Pulling the Plug: When to Give Up on Your Career Goals

mikesswimn's picture
Rank: Neanderthal | 2,299

Morning Monkeys,

I had a rather interesting experience over the weekend that has me thinking about something many prospective monkeys avoid in their day to day thought process. If worse should turn to worst, and you've failed to enter IBD/PE/ER/S&T (or whatever the case may be), at what point do you call it quits and stick with what you have? Is there an age where you should stop? A particular collection of personality traits that's doomed you from the start? Or perhaps, a point in your life when career success inevitably plays second fiddle to the responsibilities of family? I ask because I'm worried that I've done a friend a tremendous disservice by not telling him to stop looking, to give up, and that his dream of IBD have long since become irresponsible, if not utterly foolish.

Let's back up a moment, this particular outlook didn't come out of the blue and some background is in order. Over the weekend two friends of mine were in town - both of whom work in IBD - and we met up with some other friends of mine at a local pub. Once there the conversation turned to "being old and married", "the kids", "work", and "check out that girl over there, think she's over 25?" Typical conversation topics while tying one off. My two friends in IBD reflected on how their lives had become substantially more manageable after they had been promoted to senior bankers. They could finally enjoy some of the finer things in life, like starting a family and inappropriately staring at college girls during happy hour. This being in stark opposition to their early careers, where they'd spend intimate time with spreadsheets while staring at the bare walls of their cubicle as the clock slowly passed by yet another "happy hour". Many of you will recognize this progression as it is not unique. No matter what path you take in your career, dues are owed and success is earned, with time and effort paid like currency who's paucity may be overwhelming. A senior citizen will never be an NFL quarterback just as a toddler will never be a managing director at a bulge bracket bank. Two extreme examples to say the least, but the fact remains the same: there comes an age or circumstance where you will lack the ability to expend the necessary time and effort required for success, and your cause will have become lost.

This brings me to the moment where I may have done more harm than good. One of my friends at the pub, upon hearing that my two friends were bankers, inquired excitedly, "I've been trying to get a job as an associate for a long time, do you have any advice?" They offered him the same advice regularly discussed on WSO: network, go to industry events, and learn as much as possible about finance. They were being polite, as he was a friend of mine but merely an acquaintance of theirs, and I know him well enough to inform him otherwise. The fact is, my prospective monkey friend is in his 30s, is married with two kids, and already has a successful career in software development. He has next to no background in finance, and even if he were to successfully transition to a bulge bracket IBD, he'd be taking a pay cut outright, never mind the far larger cut on an hourly basis. The difference in career stability is even more stark; experienced software engineers are in demand while the supply of qualified, prospective monkeys, are legion. In short, he has no business attempting to transition into IBD given his circumstances. Sometimes, reality is cruel and you have to realign your goals with the choices you have long since made.

This is but one example from a universe of lost causes, but I have to wonder, what other strings of choices would make the same pursuit foolish? Is the 22 year old, introverted, non-target grad with a 2.2 GPA, who hates networking in a better position for success then the 30+ software engineer with a young family? Almost certainly not.

So, monkeys and prospective monkeys, what circumstances should cause someone to change their focus from "how do I get in" to "is this still worth pursuing"? When and why should you pull the plug?

Comments (37)

Jan 23, 2013

I think it depends on how many times you've been rejected. If you've been to interviews at every company in industry X and failed then maybe it's time to look elsewhere. Or if you're being rejected at the very first stage rather than at the final interview.

Also I've heard that at some banks they won't hire you as an analyst if you graduated more than 2 years ago.

Jan 23, 2013
dolph:

I think it depends on how many times you've been rejected. If you've been to interviews at every company in industry X and failed then maybe it's time to look elsewhere. Or if you're being rejected at the very first stage rather than at the final interview.

Also I've heard that at some banks they won't hire you as an analyst if you graduated more than 2 years ago.

I think you're absolutely right, but other factors certainly come into play. For instance, if you have a young family, switching careers, especially in your 30s into a higher risk field you know little to nothing about, is downright idiotic.

