by Brian DeChesare Comments (69)

Investment Banking Exit Opportunities: The Myth of the Buy-Side Job

Investment Banking Exit Opportunities
What’s the easiest way to distinguish an American investment banker from a European one?

You might point to one of the following:

  • The European banker probably speaks 4-5 languages; the American one knows only English and 5-10 words of Spanish.
  • The European banker is still having nightmares about assessment centers and logical tests, while the American one is still worried about a slightly-too-low GPA from a non-target university.
  • The European banker is panicked over the possible breakup of the EU, while the American one is more concerned with a psychopath in the White House.

But something much simpler also sets them apart: The American banker is far more obsessed with exit opportunities.

And that might not be so smart anymore:

Investment Banking Exit Opportunities… What?!

Many articles, videos, and forum posts jump into a comparison of different “exit opps” without defining what an exit opportunity is.

So let’s start with the basics: “Investment banking exit opportunities” are other fields that you go into after starting out in investment banking and working there for a few years.

Often – though not always – this field involves investing in companies instead of advising companies, or acquiring companies rather than advising on those acquisitions.

Examples include:

Other examples include investor relations, equity research, a different group or a different bank, or an MBA, though some of those are not true “exit opportunities.”

Bankers are motivated to move into these other fields because the work is more intellectually engaging, the pay is higher, and the hours are slightly better.

The Most Common, Flawed Thought Process Behind Investment Banking Exit Opportunities

For many years, the thought process behind investment banking exit opportunities was:

“I’ll suffer through investment banking for 2-3 years and work terrible hours, but that suffering will allow me to move into a more interesting and lucrative role with better hours in the future.”

This reasoning is flawed for many reasons:

  • The Work is Not THAT Much Different: Yes, there’s less grunt work, and you get to use your critical thinking skills since you’re acting as an investor… but if you think financial statement analysis is boring, you’re going to hate these jobs as well.
  • The Hours Aren’t Necessarily That Much Better: If you make the investment banking vs private equity comparison, for example, you’ll still be working long hours that prevent you from having much of a life if you’re at a “mega-fund” (one of the largest private equity funds). The hours are better at smaller firms, but you’re still looking at 60-70-hour workweeks in many cases.

Then there’s the social aspect – you’re more of a “lone wolf” in many of these roles since you have to come up with investment ideas and drive deal processes by yourself.

There’s less office politics, but also less teamwork.

All those drawbacks still exist; almost nothing about the work itself has changed.

Investment Banking Exit Opportunities: What Has Changed?

First, you need to start much earlier to even get into investment banking since the recruiting timeline has moved up and now starts over a year in advance of internships.

You pretty much need to be set on IB from your first year in university and then complete a sequence of internships in your first and second years to have a good chance.

Also, buy-side recruiting starts ridiculously early, everyone knows about industries like private equity and hedge funds, and, while you’ll get some compensation and lifestyle improvement in those fields, it’s not quite as dramatic as it was a long time ago (say, the mid-2000’s).

The Best Way to Think About Investment Banking Exit Opportunities

These changes mean that you should not think of investment banking exit opportunities as the be-all-and-end-all.

Even the word “exit” is problematic because it implies that you’ll only move in one direction: from investment banking to something else.

But if you read some of the reader accounts on this site, you’ll see that reality is not quite so rigid.

It’s better to think about exit opportunities like this:

“I’ll test various fields with internships in university, or with pre-MBA internships or school-year internships during a Master’s program, then go into investment banking, and then think about returning to one of those fields.”

What Do You Need for the Best Investment Banking Exit Opportunities?

To pursue the “best” exit opportunities – the most selective or prestigious ones – you need:

  • A Bulge-Bracket or Elite-Boutique Bank – You have the best chance of winning mega-fund offers if you’re at one of these. The specific bank matters less than the type of bank you’re at.

So if you have a choice between two bulge brackets, don’t choose based on which one is “more prestigious”: Pick based on the team and culture you prefer.

If you’re at a middle-market or smaller firm, you can still win exits, but you’ll have to do a lot more work on your own and aim for smaller companies.

