by Brian DeChesare Comments (62)

The Investment Banking Career Path: The Complete Guide

Investment Banking Career Path

When it comes to the investment banking career path, there’s a fitting analogy: a fraternity house.

Just like a fraternity, investment banking offers a clear hierarchy, certain rituals you must complete, and benefits and added responsibilities at each level.

And, as with a fraternity – or the mafia – you may also run into serious problems if you stay “in the business” for too long.

In this article, we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of the investment banking career path, including the work, hierarchy, promotions, lifestyle, hours, salaries, and exit opportunities at each level.

But let’s start with the basics before we move fully into the frat house:

What Do Investment Bankers Do?

Investment bankers advise companies on large, corporate-level transactions such as mergers and acquisitions and debt and equity issuances.

“Advise companies” means “Work with management teams to market and sell companies, find potential targets to acquire, and make deals go through; or recommend the best terms and timing for a capital raise and then market that debt or equity issuance to investors.”

The role is part advice, part sales and marketing, and part negotiation and deal-making – on a grand scale.

For more, please see our articles on mergers and acquisitions, pitch books, how you win deals as a Managing Director, and our investment banking industry overview.

Why A Career In Investment Banking?

Many people are drawn to the investment banking career path for the money: even at the mid-levels, you’ll be in the top 1% of income earners in most states and countries.

Others are attracted by the excitement of deals and high-stakes negotiations with important people such as CEOs and Board Chairs; some are fascinated by deal mechanics as well.

And still others are attracted to investment banking careers because of the exit opportunities, particularly the ones available to junior bankers such as Analysts and Associates.

Investment Banking Career Requirements

The investment banking career path attracts people who are:

  • Competitive, high achievers who are willing to work long, grinding hours.
  • Extremely attentive to detail.
  • Solid in terms of reading/writing and math, though not necessarily amazing in either area, as little “real math” is required.
  • Interested in deals rather than simply following the markets or investing in public companies or other assets.
  • Interested in a specific exit opportunity that normally has investment banking as a prerequisite, such as private equity or corporate development.

Junior investment bankers are usually (but not always) recent graduates from top universities, such as the Ivy League in the U.S. or schools like Cambridge and Oxford in the U.K.

They complete finance-related internships during undergrad, intern at a large investment bank, and then win a full-time return offer from that bank.

Outside of that, you can also get in if you’re working full-time in a related field, such as valuation at a Big 4 firm or corporate banking.

And you can break in at the MBA level if you’re at a top business school and you have the right work experience.

Regardless of your level, you’ll always need the following to break into the industry:

  1. A sequence of work and leadership experience that looks highly relevant for IB roles;
  2. Good academic credentials (grades, test scores, and university reputation);
  3. A lot of networking and interview preparation; and
  4. Something “interesting” that makes you appear like a human rather than a robot.

For more, see our comprehensive guide on how to get into investment banking and our articles about investment banking recruiting.

Or, check out our IB Interview Guide for more about preparing for specific questions and getting up to speed on the technical side:


IB Interview Guide

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It is nearly impossible to break into investment banking careers in the mid-levels, so you do it:

  1. Early – Right out of undergraduate, an MBA program, or as a recent university grad; or
  2. Much later on – If you’re already a C-level executive in another industry, for example.

The Investment Banking Career Path

The investment banking career path and corporate hierarchy is well-defined and hasn’t changed much over time:

There are some variations and slightly different titles, but this is the basic investment banking career path.

We’ll look at each level in detail below (see the investment banking internship guide for more on the Intern or Summer Intern level).

For now, here’s a summary of what to expect at each level:

Position TitleTypical Age RangeBase Salary (USD)Total Compensation (USD)Timeframe for Promotion
Analyst22-27$100-$125K$140-$190K2-3 years
Associate25-35$175-$225K$225-$425K3-4 years
Vice President (VP)28-40$250-$300K$450-$650K3-4 years
Director / Senior Vice President (SVP)32-45$300-$350K$550-$750K2-3 years
Managing Director (MD)35-50$400-$600K$600-$1300K+N/A

NOTE: The descriptions, salaries, and bonuses below refer to front-office roles in investment banking, not to the back or middle office, which are supporting functions.

Also, the compensation figures are based on pay in the U.S., and specifically at large banks in New York. Pay will be lower, sometimes significantly lower, in other regions – yes, even in London – and at smaller banks. For more, please see our coverage of investment banker salaries.

Investment Banking Analyst Job Description

As an Analyst, you’re in charge of Excel and PowerPoint work and administrative tasks such as tracking buyers and sellers, managing the data room and deal documents, and responding to requests from clients and potential clients.

