by Brian DeChesare Comments (30)

The Investor Relations Career: Ideal Exit Opportunity or “Finance Lite”?

Investor Relations Career

If you want vague job titles that could mean almost anything, it’s hard to find a field more fitting than investor relations.

At large, public companies, “investor relations” normally means fielding shareholder questions, preparing documents and presentations for earnings reports, writing press releases, and speaking with current and prospective investors.

You might specialize in one of these, do a bit of everything, or work on other tasks that aren’t even on this list.

We’ll get into recruiting, salaries, exit opportunities, and whether or not the investor relations career is worthwhile, but let’s start with some basic definitions.

What Do You Do in an Investor Relations Career?

“Investor relations” (IR) roles exist at both investment firms (private equity firms, hedge funds, asset management firms, etc.) and normal companies.

IR at investment firms is mostly about fundraising and building relationships with the Limited Partners (LPs).

Your job is to keep the existing investors, such as pension funds, endowments, and funds of funds, happy and get them interested in contributing more capital to future funds.

You’ll also spend time sourcing new LPs and convincing them to invest, which tends to be easy at the mega-funds and as difficult as getting struck by lightning at smaller, lesser-known funds.

By contrast, IR at normal public companies is less about fundraising and more about answering questions from existing shareholders and preparing documents.

For example, you’ll answer questions from research analysts and institutional investors following earnings calls and contribute to your company’s annual report, its investor presentations, and even its press releases.

As you move from the junior levels to the senior levels, you’ll spend less time creating documents and more time building relationships with investors.

Some companies place investor relations within corporate finance, while others make it a completely separate group.

And some companies even offer hybrid roles such as Treasury and Investor Relations, where you split your time between each area.

In this article, we will focus on IR roles at normal companies because the ones at investment firms are so different that they should be in a separate category.

Why Investor Relations Varies Significantly Between Different Firms

The description above is simplified because investor relations, even at “normal companies,” differs based on the industry and company size.

If you’re working in IR at a large company – say, one of the Fortune 500 – you’ll spend most of your time on tasks such as:

  • Organizing the company’s financial statements and other material for annual and interim reports, such as the MD&A (Management Discussion & Analysis, which explains the financial results).
  • Taking calls and answering questions from investors ranging from day traders to large institutions – though the senior IR professionals tend to own the relationships with the biggest shareholders.
  • Writing press releases and investor notes about the company’s financial results, earnings guidance, acquisitions, and planned capital raises.
  • Setting up conference calls to announce the company’s results and field questions from current and prospective investors.
  • Creating presentations for each reporting period and significant announcements such as acquisitions.

At smaller companies, IR is less specialized, so there is often more overlap with the corporate finance team and the rest of the company.

So, in addition to everything above, you might also work on tasks such as:

  • Working with bankers during capital raises and M&A deals, which includes preparing the executives for roadshows and contributing to possible deals.
  • Communicating with equity research analysts, answering their questions, and sending them the information they need to build their models. This is trickier than it sounds because you have to disclose enough to be useful but not anything that could hurt your company.
  • Gathering market intelligence, such as recent news, M&A activity, and analyst commentary on the sector and using it to write summaries and create dashboards.
  • Maintaining internal models of the company, such as the forecasts and 3-statement projections that you can use to answer analyst questions.

Do You Do Financial Modeling in Investor Relations?

This seems to be one of the top questions about the industry, and the answer is: “Maybe a little, sometimes, but it’s not the focus of the job.”

You need to understand accounting, financial modeling, and valuation, such as how your company stacks up to comparable public companies, but you do not necessarily build models or complete those tasks yourself.

You may get to model an M&A deal or divestiture if you get assigned to work on a “special project” or if your company treats IR professionals as finance generalists that can do a bit of everything (more common at startups and smaller companies).

However, your baseline expectation should be little financial modeling.

A Day in the Life of an Investor Relations Associate

An average day for an IR Associate at a mid-sized public company might look like this:

9 AM – 10 AM: Arrive at the office, scan news sources such as the WSJ, FT, and Bloomberg, and send a quick summary of relevant items to management and the IR team.