It definitely wouldn't surprise me if banks trashed old guy's resumes outright.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013
dolph:

I think it depends on how many times you've been rejected. If you've been to interviews at every company in industry X and failed then maybe it's time to look elsewhere. Or if you're being rejected at the very first stage rather than at the final interview.

Also I've heard that at some banks they won't hire you as an analyst if you graduated more than 2 years ago.

This is the problem with this website too much disinformation. I know about 4 people that broke in after being out of school for two years into IB at MM and BBs.

'We're bigger than U.S. Steel"

Jan 23, 2013
Wasserstag526:

This is the problem with this website too much disinformation. I know about 4 people that broke in after being out of school for two years into IB at MM and BBs.

At the analyst level? Were they in the military?

Jan 23, 2013
Wasserstag526:
dolph:

I think it depends on how many times you've been rejected. If you've been to interviews at every company in industry X and failed then maybe it's time to look elsewhere. Or if you're being rejected at the very first stage rather than at the final interview.

Also I've heard that at some banks they won't hire you as an analyst if you graduated more than 2 years ago.

This is the problem with this website too much disinformation. I know about 4 people that broke in after being out of school for two years into IB at MM and BBs.

I saw it on Deutsche Bank's website so I know it happens in at least one place. Not everywhere obviously.

Jan 23, 2013

The scary truth. I think as the task of trying to achieve your career goals becomes more daunting and upsetting, it may be time to take a different course. As long as you have the drive to keep pushing after what you want without misery, I see no need for someone to stop. I won't stop trying to get to where I want to be until I achieve it or until I am sick of trying to achieve it.

Jan 23, 2013
yeahright:

The scary truth. I think as the task of trying to achieve your career goals becomes more daunting and upsetting, it may be time to take a different course. As long as you have the drive to keep pushing after what you want without misery, I see no need for someone to stop. I won't stop trying to get to where I want to be until I achieve it or until I am sick of trying to achieve it.

I strongly agree with this sentiment. When your job hunt starts to become a burden on your psyche and personal life, it might be time to reconsider your objectives.

Best Response
Jan 23, 2013

If your friend is making more money, working fewer hours, in a low supply / high demand field, I doubt it would be a difficult conversation to say, "You have it great right now, there's no sense in risking everything for a small chance of success in another field."

The more intractable problem, I think, is overzealous college students. I can't tell you how many friends I have in school that pass up on dozens of great internships that are well-suited for their background in the incessant pursuit of IBD.

It's not hard to convince the introverted, non-target, network-hating, 2.2 GPA prospective monkey that he should probably look elsewhere. But what about the articulate, semi-target, hard-networking, 3.5 GPA prospective monkey that didn't get selected for any interviews during this cycle? How do you convince him or her that taking that F500 internship offer isn't "settling"? In my experience, I've come across far more just-barely-below-the-mark candidates than outright-unemployable dreamers. Worse still, it's much more difficult to explain to these over-achievers that IBD might not be the end-all-be-all of their future career.

    • 2
Jan 23, 2013
NorthSider:

The more intractable problem, I think, is overzealous college students. I can't tell you how many friends I have in school that pass up on dozens of great internships that are well-suited for their background in the incessant pursuit of IBD.

I didn't even think about this. Very good point.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013

You can't start a family until you become a senior banker? This reminds me of Idiocracy...

Jan 23, 2013
inkybinky:

You can't start a family until you become a senior banker? This reminds me of Idiocracy...

It does, doesn't it? We should all be more like Clevon:

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013

it's really simple, if that is what you are truly passionate about then you don't give up until you succeed, no matter how difficult, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many haters show up at your doorstep to laugh at you, you find a way.

Jan 23, 2013
down on the upside:

it's really simple, if that is what you are truly passionate about then you don't give up until you succeed, no matter how difficult, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many haters show up at your doorstep to laugh at you, you find a way.

Hey, if fat chicks like Kate Upton can become models.....

Jan 23, 2013
down on the upside:

it's really simple, if that is what you are truly passionate about then you don't give up until you succeed, no matter how difficult, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many haters show up at your doorstep to laugh at you, you find a way.