To get a flavor of the work and what an average day is like, see the articles on the investment banking analyst job, mergers & acquisitions, and investment banking pitch books.

Age Range: Most full-time Analysts have just finished undergrad, while some have completed Master’s programs, military service, or another full-time role, so we’ll say 22-27.

Investment Banking Analyst Salary + Bonus: This varies from year to year, but base salaries tend to be between $100K and $125K USD at large banks, with bonuses that are roughly 0.5x to 1.0x that base salary. Total compensation is often in the $150K – $250K range (as of 2022).

Investment Banking Analyst Hours: You’ll be in the office for 70-85 hours per week, but you won’t be working for that entire time. Investment banking hours are long, but there’s also significant “downtime.”

You’ll work less on weekends, and sometimes you’ll get a protected weekend where you get Friday night into Saturday off.

A long time ago, some groups were known for making Analysts work consistent 90-100+ hour workweeks, but that is rare now.

Promotion Time: Traditionally, it took 3 years to be promoted to Associate, but many banks have cut this time to incentivize long-term employment, so now it’s more like 2.0 or 2.5 years; we’ll say 2-3 years to be conservative.

Investment Banking Analyst Exit Opportunities: As an Analyst at a large bank, you have access to the full set of investment banking exit opportunities: private equity, hedge funds, asset management, corporate finance, corporate development, venture capital, and more.

At smaller banks, your opportunities will be more limited to other banks, corporate finance, and corporate development roles.

Investment Banking Associate Job Description

As an Investment Banking Associate, you are a better-trained monkey who has more life experience, earns more, and does work that’s a bit more interesting.

The Analyst on the team will do much of the grunt work, but the Associate assigns the work, checks it, and occasionally jumps in to do some Excel and PowerPoint, especially in more complex presentations and models.

Associates also attend more meetings and have more client interaction, though they’re unlikely to have “speaking roles” in most meetings.

Some Associates are recruited out of top MBA programs, while others are Analyst promotes. Rarely do Associates get recruited from completely different industries.

Traditionally, Associates were seen as long-term hires at the bank, while Analysts usually left after a few years, but banks have been trying to change that by encouraging Analysts to stay longer (results are TBD).

Age Range: Associates come from more diverse backgrounds, so 25-35 is the safest bet for the age range. It would be virtually impossible to become an IB Associate much before 25 unless you graduated university at age 18 or 20.

Salary + Bonus: Associates tend to earn between $300K and $550K USD for total compensation, with base salaries progressing up from $175K to $225K at large banks.

Expect significantly lower bonuses at smaller banks.

Hours: The average is more like 65-80 hours per week because you don’t get called in for quite as many last-minute emergencies.

Promotion Time: If you perform well, it might take 3-4 years to reach the next level of Vice President.

However, it’s harder to get promoted to VP because the bank might not need another VP right away, or it might be skeptical of your ability to become a rainmaker eventually.

Exit Opportunities: Investment banking associate exit opportunities are more limited.

Headhunters will not actively court you in the on-cycle private equity recruiting process, as they do for Analysts at large banks, so you need to be far more proactive.

Corporate finance careers or corporate development careers are always options, but if you want PE or HF roles, you’ll need to be extremely targeted and proactive to have a good shot, and you’ll almost certainly have to focus on smaller firms.

Investment Banking Vice President (VP) Job Description

Investment Banking Vice Presidents assume more of a “project management” role and do not get into the weeds in the same way as Analysts and Associates.

VPs communicate with the Directors and Managing Directors, interpret their requests, and then work with Associates and Analysts to implement those requests and check their work.

For example, if an MD wants to pitch a potential client on a certain deal, the VP will find out what he wants and then give the Associate and Analyst instructions to complete it.

VPs get far more client interaction, and they might do things such as calling potential buyers to pitch a client that the bank is selling – whereas Analysts and Associates would seldom do that (if ever).

Over time, Vice Presidents also start developing relationships and winning clients.

Being an investment banking VP is arguably the toughest job in the industry because you need to balance deal pitching and execution with relationship development, and that is a precarious juggling act.

Age Range: It’s probably more like 28-40 here since you must have been an Associate first; hardly anyone gets in from outside the industry.

Investment Banking VP Salary + Bonus: Base salaries range from $250K to $300K USD, with total compensation in the $500K to $900K range at large banks (as of 2022).

Investment Banking VP Hours: Average hours at this level are around 55-70 per week, mostly because the work shifts to project management rather than last-minute presentations and requests.

Promotion Time: It usually takes 3-4 years to be promoted to Director, assuming you perform well.

But it’s very easy to get “stuck” at the VP level or forced out if you don’t show that you have what it takes to become a rainmaker.

Investment Banking VP Exit Opportunities: They’re even more limited than the ones for Associates.