  • The Right Geography – There are far more exit opportunities in New York, London, and Hong Kong than in other cities in North America, Europe, and Asia. And it’s tough to make an East Coast to West Coast move, or vice versa, if you’re in the U.S.
  • A Top Undergraduate Institution and GPA – Yes, these still matter, especially since recruiting starts so ridiculously early.
  • The Right Industry Background – It’s tough to move from something specialized, such as FIG investment banking, into a more general team, such as a healthcare or consumer/retail-focused private equity fund.
  • Relevant Pre-Banking Experience – Ideally, you’ll have previous internships that are related to this exit opportunity, such as VC or PE internships if you’re aiming for growth equity roles.

You should also avoid super-specialized groups such as FIG if you don’t want to work in those industries in the long term.

And if you want to be in private equity, avoid teams like ECM or DCM because you won’t get much real deal exposure there.

Which One is Right for You? Rank the Investment Banking Exit Opportunities!

Someone will now ask for a “ranking” of exit opportunities.

I won’t do that, but I will briefly describe the trade-offs of the most common ones:

Private Equity

Private equity is best if you enjoy working on deals, but you want to think about them more critically and work with companies over the long term – years instead of months.

You have a lot of options if you go into PE and decide you don’t like it: you could go to business school, join a portfolio company in a finance role, or even move to some other investment banking exit opportunities.

You get more of a “generalist” skill set because you’re not doing just one thing over and over: It’s a mix of financial analysis, negotiations, leadership/team coordination, and sales skills (if you do sourcing or fundraising).

Compensation is another positive, but to make serious money – in the 8-figure range or beyond – you’ll have to advance to a very senior level or start your own firm.

Besides the fact that it’s so difficult to get into private equity, another drawback is that it’s very tough to get promoted up to the top.

Partners at these firms have such cushy positions that hardly anyone leaves voluntarily.

Hedge Funds & Asset Management

Hedge funds are so different from private equity that it’s almost deceptive to group them together.

The main difference is that you follow and invest in individual companies, or other securities, rather than buying and selling entire companies.

The day-to-day work is more stressful since you monitor the markets constantly, but you’re less likely to have a disaster on a pending deal that kills your weekend.

You should consider these roles only if you have a track record, an undying passion for investing, and specific ideas; you don’t necessarily need those in PE since you can talk about your deal experience, but it’s essential here.

The main downside to these roles is that you develop a very specialized skill set, which makes it difficult to move to different funds or different industries.

It’s also tougher to get into top MBA programs because it’s difficult to explain a complicated investment thesis to admissions committees.

By contrast, it’s easier to explain a deal or a difficult client situation, so you have an advantage coming from IB/PE roles.

For more coverage of this topic, please see our article on hedge funds vs. private equity.

And for even more, check out the one on hedge fund strategies.

Venture Capital

Venture capital is sort of like “private equity lite”: You still work with entire companies, but the deals consist of minority-stake investments.

Since you invest in early-stage companies, there’s less financial analysis, and you spend most of your time analyzing the market, finding interesting companies, and networking.

You also earn quite a bit less than you do in private equity, but the hours and lifestyle are better.

If you want a long-term venture capital career or you want to work at a tech or biotech startup in a finance or business development role, VC is a good path for you.

But if not, it’s not necessarily the best option: It’s even more difficult to move up the ladder since firms make hard distinctions between Partner-track and non-Partner-track positions.

Also, while you can get into top MBA programs from VC roles, it would be tough to move into private equity, go back into banking, or go to a hedge fund.

Corporate Finance

Corporate finance is quite different from these other exit opportunities because it’s arguably not even a front-office role.

In other words, you’re not working with clients or companies that your firm might potentially invest in – the corporate finance career path is mostly internal and related to your company’s budgeting, internal processes, and financing needs.

You’ll earn less than in the PE/HF/AM exit opportunities, but you’ll also have better hours and a more regular lifestyle.

The end goal in corporate finance is to become the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), which has various trade-offs vs. becoming a Managing Director in investment banking.

Corporate finance roles are best if you want a better work-life balance, you don’t care about a slower progression up the ladder, and you want to use your skills at a real company that makes something.

