by Exeter Jones Comments (27)

To Leave, or Not to Leave: Is That the Question?

Quit Your Finance Job?Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the countless work hours for models and bottles,

Or to take back weekends against an office of czars,

And by opposing be without work?  To beg: to borrow?

Well, I wouldn’t quite go that far: Hamlet wasn’t exactly talking about ­­­freeing oneself from the world of finance, but his original words can definitely be applied to the present day: To be, or not to be: that is the question.

There’s no shortage of news on the current state of the US economy and the outlook for jobs: it sucks.

To make things even worse, everyone agrees that the climate will get worse before it gets better. And if you’re in high finance, it’s arguably much worse; you have even less financial security than usual, banks are rescinding offers or freezing hiring altogether, and the work environment seems more volatile than ever before.

These days I’ve been running into more people in finance than usual who absolutely hate almost every aspect of their jobs.

Whether it’s sheer boredom from the work, (NEWSFLASH: some jobs in finance are about as intellectually stimulating as walking a straight line), disappointment in their career progression to date, their paycheck vs. their hours worked, or a maniacal boss or co-workers, everyone appears to have a well-deserved gripe.

But I usually hear nothing about the proper exit strategy from unfulfilling jobs. When I ask a person in finance who’s unhappy with their work just how long they intend to stay in their current role, I’m reminded of another popular Shakespearean quote: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”, because they have no exit strategy.

Heads You Leave, Tails You Don’t?

If you’ve left your decision to leave to chance, you’re making a grave mistake. This is not the early 2000’s where jobs, outsized salaries, and Sony PlayStation 1’s were plentiful.

Post-Lehman, (my way of thinking about the world of finance after 2008) there’s a new reality slowly edging its way into the realm of finance: employers want better academic credentials, more experienced hires, and résumés that can rival the 7 Wonders of the World – absent of any employment gaps.

Employment gaps are almost deal-breakers in the present job market and there are too many experienced and qualified applicants out there to make frequent exceptions. Long story short, do not leave your current job unless you have a viable, actionable plan.

When to Leave and When Not to Leave

I won’t walk through what constitutes a “viable, actionable plan” in this article (maybe next time…), but I will go through some of the most common reasons why young professionals with less than 10 years of experience prematurely leave their jobs in finance.

From poor performance reviews, to the delight and perils of bonus season, to love triangles gone bad, we’ll look at a few scenarios to determine when it’s time to leave a job permanently and when it’s time to visit the local pub for a few shots of tequila (or whatever your drink of choice is) and report back to the underworld on Monday.

1)      I’ve just had a poor performance review; time to leave?

When NOT to Leave: If it’s your first bad review, the answer is no.

Sometimes poor performance reviews are legitimate and deserved, but it’s up to you to determine if the comments on your performance are warranted.

If the commentary on your review is adverse but truthful, then it’s time to buckle down and work on your shortcomings. If the commentary is incorrect, then you should determine if there’s a misunderstanding regarding your role, performance expectations, or if you’re actually being sabotaged.

In either scenario, you need to pay closer attention to your work, firmly re-establish the expectations with your management team, document your performance, gain a stronger relationship with your manager(s), and try to rebound.

When to Leave: There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

If it’s your second poor review, it’s time to get out of dodge on ice skates and a jet pack. Poor consecutive performance reviews genuinely only mean two things: either there is a real mismatch between the expectations of the job and your current abilities, or your manager is the Anti-Christ and wants to deliver you to the hell hounds.

More importantly, your bonus number will fall somewhere between the change in the donation bucket of a Salvation Army worker and a pack of Trident gum.

Regardless of what led to the present situation, it’s time to reach out to recruiters, alumni, friends, and organizations to aid in your transition as swiftly as possible.

If you can hear the executioner sharpening his or her axe in the background, make a choice to leave by your own volition – sometimes you can negotiate a mutual separation that doesn’t impair your financial situation.

If it’s down to quitting or getting fired, hopefully you’ve been prudent with your finances and can stomach the few months that you may be out of work: quit.

2)      My bonus was just enough for cab fare; time to leave?

When NOT to Leave: If your bonus is considerably below your expectations or industry expectations, then it’s time to put on your detective hat.

If bonuses are down across the entire firm, stay (for the time being). If bonuses are down across your department, stay (back away from the stapler). If bonuses are down across the entire Street, stay.