You’re not going to win a traditional private equity or hedge fund role at this level, so you either switch banks, move into corporate development, or go into a completely different field.

And “switching industries” often means significantly lower pay, so VPs might have trouble justifying the change.

Why is Everyone at a Bank a Vice President?

You might have noticed that a lot of people at banks have the title “Vice President.”

This happens because banks like to give employees the feeling of advancement and promotion, without necessarily offering them true advancement or a pathway to the top.

The title of “Vice President” means far less at a bank than it does at, say, a Fortune 500 company, where VPs have huge decision-making power and seniority.

Investment Banking Director Job Description

Directors are also called “Senior Vice Presidents” or Senior VPs (SVPs), and sometimes there are other variations like Executive Directors (EDs) or “Principals.”

This level is a mix between what VPs and MDs do, and the role differs depending on the bank and group.

Sometimes Directors focus on developing relationships and winning clients, and other times they do more execution work and project management like VPs.

But no matter what a Director does, he/she will have to move closer to winning clients to advance to the next level: Managing Director.

Age Range: You must have been an Associate and VP to get here, so the minimum age is probably in the low 30’s. We’ll say 32-45, with 45 on the high end and plausible mostly if you went to business school late.

Investment Banking Director Salary + Bonus: There’s a bit of a bump over VP-level compensation, but not necessarily a dramatic one; the typical range for total compensation might be $800K to $1.2 million per year, with the majority in the bonus (as of 2022).

Investment Banking Director Hours: The hours drop to around 50-60 per week, but required work travel picks up.

Promotion Time: It’s probably an average of 2-3 years to get promoted to Managing Director, assuming you perform well enough to justify it.

Investment Banking Director Exit Opportunities: Your options are, once again, “join a normal company or switch banks.”

If you’ve developed more of a Rolodex, you might be able to move into a buy-side role such as private equity, but it’s still very rare.

Most private equity firms like to hire bankers at an early stage and then develop them over time; they view mid-level hiring as a bit awkward.

Investment Banking Managing Director (MD) Job Description

Managing Directors have one goal: to make it rain.

They spend their time winning clients, meeting companies, and developing relationships, and they’re on the road doing that much of the time.

The MD is the King of the Jungle, and all the lower-tier monkeys answer to the MD and do his/her bidding.

Sometimes MDs get involved in deal negotiations, especially for very important deals or ones where they have special relationships, but otherwise, they focus on winning deals.

Age Range: It’s nearly impossible to reach this level before your early 30’s, so we’ll say 35-50 for the range.

Few MDs continue working until the official retirement age (65-70); it’s a stressful, high-pressure job, and past a certain net worth, it’s just not worth it.

Investment Banking Managing Director Salary + Bonus: Base salaries are in the mid-six-figure range, with total compensation in the high six figures to low seven figures. An MD doing decently should earn between $1 and $3 million per year, and sometimes a low multiple of that (as of 2022).

A normal MD is unlikely to earn $10 or $20 million in one year; the MD would need to be even more senior (e.g., Group Head) or in a buy-side role for that to be plausible.

Investment Banking Managing Director Hours: Similar to Directors, the hours are in the 50-60 per week range, but with even more travel time now.

Promotion Time: There are levels beyond “normal MD,” such as Group Head and COO and CEO, but there’s no set path to reaching them and no set time frame.

It’s not as much of an up-or-out culture at this level, so banks will keep you around as an MD as long as you keep producing clients, deals, and fees for them.

Investment Banking Managing Director Exit Opportunities: At this level, you might be able to move around and win other high-level jobs at companies or possibly even in private equity or other buy-side roles.

You can do that because everything is sales at the highest levels; a deep Rolodex is useful in many fields.

However, most MDs who leave willingly do so because they want to do something different: they retire early, focus on family, or explore an interest or hobby.

Careers Beyond the MD Level: Group Head, COO, CEO And More

As stated above, there are roles beyond the Managing Director level: Senior Managing Director, Group Head, CEO or COO, and so on.

There’s little data available on the paths to reach these roles, but these very senior levels are 100% results-driven.

Similar hierarchies and career paths also exist in buy-side roles such as private equity – in fact, you can take a look at our detailed article on the private equity career path here.

For example, to reach the top in venture capital or private equity, you need a track record of investments that have yielded solid realized gains.

If not, you’ll get stuck in the mid-levels and eventually forced out.

