From Big 4 Restructuring to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap
“Help! I hate my accounting job and want to move into banking, what do I do?”
“What group should I transfer to if I want to get into finance?”
“My Big 4 salary doesn’t give me enough cash for bottles!”
If you’re at a Big 4 firm right now, you’ve had one of the thoughts above before – maybe multiple times.
We covered how to move from accounting to investment banking before, but this time around there’s a different twist – an interview with a reader who moved from a Big 4 restructuring group to investment banking.
Here’s how he made the leap, and how you can do the same:
Background & Culture
Q: Let’s start with your background – how’d you end up at the Big 4 firm, and what did you do before that?
A: Sure. I actually started out as an athlete, and played at the college level for a few years before I got a serious injury that ended my career.
Then, I transferred to a smaller and lesser-known school in the Midwest, and got more interested in finance once I knew that being a professional athlete was no longer an option.
The investment banking industry is smaller in the Midwest, but there are still a few local banks there and they were doing a lot of distressed M&A deals for the auto industry, so I started contacting them and asking about internships each week.
After a ton of networking, one bank finally caved in and decided that they needed an intern – so I joined and got to help out with a few live deals there.
As graduation approached, I continued networking and found a few guys who used to work at a very well-known PE firm.
They had just started a lower middle-market fund just for family/small-business investments, and they needed some analysis done on Project Finance-type investments (power plants and such). I volunteered to do the modeling for that, and they were impressed with my work and turned it into a full-time internship.
Since I had so much experience in restructuring, I went to a restructuring group at a Big 4 firm after my internship at the middle-market PE fund. I stayed there for around a year, and then recently moved to a bulge bracket bank.
Q: That’s a great story – before we jump into it in more detail, I think a lot of readers might wonder what it’s like working at a Big 4 firm in their restructuring group.
We’ve covered the work and culture in IB and PE before, so how would you say the Big 4 firm compared to those?
A: There was definitely a skill set overlap – we did lots of cash flow modeling, presentations to lenders, and distressed M&A deals where we advised the company on selling, restructuring, or bankruptcy options. We also worked with the big auto companies, so you got good exposure to their finance teams.
The financial modeling and deal skills were similar, but there was a big cultural difference because we only worked on 1-2 projects at once and the hours were very, very tame. I only worked on one weekend, and a “late night” was staying to 8 or 9 PM.
So it was quite a bit different from the “work hard, play hard” culture of banking where everyone works to the point of exhaustion, and then drinks to the point of passing out.
Q: Why do you think there’s that cultural difference? Deals are still deals, so I don’t understand how you could “choose” to be less busy if you’re working with Fortune 500 clients all the time.
A: It’s mostly because financial advisory services were a very small part of what the firm did. At an M&A boutique bank, 100% of revenue comes from advisory, but at this Big 4 firm advisory accounted for maybe 2% of revenue.
Their focus was accounting/audit and consulting – they had investment banking and restructuring services, but they were an afterthought next to everything else there.
Q: OK, so it sounds like they consciously chose not to take on as much business as they could have since it wasn’t their core focus.
Obviously you did well moving into banking from restructuring, but what other groups would be good if you wanted to make the Big 4 to IB move?
A: As you’ve mentioned before, Transaction Advisory Services (TAS) can be good since you get exposed to bankers in some scenarios.
But I don’t think it’s necessarily the best group all the time because many TAS groups focus on accounting and due diligence, and you may not get exposed to valuation, financial modeling, or other aspects of the deal. They may also spend a lot of time on tasks that bankers don’t care about, such as making sure that working capital requirements are met when a deal closes.
So I would recommend looking at the internal middle-market banks that all Big 4 firms have – they do mostly sell-side advisory, and while it’s not comparable to the experience you’d get at a real bank, it’s closer than most other groups at the Big 4. Here are links to each firm’s internal bank:
- Deloitte – Corporate Finance
- KPMG – Corporate Finance
- PricewaterhouseCoopers – Corporate Finance & Investment Banking Services
- Ernst & Young – Transactions
And then anything transaction-related – like the restructuring group I was in – could work as well.
Networking & Interviews
Q: Can you talk about the networking you did to get the bulge bracket offer? What was the best source for finding contacts and meeting bankers?
A: Keep in mind that I had been networking all along, ever since I got my original internship via aggressive cold-calling.
So it was just continuing what I had already started – I took the Big 4 offer knowing that I still wanted to move into banking and would have to continue networking.
It was difficult to find bankers at first because few alumni worked in finance, I didn’t have co-workers I could reliably ask, and headhunters were useless unless you had at least some full-time work experience.
Q: So where did you find bankers if not through the usual sources like your alumni database?
A: A couple ways:
- High School Contacts – Even though my university had few alumni in finance, there were quite a lot from my high school who worked in the industry.
- Random Online Contact – I would just go through LinkedIn and look up bankers in the Midwest and start reaching out them like that.
- Cold-Calling/Emailing – This is how I got my first internship. It’s time-consuming and has a low hit rate, but it does work.
- Upscale Gyms – I joined a few higher-end gyms in my area and ran into a bunch of financiers there. I met a few bankers, people in private wealth management, management and turnaround consultants, and even a PE Partner like that.
All of that helped, but the most helpful thing for me was always asking, “I’m interviewing with this group / interested in this area – do you know anyone else I could speak with?”
I got tons of referrals with that line at the end of each call or meeting. It sounds very simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people are too afraid to make simple requests in a conversation.
Q: I really like the tip about upscale gyms; it reminds me of Gordon Gekko playing racquetball.
So it sounds like your strategy was pretty similar to what we’ve covered here before with investment banking networking, setting up informational interviews, and then following up aggressively.