The theme to look for is whether or not your disappointing bonus is synonymous with what’s happening at your firm, in your department, or on Wall Street, and to avoid sudden reactions. Simply take a deep breath, determine the cause of the lower bonuses, and adopt a wait-and-see approach.

When to Leave: “Duck…duck…duck…GOOSE!”

Most of us are familiar with the popular children’s game of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but being tapped on the head and expected to chase someone around doesn’t translate to the game of finance.

If you’ve been labeled the “goose” then there’s nothing golden about your bonus and you should give some thought to changing shops or departments. Bonus trends usually don’t reverse themselves, so it’s likely that your bonus will be similar or worse the next year.

3)      I’m just not excited about my work anymore and it’s draining me – time to leave?

When NOT to Leave: Studies confirm that working in an environment that is personally unrewarding can have disastrous effects on your home life, your physical well-being, and your mental health.

Having gone through a similar experience a few years ago, I can confirm that all of those devastating effects can and do happen (another story for another day).

Sometimes you can speak with management to gain new responsibilities or exposure to a new area if they’re willing to help out – or you can ask about an internal move that can provide a more satisfying environment (keep in mind this is still finance, so don’t expect a relocation to paradise when and if you transfer internally).

When to Leave: If you find yourself unable to move to a new department or change your current role, then it may be time to look elsewhere.

Again, your financial situation should always be taken into account to determine if you need to find a more advanced role that pays more – or if you want to take on less responsibility, maintain more of a work/life balance, but yet bring home a smaller paycheck.

Your goal should always be to look for work that is more fulfilling, and if that ultimately leads to your departure from your current firm, then “Que sera, sera…”

4)      I’ve lined up a buy-side job; time to leave?

When to Leave: Whether you’re someone moving from the sell-side to the buy-side or you’re moving from a back office role to a buy-side role, if there’s an opportunity that’s going to give you more exposure, better pay, and a more favorable career outlook, it’s virtually a no-brainer.

Keep in mind it’s always nice to leave AFTER bonuses are paid and to avoid leaving your former firm in an inferno (brush fires are acceptable). Buy-side gigs are highly competitive and highly-sought after, so it’s rare that a person would turn down such an opportunity (thus there’s no When NOT to Leave).

5)      I’m dating more than one person in the office and they’ve found out about it; time to leave?

When Not to Leave: If you find yourself in the middle of a complex and animated love triangle, then you have no one else to blame but yourself. Boundaries are important and when you venture into uncharted territory while at work, you’ve invited trouble.

Before it gets messy, my suggestion is to separate from both parties as quickly and quietly as possible. If questions arise as to why you’re doing so, say you’re thinking about heading off to a seminary and you need as few distractions as possible. Just a suggestion…

When to Leave: If you leave work one afternoon to suddenly find your car with notable, mysterious scratches, cracked or broken windows, or perhaps your mobile phone call log as of late shows mysterious numbers with voicemail messages that can only be described as deep, heavy breathing, then not only is it time to leave, but a police restraining order may also be in order.

6)      I just got into business school; time to leave?

When NOT to leave: If you’ve gotten into business school, congratulations… assuming you’ve conducted your research and are financially and mentally prepared for the journey – and that you’ll actually make more money after you finish your degree (you’d be surprised how many people overlook this fact).

Luckily, if you’re already in finance then this will almost certainly be the case – your mileage in other fields may vary. At this point, the question is no longer if you should leave, but when you should leave. Wait for your bonus to hit your bank account, and then “making it rain” on your way out of the office.

When to Leave: Assemble a report of your current financial situation and budget accordingly. Even if the numbers don’t work, heck, do it anyway!

I would suggest leaving about 3 to 4 months before the start of business school to put together a small bucket list: one month to visit family, two months for travel, (central-western Italy, Martinique, and any place in southeast Brazil are personal favorites) and one month to recover and get into a graduate school state of mind.

7)      I just won the lottery; time to leave?

I really hope you’re not expecting an answer to this question. Seriously?

DISCLAIMER: In no way is this article telling you to leave your job immediately if you are unhappy. Leaving your job is a decision to be made solely by you and should take into account your mental and financial stability pre and post your departure in addition to your immediate future plans. You’ve been thoroughly warned.


About the Author

Exeter Jones is a philosopher trapped inside the body of a writer, trapped inside the body of an alternative investment analyst. He's worked in investment banking, alternative investments, and corporate finance, and his favorite breakfast food is ESPN.