It's only that simple if the only one who is impacted by your failures and successes is you.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013

if i were to ever pull the plug on my goals in finance i'd have to do a full 180. I could never be in a lesser, but related, industry. i'd have to set up a little shop somewhere, become a ski bum, that sort of thing.

Jan 23, 2013
Oreos:

if i were to ever pull the plug on my goals in finance i'd have to do a full 180. I could never be in a lesser, but related, industry. i'd have to set up a little shop somewhere, become a ski bum, that sort of thing.

Same bro. Except maybe ninja.

"...all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

  • Schopenhauer
Jan 23, 2013

The problem with guys like this is they are usually facing 'the grass is greener' mentality. If he clearly knew the advantages and disadvantages of both paths, it's much less likely he would drop everything to go into banking (particularly with kids).

I have seen several Medical Doctors post on this site trying to break into finance. This kind of boggles my mind. Finance is not that much better (shit, it might be straight up worse). But you see the biggest guys raking in millions or billions and take those cases as likely outcomes, often without considering what traits make that person successful and the fact that you may not possess those traits. To go through the worst part of being a doctor (residency) and most likely projecting that this situation will be the same as in the future is what causes people to think like this. Nobody would become an investment banking analyst if they knew that's what the job would be like for the next 30 years. But, it's hard to see past that when you're in the thick of it.

In short, yes, there are times you need to give up on your dreams. I'm not going to be a rock star at my age.

Jan 23, 2013
SirTradesaLot:

The problem with guys like this is they are usually facing 'the grass is greener' mentality. If he clearly knew the advantages and disadvantages of both paths, it's much less likely he would drop everything to go into banking (particularly with kids).

I have seen several Medical Doctors post on this site trying to break into finance. This kind of boggles my mind. Finance is not that much better (shit, it might be straight up worse). But you see the biggest guys raking in millions or billions and take those cases as likely outcomes, often without considering what traits make that person successful and the fact that you may not possess those traits. To go through the worst part of being a doctor (residency) and most likely projecting that this situation will be the same as in the future is what causes people to think like this. Nobody would become an investment banking analyst if they knew that's what the job would be like for the next 30 years. But, it's hard to see past that when you're in the thick of it.

In short, yes, there are times you need to give up on your dreams. I'm not going to be a rock star at my age.

I know a Doctor who worked for Raj Rajaratnam (yes that one) at Galleon as an analyst and got so sick of it. He went back and got his M.D. Now hes a dermatologist and is literally in love with his life and still making bucket loads of money.

I would never understand people that do the reverse.

Jan 23, 2013

Lofty daydreaming is one thing and i think the 30+ software designer doesn't ACTUALLY have an interest in being in IBD... A person who actually wants to get into IBD works towards it from when they are 18/20/22/etc. until they get in.

For us non-target unconventional people who are the ones with a goal you work and better yourself to reach that goal. Networking, MSF, CFA, CPA, or whatever else people are doing to get a leg up or to "break in" is making them more hire-able in general not just in the realm of IB/PE/HF.

I don't see how years of networking, continuing education, etc. could NEGATIVELY impact your life or career prospects. Not saying everyone will end up in IB but you may find something else after passing a CFA or graduating from an MBA or a MSF that was otherwise unavailable to you before.

The high school football player that wants to go to the NFL.. So he works out twice a day all through high school to get a college scholarship... Gets a scholarship at a big Division 1 program.... works out twice a day to go to the combine... Doesn't make it, though is he worse off than if he didn't pursue his dream? NO! He got a free education and an awesome experience

Jan 23, 2013

give up when....Michelle Obama 2016......i wouldnt bet against it

Jan 23, 2013

There's a running complaint in ER that there's a lot of finance guys, but not enough technical guys on our side of the table. I then witnessed a reservoir engineer (oil and gas), get an MBA and come out to snag a nice ER job at a MM. Salary $105, plus expected 30% bonus. Six months in, he realizes that he's gone from working 35 hour weeks, with four weeks holiday and 10 'flex days' to working 60 hour weeks, two weeks holiday and an active discouragement from taking them. He walked back across the street and took his pay cut back to $85k/year.

That's one reason we don't get older guys in the door.