How did you spin your resume when you were applying, since the Big 4 firm was your only full-time experience?
A: I actually downplayed the Big 4 experience, because I felt my banking internship and my work at the middle-market PE fund were both more relevant. So I focused on those and described my transaction experience using the template you’ve suggested before.
For my Big 4 experience, I focused on the valuation and modeling work and left out anything that was closer to accounting/audit.
Even though I had worked in restructuring there, I was interested in moving to industry or M&A groups in investment banking, so I didn’t want to make myself look too specialized by writing 100% about restructuring or distressed deals.
Q: That makes sense, and it’s great advice for anyone who has worked in a more specialized group and wants to move elsewhere.
What about the interviews themselves? Were they mostly technical or deal experience-focused?
A: They focused a lot on my deal experience – and more my experience at the bank and PE firm rather than in my restructuring group.
There were technical questions, but they were more curious about why certain deals happened, potential complications, and what I thought of the valuation and the process for different companies.
For some of the industry groups, a key question was “Why this industry?” They get a lot of people who don’t know why they want to work with financial institutions or industrial companies or whatever they cover.
Q: We covered a few possible answers to that one before, but what did you say?
A: In my final year of university I had completed a finance course where we valued companies in different industries, so I used that as my “spark” to show them how I got interested at first.
It didn’t work for every industry group, but by using that I could at least talk about my interest in the more common ones, like energy, financial institutions, and industrials.
I also used a few of your industry-specific modeling courses to demonstrate my interest and they were really impressed with that, since hardly anyone else had gone to the effort of completing entire case studies on these companies.
Q: I’m surprised by that one, because we generally tell customers that the industry-specific courses are more helpful once you’re already working – but you found them useful for interviews as well?
A: Yes – even just seeing real examples of NAV or dividend discount models for different types of companies was very helpful, because then I could walk through them in interviews.
And these were lateral interviews at the top bulge bracket banks – even there most other interviewees still hadn’t done as much as preparation as you might expect.
Q: Well, glad to hear the courses were helpful!
It seems like the interview process was straightforward for you, but I’m sure bankers had at least a few “objections” to your background. What were the key issues, and how did you overcome them?
A: Their main concern was that my academic experience looked very spotty.
I had taken a year off after I got my injury back in college, and then had to enroll in another school and ended up missing another semester, so it looked like I had taken forever to graduate and had been to school twice.
Some bankers just focused on that for 100% of the interview – they asked about all my gaps in education and why I had gone to schools they never heard of.
I answered those questions by explaining that for my first 2 years in university, I was practicing constantly, still doing well in school, and working 1-2 part-time jobs at the same time. So I spun a negative into a positive, and pointed out that I was working crazy hours a good portion of the time and could therefore handle the hours of a bulge bracket bank.
And then I also had my previous IB and PE internships, so they weren’t too concerned by the end.
What If? And the Future
Q: Since you had those internships, you had 100% relevant experience when applying to larger banks.
But what advice would you give someone who’s at a Big 4 firm in some other role, like audit? What should they do if they have no transaction experience and want to get into IB?
A: First, get out of audit immediately. Do something – anything – more stimulating.
People make fun of investment banking for being mindless work, but in my opinion audit is even worse because it’s so mundane.
At least with deals, you witness drama as different buyers and sellers express interest, back out, make different proposals, and negotiate. In audit you’re staring at numbers all day unless you happen to uncover the next Enron.
Most Big 4 firms are fine with internal transfers – it’s often easier than it is at a bank. Sometimes the Partner you’re working for may take it personally, but that depends on your group.
You should reach out to the other group you’re interested in first, contact people there, and make sure they know what you’re interested in doing before you even run the idea by your current boss.
The Big 4 firms all have lots of events and internal mixers where professionals in different areas can meet each other, so it’s easier to get to know other groups than it would be in IB – most people don’t work more than 50-60 hours per week, so they have the time to help you.
You really have no excuse not to move to a group that’s more closely related to banking – I would recommend restructuring, valuation, internal M&A, and TAS as your best options.
Q: It’s interesting to hear that the internal transfer may be easier at Big 4 firms, but I guess the culture is just more relaxed across the board.
So now that you’ve won this bulge bracket offer, what’s next for you? Will you stay at your new bank for some time, or are you thinking about moving to the buy-side?
A: Unlike most other bankers, I’m actually interested in staying in IB for the long-term.
Back when I was interviewing for this role, a number of distressed investment funds also approached me, but I wasn’t interested in PE back then and I’m not interested now, either.
My key issue is that you must put your own money to work to progress in PE.
It’s not just Partners investing the fund’s capital – they also put in their own funds, so a poor investment could wipe out a good chunk of your personal savings.
Yes, the pay ceiling is higher and you could make mind-boggling money – but let’s be honest, at the MD/Partner-level, the average is about the same in both industries. The outliers in PE make far more, but for me the risk isn’t worth it.
The other issue is that private equity is much less of a team environment than banking, and coming from an athletic background I enjoy working in teams more than the solo work that you see in PE.
Q: That makes a lot of sense, and that point you raised about putting your own money to work is a great one that often goes overlooked. Thanks again for taking the time out to chat, I learned a lot!
A: You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.
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Hi Brian. Whilst I have have had final interviews at IBs recently, I have not received any offers. I am therefore looking at pursuing other opp’s, with the hope of getting into an IB eventually. What would be more beneficial – Big 4 M&A or Valuation Advisory?
Big 4 M&A because the work is more relevant and you get the benefits of the brand name (assuming valuation advisory is at a non-Big-4 firm).
Thanks for the post and feedback on comments.