Corporate Development

We group corporate finance and corporate development together on this site, but the roles are quite different.

Corporate development careers all about working on acquisitions and joint ventures at a company – deals – rather than the budgeting and financing processes at that company.

So if you like working on deals and longer-term projects, but you want a better lifestyle than what you’ll get in PE, and you’re willing to accept lower pay, corporate development is a solid option.

If you work at a well-known company, you’ll have many options afterward: You could go to business school, go back into investment banking, or even go into private equity.

It would be tough to enter a public markets role such as hedge funds or asset management from here, but I’m sure someone has done it before.

Startups / Entrepreneurship

This last one is very different from everything else on the list.

It’s not exactly in the traditional “investment banking exit opportunities” set, and it’s more of a “trendy thing” for bankers to do.

The banking skill set is not particularly useful for these roles unless you join a later-stage startup that has budgets and customers.

The main advantage of this path is that you get to determine your destiny.

The disadvantages are that the risk-adjusted returns are terrible and that it will be almost impossible to go back into finance if you’ve run your own business for a long time.

It would also be tough to move to a normal company if you’ve run your own business for years and years.

So you have to be pretty certain you want to go this route, and if you decide against it, you need to get out ASAP.

Other Options

Take a look at the Articles page on the site or do a search to find coverage of other industries.

Finally, don’t rule out staying in banking (see: more about the IB Associate job and investment banking promotions)

This obsession with investment banking exit opportunities is a U.S.-specific phenomenon, and it makes less sense now than it did in the past.

While the work is still less interesting than critically analyzing deals or investing, there are some benefits to a career in banking:

  • Mid-six-figure to seven-figure pay at the mid-to-senior levels, and if you’re at an elite boutique, that pay will be in cash rather than stock or deferred compensation.
  • The risk-adjusted compensation can’t be beat. Yes, you can earn far more money in buy-side roles, but there’s also far more risk from your fund blowing up or shutting down. And pay at normal companies doesn’t come close unless you reach an executive position at a huge firm.
  • There is a clear progression up the ladder. This progression is in sharp contrast to many other roles where you keep the same title for years.

To Exit or Not to Exit: Is That the Question?

No, that’s not the question – or at least, that’s not the complete question.

Rather than thinking about “investment banking exit opportunities,” you should think about your long-term career progression.

Test out different industries with your internships, see what you like and don’t like, and then see what you think of your full-time role in banking.

If you want to leave and you have your heart set on a mega-fund, move quickly!

If not, take your time and see what fits you best.

With enough time and treatment, you might just lose your obsession with exits.

Do it well enough, and people might start thinking you’re European.

Want Even More About Exit Opportunities?

Take a look at these articles for more tips and tricks:

And if you want help improving yourself as a candidate so that you can land a bulge bracket or elite boutique offer that comes with the best exit opportunities, our friends at Wall Street Mastermind might be able to help you out.

Their students have gotten offers from every bulge bracket and elite boutique bank on Wall Street, and their team of coaches includes a former Global Head of Recruiting at three different large banks, so you’ll know exactly what banks are looking for in candidates.

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. Or, learn more about Breaking Into Wall Street here.

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. Hi Brian, I am currently navigating group placement at EVR and I really enjoyed getting to know the insurance team. If I’m interested in buyout PE without a specific focus on FIG, would it be an unwise decision to join this team. Thanks

    1. It’s never a great idea to join the FIG team or sub-teams unless you want to specialize in FIG. It’s very easy to get pigeonholed, and recruiters do not take the time to understand your experience beyond the headline.

  2. Preets

    Hi.. I have 12.5 years of tech experience. I worked in all roles – Developer, team lead, Project manager. Domain – Finance. Now, I’m admitted to a T-10 college in US and wants to get into Investment Banking. My question is – Is it possible? Or am I too late?

