by Brian DeChesare Comments (172)

The Myth of the Career Path

The Myth of the Career Path

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how you can start your own hedge fund, make $1 billion per year in cash, and then retire at age 30 with enough capital to buy several countries.

So today I’m going to give you the exact set of steps you need to do all this: all you have to do is copy and paste and fill in a few blanks and you’ll be well on your way toward being the next hedge fund billionaire.

The Short Con

Just kidding.

You really thought I was going to share that information when I could just keep it for myself?

Just like when I explained why finance doesn’t guarantee you $10 million and your own beach in Thailand, you’ll want to grab some yerba mate and close your YouTube windows because this will be a long one.

And by the end you might be having a quarter-life crisis.

Why?

Although the introduction above is a joke, it was inspired by reality: I get dozens of emails about the best “path” to follow and the trade-offs between different “career paths.”

We’ve begun to believe that there’s a single set of precise steps you can follow to become MD at a bulge bracket bank, a Partner at your own hedge fund, or even the top guy at the SEC.

So where did it start, and why do we believe so strongly in the “career path”?

We Want to Believe

Sure, there’s an 87-step process you can use to go from student to CEO. You just need to stick to the plan precisely over 25 years and pay really careful attention to steps 61-72.

The last time I published a similar article, something interesting happened: even though the article explained why there is no “perfect” job in finance, many of the comments were from readers looking for exactly that.

What about private wealth management? What about finance in this one city if you keep your hours down by not doing x, y, and z and instead doing things completely differently?

The magic bullet is out there. Right?

Because You Learned It In School

What happens at the end of 1st grade? You move into 2nd grade. At the end of 8th grade, you go into high school – then at the end of high school you start university.

For over 20 years, most of us follow a specific path our entire lives.

So what happens afterward?

We want to keep following a specific path.

That’s why so many kids from Harvard head to Wall Street: there’s a promise of unlimited rewards if you follow a specific set of instructions.

And how bad could it be? There’s greatness at the end:

The Myth of the Career Path

Elements of Truth

Yes, it’s very difficult to get into private equity unless you’ve been an investment banking analyst before.

Yes, it’s difficult to move from a hedge fund trading weather derivatives to one investing in technology companies in Israel if you’ve been at your fund for 10 years already.

Yes, you probably do need to be a Governor or Senator before you can become President of the United States (well, maybe not anymore after the 2016 U.S. election…).

If you look at smaller segments of your life, there are “paths” at certain points or at least obstacles you have to overcome to get from point A to point B.

But what happens before you get to point A or after you get to point B?

For all the hype over exit opportunities, no one has a well-defined picture of what happens after you get into PE or after you get into that hedge fund you’ve been lusting after.

Who Wants to Do Any Work, Right?

“Path” implies that you can get to your destination without much effort: you can just stroll along, and no matter how slowly you go, eventually you’ll reach the end.

But what if we called it a “career twisty, crooked, spiral with boulders falling down” instead?

Dangerous.

Plus, you might actually have to do some work then.

Even in more “creative” or “independent” professions, we still want all the answers handed to us.

What entrepreneur wouldn’t want the exact set of steps needed for a $10 billion IPO? What actor wouldn’t want to know the exact set of movies he needs to star in before hitting it big?

Why do the work when someone else can give us all the answers?

It’s All About the Destination

“Path” also implies that the destination is the most important part and that everything beforehand is uninteresting.

I see this all the time when I get emails from readers wondering how they can “skip” being analysts or associates and become MDs directly instead.

Two problems with this:

  1. You can’t actually do it.
  2. If you don’t like the work at the analyst or associate level you still won’t like it at the MD-level.

Yes, everything becomes more relationship-driven at the top but you are still pitching and executing the same deals.

It’s not like you suddenly become Ari Gold and start “advising” supermodels.

There’s No Data

What percent of college graduates who became investment banking analysts 20 years ago are now Managing Directors?

I have no idea, and neither does anyone else.

Making decisions when data suggests the opposite is dangerous, but making decisions in the complete absence of any data is even worse.

When there’s no data, it’s easy to make statements like, “Anyone who starts out in investment banking or management consulting rises to a high-powered position and becomes a millionaire within 10 years.”