I worked in TAS FDD both in India and US and been recently moved to Canada. I’m looking to make a switch to IB. Following are my questions:
1. I’m over 30y, is it worth to switch to IB now? What level can I expect to start in IB if I get through? What kind of salary can I expect – BB v/s boutique in Toronto (any ballpark is helpful)?
2. What steps should I take to make a switch i.e. shall I join the financial modeling course or any other certification?
3. Any tips for marketing myself or for the interview story?
Many thanks and appreciate the help!
1) Tough to say, but if you want to stay in IB long-term or you are 100% set on private equity, which normally requires IB first, yes. If you just want to use it to move to another field, such as corporate development, probably not.
We have U.S. compensation figures here, not sure about Canada: https://mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banker-salary/
2) and 3) I would take a look at some of these articles about switching from TAS / Big 4 into IB:
Hey Brian – Nowadays the Big 4 have growing IB teams – any feelings on them? Have you heard anything about the work they’re doing/transaction volume?
This is not a new development, Big 4 firms have always had IB teams. These teams are fine, deals are smaller, pay is lower, exit opportunities are not as good, etc. They’re fine, but it’s still better to go a dedicated investment bank, if you can do so, for those reasons.
Hi guys! So I just got offered an internship in commercial real estate at a top 10 bank, though it’s not bulge bracket. My goal is to break into investment banking. Should I take this position and then build experience and then move into IB, or should I decline it to recruit with other firms?
Depends on your other options… if you’re not close to winning interviews/offers anywhere else, take this internship. But if you think something else more relevant could open up in the next few months, wait for that.
Hi, which group in the big 4 could give me better chances to land an IB job?
– transaction services (due diligence)
– corporate finance
Potentially any of them, but restructuring is probably best, followed by transaction services, followed by corporate finance (But this depends heavily on each group’s deal flow and the nature of the work… varies a lot by firm and geography).
Hi Brian, Nicole & team. Thanks for all these super informative posts and responses to queries. Following up on your previous post Brian, just curious to understand why Big 4 Corporate Finance shouldn’t be the 1st choice for eventually landing an IB or elite boutique job? Please advise.
Because it’s the least relevant and often involves budgeting/forecasting work as opposed to working on M&A deals or other transactions.
I have an offer for the Big 4 FAS practice and am interested in moving to IB later on. When would be the right time to make the switch?
There’s really no right time if the IB firm gives you an offer. I’d say in a year.
I am a CA and interested in transaction advisory and would like to know how challenging it would be to move from audit to transaction advisory in Big 4 (India).
Thanks if you can give some idea.
I’d leave this for readers to answer. https://mergersandinquisitions.com/big-4-transaction-services/ may also help
I used to intern in a BIg 4 transaction advisory, and I found that the associate hires (>3 years experience) tend to be 50% people from audit making the jump, and 50% from various back office departments from BBs (Credit Suisse Operations, Barclays Risk, etc.). There are the rare few that jump from other departments in the Big 4 (but audit still form the majority), and the even rarer few ex-IB people who wanted to improve their lifestyle and willing to take the cut in pay for it.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Hi Rechal. I think am qualified to answer this question since I have also made the jump.
Okay, so, I need to know if you have already completed your CA or are you still pursuing it?
Have you ever worked with a big 4? The reason I ask you this is because TS groups like to recruit people who have had big 4 audit experience. I could make the jump right after my CA only because I did my internship with a big 4.
Your chances of making the jump would be the highest at the associate or assistant manager (senior) level.
Great article. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.
I have a business undergrad degree, along with a JD and a Tax LLM from NYU. I am currently working as a senior associate in an International Tax Department of a Big4 firm but would desperately like to move into a financial role, as I believe I would find the work more interesting and enjoyable.
My question is what is the best way for me to do a rotation into a TAS or Valuation type group in advisory? I am planning on taking some of the modeling classes and do not think it will be especially difficult for me to learn considering the modeling I already do of some advanced tax calculations.
Would it be beneficial for me to take the first part of the CFA to show my aptitude in the area? What is the best way for me to connect with others in the advisory group? Tax seems to tend to be isolated from the other practice areas. At least at the lower levels.
Thanks for any advice you can give me.
I’d network with the group and see if they have any spots available. Yes I think a CFA can potentially help you, and the best way to connect with the group is through internal events, coffee and/or introduction from your contacts at work.
I’ve read over some of the articles and comments re transitioning into investment banking after working for a few years and hope I can add to that.
I’m a graduating senior and have two offers: the first is as a financial analyst with the FP&A division of a medium sized company (subsidiary of fortune 500). I would be doing lots of P&L analysis.
The other is with a fairly prestigious investment management consulting firm, but in their back office. Basically I would be aggregating raw data from portfolio managers and organizing it into the internal database.
Obviously my end goal is to break into investment banking… which do you think offers a better chance/has better exit ops? I’m leaning towards the FP&A role because it seems the work will be more interesting, even if the name is less prestigious.
Also, when should I start networking/gearing up my job search again to transition into a TAS or ibanking analyst role? Should I time it with fall full-time college recruiting?
One more thing!-
There seems to be a lot of discussion around informal networking at gyms. It sounds great, especially because I go to the gym a lot, but how exactly would that work? Most people I know go in and focus on their workout and don’t really like to talk.
You can hang out after the gym. Once you start seeing the regular people at the gym you can establish a connection. You can then become gym buddies and eventually friends
If you think the work at the FP&A sounds more interesting, I’d go with that. I think either wouldn’t be an easy switch to banking; you may have to get an MBA to do so.