    1. I think you will probably be too experienced for traditional IB Analyst roles. Even if you try to hide or downplay your experience, you’re going to come across differently than fresh grads with no full-time experience. But there are other options, such as other fields in finance/professional services, real estate, asset management, finance at a tech company, etc. Another option might be to do a top MBA in the future and get in like that. There are some more tips here:

  3. Luke Burgdorf

    What if any exit opportunities exist for someone that lives in a medium sized city (~200k) and want to go into finance in a large market city (NYC, Chicago) and eventually move back to their hometown after 5-15 years in finance.

    1. I’m not sure I understand your question. The exit opportunities don’t really change just because you move to a large city and then plan to move back to a smaller one… assuming you plan to exit into something else in the larger city. The main difference if you want to work in a smaller town is that there will be many fewer PE/HF opportunities, and the firms will be smaller (if they exist in the region at all). So the opportunities will be more slanted toward normal companies (such as finance or corp dev roles at them).

  4. Hi Brian, great article. I am in my sophomore year summer recruiting for banking internships for next year and unfortunately have not been successful in securing an offer yet. Coming from a non-target without many family banking connections so I was thinking of expanding my focus to not only banking internships but other good roles in finance as well. If I have a connection at a large, well respected private CRE lender, do you think interning there next summer in finance/underwriting would be a good option and would set me up well enough for breaking into banking/private credit the next year? Also, this summer I have two internships- private equity internship at a small firm and an internship at a small VC firm so my resume looks solid for someone at my age. I’m just concerned that a real estate finance internship next summer would pigeon-hole me in that industry. Thanks.

    1. Yes.

      An RE internship is more specialized, but if it’s just an internship, you won’t really be “stuck” there. And it’s much better to have that internship vs. nothing or a much less relevant one.

  5. hey brian, recently lateralled from CB TO a BB FIG group (not GS), would PE exits be possible? Not looking for FIG specific / MF but more generalist UMM/MM PE.

    1. Potentially, yes, but it will be a challenge to move from FIG to non-FIG PE firms. It’s possible at one of the top few banks but difficult otherwise.

  6. Hi Brian,

    I currently have an offer for Barclays IBD and am trying to figure out if I should continue recruiting for MS/GS/JPM. My end goal is the SM/Tiger Cub HF space and am not sure if Barclays is a “good enough” place to start.

    Thanks for your insight.

    1. You’ll have an advantage at the bigger firms, but not a big enough one to justify a huge amount of additional effort recruiting if that’s what it will take. If you already have leads/connections at those firms, go ahead and interview there, but if not, I’m not sure it’s worth the amount of outreach it will take to improve your chances and win interviews.

  7. Brian – what are your thoughts around private banking or being a relationship manager as an exit opportunity from IB? I just lateraled as an analyst to a bigger name bank after about 2 years at a MM but know I don’t want to do IB more than one more year. I just don’t enjoy doing super technical work, diligence and analysis so don’t have much of an interest in PE. My personality and strengths are more suited towards dealing with people and networking. I’m really just looking to get a sense for a job after being an analyst for ~3 years that will allow me to work ‘normal’ hours while dealing with people. I love to golf also so would love to know if any roles permit playing often at a junior level. Would love to get your thoughts!

    1. I don’t think private banking is a great exit opportunity from IB for most bankers, but if you are more suited to sales, people, and networking, it might be good for you. Other options might be something like real estate brokerage or another CRE-related role because sales and people skills matter a lot more there. Maybe also early-stage venture capital if you’re into tech and don’t mind very strange and awkward people.

  8. Brian,

    Thank you for another excellent article!

    What do you recommend to someone who really enjoys BB IBD work but solely thinking about exit due to hours? I don’t mind doing 60-70 hours a week (if all concentrated on Monday to Fridays with minimal to none weekend work. Don’t mind the odd working the whole weekends tho), are smaller PE funds my only option if I don’t want to take a significant pay cut?

    Are working hours and lifestyles openly and honestly talked about in PE interviews?

    Thanks very much!


    1. Yes, pretty much, but you will still take a pay cut at a smaller PE fund. Basically, there is no way as a 20-something to earn extremely high compensation without working long hours or taking on a lot of risk. The only way to get around this is to go into tech and advance up the hierarchy as a programmer, in which case you could earn a lot and work 40-hour weeks. Most firms do not discuss hours/lifestyle in interviews.

