Age and Investment Banking: When Is It Too Late to Break Into the Industry, and What Should You Do If You’re “Too Old”?
There are few topics as heated as age and investment banking.
But unlike other controversial topics – crypto, the CFA, or social media censorship – this one rarely generates long-running online arguments.
Instead, it mostly produces comments such as: “Am I too old? Do I have any chance if I’m above the age of X? What should I do with my life if I’m too old for banking?”
There were 1,108 comments in the two older versions of this article, and most of them were asking these exact questions.
You probably don’t have time to read them all, so here is the TL;DR version of my responses:
- It’s not so much about your “age” – which companies in many countries cannot legally ask for – but your years of post-university full-time work experience.
- If you have more than 2 – 3 years of full-time work experience after university, it will be very difficult to get in at the Analyst level (estimated age cut-off of 25, but it may be more like 27 – 28 depending on when you started the degree).
- And if you have more than 3 – 5 years of pre-MBA full-time work experience and then do an MBA, it will become difficult to win an Associate-level role (most are under the age of 30, but the upper limit is probably closer to 35).
- If you are older than these age ranges and still want to win a traditional investment banking role, you should start by asking yourself, “Why?” If the answer is “to make more money” or “to do something more exciting,” there are more feasible ways to achieve these goals.
- If you’re 40, 45, or 50+, but you’re still convinced that you want to work long hours cranking out pitch books, CIMs, and financial models, there are sometimes very specialized pathways into IB, but your chances are still quite low.
Now that I’ve crushed your dreams, let’s take a look at why banks care about age:
Age and Investment Banking: Why Does It Matter?
Age matters a lot because:
- Banks rarely hire mid or top-level professionals from other industries. Most new hires join at the entry level, and for levels above that, they hire experienced bankers from other firms.
- You need to work long hours in entry-level IB roles, and older candidates are less willing and able to do so. There are exceptions, but the average 35- or 45-year-old is far less willing to work 70-80 hours per week than an inexperienced, driven 22-year-old right out of university.
- You also need to take orders from crazy and deranged people above you without questioning them. The less experienced new hires are, the easier it is to make them follow orders. But if you’ve already had 10, 15, or 20 years of work experience elsewhere, you’re probably not going to listen to a micromanager who’s much younger than you.
Banks have been making a big “diversity push” to attract a wider pool of candidates.
But don’t be fooled: yes, they want people with different ethnic backgrounds, skin colors, genders, identities, etc., but not different ages.
There is some “wiggle room” because some people start and graduate from university later than others.
So, for example:
- If you’re currently 28, but you did military service before university and, therefore, have only 2 years of full-time work experience, you could potentially get into investment banking via lateral hiring or a Master’s in Finance program.
- But if you’re 28, you graduated from university at 22, and you have 6 years of full-time work experience, you’re highly unlikely to get in as an Analyst. You’ll probably need a top MBA at this stage.
- If you’re currently 30, but you started university late and, therefore, have only 4 years of full-time work experience, you could use MBA recruiting to get into banking, assuming that you get into one of the top programs.
- But if you’re 30, graduated from university at 22, and have 8 years of full-time experience, along with a mid-level position at a large company, it will be more difficult. It’s still possible, but the success probability is much lower.
There are other confounders here, such as 5-year degrees in some parts of the world, possible volunteer or work experience before you start university, gap years, etc.
Also, these guidelines are less stringent in emerging markets and in cases where you’ve had highly relevant work experience – such as corporate law – or if you’ve already worked in banking, did something else, and now want to return.
If you have a complicated, confusing, or different situation, you should think about your years of full-time work experience after university to quickly assess your chances of getting into this industry.
And before someone leaves an angry comment describing their 45-year-old friend who won an IB job offer after spending 20 years in another career, yes, there are always exceptions and crazy stories.
But the basic point is that it’s fine to experiment and switch careers when you’re in university or just beyond it, and you should do this with your internships and first few jobs.
As you get older, switching becomes more and more difficult, especially if you want to move into an industry that heavily favors younger candidates.
Age and Investment Banking: What Do You Do If You’re Too Old?
If you still want to get into IB after reading the warnings and explanations above, you should start by asking, “Why?”