Investment Banking Career Pros and Cons

Summing up this article, here’s how you can think about the trade-offs of the investment banking career path:

Benefits / Advantages

  • High salaries and bonuses at all levels.
  • Potential for quick advancement up the ladder if you perform well.
  • Access to top-notch exit opportunities, especially as an Analyst.
  • Industry is unlikely to be disrupted by technology because at the top levels, it’s a relationship-based sales role.
  • Exposure to many different companies, industries, and management teams.
  • You gain useful hard and soft skills that apply broadly to different industries and companies.
  • Advancement is directly linked to your performance and contributions, especially as you move up.

Drawbacks / Disadvantages

  • Terrible work/life balance and brutal hours; even at the top levels, the lifestyle isn’t great since you’ll have to travel a lot more.
  • Often boring, repetitive work and lots of downtime where you’re waiting around for other people.
  • Easy to get “stuck in the middle” and not be good enough to advance to the top.
  • More limited exit opportunities if you try to leave the field in the mid-levels.
  • You do nothing useful for the world and make no positive social impact unless you get rich enough to donate to charities.
  • Extremely tough to get into the industry if you get a late start, you’re a career changer, or you attend a non-target school.

So, is investment banking right for you?

There’s no universal answer, but if you want to make a decision, imagine a fraternity house with piles of money that gradually increase in size as you walk up the stairs.

If you can tolerate enough hazing and abuse to make it all the way up without passing out or dying of alcohol poisoning, you might just be a banker.

For Further Learning

For more on career paths, check out these articles:

And if you want help getting in at the first or second rung of these stairs, our friends at Wall Street Mastermind might be able to help you out.

They’ve worked with over 1,000 students to help them secure high-paying investment banking jobs out of school (and internships while in school), and their coaches include a former Global Head of Recruiting at three different large banks.

They provide personalized, hands-on guidance through the entire networking and interview process – and they have a great track record of results for their clients.

You can book a free consultation with them to learn more.

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hey Brian, I am currently in high school from New Zealand in my final year. I start to applying to universities very soon. I think I would enjoy a Finance career, do you still recommended it in 2024 or has it become too saturated? Thinking of majoring in Finance. At one university in NZ a new degree has started called bachelor of Banking, Finance and Technology (FinTech). Do you personally think it would be better doing Finance or BFinTech? If you’ve got any other recommendations I would appreciate it. Thanks!

    1. I would recommend reading this article to decide:

      Your major/degree doesn’t really matter that much next to school name/reputation, grades, work experience, networking, and location. NZ barely has an IB industry, so if you’re serious, you should move to the U.S. or Europe or another region with more finance jobs. FinTech gives you some more options maybe, but doesn’t sound that dramatically different from a normal Finance degree.

  2. Daniel Watkins

    Hey Brian, I really enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the investment banking industry. I am 22 years old and recently graduated from a non-target with an irrelevant degree in Sport Management. During my senior year I took a finance class that caught my interest and then became interested in pursuing investment banking. I plan on going back to grad school in a couple of years to get my MBA from a target school, but wanted to know if you had any advice on jobs I should be applying for now to build my resume for these top MBA programs and investment banking firms. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again!

    1. Thanks. You should focus on some of the “stepping stone roles” outlined in these articles:

      Basically, find the most finance-relevant jobs possible that also do not have a ridiculous amount of competition.

  3. Daniele

    Thank you for the article Brian. Extremely helpful!
    What are the target universities in Europe? Besides Oxbridge, what other universities are well-known to the people working in IB?

    1. Thanks. We cover the lists of target universities in different regions here:

  4. Thanks for the article Brian. Great read! I am 42yrs old and a VP of Finance in an unrelated industry (construction actually). I have a BA in Finance and interned a long time ago during my college years at a small NY based IB firm, Arnhold and S Bleichroeder. I completed 2 internships, one in their foreign cashier dept and the other in the P&S dept with the traders. They wanted to hire me FT as I performed really well at that junior level…for what it was at least.

    Unfortunately, i graduated college a few months after 9/11 and this particular firm (like many at the time) had a hiring freeze with some even moving out of NYC with everything going on. This made me go an alternate path in my career leading to where I’m at today. Getting married and having children earlier on also pushed my decision away from pursuing this career at the time due to the long hours required. The work I do now is interesting but doesn’t obviously come with the bonuses that are inherent in the IB world. Plus, I always wanted to work in the IB industry and know family and friends currently at varying levels at GS, Barclays etc. Would it be 100% impossible to get into this industry at this point in my career? Why do I ask this question almost 20yrs later? I don’t know…maybe a mid-career itch? I think I already know the answer to this question unfortunately but I just had to ask! Thank you

    1. I don’t think it’s 100% impossible, but I would say there’s a ~95% chance you won’t be able to get in at this point. A better alternative in a case like this if you want more excitement / higher compensation is to pursue something like corporate development at your company (or a related one in the industry) so you can work on deals and joint ventures and so on without the crazy hours/lifestyle of IB (and the huge bias against more experienced candidates).