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  1. Hi,

    Quick question pls?
    I used to work in IBD banking but got made redundant a few yrs back. I did a few casual IBD internships. Afterwards kept looking and networking but couldn’t find anything thing (or even closely related) Had a few interviews along the way.
    Afterwards I settled for a role in an information service provider (think bloomberg..nothing like banking). I have hated this role from day 1 and have received consecutive negative feedback (and v crap bonuses over the past two seasons. I have still been interviewing for roles in my spare time. Networking has been getting increasingly useless (contacts not really been helpful)and I don’t fancy working in the other departments.

    Reading this article really hit home for me. I want to leave this job as it’s killing my confidence and mood but I have no where to go to as I need the money.
    What would you do if you were in this situation? I would really appreciate the advice.


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I would figure out what my values are and what I really want in my life.
      If you want to start your own thing, do it on the side while keeping your full time job.
      If you want to do pursue banking, network intensively through your job & out of your job.
      If your job is really killing your confidence, I’d leave and try to generate income elsewhere because nothing is more important than you feeling good and fulfilled. I’m sure you’ve some money saved up to sustain yourself.

      1. Hi Nicole,

        Thanks a lot.
        After a lot of searching and luck I landed a 1 yr contract an an IB for a credit trading role. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this will convert to a permanent role but it’s something I really want to do (bond pricing, financial analysis etc) and will help me get relevant experience. Would really appreciate you opinion on this one.
        Is it best to just continue in my current permanent data role (which is driving me nuts) and hope to score a more permanent gig @ an IB or just go for this other role (which btw pays marginally lower than this one)?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Go for this other role for sure.

  2. Would taking a paycut to get a asst. research associate role for fin modeling and valuation experience ( and not get pigeon holed to tele-calling) at a small brokerage firm look bad if my next move is CFA-MBA and then ER ?

    Currently work at a BB back office


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Tough call cause a paycut can affect your future pay prospects. You can try moving to ER within your BB through intensive networking and pitching your story though having valuation/modelling skills would be useful.

      I think if the RA role could help you hone your modelling and valuation skills and help you land a role in ER though it is not a given.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Hi,

    I’m a 2nd year student at a semi-target school in Canada with a 3.4 GPA. I have extensive consulting experience; I am currently interning at a boutique investment bank as an “Analyst.” After going through M&I, I understand that it is beneficial and important to have prior experience before breaking in to the big banks. But, I have a dilemma:

    The work that I do at this place is mind-numbing. All I do is update potential client lists. The closest I get to Excel is adding the name and number of a potential client. I am unpaid, so I have to pay for my own transportation (suburbs to downtown every single week is relatively expensive when you’re not doing anything useful). A lot of the time I don’t even do any work because things are slow or because the client lists are fully updated.

    I know its important to get some experience before breaking in, but I’m not learning anything at this place. I feel like my time would be better spent studying to get my GPA up. What do I do?

    Any advice is appreciated.


    1. Depends how long you’ve been there and how much you can boost your GPA by… if you’ve been there for a few months already, there’s not much benefit to staying on past that. If you’ve been there only a week or two, I would stay to at least get 1-2 months of experience. Getting your GPA up to 3.5 – 3.6 is a good idea if you don’t need much time to do so, but beyond that it doesn’t matter much.

  4. Hello M&I,

    A bit unrelated to the topic, but I was wondering if you could talk us about the “Infrastructure Funds” like the Macquarie’s various funds.

    Is it similar to PE? An alternative exit opportunity to PE? How do you get in? What do you do? Is it hot? How many $$$ do you make?

    Thanks very much!

    1. Sounds like Project Finance

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Not exactly the same because it is a mutual fund company, not a PE firm

      I believe an investment role at MIIF requires valuation/modelling skills which you acquire in IB/ER. For this fund in particular, it would be useful if you’ve had experience valuing companies in the infrastructure sector. I think the work you do is somewhat similar to that in PE because you are looking to invest in companies that generate decent returns. What you will be doing depends on what your role there is. Infrastructure funds have become increasingly popular among investors given inflation. Check the link below out:

      You might also be interested in 3i’s infrastructure fund:

      1. Thanks Nicole.

        I was looking at this fund in particular:

        Where Macquarie invest in toll roads. One of my colleagues told me that it was considered to be more of a “fixed income” sort of investment, due to the high predictability of the future CFs. Do you agree?
        Also it looks like they use quite a lot of debt (as PE firms) to finance their investments.