Hi Brian. Thanks for sharing with us such an insightful story. I am an incoming Enterprise Risk Services Consultant focusing on Financial Institutions at a Big 4 firm, but I am always interested in pursuing a career in IB. I did a lot of networking at school, got couple of interviews for full-time jobs from BB but they all didn’t work out very well. I think this has something to do with my background (did my undergrad outside the U.S. and went to the states for a master degree; lack of transactional experience, etc.), so I want to use my experience at the Big 4 firm as a springboard for IB. Should I:
1) try to jump to IB directly? I personally think it’s unrealistic and less possible because what I am going to do as a Operation and Risk Consultant has no transferable skills for IB.
2) try to transfer to M&A TAS group to have some sort of transactional experience, then try to jump to IB afterwards? However, I notice a lot of TAS people come from Audit and possess more or less accounting experience. I wonder whether it’s still possible for an ERS Consultant to move to TAS?
Thank you for your time and help.
1. You can try and yes it can be challenging.
2. Yes going from TAS maybe an easier route.
How does the restructuring work at a Big 4 firm compare to the restructuring work at a bank?
It is similar, but you tend to work with smaller companies at a Big 4 firm. Also, some firms may prefer to take one side or the other (debtor or creditor) and not do much work on the other side.
Thanks for keeping this thread going.
I’m currently a senior in the M&A group at a Big 4 firm working in tax. I’m about a year in and now have the opportunity to transfer into either the Valuation/Business Modeling or the Restructuring group. I appreciate that Corporate Finance is likely a more direct route to IB, but that transfer is unavailable right now and I’m leery of waiting too long in tax.
Any insight as to which of V/BM or Restructuring might provide the better inroads to an eventual IB or PE career and how long I should wait before leaving the Big 4 (once I make the transfer)?
I am currently an auditor working at a Big 4 firm in Asia. Just wondering how I should go about networking with bankers. Why would they even want to meet me if I have nothing to offer them?
This is a good question. Yes it may be true that most bankers may not necessarily have the time to meet you, some bankers may be generous with their time and want to help. It is best if you could establish some sort of connection with them first (go to the same gym, have similar activities you enjoy, etc). I’d start with approaching contacts you know and see if they have any friends in banking they can introduce you too because it’s generally easier to meet people through referrals. I’d also focus on regional boutiques and other smaller firms. In short, regardless of whether you’re a freshman, a senior, an MBA or a mid-career professional who’s switching fields, breaking into banking is a marathon, not a sprint. https://mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-networking/
Hi Brian – Big fan of your articles!
Question – I am in the process of completing my BBA; I have already done 2 internships at 1 of the Big 4 Audit firms – I have 1 more internship remaining before I graduate.
Should I go back to Big 4 and complete my CPA designation, do a CFA on the side, and then try and jump the boat? Or should I just try my luck in the last internship remaining, before I graduate? It’s a bit hard for me to decide. Please advise!
Thanks in advance!
If you have an IB offer, I’d choose the IB offer. If you don’t have an IB offer now, and you already have a big 4 offer this summer, I may take the offer now because most banks have already finished recruiting. If you don’t have any offers on hand now, I’d try your best to secure an offer with an IB this summer because you’ve already had 2 internships in accounting and IB interviewers may question why you spent 2 summers in accounting. It is good to gain different experience in your internships so you have a better understanding of which roles fit you most. Moving from accounting to IB can be challenging esp in this environment.
Thanks for your quick response!
Yes – I do have a return offer from Big 4; primarily why I went back there for the 2nd internship as well, and might go back for the 3rd as well.
Final quick question – Since I will already have 1 year work experience by the time I graduate, do you think its useful to write the CPA exams and get the designation? Because otherwise I just feel like my whole internship experience (accounting hours) were a waste.
Again, thanks in advance!
Yes the CPA is useful in general – for business, accounting, and potentially research roles, not necessarily for IB roles though.
Right, makes sense! – Thanks for the advise!
Hi, I’m seeking a transfer over to the Restructuring group over at my Big 4. Would it be appropriate to include my GMAT score on my resume? I wrote the GMAT as a hedge in the event that I would still be in audit in 2 years time and I ended up scoring reasonably well. Thanks for the help
Just a clarification – my fear for putting the GMAT on my resume is that it might give off the impression that I plan on leaving immediately after the analyst program. Are these concerns valid or unfounded?
Not necessarily. I can see where you are coming from though it won’t hurt if you put a high GMAT score
If you have a GMAT score above 700, go ahead. It won’t hurt
Perfect, thanks so much Nicole – you guys have been super helpful
What do you think about the chance to move from TAS (operation transactions – M&A integration) into IB, especially in-house at a Big 4? For me, an MBA is not really option as I am already a post-JD graduate. Thanks.
Hard to comment on this post because I don’t know your background. Having the right network and gaining the relevant deal experience would help you in your case I believe.
I’m considering moving into Big 4 Restructuring with a law degree (as previously mentioned above). My interest is to move over to a HL or Duff&Phelps-type restructuring bank. Do you think that this is a useful route after a few years (and assuming copious networking)?
Yes this route is doable.
Hi – This is a very great thread I have found and thanks for organizing all this. Just a question. I had close to 2 years of auditing experience in EY and now graduating with MBA in Canada. My future goal (1-2-3 years from now) is to work for corporate finance or international energy related investment projects. So, for that I have applied to EY TAS and Performance Improvement positions as a graduate (although I have 2 year audit experience). Do you think TAS or Performance Improvement related job in Big4 would take me fast to CF or international energy investment projects??
Thanks so much in advance!!!
I have worked in one of the big four corporate finance team for one year, tried networking but hasn’t got into banking yet.
Recently I found one executive via linkedin from a BB firm also have his own advisory firm (very small). I am interested in getting a position at the BB firm, and wondering if it is possible to work in the small advisory firm and transit to the BB firm?