10 AM – 12 PM: Accompany your IR Manager and Director to a meeting (virtual or in-person) with an institutional investor that owns 20% of the shares in your company.

This group is skeptical of your company’s recent results and product roadmap, so you spend a long time answering their questions and send supplemental information afterward.

12 PM – 1 PM: Head to lunch with a co-worker in the corporate finance group (you’re thinking about moving there as a “Plan B” if you get tired of IR).

1 PM – 3 PM: Review interim financial statements for the upcoming quarterly results and make notes about the most common questions you expect. You start updating the standard quarterly presentation to include these new figures.

3 PM – 4 PM: Join a conference call with the IR Manager to introduce the company to a hedge fund interested in increasing its stake in the company.

They have many technical questions about your company’s recurring revenue, the true churn rate, and how you’re booking the deferred revenue associated with contracts.

4 PM – 6 PM: The entire IR team meets with the C-level executives to update them on these investor meetings and prepare them to answer questions on the next earnings call.

6 PM – 7 PM: Respond to some emails you missed earlier in the day, finish your presentation updates, and head home.

The main theme here is that the job is more about understanding the financial statements and valuation concepts like the DCF rather than doing the modeling work.

Hierarchy and Advancement in the Investor Relations Career

The hierarchy in investor relations tends to be compressed relative to the investment banking and private equity career paths, and the names vary quite a bit.

The three main levels are:

  • Entry-Level: Common names for this role are Analyst, Associate, and Assistant IR Manager; you normally need 2-3 years of experience in another field of finance to win this role.
  • Mid-Level: Common names include Manager, Senior Manager, Director, and Senior Director (all at slightly different seniority levels). You might enter this level once you have 5-6 years of total experience (so, 2-3 before IR and 2-3 at the IR entry-level).
  • Senior-Level: The most common title is “Head of Investor Relations,” but at some companies, it might also be the VP or SVP of Investor Relations. Smaller firms might even make the CFO the Head of IR. You normally need 10+ years of experience within IR to reach this level (so, 10-15 years total).

To advance, you need to make the executives happy with your performance and build good relationships with institutional investors.

As with advancement at all large companies, the key challenge is getting “credit” for your accomplishments, as the environment is bureaucratic and highly political.

Investor Relations Salaries, Bonuses, and Equity Compensation

If you work in investor relations at a normal company, your compensation will consist of a base salary, cash bonus, and equity.

Base salary ranges change based on your level, and the cash bonus and equity both tend to be percentages of base salary from ~10% up to ~40%+ depending on your level.

According to compensation surveys as of 2021, IR base salaries and bonus/equity percentages tend to be the following at large companies in the U.S.:

  • Entry-Level (Analyst/Associate): $100 – $150K USD base salary; bonus and equity might each be around 10-15% of base.
  • Mid-Level (Manager/Director): $150 – $250K USD base salary; bonus and equity might each be around 20-30% of base.
  • Senior-Level (Head of IR): $250 – $350K USD base salary; bonus and equity might each be around 25-35% of base.

These numbers, plus a bit of rounding, imply the following total compensation ranges:

  • Entry-Level (Analyst/Associate): $120 – $200K USD
  • Mid-Level (Manager/Director): $200 – $400K USD
  • Senior-Level (Head of IR): $400 – $600K USD

Compensation reports confirm that median pay at the top level is around $500K at large companies.

At smaller firms, expect lower base salaries, lower cash bonus percentages, and higher equity percentages.

There’s limited data on IR compensation in other countries, but expect a discount in Europe and Asia, just like IB compensation is also discounted.

If you’re working in IR at a private equity firm or hedge fund, total compensation might be higher than the numbers quoted above because:

  1. Base salaries are often similar, but the bonus percentage could be substantially higher.
  2. Senior staff like the Head of IR usually get carried interest, which could add up to a significant amount if they stay for the long term.

So, it is possible to earn above the ~$500K level quoted above if you’re at the top levels of IR at an investment firm.

You’re not going to earn what the Partners do (i.e., potentially several million+ per year), but you will be very well-compensated.