I’m not talking about the BS that you use to answer the “Why investment banking?” question in interviews – I’m referring to your real reasons for wanting to make the change:
- You Want to Earn More Money: Fair point, but there are more realistic ways to achieve this, such as starting a side business, becoming a coach/consultant, negotiating a higher salary, or trading/investing in your free time.
- You Want More Excitement: You should probably seek out non-work solutions for this one, such as bungee jumping or skydiving, because I would not call most banking roles “exciting” in a positive way.
- You Want to Be Around Wealthy/Powerful People: There are many other ways to “network” with rich and powerful people (conferences/events, non-profit boards, golf, expensive gyms, exotic sports, etc.).
- You Really Want to Work on Deals, and You Have Relevant Industry Experience: OK, now you have a good reason to make this transition.
“You really want to work on deals” means that you treat deals like football fans treat football: you read about them constantly, examine the legal documents for fun, and form strong views about M&A deals, IPOs, and more.
For example, think about all the drama surrounding Elon Musk’s deal to acquire Twitter and look at all the documents I highlighted in my analysis of it.
Would you do something like this for fun?
Do you find it interesting to look at presentations, articles, and documents about this type of deal and then form your own views about it, backed up by numbers and analysis?
If that is you, you should skip past the next section and go to the bottom part of this article.
If that’s not you, but you still want to do something finance-related for higher pay, you should think about alternate pathways that let you achieve some of the same goals:
Alternate Pathways into Finance or “Deal” Roles
Your best options in this scenario are:
- Apply for Operational Roles at Private Equity Firms or Their Portfolio Companies – These firms are not going to hire you as an Analyst or Associate working on deals, but they will hire you if you have a strong network in a certain industry and a lot of experience with operational turnarounds or new product/business launches.
- Move in Through the “Side Door” to Win a Corporate Development Role – Another option is to apply to strategy or corporate finance roles at large companies and then network your way into corporate development roles so you can work on acquisitions, joint ventures, and partnerships. The age requirements are less strict, and more experience usually helps you in corporate development recruiting.
- If You Have a Very Technical Background, Consider Certain Equity Research or Venture Capital Groups – “Very technical” means something like medicine, biochemistry, physics, or advanced hardware (semiconductors). If you have a Ph.D. or other advanced degree in one of these fields and you understand the technical side quite well, you could win a role in a group that requires deep technical expertise to evaluate companies (e.g., biotech equity research).
- Consider Careers Where Results Outweigh Credentials and Age – For example, search funds, certain areas within commercial real estate, and proprietary trading might qualify. With the first two, you’d be working on “deals” – just smaller ones – and with the last one, many trading firms are open to different ages and backgrounds as long as you can make money.
We’ve covered these options in various other “career path” articles, which I’ve linked to above.
The main point is that while age may be less important, you need legitimate, verifiable qualifications to have a good shot.
For example, no PE firm will hire you as an “operational partner” or “consultant” if you have 2 – 3 years of project management experience at a tech startup.
You should ideally have a mid-to-high-level role in the industry with responsibility for a specific group’s P&L and a solid network of contacts at different companies.
Age and Investment Banking: OK, But What If You Still Want to Do IB?
I have seen a few people get in at the Vice President level after 10+ years of work experience, but only under very specific conditions:
- They were typically quite senior, such as the VP of an entire division at a Fortune 500 company.
- They went to middle market or boutique banks.
- They all had highly relevant industry experience, such as a business development manager at a tech company joining a technology or TMT group.
- They accepted significant pay cuts and were brought in “below their level,” such as a Manager or VP at a Fortune 500 company joining as a 3rd Year Associate.
- They all found jobs in strong hiring markets where deal activity was rising, and many groups found themselves understaffed.
There isn’t much to say about the specific tactics because networking is networking, and you should be quite good at sending emails and picking up the phone if you’re at this level.
Are You Too Old?
This is a vague question, so the only reasonable answer is: “It depends.”
And if you have your heart set on banking, it may be possible to get in above the age of 35, but usually only in very specialized situations.
If your background does not match the specialized circumstances described above, you should spend your time on other pursuits:
- Start a side business.
- Become a coach or consultant.
- Invest in stocks, real estate, or other assets.
- Aim for finance-related roles with less stringent age requirements, such as corporate strategy/finance jobs or prop trading.
These options are not investment banking, but they still take you closer to your goals, and they offer more realistic pathways to get there.
And you’ll never be too old for most of them.
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