Even though we don’t have the data, you can easily disprove this one: just look at the website of any financial institution and compare the number of analysts or associates to the number of MDs or Partners.

Somewhere along the way, people are falling off the path.

We Would Rather Avoid Loss Than Achieve Success

Most of us are more motivated to avoid loss rather than to achieve what we really want.

That’s why I title so many emails to BIWS members “bad news” – even if it’s not bad news, it makes you curious and prompts you to open it.

What’s the bad news? Are you shutting down? How will I be affected? How can I avoid having something bad happen to me?

It’s the same with the “career path”: it may not be ideal, but it’s better than the alternative of being directionless.

We Like To Blame Other People

Why couldn’t you break into investment banking?

Well, you didn’t go to an Ivy League school… you didn’t take the CFA… you didn’t have an internship.

When someone else defines the path, it’s easy to blame external factors or “the rules” when things don’t go as planned.

Having someone else define a path also lets us spend a lot of time on marginal tasks – like getting certifications – while avoiding the larger questions.

The Problem

So that’s where the Myth of the Career Path comes from.

Just one problem: there’s no such thing as a “career path.”

No one can tell you the exact set of steps you need to follow over 20 years to go from MBA to MD.

You can break into investment banking even if you started off in a different field, switched to banking, switched back to yet another industry, and then gave it a go again in round 2.

Even CEOs of banks have started off in other industries before switching over.

No, you “normally” don’t break into finance from law or engineering or real estate or sales or non-profit work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

Besides the fact that there’s no set of precise steps you can follow, there’s another big problem: you’ll change your mind over time.

If you go to certain schools, going to work in fields like investment banking (or even accounting) is viewed as mandatory – when everyone around you is doing it, you have to do it just to fit in.

But once you graduate, you’re no longer under constant scrutiny – so following a path doesn’t seem as necessary.

The Real Career Path

So is there any real path over the long-term? Surely you can’t just get out there and do something completely random, right?

There is a “path,” but it’s not the elite high school –> Ivy League school –> investment banking –> PE –> Greatness one that you’ve seen.

Make money, move up. Don’t make money, move out.

Headhunters can explain in even greater depth why this is true.

Want to earn a lot of money without talking to anyone or doing anything other than crunching numbers?

Not likely to happen.

Despite the obsession with analysis, modeling, and how many tabs your spreadsheet has, all of those skills are commodities.

What really matters are relationships and specifically how well you can leverage those relationships for profits.

Where Junior Bankers Get Stuck

And this is exactly where a lot of people get “stuck” at the mid-level: they’re good at execution but can’t bring in new clients or generate profits or ROI on their own.

But that’s exactly what you need to advance to the top, and it’s the actual “path” that no one ever tells you about: make money, then make even more money, and then make even more money after that.

But It’s Scary!

For 2 reasons:

  1. You won’t know if you’re any good at it until you’re at the level where you can make money through your own efforts.
  2. No one can “teach” you how to reach the top this way. Some people have a knack for it, while others can never do it even after years of effort.

That might be why you never hear about this “career path”: we don’t like to acknowledge uncertainty.

Exceptions

But wait, do you really need these “relationships” for everything? What about something like trading, where you could just follow a squiggly line around the screen and make a lot of money?

It’s true that relationships don’t matter as much (at all?) in trading, but it’s even more results-driven than investment banking.

If you’re not turning a profit, they won’t hesitate to kick you out ASAP. And if you turn a huge profit, you’ll move up – quickly.

Compare that to investment banking or private equity, which doesn’t become profit-driven until you’re closer to the mid-level.

The Mid-Level Curse

A lot of financiers start off as analysts or associates, do well, and assume that it’s a straightforward path to the top: Analyst –> Associate –> VP –> Director / SVP –> MD.

Yes, those are the stages you go through to reach the top but it’s not how you actually get there.

This is what happens when you “fail” in finance: you reach the mid-level but can’t go any further, so they keep you around for a bit and then show you the door when you can’t transition to profit generator.

And then you “move into industry.”

What to Do About It

So there’s no such thing as a specific path that will get you to the top.