When I sent him a coffee-chat invite, should I ask to work for his firm? I am also thinking about working part-time (don’t need to be paid) in his own advisory firm.
Yes it is.
Yes ask him.
Thanks Nicole. Since I haven’t met this guy before, should I ask directly for a position or just a coffee chat first?
Depends on how much time you have and whether you want a job from him or not.
Hi, I am currently an undergraduate student in HK. I have the opportunity to secure an offer from PwC advisory.
I have two choices,
Transaction Service or
Valuation and Economics
Which one should I go? Transaction Service is good but it would require me to spend two years in auditing before moving to Transaction service.
My ultimate goal is to get into IB.
Thanks so much!
TAS may be a better choice if you want to move into IB. Yes you’ll have to decide whether those two years are worth it or not. I’d speak with people in the two divisions and figure out which one interests you most and learn more about the exit oppts for both.
Hey, what are the prospects of moving from M&A transactions group at a Big 4 to IB Analyst. I have only been out close to 9 months from graduation. Can i do a lateral? or do i have to start fresh? Facts (Non-target, IB internship, above 3.5 GPA)
Lateral or starting fresh can both be challenging. If you’re at TAS your chances are a bit higher. Just network a lot!
Not TAS but this to be specific …http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_GX/global/services/financial-advisory/m-and-a-transaction-services/index.htm
Can we talk? I am interested in going to FAS. What office are you in?
Mergers and acquisitions services
What is Mergers and acquisitions services? I would be happy to speak with you.
Network with bankers. Networking with help you a lot. Most top jobs are known through word-of-mouth
I’ve been reading your site for half a year now and it has aid me a lot in finding a job and understanding the world of finance better, so thank you.
I’m an Easter-European
Finishing a local university in 2 years (nominal is 3) in Politics with a low GPA (was working all the time – not finance, though)
Will start working in the regional PWC from fall
Got an offer from a target UK MSc finance course (this would be my first option but I did not give my real GPA, as I thought I wouldn’t get in > and when I understood I have to make a false certificate then I got scared so not thinking about it so much now – is it possible? :))
I would like to get into IB in London.
What should I do?
1. Do a MSc program in a local university while working in PWC and get better grades. Do an internship in a local IBank in the summer and get a job there and then start finding a place in London.
2. Go for PWC for the year and find an internship in London using cold-calling.
3. Work in PWC for 3-5 years. Try to get a position in London inside PWC and in TSA or CF not in assurance where I’m currently at. Get an MBA (target school) and go for associate position.
So I have bad grades, no work exp and I’m in the wrong company :)
Maybe you have some other thoughts
I’d try 2. It can challenging for you to break into IB. I’d suggest going to a target school for your MBA to boost your chances
I’m currently about a year into an consultant role at a top five accounting firm. I’ve been involved in mainly operations consulting work, with my latest gig being a long assignment working essentially as a staff financial analyst at a client (gathering driver data, building models). My educational background is in political science from a small, highly selective liberal arts college with a strong alumni network. I’m about 2.5 years out from graduation at this point.. I had past experience in advertising account management before moving into consulting. Investment banking is where I want to be, but I didn’t pursue for a number of different reasons out of college. Now I know I want to, but feel stuck. Where to start? Alumni from my alma mater have told me my best bet is to apply to business school and break in after. Is there any other route that I can follow now? Any advice?
Yes that is the standard and probably most tested route. You can network in the meantime and see if you break in
Hmm looks like I made the wrong move. I ultimately want to get into i-banking or equity research, with equity research being my first choice. Networking with VPs and analysts at the moment for my eventual move.
I’m a big 4 senior in Canada and I’m looking at a potential move to transaction services (M&A due diligence for PE firms) and valuations work on my down time. I opted out of the Corporate Finance/Valuations route as our firm mainly focuses on asset divestitures and our clients are pretty small. I figured I would have more deal exposure and transferable skills from performing due diligence, with modeling coming from valuations work and self study.
Do you think I should stick with my decision or just try the CF route? Surprised to hear you do modeling in restructuring…always thought it was mainly receiverships.
I think moving to TAS can help you in your case.
I started at M&A in big 4 for around 6 months in China. From my own experience, it is hard to networking in China. Any ideas how I could leverage my experience and get into IB?
I’d still continue networking with Chinese banks. At the junior level, I don’t think they would expect you to bring in relationships with corporate clients so you would need to prove your strong modeling/valuation/presentation skills and ability to interact with clients in interviews. Don’t give up – continue cold-calling/emailing IBs!
I’ve just recently graduated and started at a small IB boutique. If my utmost goal is to eventually end up at a bulge bracket firm how would I go about approaching this? I have previous experiences in TAS and currently doing M&A for a boutique. I am already in the networking game and seeking to further my chances at breaking into the bulge brackets. Would trying to achieve an entry level horizontal transfer be the best option or are there more doors to open as I progress further down the line. At the moment I have no real interest in other exit-opps.
Try to ask for a horizontal transfer. I think that’s a better bet. If you do well at the boutique and build your name, the guys at BBs will probably take note
I worked in the corporate finance advisory group at big 4 for 6 months but I haven’t got any valuation work…I talked to our partner a couple of times and things haven’t changed much.
I am currently taking classes from M&I and quite confident about my modelling skills. But when I interview with bankers, will it really hurt that I have little modelling exposure? And advice?
Yes bankers will ask re your modelling exposure. You should mention that you have taken modelling courses though I’d suggest you to know what you’re talking about because interviewers will ask you technical questions!
Can I then spin my experience to make it sound modelling intensive? I rebuild our team’s models for the past project so I have quite confident about my modelling experience. Will banks do background check in details?
Yes, you can spin it as long as you are not lying.