Secondly, when I was looking to get into banking, I was outright asked how old I was and how many years I'd be willing to toil as an analyst or associate. Reason two we don't get old guys in banking, the expectation is that older guys won't put up with the shitty end of the stick as long as a 22 year old.

Jan 23, 2013
overpaid_overworked:

There's a running complaint in ER that there's a lot of finance guys, but not enough technical guys on our side of the table. I then witnessed a reservoir engineer (oil and gas), get an MBA and come out to snag a nice ER job at a MM. Salary $105, plus expected 30% bonus. Six months in, he realizes that he's gone from working 35 hour weeks, with four weeks holiday and 10 'flex days' to working 60 hour weeks, two weeks holiday and an active discouragement from taking them. He walked back across the street and took his pay cut back to $85k/year.

That's one reason we don't get older guys in the door.

Secondly, when I was looking to get into banking, I was outright asked how old I was and how many years I'd be willing to toil as an analyst or associate. Reason two we don't get old guys in banking, the expectation is that older guys won't put up with the shitty end of the stick as long as a 22 year old.

By technicals for ER do you mean quant types or more along the line of computer science/programming? I ask because a friend of mine....

Jan 23, 2013

It kind of annoys me; the people who are those "never give up, never back down, chase the stars" bull shit. Reminds me of my parents talking to me as a child.

I don't know one person who hasn't realized that some things are just fantastical dreams. I used to want to be a professional soccer player, then professional skier, then lawyer; everybody goes through these phases and as you grow up, you slowly let reality take hold and get rational. People at this age (20-40) need to do the same thing that a child can figure out and just do what you're qualified and prepared to do.

I want to do IB, however if I don't, there are many many many more things in life that I will still enjoy and it may even be a blessing in disguise. Now I'm sure somebody will think how "I don't want it enough", but why would I? I'm in college, how the hell do I know what I want or where my life will go? Even people in their 30s like mikessiwmn's friend have problems with knowing what they want.

My main point, is that to me sometimes, society puts so much burden on people to be doing something considered "prestigious" or being the king of the universe; yet in actuality, life is much more simple and some people are socially conditioned and never realize it I think. When you look at the happiest people in the world, it usually isn't doctors, lawyers or bankers.

Jan 23, 2013

Quitters never win.

Competition is a sin.

-John D. Rockefeller

Jan 23, 2013

Your buddy is in his 30s, married with two kids, and already has a successful career in software development (better pay, work/life balance, job security, etc.) You would be doing him a disservice by not telling him that he'd be crazy to pursue a career in IBD.

I'd ask him flat out why he wants to be a banker, and echo the points you made about pay, job security and work/life balance. If he has a concrete, iron-clad reason as to why he wants to be a banker instead of a developer, then maybe entertain the idea, but otherwise tell him the grass is always greener on the other side because it's fertilized with bullshit.

I'm guessing that he has seen your mutual friends who are now senior bankers, with their high comp, great hours, and a "prestigious" job title/occupation, but doesn't fully appreciate the crap/stress you have to deal with to get there. I can't see many people already in their 30s with a wife, kids and a successful career being able to cope with at least 6 years of associate/vp lifestyle just to MAYBE make it to the promised land of senior banking.

Jan 23, 2013
milehigh:

Your buddy is in his 30s, married with two kids, and already has a successful career in software development (better pay, work/life balance, job security, etc.) You would be doing him a disservice by not telling him that he'd be crazy to pursue a career in IBD.

I'd ask him flat out why he wants to be a banker, and echo the points you made about pay, job security and work/life balance. If he has a concrete, iron-clad reason as to why he wants to be a banker instead of a developer, then maybe entertain the idea, but otherwise tell him the grass is always greener on the other side because it's fertilized with bullshit.

I'm guessing that he has seen your mutual friends who are now senior bankers, with their high comp, great hours, and a "prestigious" job title/occupation, but doesn't fully appreciate the crap/stress you have to deal with to get there. I can't see many people already in their 30s with a wife, kids and a successful career being able to cope with at least 6 years of associate/vp lifestyle just to MAYBE make it to the promised land of senior banking.