At the beginning you need to follow orders from others, but then over time you need to turn into a profit center.

So what should you do, and how can you prepare?

Try Out Everything You Can

It’s much easier to switch “paths” – or invent your own – when you’re younger and you don’t have a 20-year history following you around.

So do everything you can to try out different industries and different roles – school-year internships, pre-MBA internships, and simply talking to as many people as possible.

You’ll probably be wrong anyway, but at least this way you can say you tried.

Take Anything You “Must Do” With a Grain of Salt

There are very few things you “must” do to break in or advance once you’re in.

You need a degree and decent grades but beyond that it’s not like medicine where you need multiple degrees, a residency, and all sorts of other certifications.

Similarly, advancing rarely requires certifications, specific experience, or anything else artificial: just make them money.

And be glad that there’s far less politics in finance vs. “normal” companies: being results-oriented is great if you can get results.

Stop Making Detailed 20-Year Plans

There’s a chance that investment banking might not even be around in 20 years.

At the very least, the industry will be way different and whatever plan you came up with in college will be outdated within a year or two.

If you want to get into a specific type of PE firm you might plan ahead for that – but when you get into specific dollar amounts you want to be make in 10, 15, or 20 years, you need to stop.

Make or Save Them Money… From Day One

This is the most overlooked one: even at the junior levels you need to show evidence that you can one day earn money for your firm.

Most VPs and MDs don’t even remember how to use Excel – but they do understand profit.

You need to strike a balance here because you can’t go in and start asking about cross-border China deals on your first day – but once you prove yourself after a few months of work, you need to make yourself even more useful.

It’s tough to source actual clients at the junior level, but you can suggest ways to find them, methods for saving time or money, or anything else that makes senior bankers’ lives easier.

And if you don’t do that, forget about becoming an MD: you may not even make it into private equity.

Finally

Most of all, stop following a specific “career path” – because there isn’t one.

There are many possibilities, but no paths.

Cast a wide net and try out as much as you can as early as you can.

See what you like the most, pursue it, and adapt accordingly.

And hey, if all else fails, you can always open your own surf shop in Brazil.

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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Why You Can’t Get an Investment Banking or Private Equity Job via Recruiters – And What to Do About It

Why You Can’t Get an Investment Banking or Private Equity Job via Recruiters – And What to Do About It

While most of the interviews on this site have been with job seekers or with current investment bankers, today we’re going to change things up and speak with an investment banking and private equity recruiter who works at a well-known recruiting firm.

You’re about to learn some little-known, highly valuable, and controversial information about the finance recruiting industry.

Keep reading to find out how to impress recruiters and interviewers and land PE and investment banking offers.

Where Did It All Begin?

Q: Can you tell us about your firm and what types of candidates you focus on?

A: Sure. We started off specializing in placing ex-military candidates, and since then we’ve expanded into almost 20 other industries, including accounting and finance.

Within investment banking and private equity, we focus on $200K – $1M total compensation per year positions. This corresponds to entry-level positions up through the mid-level – we do a few Partner and MD-level searches occasionally, but they’re not our core focus.

We work with a wide range of banks, but on the buy-side we concentrate on funds below $1B AUM and usually funds in the $50 – $500MM AUM range.

Q: How’d you get started doing this? I know sometimes investment banking analysts make the move over to the recruiting side – were you coming from that background?

A: No, I started off doing recruiting for general “Analyst” positions across all industries.

That was ok, but I found that I liked private equity and investment banking recruiting more because the fees were better and placement took more time – so you could focus more on a few key clients rather than spreading yourself thin.

While some investment banking analysts want to make the move into recruiting, they often fail to realize that technical skills matter very little for recruiting – it’s a sales job, not an analytical job.

You need to be a quick thinker and good on the phone – knowing the in’s and out’s of models and how an M&A deal works is ok, but you only need to know these topics at a very high level.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t do many Partner-level searches – but wouldn’t you earn far higher fees by placing these types of candidates rather than lower-level people?

A: While the fees are higher, there are a couple problems with Partner-level searches:

  • Usually it takes 6-8 months to place a single candidate.
  • All searches at that level are highly confidential, so making introductions and maneuvering the process has an added layer of complexity.