      1. Thank you Brian.

        I’m happy to take a large pay cut still (so if my total compensation in a new work pace as an associate is 50-60% of what an IB associate would earn, I’m happy) but my ultimate goal is to do sth similar to IB but with much much better life style. Is this sth small PE funds could offer?

        Also, is work life balance sth that can be discussed with the headhunters?

        Thank you!

        1. If you want to do something similar to IB with a much better lifestyle, go into corporate development instead. They never “need” to do deals or do anything specific, but they get paid anyway, so in that sense it offers a better lifestyle than IB/PE most of the time. Not a great idea to discuss hours or work/life balance with headhunters.

  9. Hi Brian,

    Thank you very much for this interesting article. Also many thanks for taking the time to reply to each question, I really enjoyed reading each one of your answers thoroughly.

    I landed a job as a fresh grad in a SWF for an Analyst role right after finishing my Master’s degree. I have been working for almost 1.5 years as of now. During this time I got the opportunity to work on Direct PE deals, co-investment deals, investments in funds, setting up SMA’s with some GP’s, setting up strategies of entering into new markets, and monitoring investments in listed companies. Although I’m an Analyst, yet I got the opportunity to participate in discussions with advisers and internally re valuation, deal terms etc… Deals I had the opportunity to work on vary between tech, healthcare, RE, infra, media, and transportation. I also had the opportunity to present potential investments to the IC.

    Recently, I’ve been assigned to work exclusively on PE co-investments and fund investments going forward. I’m concerned that working only on co-investments and fund investments wouldn’t widen my deal experience as much as working on Direct investments. I like working with GP’s and see their way of thinking and strategies and going toe-to-toe with the best there is, but not being involved in the dirty work that takes place during the process of Direct PE investments (negotiations on valuation and modeling and deal terms with counter parties and advisers as well as discussions with technical experts) is a concern I have given that I’m at an early stage of my career.

    My questions are the following:

    1) what exit opportunities do I have let’s say after working for a number of years in my newly assigned role? (Aside from Family Offices and FoF’s)

    2) Given the experience that I have so far, and the experience I will be getting in my newly assigned role, do you think I could manage to land a job in either IB/PE directly within deal teams w/o an MBA? If not, how many years of experience do you recommend I should have under my belt before transitioning into either IB/PE directly or an MBA?

    I understand that this is a very long question. I truly appreciate you taking the time to look into it and provide me with some advice given your great experience.

    1. 1) Family offices, funds of funds, and possibly some traditional PE funds as well depending on how many co-investments you work on. Maybe also related areas like fundraising, IR, and placement agent jobs.

      2) Maybe. I think IB might actually be tougher because very few people move from a SWF back to a bank, so you would get a lot of questions about that. PE Analyst or even Associate roles may be more do-able, especially if you target smaller firms and move quickly (ideally, before you reach the 3-year mark).

      1. Many thanks Brian for the well-informed advice.

        Greatly appreciated!

  10. Just started tech M&A first year analyst role in July. When do I start recruiting for buyside growth equity/vc? Is it now (2 months in) or is it next year when I have a year under my belt?

    1. VC and growth equity tend to start later, but some of the bigger funds may start early, just like the PE mega-funds. But in general, VC/growth equity tends to be less structured and it takes place more randomly throughout the year.

  11. Thank you very much Brian for linking me to this earlier post. Pretty much echoes my thinking :)

  12. Hi Brian! As always, thank you for the insightful (and real) article. I have hit a point in my career where I am looking to transition from buy-side ER at a small shop and I currently have a few offers on the table. The offers are for 1. sell-side ER associate at a prestigious MM IB 2. VC analyst at a tiny VC firm where I would get a lot of exposure to the entire deal process and 3. investment analyst at a small credit HF on the west coast. In terms of career progression from these roles (assuming I don’t want to make a full career out of them) what would that look like in terms of transitioning to PE or bigger HFs? The VC role sounds like it would provide really good deal experience that I could use to either get into an M7 MBA or potentially be able to get into a smaller PE shop. The sell-side ER role would likely set me up to exit to an HF (with networking efforts) and the west coast HF I’m not entirely sure.. I could probably move to a larger HF down the road if it’s not my cup of tea. Any insight here would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Those are 3 completely different options with different trade-offs, so you need to decide what your long-term goal is first. If you want to move into private equity or bigger hedge funds, the VC role is your worst option because VC has very little to do with PE/HF work. You could use it to get into a top MBA program, but the VC to PE transition can be surprisingly difficult unless you move to a PE firm that is actually more like a late-stage VC or growth equity firm.