Lifestyle and Hours in the Investor Relations Career

At normal companies, the average workweek in IR is around 40-50 hours.

However, if there’s a disaster or a big announcement or something else that panics investors, you could find yourself answering emails and taking calls late into the night and on weekends.

This scenario is much less common than in investment banking, but it does happen sometimes.

At private equity firms and hedge funds, the hours could be significantly worse – closer to the hours of investing roles – because IR and fundraising are critical to operations.

If an investment firm can’t raise capital, it has to shut down; it’s not like a public company that can operate indefinitely via its positive cash flows.

Expect a higher volume of calls and emails, more travel, and the expectation that you’ll also generate leads for potential new LPs.

Recruiting: Who Gets Into Investor Relations?

Most firms do not recruit candidates right out of university for IR roles.

You normally need a few years of experience in another field of finance, such as IB, ER, CF, or fundraising, to do the job effectively.

Some professionals in sell-side equity research and investment banking move into IR because they like accounting, finance, and investing but want a better lifestyle and prefer numbers + communication to the numbers alone.

Others join from private placement agent roles, fundraising roles at PE firms and hedge funds, and potentially even funds of funds.

Interviews tend to be qualitative because the role is all about communicating and selling your company’s vision to investors.

You might go through a few rounds of interviews, speaking with successively more senior staff, and typical interview questions could include the following:

What are the toughest investor questions you’ve received in your previous roles, and how did you answer them?

How much experience do you have with financial statement analysis? What are the top 3-5 items you would look for?

Can you work under pressure with tight deadlines? When have you done it before?

If our company made a mistake in its financial statements and had to restate earnings, how would you communicate it to investors?

Imagine that our company announces a large acquisition and plans an investor call. What information would you request so that you could answer questions about it effectively?

Suppose that you need to write a press release to explain why our company just missed its earnings target for the quarter. How would you explain it?

You may get some technical questions about valuation and the financial statements, but they won’t be to the same depth as IB interview questions.

Exit Opportunities from the Investor Relations Career

Investor relations is not ideal for winning exit opportunities because you don’t develop the deal or investing skill sets required by most of these jobs.

If you start working in investor relations, your main advancement and exit options are:

  • Stay in the role and climb the ladder. But you’ll probably need some other experience, such as Audit or FP&A or Treasury, to get on the CFO track.
  • Switch to IR at a different company.
  • Move to the corporate finance or corporate strategy team at your company.
  • Move to an IR/fundraising role at a private equity firm, hedge fund, or independent placement agent.

And… that’s it.

It is extremely unlikely that you’ll win a deal-based role such as investment banking, corporate development, or private equity if you’ve worked in IR and have no other experience.

Even something like a hedge fund analyst role at a long/short equity fund is normally out of reach because bankers and ER professionals are better qualified.

The Investor Relations Career: Final Thoughts

For the right person, an investor relations career can be a good exit from IB/ER, but it’s not the best entry point into finance.

It doesn’t give you many direct exit opportunities, and it’s often a “jack of all trades” role.

That may sound nice in theory, but in practice, it means that you get blamed when things go wrong but may not receive credit when they go right.

The best part of the IR job is getting broad exposure to the C-level executives and other divisions at the company, such as marketing, sales, and product.

The worst part is that the job can become quite repetitive because you’re working based on monthly, quarterly, and annual cycles, similar to corporate finance; the reduced exit opportunities are a big downside as well.

On the other hand, it’s still a career where you could earn into the mid-six-figures while working 40-50 hours per week.

So, if you’re a banker or research professional who likes communicating more than crunching numbers, and you want a better lifestyle, investor relations might be your ideal exit opportunity.

Want to read more?

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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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Read below or Add a comment

  1. Hi, this article was very helpful. Do you think it’s possible for someone to take the leap over to IR from working in B2B Sales and Account management?

    I think there is a lot of overlapping skills between the two career paths but am not sure if this is even possible. Thanks!