Overall, we’ve found that sub-$1MM range candidates are the best to work with because the chances of placing them are higher and because it’s not quite as extended a process.

How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills by 200% in 15 Minutes

Q: When you first emailed me, you mentioned 3 qualities that every successful investment banking or private equity candidate needs to show when they’re interviewing – what are they?

A: You need to demonstrate 3 specific skills when you interview:

  1. How you made money for your firm in the past.
  2. How you saved them money.
  3. How you improved a process.

The #1 mistake that you can make is focusing too much on your technical prowess and not enough on how much money you will make for a bank or PE firm.

Talking about models in interviews is fine, but you always need to tie them back to business results.

I get people who come in and start rambling about deferred tax liabilities and their hyper-advanced LBO models, and they miss something very important: most VPs and MDs don’t even remember how to build a model or use Excel.

What they do understand is making money or saving money, so you need to re-frame everything you’ve done in that context.

Q: Right, that makes sense – but a lot of people may not have “business results” to point to. Let’s say you’re working on a deal that never goes anywhere – how would you talk about how much money you made or how much money you saved your client?

A: You could talk about partial or potential results if you don’t have concrete numbers to point to.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re creating a list of potential acquisitions for your client and you’re making recommendations on which ones they should pursue.

Even if this deal doesn’t advance to the final stages, you could easily talk about how much money you saved them if you can point to any acquisitions that you crossed off the list:

“I had to research potential acquisitions for our client – we got it down to a list of 10, and then I recommended taking 4 of the companies off the list because they weren’t a fit with the client’s product line. Any one of those would have cost them over $100 million, so I helped them to avoid a potentially bad acquisition and saved money in the process.”

If you worked on a merger that never went anywhere, you could talk about your model and key findings within that got your client a higher price if they were selling, or a lower price if they were buying.

Or you could always tie your work to the client coming back to you for more engagements in the future:

“The client was impressed with our work and especially the recommendation to avoid those acquisitions, so they decided to come back to us for 2 more engagements – I did the work that led to those, with a total fee potential of $10 million.”

Q: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Firms want people who can make them money or save them money – but is this true even of non-Partner-track positions?

If someone is just going to work there for 2-3 years and then go to business school does it really matter?

A: Yes, because there’s no such thing as “predictability” when it comes to IB or PE careers.

People come to me all the time and say, “So, where will I be in 10 years if I go to this firm? Can you give me an exact blueprint of my future career?”

Sure, here’s your blueprint: you make a lot of money for your firm and you move up. You don’t, and you’re out.

It’s really that simple: no matter what they say about you, if they see in you the potential to make them a lot of money in the future, you move up.

Q: Ok, I see – so there’s less of a “path” than most people think. What other key mistakes do candidates make when recruiting for finance jobs?

A: I could probably write a book about key mistakes, but here are just a few more:

  1. Not proving that you can evaluate and run a deal by yourself.
  2. Focusing too much on features and not enough on benefits.
  3. Relying on pedigree rather than results.

For #1, private equity firms might look at hundreds of deals each month, but might only invest in 2-3 per year max. Principals don’t have time to sift through all the information and evaluate every single detail – they need someone who can step up and do everything on their own.

Even at the entry-level in private equity, you’ll be coordinating with lawyers, bankers, the debt financing team, the company’s executives, and more – and you need to be comfortable doing all the work for everyone else and driving the process.

On #2, this is just a classic sales mistake: too many people go in there and say, “Well, I have a 4.0 GPA from Harvard and I worked at Goldman Sachs.”

Guess what? Those are features, not benefits.

How will you make me money? How much money have you made or saved for other people in the past?

Whenever I meet a candidate for the first time, I make him/her write down 10 things that are great about himself/herself.

Even if it’s “I’m great at baking cookies, so you can enjoy great food if you hire me” that’s better than nothing – the point is to always present benefits rather than features.

#3 is related, but I see a lot of people from Ivy League schools and bulge bracket banks expecting the world just because they have well-known names on their resumes.

It doesn’t work like that: you need to deliver results if you want to advance.

Often, candidates from less privileged backgrounds perform better because they’re twice as motivated.