      If you want to stay in the credit HF world, the third option could work, but I don’t think it’s great for moving into PE eventually. And with the first option, yes, you could probably move into a broader set of HFs eventually, but it’s still not great for PE because you do not work in deals in ER.

      So… if you want to stay in hedge funds in the long term, options #1 or #3 could work. Option #2 would work if you want to stay in VC or do an MBA and switch to something else related, like corporate finance at a tech company or a startup or more VC. I don’t think any of those options give you a great pathway into PE.

  13. Hi Brian (or anyone who could help). I am a newly promoted manager in the portfolio valuations group at a big 4. I am in the process of applying to top 20 schools to move into I-banking OR corporate development. I may be getting an offer for an M&A associate position at a very small bank (yay tight labor market) and was wondering if (assuming I receive an offer) you had advice on if I should just get my MBA or accept the offer. Long story but my MBA would be paid for. My thought is it be much harder to go back to get my MBA if I HATE the new job and would be able to test something out in an internship Thoughts?

    1. If your MBA is paid for, then I agree with that assessment. Better to take that option, test out IB with an internship, and decide from there rather than taking a new job and finding out that it’s not right for you. You will lose out on income for ~2 years, but you would lose out on far more if you take the IB offer and then end up quitting.

  14. Hey Brian,
    I’m attempting to lateral into IB after just starting my career somewhere else (about 4 months in). Obviously, the dream is to lateral into a BB or EB, but I might have to end up going to a MM instead. If I end up going to a MM, should I try and lateral then to a BB or EB before going to PE/HF so I can get to the best buy-side opportunities? Like you’ve stated before, many PE/HF recruits are with the analyst class and I don’t want to be labeled a “banker for life” by trying to switch into a BB/EB as an associate, but I also would rather go to a mega fund PE/HF rather than a middle PE/EB firm. I know right now I should focus on getting into IB first, but I can’t help but think about the future. Thanks!

    1. I don’t know if I want to stay in IB yet or move to the buy side so I just want to keep as many options open as I can right now. Thanks!

    2. Yes, it is best to recruit for buy-side roles from a BB or EB bank if possible, so you would have to make another move if you end up at some other type of bank. But I wouldn’t worry about this too much for now because you need to get into IB first… which is harder than it sounds, even at smaller firms.

      1. BRIAN I MADE IT!! I’m at a boutique specializing in tech M&A (think Cowen, Cain Brothers,Pacific Crest).

        What do you think is the best plan for the best opportunities? Lateral to a better name? Or just start networking for buyside roles?

        1. (DH capital, Mooreland, etc)

        2. Congrats. Your next move depends on what type of buy-side role you are after. If you just want to work in corporate development at a company or join a VC firm or something like that, I don’t think it’s worth it to lateral anywhere else. If you want to work at a middle-market-to-mega-cap PE fund, then yes, you should lateral to a bigger firm for the best chance of getting that.

          1. Looking towards a top vc, growth equity, or tech hedge fund

          2. OK. If your goal is a “top” fund, then yes, moving to a bigger bank will always help. If your goal is “a” fund, then you could do thatfrom where you are now.

          3. *mm to top

  15. Hi Brian,
    Thank you for the article. You mentioned that it is difficult to exit from east coast to west coast, but just how difficult is it? I am planning on staying in NYC for couple years pursuing a post-MBA career in IB then move back to west coast afterwards. Does that sound like a viable plan?