        I am wondering what are the differences between Macquarie acquiring an infrastructure and KKR acquiring the oil & gqs Samson for example?


        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole


          Differences – I don’t quite understand your question?

  5. Avatar
    Canadian Ninja

    I have one quick question about my chance of breaking into IB. I am 25 years old, I’ve finished community college(Buisness) in Canada then I’ve went to the army for couple years. Then I’ve decided to go back to York university to get a better education(Econ at the moment). I personally don’t have much work experience other than teaching ESL, military, retail, on and off part time jobs. I will be graduatng in a year or two with a degree and wondering how hard is it gonna be for me to get a job in IB in Canada? Do you have any advices on what steps I need to take to gain advantage?

    Thanks a lot and I really appreciate all the articles here

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Learn financial modelling. Network intensively to get an internship in finance even if it is unpaid because you need it to get your foot in the door.

      1. Avatar
        Canadian Ninja

        I see that it all comes down to networking in the end. thank you very much for the reply. and hope one day I have my own success story to share on this website

        1. Avatar
          Canadian Ninja

          Sorry, but I have one more quick question. As you said I need to learn financial modelling and is there any test or proof of studying other than school courses that I can show it to the banks?

          1. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Not really. I guess you can take the CFA though I’m not quite sure if it is too useful for IB roles

    2. Good luck to you from a York alumnus. I’d suggest you go for the MBA program at Rotman/Ivey.

  6. Hi Guys, I’m a senior in high school right now just looking for advice.
    I’m deciding whether I should pursue a career in medicine or finance. I wouldn’t mind studying medicine or finance, however I see myself doing something business related in the future. From what I’ve been reading it seems that pursing a finance career isn’t a smart move. With all the lay offs and salary cuts, the finance industry looks bleak. What do you guys recommend? I have good SATs (2100+) and a great GPA so I think I could get into some of the lower ivy legaues (Cornell, Upenn CAS, brown, etc) and some instate bs/md programs. By the time I graduate (2016) do you guys think the industry would get any better? I really appreciate any comments. Also, I’ve just been hearing about IB layoffs… how is the private equity industry doing?

    1. Medicine vs. finance / business are 2 vastly different careers, and you can’t go by what the current economy is like.

      Basically, medicine ensures that you’ll have fairly stable income and earn an above-average amount of money, sometimes significantly above average. But you’ll never be insanely wealthy, and your income is always tied to your hours… no work, no pay. It is also so specialized that it’s tough to move into anything outside of medicine, aside from maybe starting your own business.

      Finance (or anything in business) is more flexible but there’s greater risk because markets / demand change over time. Most of the extremely wealthy ($10B+ net worth) people in the world are in these fields. Going into them also gives you greater flexibility because you could do a lot of other roles in business afterward.

      But really, you should only be doing medicine if you’re driven to help people, make a difference, and dedicate your life to those causes. If you could see yourself doing something other than medicine, then you should go with business… doesn’t even necessarily have to be finance, could be almost anything else including working at a normal company.

  7. You’ve been saying “that’s a story for another day” since forever, when will you talk about the reasons why you left?

    1. To clarify, this article was written by Exeter, one of our new contributors. See the “by Exeter Jones” part at the top and his bio at the bottom.

      I (Brian) edit things and occasionally reply to comments, but I do not actually write most of the content here.

      He has a number of upcoming features on related topics, so hopefully you will see them soon.

  8. Life is funny, while some people would do anything to land a job in the fcial industry, others are busy thinking about how to leave…very funny indeed…

    1. Yup, well, life would be boring if everyone were the same…

  9. Avatar
    Summer Banker

    Please advise on the current situation. I work in technology ibd and recently landed an offer at a vc firm. However, the position will be paying dramatically less than what I am currently making now (2nd year analyst), approximately 3 times less to be exact.

    I am very excited about vc and believe I want to work in vc long term. Does it make sense to leave w/o a bonus and take an extreme pay cut for something you want to do? How do B-Schools view this move? How do future employers view this move? How would the greater population see it?

    1. If you’re already in tech IBD I would not jump to a VC firm that pays you 3x as less and also give up your bonus in the process. You do generally get paid less in VC but 3x less is quite extreme. I would at least get your bonus first, or hold out for a better off where the pay differential isn’t so high. Tech IBD is already quite closely related to VC so you don’t really lose much by staying there… can still easily spin a story about why you’re interested in VC.

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