    1. I’m not 100% certain of that, but I don’t know if it’s as easy as you might think because you typically need capital markets/finance experience to get in. In B2B sales, you learn about the firm’s clients, potential clients, etc., but not much about how investors view the company. So there is a chance, sure, but I’m not sure the likelihood is very high unless the firm offers some type of rotational program or frequently makes internal hires for the role.

  2. Hi! That’s going to be an interesting one.
    I am a recruiter for infrastructure and private equity funds but only been in this role for 1.5 years and keen to transition into investor relations.
    I have already started doing financial modelling course just to increase my knowledge, but, what would you recommend I should do to get IR role? Complete IMC?

    1. You don’t really need intense technical skills for IR roles. It helps to know about accounting and the financial statements, but you don’t need to understand transaction modeling in-depth. I think you could probably get good results just by reaching out to some of your current/former clients directly and asking about IR roles available there (and point to the self-study you’ve done so far). IR and recruiting are both sales/PR jobs, so there should be a god amount of overlap.

  3. Anonymous

    How much financial knowledge would you need to go into a private equity firm or hedge fund IR role? Could someone with a Sales Director level in Tech background move into that type of role? thanks

    1. Potentially, yes, but you would have to learn at least a bit about the industry and basic financial concepts along the way. Not to the level where you build models or understand the nuances of deals, but enough to discuss trends, why certain funds have performed better than others, etc.

  4. Hi Brian, thanks for the great article! In my case, I’m part of the recruitment team in a company that is looking to hire a VP of Investor Relations. Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to find this person?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. I don’t know much about this, sorry. We don’t track much regarding investor relations jobs, as it’s not a core focus of the site. But you would probably want to look for people with fundraising, capital markets, or equity research experience.

  5. Nora Cathy Yi

    Would an MBA be helpful if someone has 8 years of customer facing roles in finance?

    1. Useful for what? Moving into a different field (which one?)? Getting promoted? Making a complete career change? I can’t say without knowing the answers to those questions, but the MBA, in general, is most useful for people looking to make a complete career change into fields like investment banking and management consulting that represent a big pay increase and are very difficult to get into without attending the right school. Expensive MBAs are not really worth it for a modest pay bump.

  6. Hi Brian, really appreciate the content you put out. After over 5 years in IB (ECM execution mainly) I transitioned to IR (PE/Hedge) for close to 3 years and made my move to Corporate IR over 6 months back. I was pleasantly surprised how apt your description above is for the role (especially a day in the life bit salaries not so much ;)

    I have a double masters incl. MBA but was really curious to know if the IR designations/certifications offered by IR bodies like NIRI/CIRI offer add any value in terms of my career growth within IR (since I would love to build a long term future in the field). Thanks a ton!

    1. I don’t really think certifications/designations help much within IR. It’s the type of field where practical experience matters most because you’re typically putting out fires and/or helping firms build relationships and eventually raise capital.

  7. Brian,
    Thanks for sharing your insights. It’s very helpful.
    I have been in the IR role in a corporate for two years, and start to feel stuck as the work is becoming more and more routine. I want to move to corporate development. I’ve already have a MBA degree. Do you think that there’s anything I can do to enhance my opportunity?

    1. If you want to stay at your company and move to CD and you already have an MBA, no, not really. It comes down to networking and proving you have the required technical, deal, and project management skills. You can study/learn all of those independently, but there isn’t another degree you can complete to prove you have them.

  8. Quantum0880

    Thanks for this great article Brian. Just wondering with the increased popularity of activist investing and therefore activism defense, what effect does that have on corporate IR roles?

    Is IR more important now or still very much “finance-lite”? In context of an activism campaign and defense, would corporate IR play a significant role (or the activism defense advisor would do much of the heavy lifting)?

    1. I don’t think there is much of an effect because activist funds and investors also tend to be lower-profile than in past years/decades. Yes, maybe there are more of them, but many conflicts are now settled out of the public eye. And if something really serious happens, the company will hire a formal advisor for its defense.

      So, IR can still be a good role for the right person, but it’s still in the “much better work/life balance at the cost of lower compensation and worse exit opportunities” category.

