.

    1. I applied to S&T roles (online apps) without networking 2 years ago and that did not work. Given the financial downturn and that IB roles are getting laid these days, will contacting alumni and networking still work? Shall I focus on networking through alum BB analysts or shooting for the alum MDs directly through linkedin to score an interview? What is worse is there is no opening positions on all the BB websites now.

    2. In my case where most alums are in BBs and many boutiques in HK would not hire analysts with no experience, is going for BBs easier than boutiques?

    Thank you very much in advance.

    1. 1) Yes, networking can still work, but as you said it is always tougher to get in during a downturn when banks are cutting jobs. I would go for MDs directly to get the fastest results. The thing is, people still quit randomly all the time even with a horrible economy, so you can’t necessarily assume that no groups/firms are hiring even if the positions are not openly advertised.

      2) Yes, most likely. I also think there’s limited deal activity at boutiques in HK because it is more capital markets-focused there.

      1. Thanks Brian. Linkedined an alumus few days ago never thought he would reply asking for my cv so he can check with his team! No guarantee I understand. Thanks for letting us know that developing a thick skin is the key.

        On a side note, if they have people quitting randomly they will need someone with prior experiences, which I don’t, so the new hire can start right way. Is it a good idea to tell them at this point that “Although I do not have the exact experience I have blah blah” or assume they will know by reading my cv? If I leave it till they ask about it that might happen when I cannot answer one of their technical questions. Don’t want to screw up!

        Thanks again.

        1. M&I - Nicole

          I wouldn’t bring it up unless they ask.

          1. Got it. Thanks Nicole!

  9. Hmm.. I thought at least in Asia(including Japan & HK), lot of associate-level hires were between 30~35 y.o. Am I wrong?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Not necessarily, probably around 26-30

  10. I’m a mid-thirties associate with one year ib and two years corporate finance experience, currently in a small NY office of a mid tier European bank. Will I be too ods for a buy side switch in a few years? I’ll have a cfa and plan on networking at NYSSA targeting small HF or LO AM shops focusing on my industry.

    1. No, I don’t think buy-side firms care as much about your specific age as they do about your level of work experience. I think anything up to 4-5 years of work experience is probably fine, but beyond that it might get more difficult, especially if you’re at the VP level or beyond in banking.

  11. Kevin Swistowicz

    Brian,

    I am 29 currently work for a natural gas marketing company in the front office as a natural gas scheduler. I have a masters in energy trading and finance from Tulane, i have been out of grad school for almost four years. I have always been and now am growing more interested in moving to a position doing energy investment banking. So you do not think it is possible for someone of my age to land an analyst role at an energy investment bank.

    1. I think it would be tough without an MBA if you’ve already been working for 4 years, but you might be able to win an offer at an energy-focused boutique bank if you’re interested in that path. A lot of those places focus on private placements for E&P companies, though I’m not sure how active they are in the current environment.

  12. Hi Brian, thank you so much for this post. Do you think sending a relatively long cover letter (say close to 1 page) would be useful to explain why someone is looking to make a big jump at a late age?

    Many thanks

    PS: My background: MS Finance & CFA, equity research internship, then 4 years real estate investing in France — trying to get into equity AM or HF in UK).

    PPS: short stock pitches in your cover letter if you don’t have a trading account?

    1. Potentially, yes, but you still need to do a fair amount of networking before sending a cover letter like that. If you send it someone you don’t already know, it may not work well. It would also work better at small firms where they actually read cover letters. I wouldn’t list an entire stock pitch in your cover letter, but you can mention specific ideas you’ve had and offer to explain them in-person or over the phone.

  13. Dear Brian,
    This is a fantastic post and it will be great if you could share with me your thoughts on my experience.
    I graduated from a top master program in China, majoring in Quantitative Finance. I have worked in a small Hong Kong firm for almost 1.5yrs, focusing on pre-IPO advisory and has completed 2 IPO deals (one for a construction company and the other for a securities company). My responsibilities include performing an overall assessment on our client’s business prospects, strategic plans, financial position, funding requirements, following up with investors and helping to facilitate the investor diligence process and selecting banks for underwriting syndicates and assisting with allocation of deal economics.
    As I am approaching 30, will I still have a chance to break into IBD/PE/HF as analyst or associate given my experience? If yes, which of the above will be the most effective way for me to do so?
    Thank you very much for your kind advice.