Yes banks do background checks on where you have worked and which division you worked for. I think good interviewers are BS detectors so I’d suggest you to be able to back your story up
Any comments on working in a Forensic Accounting group at a big 4 firm? Any comments on exit opportunities from a role like this would be especially appreciated.
Readers might have a better idea
Hi, I am an undergrad looking to go into Equity Research in IB. Can’t find a job in IB now, so would a Big 4 audit experience or valuation experience be more valuable for a later jump to Equity Research?
I’d say audit experience would be more useful to ER while valuation experience under Advisory wld be more useful to IBD
Hi Brian or Nicole,
I started at corporate finance division at a big 4 firm for 2 months. How long should I wait to apply for banking jobs? Besides, if I were to get into banking after 1 year, would I be a second-year analyst? If I were to transfer to banking after 2 years, would I be an associate? Thanks!
Generally you should wait at least 6-9 months before applying so you get some solid experience first. After 1 year you might be a 2nd year analyst at banks but depends on your experience at the Big 4 firm and how many deals you were exposed to and what banks you’re applying to.
After 2 years you would not be an associate, most likely 2nd or 3rd year analyst.
Thanks Brian. From now on, I should start networking again? Besides, I find it hard to network after working especially my office is a bit far from where the major banks are, so that it’s a bit hard to reach out to them. Do you think a good idea to network during weekend? How many calls/in-person meetings should I make every week?
You can network anytime, anywhere. There are no set numbers. If you live far from where major banks are, I’d suggest you to organize in-person meetings at where the major banks are and fly down there to meet bankers..like a networking week.
How many deals did an analyst typically get in a bank? I have worked at one of the big 4 for 6 months and have closed one sell-side m&a, working on another sell-side, one buy-side, and one valuation fair opinion indepently.
I really want to get into banking but I want to start as a 2nd year analyst. However, I have only 6 months experience…should I wait another 6 months before applying to anything? Will count 6 months experience in banking?
If you apply now, they will probably hire you as a first year.
If you wait for another 6 months, they might hire you as a second year but it depends on the firm, hiring needs, your skills & how you present yourself.
So if the experience you will receive at the Big 4 internal middle market banks is not comparable to the experience you would receive at a real bank, would it be better to launch your career at one of these internal middle market banks or in a financial planning&analysis program at a BB firm with the end goal being to later move into IB? Also, would top MBA programs regard one of these work experiences as stronger than the other?
Really depends on your team so I can’t say. Either way you still have to pitch a story explaining why you want IB and network w bankers at BB. I’d say top MBA programs hv many applicants from finance so I don’t think having a finance background alone will make you stand out. Perhaps IB is better than the others but there are many other factors involved
Thanks nicole i understand you are saying quality of the actual experience matters more than the “prestige” of the firm on the resume.
Yes. However, prestige matters in a way too. You are usually more exposed to more deals of in volume and size when you are working at a “prestigious” firm, and bankers value such experience
Ok thank you for the thorough explanation. Right now, I’m leaning towards the internal middle market bank at big 4 because I think the valuation and modeling skills I would gain in addition to the fact that it is a client facing role will be more resprected by bankers as I attempt to transition versus the mid/back office program at BB. While the mid/back office program at BB would provide me with easier access to bankers, I think there would be little to no skill overlap and that might be tough to overcome as I try to demonstrate “fit”.
Do you think my thought process above is accurate and are there any other factors you would urge me to consider while making this decision?
Sure. I’d also urge you to consider which role you’d actually enjoy more in the meantime, which role you’d fit better in terms of culture and which team you’d like more – the people you work with are very important
Hi Brian,really enjoyed your website!I have a question in relation to internal transfer.
I’ve just started(literally 1 month) my job(3 year training contract) in the audit-financial service department in one of the Big4 firms.I’d really like to transfer to the Corporate Finance department but from what I heard normally senior level people(2/3 yrs in current role) would be able to transfer.It’s the milkround time for 2012/2013 intake now I’m just wondering would that be a good idea talking to the CF people and tell them I’m interested in an internal transfer?I’m based in the capital office of a small European country, and we normally hire about 10 new intakes for CF.The thing is that because of the firms policy, I’ll have to inform the partners in my department of this which I’m a bit concerned with. I wonder if the CF people say no, would I be able to return to audit and being treated as nothing has ever happened?
I’ve thought about applying to another Big4 but I would be breaking my contract in that case and since I’ve been sponsored by my firm to do a masters,I’ll have to pay them back the money I suppose. But what really worries me is this ‘reputation’ of breaking the terms. As it’s a really small place I’m living in and all the Big4 firms are literally in the same area. If the story of me applying to another Big4 while only getting in the door of one spreads around the place,I could literally end up having no jobs at all?? and in the long term may hamper my chance of eventually getting into a BB IB?
What’s your opinion on this?would I be better of just waiting for at least 2 years and then ask the CF people about the potential transfer?By that time I should be exam qualified and the CF people would probably consider me more ‘qualified/skilled’ for the job as compared to say I ask them about the transfer now, they might not see me having any competitive advantages over other candidates as I did accounting undergrad and masters. There aren’t many traits I can think of that makes me appealing to the CF people apart from having fairly good GPAs and a genuine interest in Finance. But would I be too old getting into a BB IB in the US as an analyst after at least 2yrs auditing plus probably 2 yrs CF(by which time I would be 26…). or should I apply to a top 10 MBA in the US after that and then try to get in as an associate that way?
I know I’m writing a essay here but I’d really appreciate it if you can share some thoughts on this!Many thanks!