  9. I am an incoming masters degree student with previous MM IB and PE internships. Would doing an IR stint in a Megafund for 8 months before starting my masters degree harm or improve my chances of securing an Investment Banking Summer Analyst position when I start recruiting?

    1. I don’t think it would make much difference either way because the IR role (not officially “front office”) will offset the name/reputation of the mega-fund.

      1. Hi Brian,

        Thank you for this article, I’ve been reading your content since I was in uni and it’s been super helpful.

        I’ve just been offered an IR role at a mid-market European PE fund. It’s an interesting role as I’m going to be the second recruit after the Head of IR and we’d be fundraising and looking into potential new strategies alongside the usual IR tasks.
        I have done a year as an FoF investor (which was a temp and I need to leave) and previously did FP&A (2 years) at a very large asset manager.

        So a few Qs:
        1. What does it take to be successful in IR and be able to fundraise and hit targets?
        2. How stable and on demand is the IR professional in PE?
        3. Do you think it’d be possible to move back to FoF investing if I do a few years in IR?
        4. Do you ever get a fraction of capital raised as an IR professional?

        For context, what I envision for my career is
        – Working at an interesting role within Private Cap and be on top of market trends
        – Do some modelling but not super crazy and complex
        – Travel a few times a year
        – Think strategically how to grow a business
        – I mostly enjoy talking and giving ideas rather than executing
        – Earning potential (I’m quite motivated by money tbh)

        Apologies for the long comment and thank you in advance for your input!

        1. These are very broad questions that I can’t really answer in the short comments on this site, but success in IR/fundraising for PE is the same as it is anywhere else: it’s a mix of targeting the right LPs, telling a good story, and getting to know them personally so they trust you. There’s always demand for IR even if PE firms are doing poorly because funds have limited lives and always need to raise more capital. Yes, you could move back to FoF investing after a few years in this role. I don’t think IR teams in PE receive a percentage of the capital raised.

  10. A lot of good information in here, thank you!

    Switching over to IR within private equity is something I have been considering. My background consists of working a lot with relations teams in PE and now I currently work in PE fund accounting (total about 7 years experience working in PE all together). I have my CFA as well so to me it seems I could be very successful in this role and also broaden my PE experience even more by switching over. FA is getting a little boring to me.

    1. You could do that, sure. But it’s still difficult to move into direct PE investing in most cases (mentioning this since many people aim to make this type of move).

  11. Hello,
    I am currently at the mix position IR/financial analyst for almost 2 years, IR prevails. I feel that I am at dead corner, I can’t move further. This position don’t give me an opportunity to develop analytical skills as much as I would like. Please advise me what the entry points for the position investment analyst. Is it a good path?

    1. Your best bet is to follow one of the suggested exit opportunities here: switch to corporate finance or corporate strategy or look at an IR/fundraising role at an investment firm. Another idea might be to aim for private placement agent roles at large banks and eventually use one of those to get into IB or even corporate banking.

  12. Hi Brian,

    I am considering a move to IR from PWM. I was wondering if there was potential to exit into an ER Role from IR? I understand that I would have to work on my modeling skills but, would love your two cents.


    1. Potentially, yes, but I don’t think it’s a super-likely exit opportunity. The skill sets are still quite different, despite some similarities, and ER usually doesn’t look to IR to recruit candidates. SO it’s possible but not that likely unless you do a lot of extra prep/networking.

  13. Nancy Colindres

    This is such a well written article and so spot on!! Great job!

    1. Thanks for reading!

  14. Shivam Sarswati

    At present, I’m working as Investor Relations Associate. Alos preparing for CFA exmas.
    I need to know if I could get into investment banking providing I am willing to do whatever is needed in terms of skills, career, competencies etc.

    Please answer.
    This is very important for me to know as I’am willing and interested to become an Invesmtent Banker and I am willing to put my life into this. It is only because I am genuinely interested to become an investment Banker.

    1. I think it will be very difficult to move from an IR associate role directly into IB without doing something like a top MBA first. If you’ve only been there a year or less, maybe you can transfer to something like corporate banking or Big 4 valuation, etc., and get in, but very few people move directly from IR into IB.

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