  5. Keegan Van Every

    Do you believe success at the IU Kelley School of Business as a Finance Major will set me up well for getting into a big bank (JP Morgan, Goldman, Barclays, etc.)

    1. If you can get into the well-known “Investment Banking Workshop” there, yes (and assuming you have everything else required). If not, it will be more difficult because IU Kelley is otherwise more of a semi-target.

  6. Thanks for the info, Brian – I’ll cut right to the chase. I am 26 with a Masters in Accy/Data Analytics and UG in Accounting from a top Accounting program. I am also a licensed CPA with two years of Public Accounting/Industry experience in a non Big 4 firm. However, I have always had a passion for finance/investments and am looking to make a switch into an Analyst type role. Do you think that beginning the CFA journey and passing Level 1 would make me more attractive to IB firms? Or would it be more worth my time to work at a boutique bank or do valuation type work somewhere and go for a lateral move? Thanks!

    1. No. No one will question your technical skills if you have public accounting experience and a CPA. Focus on boutique banks / get valuation experience and aim for a lateral move.

  7. Hello Brian, great article!

    I am unique case and I have not found anyone with story like mine. Unfortunately, due many hardships and personal circumstances I took an extremely nontraditional route. I immigrated to United States from India, and due the tough immigration process and financial hardships I’ve face throughout my life I am graduating UG at the age of 29. I was not allowed to apply for loans nor had the money to pay for them, and I was not allowed to attended college for some time or get a job due to my immigration status. I came to the United States in elementary school around the age of ~7. Throughout ages 18-26 I was faced with uncertainty on a weekly basis of whether I would even be allowed live in the United States legally. At one point in my life, I was even homeless. It was a struggle, but I finally became a permanent resident in the United States a few years ago. I will attain my citizenship this December.
    Now that you’ve got a glimpse of my personal life, I want to tell you about my credentials and understand my chances for breaking into Investment banking.

    I am UG student at a non-target school graduating in December 2022 with a cum laude (distinction). I’ve completed several internships and programs (2 internships (finance related), 1 research program and 1 fellowship in Venture Capital), one of internships was at a micro-fund PE firm where I was a Fall analyst this past fall. I am on the E-board for the Finance club at my university. I completed a virtual experience IB analyst program provided by JP Morgan. I also completed Wall Street Prep’s flagship financial modeling course. Luckily, I’ve never been questioned about my age since most people just assume I am in my early to mid-20s. What are my chances of breaking into an Analyst position upon graduation after reading my credentials and personal story?

    If I can’t land an Analyst role (doesn’t have to be BB) after graduating in my plan is to complete an MBA at a top 20 university (after about 2-3 years of work experience) and come in as an Associate. I was also contemplating an MSF at a top school to maybe break in as an Analyst considering I’ve had a PE internship and finance experience. However, age again is an issue, I will be 35 by the time my MBA is completed. And I will be 31 if I choose to go the MSF route. Do I have a better chance of coming in as an Associate after an MBA or going the MSF route? This summer I am planning to take my GMAT and get certifications for my FINRA series licenses to differentiate myself from the 2022 class, do you think this will help me?

    I want to break into banking more than anything else in the world and I don’t mind putting in a 110% to making this happen. I understand there is ageism in the field, and I am very concerned I can’t bounce back from my past hardships. These hardships were out of my control, and I did the best I could within my power to negate them. I would love any insight you might have on I how can achieve my goal. Is it possible for me to get an offer as an Analyst given my PE and finance experience? Is it even possible for me to break into BB banking even if I get a top 20 MBA admission given my age? I hope you can give me some advice. I was very encouraged to see some of the oldest Associates are in there mid-30s. This gives me some hope. I wanted to share my story to help anyone that is in a similar boat looking for answers. I respect and commend you for all the guidance Brian. I am sure you’ve directly and indirectly helped many individuals break into banking. Thank you for your time.

    1. So, your age and unconventional background are not really the issues here. The main issue is that you did not complete a summer internship at a large bank that converts into a full-time role if you do well, which means you’ll have a very difficult time getting into IB after graduation. The GMAT and other certifications will not help. Your main two options at this stage are:

      1) Aim for something like a boutique bank or corporate banking or valuation or a Big 4 role after graduation, work there for a while, and use that to move into IB as a lateral hire.

      2) Win admission to a top MSF program and use that program’s name/reputation to recruit directly for summer internships at the large banks, and convert one of them into a full-time role.

      3) If you don’t like either of those, work for a few years in a related field and do a top MBA.

      I would recommend option #1 in most cases, as it costs less and gives you more work experience more quickly.