Q: I also get lots of questions from people with Liberal Arts backgrounds who want to do banking or PE – how should they position themselves?

A: Actually, if you have a liberal arts background that can often be a big advantage because you’re probably much better at talking and BSing than math/science/finance nerds.

You want to position yourself as someone who can tell a good story around the numbers rather than just cranking out models all day long.

When they ask about your weaknesses, don’t say your analytical skills even if you’re tempted to mention that – pick something more qualitative and show how you’ve improved over time.

How to Work Effectively with Recruiters

Q: Thanks – those tips should be really helpful to anyone preparing for interviews right now.

What do recruiters actually do? Is it just a matter of screening resumes and making introductions?

A: We do some filtering of candidates, but it’s more than just looking through resumes and deciding which ones we want to pass along.

To give you some numbers on how the process works, here’s what I did over the past year:

  • Received 7,000 resumes or inquiries.
  • Got interviews for 42 candidates.
  • Successfully placed 10 candidates.

These numbers improve a lot when the economy is better.

A lot of what I do on a daily basis is helping clients find very specific candidates – they no longer just come to us and say, “We need an investment banking analyst.”

These days it’s more like, “We want an investment banking analyst from Barclays Energy Group who worked on a specific recent deal, grew up in the UK, spent time in the Middle East, and can also play golf with under an 85 handicap.”

A lot of my time is spent looking for these types of people, and also with preparing our candidates for interviews and helping them to sell themselves more effectively.

It’s a huge myth that recruiters only forward resumes to firms.

Recruiters are also your best source if you want to do a secretive job search and keep everything on the DL – if you just go directly to an MD, he won’t care about your privacy. He’ll just call your current MD and ask how good you are.

Q: I get a lot of questions from readers without investment banking or private equity experience wondering if they should contact recruiters to help with the job search process.

Is there any point in doing this?

A: Short answer: no. Over the past 2 years I haven’t placed a single candidate who wasn’t a 9/10 match for the job.

If the economy is booming and banks have ramped up their hiring, you can still potentially come in with an unrelated background (e.g. do marketing at a Fortune 500 company for 2 years and then move into IB), but it’s pretty rare otherwise.

It’s not that you’re unqualified – but we just have so many people who do have finance experience lining up for jobs that it’s almost impossible unless you’re the Chairman’s son or you can bring a unique skill set to the table.

Q: OK, so what should people without the required experience do? How do you get noticed if you’re not a perfect match for the job?

A: Become your own recruiter. Make a list of firms you want to go after, go to LinkedIn, look up people at those places, contact them, call them, visit in-person and start introducing yourself like that.

Then once you get to know a bunch of people at a specific firm, you can come back to me and say, “Hey, I’ve made some inroads on my own and know these 10-15 people – now that I’ve done that, what can you do for me?”

That puts you in a much better position to interview there, and we can help you a lot more if you’ve already done some of the work yourself.

Also, look up jobs on Indeed.com – other sites are OK, but I’ve found that Indeed is the best for finance. Just search for “banking analyst,” don’t narrow down the region, and see what you can find there.

Some of these listings are for “ghost jobs” – they’re not actively recruiting at the moment, but they’re collecting resumes and will contact you when they’re ready.

A lot of bankers apply and expect to hear back the second they submit their resumes, but it doesn’t work like that – expect to wait up to 3 days for any “live” jobs.

Q: You’ve mentioned how much more specific clients have become with their requests. What else has changed over the years, and specifically what happens when the economy has softened?

A: A lot of regional boutiques and lesser-known firms suddenly get the attitude that they can pick up analysts at top bulge bracket / boutique banks simply because the market is bad.

They come to us and say, “So, can you pull out the top analyst at Goldman or Moelis and send him to us right away, for half the pay?”

But it doesn’t work like that – even in a terrible market, top performers are unlikely to leave unless they have a really, really good reason to do so.

Some candidates have decided to go and speak with these types of firms anyway, but very few actually make the move from a top bank or group to something lesser-known.

Q: Awesome, thanks for your time – learned a lot!

A: No problem. And let me know if you know of anyone who shoots under 85 and is a killer chef so I can refer them to my clients…

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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Investment Banking: Dubai Edition

Dubai SkylineDubai: the hottest emerging market in the world? The best place to work in finance?