    1. Thanks! I think if you’ve had only 1.5 years of work experience, yes, you can still get into IB as an analyst (the others would be tougher at this stage). I’m not sure they would hire you as an associate. To move over, you should start networking with bankers in ECM and other capital markets groups at banks and maybe consider syndicate teams at banks as well. I think it will be easier to win an offer in one of those groups, and then to move over to something else like M&A or an industry group. And if you’re already in HK, it should be easier to meet bankers in capital markets teams there.

  14. I don’t understand about the part accepting a reduction in pay. IBD/Banking in general pays at a level obscenely superior to other industries – at least in my country a first year analyst is earning the same as a manager (7-10 years experience) in Big 4, and earning triple the amount of a first-year at a normal graduate role in other industries, and that’s excluding the obscene bonus they get. Even if one were to accept a reduction in “rank” when moving in from other industries, there should generally still be a pay rise regardless.

    1. To clarify, that point mostly applies to people leaving VP-level jobs at companies, or Director-level jobs at large companies.

      Yes, investment banks pay a lot more than Big 4 firms and “Directors” there aren’t anywhere close in compensation.

      However, it’s a different story when it comes to big companies outside of professional services. A VP there could make millions or tens of millions when stock options are factored in. See: http://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-executive-compensation-table-2013-4

      That’s admittedly an extreme example because of Facebook’s performance, but even at a more “normal” company, stock awards could be in the multiple hundreds of thousands per year, which is more than what Associates earn.

  15. Hi Brian if I do a masters a top target university in the UK and get a merit/distinction, will having a 2:2 in my undergraduate still hurt me?

    1. Banks greatly prefer at least a 2:1. A top Master’s program will help, but probably won’t completely offset that.

    2. Those top targets tend to ask for at least a 2:1 with universities like Oxbridge usually asking for a first.

      IMO (correct me if I’m wrong) getting into a finance masters programme at LSE or Oxbridge offsets a lot dramatically. At MBA level, that’s more London Business School.

      1. To add to this, bear in mind that getting into a target is no easy task. On top of academics, you need a good personal statement and more times than not a high GMAT score: at least a score in the 700s to guarantee that your application will be looked at more.

        Failing at that part time study at a target can help but bare in mind not all targets offer their finance programmes as a part time option.

        Just remember, your chances will improve with a target, but it won’t be a sure in.

        You get applicants who went to targets at undergraduate level with great A-levels who get rejected quite a lot.

        The credentials from a target you’ll get only help make you seem capable while networking.

  16. Morning Brian,

    Thanks for the awesome article, very well-written and informative. I currently work in the entertainment industry, broadcast media, as a Senior Financial Analyst FP&A role with a reputable company. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in economics, and have been thinking about making the switch from corporate FP&A to I Banking. The reason? I want to work on deals, mergers & acquisitions specifically, and my current profession doesn’t really offer that (it’s mostly cash flow forecasting, net working capital forecasting/analysis, etc).

    What is the best way to break into I banking/M&A WITHOUT doing a full-time MBA (can’t afford to rack up debt without having an income right now)?

    Other careers that interest me in finance:

    -PE
    -EQUITY RESEARCH
    -Internal Corporate M&A

    Cheers,
    Alec

    1. At this stage, you would have to do some hardcore networking and aim for boutique banks to have a good shot at IBD roles. Another approach might be to join a valuation firm or Big 4 firm in the TAS or other group, and then use that experience to move to a bank. But it is still tough without an MBA, even though FP&A is more relevant than a lot of other careers. You could potentially go for large banks as well, but your chances would be higher at smaller places unless you have great connections there.

      I would also narrow down your future career options a bit because it will be tough to recruit for all of those at once. Focus on either IB or PE or ER, but not everything at once. And if one doesn’t work out, try one of the other options.

  17. Hi Brian,

    I started an undergraduate degree at the age of 27 at a target university in 2014 majoring in finance and accounting. Previously, I have been working in the service industry, which is completely unrelated to anything finance let alone investment banking.