  8. Hello Brian thank you for the article it was very insightful. I had a question regarding my chances of getting into IB. I am currently a physics undergraduate at a Russel group university up north in the UK, non-target. Im going into my final year wondering what are my chances of getting into IB, I have experience in big 4 audit, some extra curricular hosting finance conferences. Do you think its worth getting a masters, extra year to apply for relevant internships, and would it look bad if this masters was not finance related but in physics? I understand that IB recruit from all backgrounds.

    1. I don’t think it’s a great idea to do a Master’s degree in physics if your goal is IB. You can get away with that at the undergrad level, but it’s harder to justify above that level. If you haven’t had IB internships, you don’t have a great chance of getting into the industry because banks make most of their full-time hires from their intern classes. So a summer internship is usually a pre-requisite.

      If you’re very serious about getting into the industry, yes, do the Master’s degree, ideally in finance or something business-related, and use that to get in.

    2. Dion Zhou

      Hi, Brian. I am Dion who just graduated with the BA degree of art history. I consider breaking into the IB industry in the future but before that, I would like to find some internships to see if I am a good fit. I wonder if it is okay to get an IB internship without a business degree. I am currently doing some entry level client service job at an auction house and doing a part-time job at a real estate company.

      1. You don’t need a business degree, but you do need good academic results and previous relevant internships. Please see:

  9. I’m from Nigeria and I’ll like to break into IB, I have my in Accounting and I’m looking forward to getting my MSc. I’ll like to know what course is better to study in my masters level in order for me to be an investment Banker?

  10. Ignacio Guzman

    Do you think that Analyst roles will be wiped out at some point or automation will get here? As well as do you think that regulation will negatively impact the industry into making it less lucrative or more restricted to some operations?

    1. Depends on what you mean by “at some point.” By the year 2100 or 2200? Sure, anything’s possible. By the year 2030? No, unlikely.

      We haven’t even managed to automate cars yet after ~20 years of trying, and driving is a much easier job than being an IB Analyst. In the grand spectrum of jobs, IB Analyst work is fairly difficult to automate because so much of it depends on client/team interaction and responding to random requests. It’s not like picking up boxes in a factory.

      Regulation may change, but the bigger factor is that interest in antitrust is picking up, so large M&A deals are more likely to be restricted or less common in the future (as they should be…).

  11. Hey there, I am a junior in high school applying to colleges. I want to get into investment banking but I don’t know what career path to take. I am applying to target schools like UChicago, Carnegie Mellon, Yale, etc. but I’m wondering if I should major in Computer Science or Finance. Finance is more relevant to investment banking, but Computer Science has a lot more opportunities (in case investment banking doesn’t work out). I would like to know if it would make any meaningful difference if I took finance or computer science at a target or non target school. If I go to a target school, is a job in investment banking more or less secure?

  12. Thanks for the read. You mentioned MDs usually retire before 65 – 70, so when do MDs typically retire?

    1. Whenever they get bored or burned out of the business and want to do something else… varies a lot by the person. But very few 50-60-year olds want to spend all their time pitching when they’re already wealthy and don’t have much time left.

  13. Almost all the investment bankers I know who stayed in investment banking throughout their careers feel like they should have done something different. That said, you do get paid a ton of money (more than most people who do middle market private equity or the average hedge fund analyst).

    After a few years, the work becomes extremely repetitive – it is essentially putting together a bunch of slides analyzing a company, strategic acquirors, M&A math, DCF, etc. The work is interesting at first, but then you don’t learn as much as you did at the beginning.

    Exit ops are great though – even if you are an Associate or a VP, you can till switch to PE/Hedge Funds (just need to network more and take a paycut at first), or can do corporate M&A, startups, venture capital, etc.

  14. Is accounting considered as a STEM Major ? I’m from Canada by the way.

    1. Usually not, but it is more “practical” than most other non-STEM majors. So it’s a much better choice than majors like history, politics, gender studies, etc.

  15. Hi Brian, great post. I was wondering if you had any insight on what a vice chairman of an investment bank does. Would that position be akin to a Senior Managing Director or Group Head? Thanks in advance.

    1. Vice Chairman is basically a relationship and brand manager. They speak to important clients and other stakeholders, represent the bank in media and at conferences (well, back when in-person conferences existed), assess the Board of Directors, set overall direction, etc. They’re usually not directly involved in deals unless the deal is a massive, industry-changing one.

      1. Great, thanks so much! Does one usually have to be a Managing Director beforehand? Or is this position separate from the typical hierarchy?

        1. Yes, usually you become an MD first

  16. i am yet to enter into college and would like to know how to go about my subjects and other exposure so that i can become an IB after i graduate ??

