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There are two ways to look at this question. The first is to take the idea that it all evens out in the end. The people that are good at what they do will get to the top of their craft. The second perspective is that your starting firm is extremely important and it will determine how far you go and how quickly you get there. The reality, like most things in life is somewhere in between.

Clearly the individual plays the most important role in their own success, but a lot comes down to timing and just plain luck. If you start at a bulge bracket, drop into the bottom bucket and burn out, that first job becomes pretty meaningless. Conversely, if you start at a small boutique or middle market bank and work your butt off, you could find yourself quickly taking over for the burnouts that can't cut it.

Nothing is guaranteed in any business, and especially not on Wall Street. You could be a rock star and go nowhere. You could be a burnout and make it to BSD status. Starting at a well-known and reputable firm will give you a bit of a head start for recruiting, MBA admissions, and any number of other jobs, but it's not going to define your life.

Given the opportunity, starting at well-known firm is a better option for certain paths. More importantly, however, it's imperative that you start somewhere where you enjoy the people you're working with and the culture of the firm or group. You will be spending a good portion of your life there, and working in an environment that doesn't fit you is one sure way to slow your career trajectory.

Additionally, if you have the option of starting at a less prestigious firm in a role that matches your interests, you should almost always take that position over a position at a more prestigious firm that is not as good a fit for your career goals. Developing a relevant skill set and getting good deal experience in your first few years out of school usually trumps the name on your resume.

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