    1. The difficulty is more in the logistics than anything else (finding time to interview, traveling back and forth without people noticing, etc.). At the post-MBA level, it really depends on what you want to do. You could easily move to the west coast if you want to stay in IB, but moving from IB to PE and also switching locations is more of a stretch… since it’s already extremely difficult to get into PE at that level.

  16. Hey Brian,

    I know you said that exit opps in terms of prestige of BB from GS to UBS is dependent on the analyst’s ability to compete with others. Is this is only applicable during the interview stage?

    Looking at buyside recruiting and getting the interview, I know head hunters play a major role, and my impression is that they prefer top BB and EBs because of reputation, as you can’t really see soft skills( i.e polish, intellect, etc.) on paper. Also, more prestigious banks have more deal flow, which translate to more deal experience for the analysts to talk about.

    How would you weigh the difficulty of getting your foot in the door coming from a BB like UBS or DB?


      You can still do it coming from UBS or DB, but yes, it is more difficult. Whether or not it’s worth moving to a larger bank depends strongly on how much you want to work at the biggest PE firms. My experience is that most people *think* they do, and then end up not liking it that much and leaving for something else anyway.

  17. Brian,

    Just started as an analyst out of college in an FP&A role at a good sized publicly traded company. My attitude thus far about the job is best described as “meh”. Perhaps it is impatience, or even arrogance, but I know for certain that this not what my future holds. My father is a wealth advisor and I grew up surrounded by people in various levels of asset management, PE, and VC. With these connections, and enough experice in even FP&A, is an exit opportunity into something like PE or VC even possible? Or am I already considerably behind? Appreciate any advice, thank you.

    1. Potentially, but you probably won’t be able to move into one of those directly without transaction experience in corporate development, investment banking, or something else like that first.

      1. Thank you for the feedback. I’ve been doing more research and corporate development seems like a better area to focus on in the short term.

  18. Catherine

    Hi Brian:

    I am out of college for 1 year – and in the past year I was pursuing entrepreneurship and then a structured product temp role. However, I don’t intend to be a product specialist and want to get into IB. Do you have any suggestions in terms of how I can break in at this point? Will pursuing a grad school degree help with recruiting (in Asia especially, but U.S. ideally). I have background in Asia, and have BB internship experience working in tech division.

    1. Catherine

      I am in semi-target undergrad located in NYC. Didn’t have previous PE or IB experience

    2. It will be extremely difficult if you did something unrelated, such as starting your own company. You’ll probably need an MSF degree + internship before or during or you’ll have to network to find a role at a boutique and move up from there. See:

      1. Hello Brian,

        I am now coming back to grad school most likely will be in MSF you mentioned or Finance related quant subjects such as stats/operations/finmath etc at a target(my undergrad is also a target). I will also be doing a BB banking internship in Asia pre-masters. I just want to have a back up if IB recruiting doesn’t work out for me. What do you think about the strategy? What do you think are my chances recruiting for BB/EB/MM Boutiques? Thanks!

        1. Your strategy is fine. If IB doesn’t work out, go for any of the other “Plan B” options repeatedly discussed here: corporate finance, Big 4, independent valuation firm, etc. It’s difficult to assess your chances without knowing your full background.

          1. Hello Brian!

            Thanks for your timely response. I wonder how can I get more help/assessment from you? I have looked at your coaching service page, but I might only need a portion of your service more at this point (such as assessment/action plan) rather than a full service package.

          2. We only offer the coaching packages shown on that page, and I do not do anything personally due to lack of time, so at this point I don’t think we can further help you.

  19. Flashbacks

    Article is too real, especially this part

    “You might point to one of the following:”

  20. Great piece Brian.

    I joined a boutique IB/VC after college, where I worked for 3 years, got bored and then moved to a management company covering investments in the banking and media sectors, where I stayed for 2 years, following which I moved to IB (where I presently am).

    I’m still trying to figure out my career path, however I have discovered that I enjoy working one new projects and working with companies to understand their business operations and the industry as a whole. My ultimate goal is to invest in and manage multiple business.

    Reflecting on my 6 year working history, I find that VC/PE will give me with that joy and business and management skills I wish to acquire. Whats your take on this?