  17. Didier A.

    Hi Brian,
    This is an excellent guide, very practical.
    I’m a recruiter and was documenting the IB sector.

  18. Hi, thanks a lot for this amazing website! Found a various info related to IB. Anyway, I’m 25 yo by this year, and I got my bachelor degree in industrial engineering in 2017. However, my final thesis was all about financial modeling in business feasibility studies, and my first job was a risk advisor (internal audit) in Big4 accounting, for a 6 months period. Then I moved to multinational logistic company (non finance related) until now. Been offered a place to study MSc Finance in London. Given this situation, what would you recommend to break into IB? Thanks in advance

    1. I think it may be tough to use just an MSF to break in if you’ve already had 3 years of full-time experience. But it might be doable if you want to stay in London because it’s more common to see slightly older people in IB there. My recommendation would be to follow this guide and start winning off-cycle internships ASAP:

      1. Actually it is not 3 years, since I started my current job on Dec18. I’m not planning to stay in London for a long time, and the most possible way is to take an intership related IB during my MSF. What would you recommend / any suggestion? Thank You

        1. If it’s a top MSF program in London, I would recommend completing it and going for off-cycle IB/PE internships (as in the link above) before/during the program. There isn’t a single best IB-related internship, and most firms don’t advertise them openly, so you have to do some legwork networking and finding smaller firms that might offer them.

          1. Thank You for your advice

  19. Wonderful website chocked full of useful information; thank you! I’m curious if you’d be able to comment on what I’ve come up with as a potential path forward: O&G geologist with most of my experience coming from two F500 companies –> getting an MBA (full-time) from a school in which BB or MM recruit –> land IB associate role –> exit after a few years to a corp finance role in industry. Is this feasible/realistic? IS the fact that I’m a scientist (non-engineer/non-financial background) going to be too big of a hurdle? Would I be better suited to go the consultant route post MBA and exit to industry that way? Thank you!

    1. Thanks. Yes, that route is feasible, but you might need some type of finance/business experience before the MBA program, such as a pre-MBA internship, to have the best shot. Otherwise, they might look at your profile and be a bit skeptical… though O&G is also a lot more specific than other industries, so who knows.

      It would probably be easier to go into consulting without any pre-MBA experience with that kind of background, but then you’re not likely to get into corporate finance or any type of finance role at a normal company. So, it depends on how much you want to do consulting vs. finance.

  20. Irma Williams

    In the Banking Industry is it safe to assume that once you have worked 17 years or more and are over the age of fifty, the chances are slim to none to be looked at as an asset? The experience of back office with a degree is not recognizable unless you have a Masters Degree in the Banking industry. I think there are a lot of people been overlooked with exceptional skills that are not being utilized other than training johnny come latelys, who end up getting the promotions and earning the pay that should be offered to someone who has perfected the work.

    1. I’m not sure I really understand your question, but if you have 17 years of work experience / are older and you’re in a back office role, then yes, you have a significant amount of career risk. To become an asset, you need to become a revenue generator for the bank. Any role that’s purely technical or administrative in nature, especially at that age, has a high risk factor attached to it.

  21. Steven Hacobs

    Hi. Thanks for the amazing post. What are your insights about Morgan Stanley? How easy or tough is it to move up the ladder given that I am going to start from Associate position. I hold a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

    1. We do not comment on specific banks except in general terms, e.g., when discussing the bulge brackets as a whole. It’s as easy or difficult to advance at MS as it is at any other bank in its peer group: completely dependent on your ability to lead teams and eventually source relationships in deals. A PhD in Math does not matter if you’re in a relationship-oriented IB role – only your sales skills.

  22. Hey Brian, congratulations for your work on the site, simply amazing! Im 25yo from Barcelona, graduated at a non-target univ. in Business Administration in 2016, 1 year experience as bookkeeper in Spain and 1 year experience in Customer Service for a huge online company in Germany. Been offered a place for a master’s in finance at Warwick and also a position as a Junior Transaction in a Big4 in Spain. Given my age and experience, what would you recommend to do to break into IB – M&A Analyst in London? Thanks a lot!

    1. I would probably do the Master’s in Finance degree because it will be extremely difficult to win an IB offer in London coming from a non-target university and coming in with not-that-relevant work experience. Big 4 in Spain might help marginally, but you still need better access to recruiters.

      1. Thanks for your advice

  23. Alex Brominte

    Great post. I was wondering what your take is on RBC Capital Markets, especially after the Suntrust BB&T deal. How do you think they fair in terms of exit opps and deal experience? Thanks!