I’d suggest you to ask for a transfer discretely if you can – without letting people in your division know that you are seeking for a transfer. Yes, peeps might treat you differently if they find out that you are interested in transferring to another division
I think you’re worry about it too much. If you are worried that people will find out you want to apply to another big4 then don’t apply to another big4 firm or ask your interviewers to be very discrete. However, since your MBA is sponsored by your current firm, I’d advise you to be cautious but worrying will not help.
I think you’re thinking way too much. Relax and be still. I think you know the answer more than anyone else.
I will be commencing a Corporate Finance Rotation (3 year training program) at one of the Big 4 in a few months.
I will be rotating through 3 services lines including Transaction Services, Restructuring and an optional one I can choose myself.
I have narrowed down my choices for the optional service line as follows:
M&A (mid market clients)
Transaction Real estate
Valuations and Business Modelling
Infrastructure Advisory (includes project finance, choices is industry specific)
Although I am currently intending to stay with this firm in the long run (Big 4 Corporate Finance experience in combination with CA/ACA qualification are very regarded in Europe), it would be good to know which TWO would be valued most for M&A at a bank in case I decide make a switch some time in future.
Thank you in advance for your help.
M&A and Valuations and Business Modeling
What do you think about transaction integration if that’s the only choice available?
If that’s the only choice you have now take it and see how it goes. In the meantime network your buns off
If I were to work at the transaction service at Big 4 for two or three years, can I move to investment banking at the associate level?
If I want to get an MBA after 2-3 years at Big 4 advisory, what kind of business scholls I could get in?
Yes – I think the skills you gain there would be useful. You’ll also have to network, land yourself an interview and present yourself well to nail the interview
Depending on your recommendation letters, essays, transcript and GMAT scores – so many variables and I can’t say.
Thanks for the post,
How would you spin an internship in the international transfer pricing group to be more applicable to banking (officially it’s under the tax division, but the reports we write cover everything from industry outlook to comps and of course, the actually transfer pricing calculations).
Try to focus on how your work affected everyone else in terms of revenue/profit or tax savings and so on.
Yet another great material here. Thanks a lot Brian!
I am starting soon in Big4 TAS here in London and I want to leverage that position for this year application cycle. The only problem is that I am not sure how to put it in the CV. Since I am starting in few weeks and it will take some time before I will have some deal experience – I can’t really write anything.
I was thinking about either just to state the company, department and date, or also add general description of the position (no deal examples). It is tempting to fully cover it in the cover letter but I doubt anyone will read it.
What would you suggest?
Thanks a lot,
Just add a brief description of what you’ll be doing when you start there.
I’m a rising senior at a top 15 “target” (finance/accounting major, 3.9 GPA) and currently interning in the restructuring group at an accounting/advisory firm. Past experience includes corp. finance at large clothing company.
No real modeling experience, and main experience this summer has been research distressed companies (bloomberg, capiq) and pitches.
With no prior banking experience to fall back on in interviews, what’s the best way to “bankify” the restructuring internship for interviews/is it even possible to get a FT analyst position w/ this experience?
Just write about what your work could potentially lead to if you don’t have results to point to. And yes lots of people do nothing substantial over the summer but still use it to get offers.
I’m an intern in a Big 4 structured finance advisory group. The clients the group serves includes front-office IB securitization and underwriting groups; we pretty much mirror all of the modeling, structuring, and due diligence work done by the banks. Prior to this I’ve interned in BB Corp Finance and PWM.
Although I enjoy working in SF Advisory, I’m still very interested in breaking into IB. Do you think it is better (or even) possible to pursue IB right out of school following this internship, or to work full-time in SF for a year or so before trying to break in to IB?
Yes I think it’s possible and probably easier to transition right away.
I got a informal part time internship in a finance department of a non-profit. The head emailed me asking what I want to learn specifically about finance. What would you recommended me to tell him if I want to prepare myself for IB? Thanks a lot!
Accounting, 3-statement modeling, valuation
We finished training last week and have now begun working on our deals. From what I’ve seen so far I expect to learn a lot throughout the summer. I can tell you that the training is intense but you definitely get a lot out of it! I highly highly recommend this program to anyone trying to break into Banking, Hedge Funds, or PE!
Nice to know your experience there. Are you going to apply for full-time positions this year?
A couple of months ago you had a post about people who get into the Anex Advantage Program would receive the BIWS Financial Modeling Course for free. I’m actually the program right now am I good for it?
How was your experience with the program so far? I am actually thinking about doing this program later on.
Yes – I need to get the final confirmed list from AnEx first and then we’ll send you the login information.
That sounds great!
The reflection of the hours worked in the big 4 that is painted above is rosy at best. Having spent 2 years in a Big 4 firm, during year-end we worked until midnight routinely and every Saturday and Sunday. It may depend on the clients that you work with, but I know a late night is not 8pm for most people.
Think it probably depends on the region, group, and firm… some places are worse, but overall the hours are still better than banking on average.
True, the hours are better over the course of the year. I wanted to point out that you will still work at the big 4 for anyone reading this. I didnt want the impression to be that you can leave at 6 everynight and not work weekends.
I remember you said that it would be good to learn accounting in college, but how much accounting is enough? Would two semesters of accounting suffice (i.e. principles + intermediate)? Cuz after intermediate level there would be managerial accounting and tax + audit, and do we actually need these advanced materials for IB? Thanks in advance!
Yes that’s more than enough, IB accounting = very simple
Hi there – I’m currently with the M&A department of one of the Big 4 firms in Asia, so I’d like to point out a couple pieces of information:
1) They work almost exactly the same way as IB departments at banks, so you’ll be doing almost exactly the same work – industry research to understand whatever you’re pitching, turning that into pitch books, and then valuation when you’ve closed it. Repeat ad nauseum.