    1. Yes, that sounds reasonable, but you need to narrow it further because PE and VC are quite different and require different skill sets. VC is far more about networking and qualitative work, and you don’t necessarily contribute as much as a junior team member.

  21. Brian,

    Thank you for the article. I am currently a first year analyst in banking and am thinking about what I would like to do after banking. I pursued a Finance/Accounting degree in college but have always been interested in engineering (was involved in a few hackathons in college). I enjoy the work at my firm, but I have thought about exploring software engineering focused opportunities after (start up for example). What are your thoughts on doing something like a Stanford dual MBA/CS degree? Do you know of anyone who went back to college to receive a full engineering degree so they could work in that field? Thank you.

    1. i work in software and found your question interesting. from my view, i’ve never seen a non-engineering undergrad move to MBA/CS to work in engineering, but i have seen professionals with non-engineering degrees acquire engineering skills through self-study.

      in software — perhaps unlike in banking — it’s less critical to have a CS degree from a target school. if you’re really interested in engineering, i would start learning on your own with the help of sites like coursera and udemy…not sure it’s necessary to go back to school. this would help you understand whether you truly love engineering or might prefer a different role such as product management or sales (i have seen many ex-bankers move into PM, fwiw).

      just my $0.02. hope this is helpful.

    2. Not offhand, no, but it’s a decent option. As Evan said below/above, you don’t need a specific background to do engineering as long as you’re good at it… prestige matters far less, and even high-school dropouts can be fantastic programmers.

  22. Hi Brian – Nice article! M&I always provides great insight and logical reasoning. You mentioned that when choosing between bulge-bracket banks, “prestige” shouldn’t be a concern since “the specific bank matters less than the type of bank you’re at.” I am wondering if the case still holds for the nine bulge-bracket banks, especially for UBS and DB. Thanks.

    1. Did you see the part about how this version of the article was written recently, i.e. a few weeks ago in 2016?

      The reason that “better” banks such as GS/MS/JPM tend to have better placements into PE is that smarter and more polished Analysts tend to go those firms. This is especially the case now that the overall quality of IB candidates has dropped significantly (I’m about to go crazy with the sheer stupidity of the questions we get these days).

      So… are you polished enough to receive an offer at one of the top 3 banks? If so, but you happen to like the team at UBS or DB better, you can go to UBS or DB and recruit for buy-side roles, and you’ll still do fine as long as you’re at the same level as the best analysts at the better banks.

  23. There is also the fact that at higher levels of IB, you get exposure to media and could become “a well known banker” for the general population, less so as at PEs

  24. Brian – very interesting article. I have a question. I am currently in an IB role and I was wondering if you think working at RE private equity firm is possible or if you ever see anyone moving from IB to Real Estate at all?

    1. It’s possible, but normally for real estate they want to see more of an industry background. So your chances would be better if you worked in real estate investment banking or even something like infrastructure or project finance. Most of the RE PE stories I’ve seen have been people moving in from one of those or from commercial real estate brokerage firms.

  25. I am a 1st-year analyst at a good boutique. I am still undecided about what I want to do so could I stay for 3 years in banking and then jump to the buy-side? Would I be at a disadvantage if I recruit a year late?

    1. I don’t think you would be at any disadvantage if you recruit a year later. It’s just that you’re taking a bit of a risk because the market may worsen or there may be fewer opportunities by then. But plenty of analysts do actually stay for a year before they begin to recruit for buy-side opportunities, often because they don’t have enough deal experience a few months into the job.

  26. I am a first year at a BB and was wondering how you think it is viewed to leave after only 1 year? Do you still have strong exit opportunities or are they more limited?

    1. Some firms would view it negatively, but it depends on where you’re moving to. If you get a PE offer that starts after only 1 year, sure, take it… but most of the time, they don’t, so your exit opportunities are more limited at that point.

  27. What exit opportunities have you seen for people working in Public Finance at at top 3 BB firm?

    1. Go to another bank, maybe go into DCM or LevFin, or maybe trade municipal bonds or do something else related to municipal bonds at a hedge fund. It would be tough to move into a standard IB/PE role from public finance.

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