Or is it all just a mirage in the desert?

The truth is somewhere in between, as you’ll find out in this interview with a current investment banking analyst who works in Dubai.

We cover this reader’s background, what the investment banking industry in Dubai is like, how you break in, and the all-important exit opportunities.

In the Beginning…

Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got interested in Dubai?

A: Sure. I’m from the Middle East originally, and was studying at a university in Europe a few years ago.

As part of my school’s requirements, we had to complete internships – most people opted for Paris or London, but I was interested in more exotic locations.

I was from the Middle East and had been reading a lot about Dubai, so I decided to apply for internships there instead.

Q: Ok, so you’re in Europe but you want to work in Dubai. How do you actually apply for these internships? Was it just through on-campus recruiting?

A: One difference between Europe and the US is that when companies come to campus here, no one takes resumes or does interviews – they just come for informational and networking purposes. Then they tell you to apply online, go through numerical tests, assessment centers, and so on.

I went to all these networking events and also did the online applications afterward – in addition to both of those, I contacted alumni and searched for people with similar backgrounds to me on LinkedIn.

Q: You said “similar background” – what do you mean exactly, and what kind of response rate did you get?

A: I looked for others who were from the Middle East, had studied in Europe, and then gone back to the Middle East to work there.

Surprisingly, I got a higher response rate from people I found on LinkedIn than from alumni.

This was probably because we had a shared background, and because most other students in Europe were not thinking about working in Dubai.

Q: Wow, very surprising. So what were the results of your internship search?

A: I got a 6-month internship at a bulge bracket bank there – in Europe it’s common to have 6-month internships vs. the summer internships you see in the US.

Then I went back to school the next year to graduate, and accepted a return offer from the same bulge bracket bank.

The State of the Market

Q: So is Dubai amazingly awesome? Is it the end-all-be-all or are people drinking a little too much Kool-Aid when they talk about the finance industry in the Middle East?

A: Dubai is overrated. When most people think of it, they look at all the huge buildings and the media stories about construction projects here, and all the oil barons using it as their playground.

The truth is a bit different – while there’s a lot of growth here, most of the companies we work with are outside Dubai.

We’re responsible specifically for MENA (the Middle East and North Africa), which consists of about 20 countries.

We cover all industries and all products, but most of our clients are sovereign wealth funds, financial sponsors, and other holding companies.

They’ve definitely been on a buying spree, so from that perspective it’s interesting.

When it comes to actual deals, though, we often manage the relationship and then the industry team from London handles the more technical details – especially on larger deals.

Q: Interesting – so is the finance industry there dominated by other bulge bracket banks that leverage their presence in London? Or are there local boutiques as well?

A: Regional boutiques do exist, but they’re limited to smaller IPOs and smaller deals in general – anything large is handled by bulge bracket banks based in the US or Europe.

Wheeling & Dealing

Q: You mentioned that the London industry team often handles the more technical details. So do you get to do much modeling work? Or is it all qualitative?

A: We get exposure to both. The London team has more of a presence on larger deals – they argue that they have more expertise and that they should control all the models as a result.

For anything smaller, we do the valuation and modeling work and they’re less involved.

If it’s an intra-regional deal – both the buyer and seller are from our region – then we’re also more involved and the London team doesn’t do quite as much.

Overall, though, it’s a lot different from working in a large group in London or New York because there are more “random” tasks and the teams here are smaller.

Q: You mentioned smaller deal teams – how are they different from what you’d find in London?

A: Our entire team is less than 30 people, and there are fewer mid-level bankers. We have a bunch of Analysts, a few Associates, and then some Directors and MDs but relatively few VPs.

So you get to work more closely with the MDs, and it’s not unusual to work directly with a Director or MD as an Analyst – which would be unusual at a bulge bracket bank in New York or London.

Lifestyle & Culture

Q: So how much do you work each week? Is this still banking or do you work fewer hours because it’s a regional office?

A: It’s still banking. I was working about 100 hours a week for the past 2-3 months, but like any other banking role there’s downtime and slow periods as well.