2) You get paid less. A lot less. I’m talking Auditor and Taxman sorta salaries. Not sure if that’s the case over in the US, but that’s how it is here. The Big 4 are, as expected, quite stingy with their money. You do get slightly better bonuses than other departments (3-4 months, on average) and you can get promoted twice in your first year, but even after that you’ll still be pulling in less than half of what the BB analysts make.
That’s maybe 45-50k in your first year and 60-70 in your second.
3) Deal flow can be very high, but with much smaller deals than BBs; whether this is a good thing or not is up for debate.
4) You work only about 60 hours a week, which is a plus. And the working environment is a lot less stressful than at a BB, even without considering the reduced hours. It’s just a far more relaxed environment.
Did you get into the M&A department right after undergraduate study? I asked this question because my interviewers told me that I have to work for auditing for a couple of years before they can actually transfer me to financial advisory group.
Most people do move there from somewhere else, but there are usually at least one or two fresh Analysts per year. It might differ from firm to firm or office to office, I suppose.
Hey Lee, thanks for sharing. I can support most of your findings from my Big Four M&A internship in Germany.
Planning to move somewhere else?
The Big 4 really don’t pay very well at all, but I guess all the money in the world won’t help when you hate your bosses, work 100 hours a week and suffer a heart attack in the middle of the office from all that stress…
Interesting, thanks for sharing all that.
Just curious, how would you compare the salary and growth potential of a quant (e.g. MFE) with those in IB? Thanks in advance!
Can’t say definitively but with quants there is more of a ceiling in some cases so you may start at a higher level and stay there but may never advance to the level of a group head MD or something like that. I am sort of BSing based on random knowledge (happens a lot with comments) so someone else with actual knowledge can chime in.
Theres lot of chatter about people trying to move into banking from a variety of backgrounds. If it takes a person let’s say 3-4+ years to move into an analyst role, do you think it will be difficult to get another job after the 2 year analyst stint? Since you have 6-7 or so years of total experience competing for an Associate job against people with only 2 years of experience
You could get some other job, but the question is what it is… you would be taking a step down in anything outside of finance pretty much.
I briefly met this guy who went directly into the navy for 7 years after undergrad, but was able to get into an banking analyst program at a BB after those 7 years
How does someone get a interview for an analyst program if you are no longer in undergrad? Because usually people are recruited directly from college
Military has a solid network but I don’t really believe that story – normally need an MBA first. https://mergersandinquisitions.com/military-investment-banking/
what was your best night out when you were still an IB analyst
An impossible question to answer as the best nights are the ones you remember least.
I think the guest is from Ernst and Young, because only in Ernst and Young the mentioned department is called “TAS”.
I actually don’t know where he worked at or where he went – I avoid asking those questions in interviews because people like to spend a lot of time guessing, and if I don’t even know then the chances that anyone else will figure it out are low.
How can one get out of an operations job and move into an IB front office role? 1 year in operations so far.
Also, if you wanted to do Restructuring in the long run, wouldn’t a background in Audit/Forensics be helpful?
It could be helpful, but still better just to jump into restructuring / distressed M&A right away.
Is the group the interviewee ended up related to Restructuring?
No he went to an industry group at a BB.
On that note, what IS the salary like at a Big 4 firm, give you’re working Restructuring or TAS or M&A?
Base is probably around the same as in banking but bonuses are low to nonexistent.
How about auditing group? Do I need to transfer to advisory group first before I can make the move to investment banking?
Secondly, how about big 4 in Asia? As for big cities like Beijing in China, they hire around 3000 people for the entry level positions. In this way, from what I heard in China, it’s pretty difficult to transfer to investment banking. Is that true?
Yeah probably easier to transfer to an advisory group or one of the others recommended above first.
Big 4 in Asia – yeah it’s probably harder in places like China because there are so many people. Might be a better idea to move to another country first.
Can’t agree more! I am in China and considering to move out by obtaining a master degree in US.
Yeah I think in mainland China moving from auditing to IB is quite difficult, unless you are a truely smart networking guy and have a great lots of luck.
Some auditing department in China does small scale of valuation jobs. I would say just collect experience on that part first and see how you can put two and two together.
Normally if you don’t wanna sit down and get prepared for chance, you can go to get a MBA.
Actually it’s quite boring as well, expensive and still hard to diffrenciate yourself.
Kinda like a deadlock.
Sounds that you know a lot about auditing in mainland China. What does auditing staff typically transfer to after a couple of years? Do you think I should take the job in China if I want to do investment banking?
so how would you answer (bs) ‘why big4 (tas, corp fin, val) over IB’ in an interview if you know you want to move to IB deep down inside?
Say that you fit in better with the culture at a Big 4 firm and have connected more with the people you’ve met there.
Wow, good point about putting your own money into the fund if you really want to advance. Great article!
Are you going to do an article about the other authors you’re going to hire for the site? I didn’t apply but I’m interested in seeing how it panned out.
I am going to write something about the hiring process and how I selected people because it’s relevant to applying to banks as well and there were pretty interesting results. Probably won’t do something just on the new writers since it’s not super-entertaining to read a list of bios. But you will start seeing contributions from them soon, new bios on the About page, and also a new site redesign to support all of this.
Thanks for the great post!
I’m currently working as an analyst at the M&A team of a Big 4 company. I’ve been wondering how long would be the optimal time to work here until you should try to move to actual banking? Also, would the situation change a lot if you were a senior analyst (after ~2 years) or a manager (~5 years)? Would you still have start off as an entry level analyst if you managed to make the jump?
Most people would say 1 year, but you could try to move on before that depending on your experience. I wouldn’t stay 5 years and not even 2 years if you can avoid it – otherwise you might have too much experience and they wouldn’t know where to put you.
Would love to know how to break into big 4?