    However, since attending university, I have participated in many national finance competitions centered around M&A and equity research, and have placed if not won these competitions in my country. I also have the required GPA/WAM for IB and recently completed a corporate finance internship overseas.

    While I returned to study in order to break into IB, I am realistic and pragmatic about my situation. So here is my question. Given that I am over the age of 25 with very little finance related experience relative to people of a similar age, should I even consider investment banking as even a possibility? Alternatively, would you recommend me to focus on other roles such operations/compliance rather than the traditional IB role?

    Mindful that you probably get thousands but any thoughts, comments and/or would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance.

    1. I think you can still pursue IB roles as long as you position yourself as a current undergraduate student. This issue of age is more about how many years it has been since you left school rather than how many years of work experience you have. But you’ll need to come up with some really good explanation of what you did before university and maybe find a way to “minimize” it on your resume/CV so that you look like any other student who began university in 2014.

      1. Thanks for the question Lee.M because that is essentially me. I graduate in November (Australia) and will be 30 at the time. I am currently going through the process of IB applications. Brian, I will let you know how it goes for future reference. If you don’t here from me it probably hasn’t been successful haha. Not for the lack of trying and certainly not due to the excellent interview guide.

        1. Sure, good luck with your applications! A new version of the interview guide is coming this year…

  18. How would the same age issue apply to trading/pm type roles at banks/hedge funds/prop firms?

    Say someone is in their mid 30s, with very good reasons why they did not go into a finance role when they were younger?

    Would a brand-name MBA help them assuming they could even get accepted into one?

    1. Yes, a brand-name MBA would help if you can get accepted to such a program. I still think it would be tough to explain why you didn’t get into trading earlier on, but you would probably have a better shot doing so at prop trading firms or at small/startup hedge funds. Banks do some recruiting out of MBA programs for trading roles, but they generally want either brand new graduates or experienced traders.

      1. Regarding getting into trading earlier on, does trading on the side count or do they prefer corporate experience in trading?

        1. Most places prefer corporate experience in trading, but your own trading account might work for some roles such as prop trading… the key is to get it substantiated and to be able to show audited results or they may not believe you.

          1. Thanks for the reply.

            Would it be correct to assume experience you get at a prop firm could help you move in more corporate roles, or would you be more or less constrained in a prop house?

          2. It would be more difficult to transfer into corporate roles. Possible, maybe, but a lot harder than staying in prop trading. You might still be able to do some S&T and hedge fund roles depending on the type of trading.

  19. Yes in Europe going into PE can be attainable with e technical scientific background (i.e. Hons in Physics from a top uni or a Ph.D in Chemistry/Medicine also from a top uni). However in all the cases I know they either did the CFA level 1, some free consulting whilst still studying and/or relevant internships.

    1. Thanks for adding that, interesting to hear.

  20. Hi Brian: Very Informative Article

    I have a question. I have been working in the commercial real estate finance sector for the past year five years since I graduated college in 2010. I have significant transaction experience with acquisition financing, refinances, new construction, and mezz debt placements on commercial real estate. I have worked with a large CMBS lender and one other specialized commercial real estate finance company. While I love this field, I also worry about the cyclical nature of commercial real estate. Therefore, I always want to have a backup plan in case of a downturn. Do you think this experience is relevant for more traditional investment banking roles? Or would have to go to grad school in order to make the change.

    1. Thanks! I don’t think it would help much with a traditional investment banking role because real estate is so specialized. It might potentially help with real estate private equity if you decide to go there in the future, but again, the industry would still be cyclical. If you want to make a big change outside of real estate, you would likely need grad school at this stage, at least if you want to stay in finance but do something non-RE-related. You could probably go to a real estate-related tech startup (for example) without that since they mostly just want industry experts.

      1. Thanks Brian. I guess I might consider Grad School here in the near future. I thought my lending, credit, underwriting, and analytical skills stemming from a wide range of deals would be sufficient to make the jump. But I definitely understand that working primarily on the real estate finance side is more specialized.

        1. In theory, they are, and they might work if you focus strictly on real estate investment banking groups… but I hesitate to say “Yes, definitely” because I can’t recall an example of someone actually moving out of real estate into IB after 5 years in it (at least not without an MBA first). So you probably do have some shot at RE / Lodging groups at banks, but it would still be tougher than moving into REPE.

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