The average hours aren’t much different from what you’d expect in banking, but there’s less face time and they care more about work getting done vs. staying in the office late every night.

One part unique to the Middle East is that the entire region shuts down in the summer – CEOs are traveling and on holiday, so August is our slowest month (also due to Ramadan coinciding with the summer this past year).

M&I Note: The same is true in the US, though not to the same degree – lots of executives and bankers take their vacations in August.

Q: What about the culture? Do you hang out with your co-workers outside work?

A: There isn’t too much interaction outside work, even when we have free time – as an intern it was much different and Analysts / Associates would usually spend time with each other.

We might have dinner together, and we do have “team events” every few months to build camaraderie.

The Bottom Line

Q: Let’s talk about money. How much do you get paid, and is Dubai more lucrative than London?

A: Base salaries and bonuses are both the same as what you get in London… BUT we have no taxes here so effectively you make almost twice as much.

We also get a housing allowance of $30,000 US Dollars per year, which is also untaxed.

Normally it’s a bad idea to go into banking for the money, but if you work in Dubai you will make more than in other regions.

M&I Note: This trick doesn’t work 100% if you’re a US citizen – you still have to pay some US income taxes even if you live abroad.

You can deduct taxes for up to around $100K in income – which saves you a lot – but your taxes won’t be exactly $0.

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant / lawyer. This is not tax advice – please consult a professional.

Q: Wow, I’d move to Dubai in a heartbeat if I didn’t have this annoying US passport. What about exit opportunities?

A: Unlike the US, a lot of people here actually go into banking and plan to stay in it for the long-term. The whole concept of “Do this for 2-3 years and then jump to PE” isn’t as prevalent here.

Part of that is just a cultural difference in Europe and the Middle East, but part of it is also because pay at sovereign wealth funds and private equity firms here isn’t significantly higher than what you would earn in investment banking – so many people don’t see the point in leaving.

If you do want to move elsewhere, the 2 main options are sovereign wealth funds (SWF) and private equity firms – both local funds based here and then international ones like Carlyle and KKR.

One appealing aspect of SWF is that you get a high salary with great hours – one of my friends leaves at 6 PM every day and makes banking/PE pay.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but one perk in my program is that I can choose to move to another region after 2 years, so that’s an option as well.

How You Can Work in Dubai

Q: Working at a sovereign wealth fund in Dubai is starting to sound good to me. What advice do you have for anyone looking to work there?

A: If you’re already in banking, the path of least resistance is to ask for a 1-year rotation to Dubai.

I’ve had friends who have done exactly this – they did internships in the US or Europe, got return offers, and then asked about switching to Dubai instead.

It’s tough to come here directly if you haven’t done an internship or you’re straight out of school – I would not recommend just showing up here and saying, “Hi, I want to work here, who will hire me?”

Q: So you wouldn’t recommend just applying directly to Dubai via online applications, for example?

A: You can do that, but the process is less standardized than it is in Europe. It varies by bank and in some cases you can just apply directly online via the London career website – but overall it’s more haphazard than Europe.

Q: Right. But let’s say you don’t know anyone in the region and you’re not in the position to apply for internships or full-time jobs directly – what do you do?

A: Headhunters are probably your best bet if you really don’t know anyone and have no strong connections to the region.

Just get a list of headhunters in the Middle East and start sending out your resume and contacting them – that’s not the ideal way to break in, but outside of networking and the formal application process it’s all you can do.

Q: What about the language requirements? Do you need to know Arabic, or is it just a plus?

A: It’s not necessary – plenty of people on our team come from the US or Europe, so they don’t know Arabic at all.

However, it is perceived as a plus and if the bank is down to 2 candidates with similar credentials, the one who knows Arabic is more likely to get the offer.

At the Analyst level there are more Arabic speakers, because sometimes we have to translate documents.

Occasionally firms will also create specific positions where the language is required – for example, KKR in Dubai was looking for Arabic speakers awhile back.

Q: Awesome. Thanks for your time – I learned a lot!

A: No problem.

Coming Up Next: Even more countries, groups, and stories. We’ll also take a look at another “hot” Middle Eastern country that has been off most peoples’ radar and compare and contrast it to Dubai.

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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