    1. RBC is a solid bank but still in the “In-Between-a-Bank” category, meaning you will get a good experience and exit opportunities from it, but not the same ones you would get from EB and BB banks. There is a good description here:

  24. Shailendra

    A fantastic post. But what I don’t understand is, considering the money you’re making at the beginning, you would expect an exponential increase as you rise the ranks — seeing as it only gets tougher upwards. I’d expect you to hit the 7 figure mark earlier than mentioned above. Is this because legislations neutered compensations?

    1. Thanks. There’s no exponential increase because the fees that investment bankers earn are capped – they’re almost always a small percentage of deal values, and you need a certain number of staff to execute deals. So if a 10-person team can close ~2 deals per year for a total of $2 billion and earn a 0.5% fee on that, that is $10 million in fees for the entire 10-person team. Yes, the MD(s) will take the bulk of it, but some will also go to the VPs, Associates, Analysts, etc.

      If the team wants to close more deals, it will need more team members to execute them and more MDs to bring them in. So the compensation is limited by the Fee / Headcount ratio. For more, please see:


    Can a barchelor and honours in economics lead to a career in IB?

    1. Your area of study matters less than the quality of your university, your internships, grades/test scores, and other criteria. So… yes, but you don’t need to major in economics necessarily. For more, please see:

  26. Matthew Baldwin

    Hey. I’m a high schooler looking to go into IB. Is an MBA necessary to rise up the ranks? If so, should I pursue it straight out of undergrad, or after some work experience as an analyst? Thanks!

    1. It’s not necessary to advance if you start out as an Analyst in IB. An MBA is only necessary if you start out in some other industry, stay there for a few years, and then decide you want to get into IB, in which case you would complete an MBA and then join as an Associate. But if you aim for IB and start there right after undergrad, another degree is not necessary.

      1. Hi Brian, another high schooler (senior) looking to go into IB here.
        I’ve recently gotten into a good semi-target in the UK, but as an international, it works out extremely expensive. I’ve also gotten into a few unis in the EU that are ranked T30-T100 (but non-targets for London), and are significantly cheaper. My thought process is that since I’d probably be doing an MBA/Master’s at some point anyways, so why spend the money on an expensive undergrad, especially if it doesn’t matter.

        But if I’m in a semi-target (assuming I perform well), would I even need to do an MBA? Just looking for some clarity here, thanks.

        1. Why are you assuming that you will need an MBA or Master’s? You don’t need them if you can get into IB out of undergrad (and yes, I realize the system in Europe is different due to the 5-year degrees with a Master’s included at the end).

          Basically, it’s in your best interest to attend the best university possible IF you are 100% set on doing investment banking out of undergrad. Going to a cheaper university makes sense only if you’re not sure what you want to do, you want to keep other options open, etc., which is fine (most students are like that).

          You can still get into IB coming from a semi-target or non-target school in Europe, but it’s quite difficult, and many people do end up using additional degrees to get in.

  27. Great article and thanks for the TV series article you released a couple weeks ago, big fan of Succession now. I had 2 questions for you.

    First, you mention how IB isn’t as attractive as it once was and how other industries are providing strong alternatives to IB. Given the skill set and interest that IB analysts have, what would you say the biggest alternative to IB for these
    students/analysts are in the market right now?

    Second, as someone who is interning in IB this summer, I am a bit concerned about a potential recession. What would your biggest tip be for somebody looking for FT work in that environment? Are the typical strategies you write with regards to receiving FT offers still valid in a recession? Would you target different lines of work outside capital markets? I’m specifically talking about recruiting during a recession, not receiving a FT offer from you SA position.

    1. Thanks. I don’t know that there’s a clear, directly competitive alternative to IB that still offers all the same benefits. It’s more that there are other non-finance opportunities that might also be appealing, such as programming at big tech companies, data science, etc. The mid-term and long-term compensation are lower in those unless you become very senior at a big company or get lucky with a startup that becomes massive, but at the entry levels, the pay might be the same or higher with a better lifestyle.

      You could also argue that the buy-side firms hiring students right out of undergrad are the biggest competitors to banks, but I’m not sure that’s big enough to make an impact yet.

      Recessions are tough to predict, and everyone, including me, has been wrong about the next recession multiple times now. So… I don’t think you can do anything specific, but if you’re interning in IB this year, you just have to focus on winning the full-time return offer at the end.

      All you can really do to improve your chances is to target counter-cyclical groups like Restructuring or ones that are resilient to downturns, like Healthcare or Power/Utilities. If you want to work in finance, I don’t think you should change your entire strategy just because a recession may be coming – as it will be much tougher to get in later on if you do something else first and then try to move back to it.

      If you don’t receive a return offer and you therefore need to look for FT roles, just focus on the types of groups above or maybe go slightly outside banking and think about Big 4 or other roles where you can still use similar skills, but where the firm may not be affected as badly.

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