You hit the nail on the head for the most part. There's a whole lot of "grass is greener" going on as well as a total disregard for the amount of shit you have to go through when you completely switch careers. Not surprising in general, but a little odd for a guy who is old enough to know better.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013
mikesswimn:

You hit the nail on the head for the most part. There's a whole lot of "grass is greener" going on as well as a total disregard for the amount of shit you have to go through when you completely switch careers. Not surprising in general, but a little odd for a guy who is old enough to know better.

There is arguably a better way for your software developer friend to transition to IBD. Instead of trying to start at zero as an analyst, go through the whole hazing ritual in the hope of one day get promoted to be senior banker, he could stay in the IT business, work his way up the corporate ladder until he establishes himself as a big shot executive/renowned expert in this business. Once there, he can transition to the investment advisory side as a MD or for that matter, to the buyside at a VC/PE firm. This way he can readily leverage his industry expertise and relationships and make them work for him as a senior banker as opposed to just another rookie trying to break into the business.

Jan 23, 2013

I should say that I resemble your friend. I'm a software developer in my early 30's, working on an MBA Finance/IS, and working on my CFA with a wife and kid at home. But I differ in the fact that I support buy side operations, equity research, and quant at a firm with quite a few bucks under management.

I am only superficially exploring the IB world. I don't know if I would want to break in if I could because I don't have the motivation to miss watching my son grow up just to make some senior people rich. It's something that I will continue to explore, but in all likelihood, I won't pursue it unless I come across something very interesting.

Realistically, I hope to make a soft transition into buy side ER/PM or possibly quant. With an MBA/CFA, my firm's history, and my good rapport with that division, I think I'm all but guaranteed a transition. The pay is better, the work is more interesting, and the time/stress commitment is no more than what I deal with now. And if I'm not fully successful, I come out of it far better credentialed and hedged against career risk.

This isn't a flippant interest of mine. I put together a multi-year plan and I'm sticking to it rather well. I didn't start it without fully understanding what I was getting into. You should be honest with your friend. Let him know the risks and commitments involved. If he's smart and well-informed, he can make a better decision.

Jan 23, 2013
inkybinky:

I should say that I resemble your friend. I'm a software developer in my early 30's, working on an MBA Finance/IS, and working on my CFA with a wife and kid at home. But I differ in the fact that I support buy side operations, equity research, and quant at a firm with quite a few bucks under management.

I am only superficially exploring the IB world. I don't know if I would want to break in if I could because I don't have the motivation to miss watching my son grow up just to make some senior people rich. It's something that I will continue to explore, but in all likelihood, I won't pursue it unless I come across something very interesting.

Realistically, I hope to make a soft transition into buy side ER/PM or possibly quant. With an MBA/CFA, my firm's history, and my good rapport with that division, I think I'm all but guaranteed a transition. The pay is better, the work is more interesting, and the time/stress commitment is no more than what I deal with now. And if I'm not fully successful, I come out of it far better credentialed and hedged against career risk.

This isn't a flippant interest of mine. I put together a multi-year plan and I'm sticking to it rather well. I didn't start it without fully understanding what I was getting into. You should be honest with your friend. Let him know the risks and commitments involved. If he's smart and well-informed, he can make a better decision.

You don't resemble my friend in the slightest. He's enamoured with what he thinks is a different and better career than what he has. This doesn't seem to be terribly unique among programmers, they all get a little burnt from time to time, but transitioning to something like IBD (as opposed to ER/PM/Quant which makes far more sense) is pretty extreme.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 23, 2013
mikesswimn:
inkybinky:

I should say that I resemble your friend. I'm a software developer in my early 30's, working on an MBA Finance/IS, and working on my CFA with a wife and kid at home. But I differ in the fact that I support buy side operations, equity research, and quant at a firm with quite a few bucks under management.

I am only superficially exploring the IB world. I don't know if I would want to break in if I could because I don't have the motivation to miss watching my son grow up just to make some senior people rich. It's something that I will continue to explore, but in all likelihood, I won't pursue it unless I come across something very interesting.

Realistically, I hope to make a soft transition into buy side ER/PM or possibly quant. With an MBA/CFA, my firm's history, and my good rapport with that division, I think I'm all but guaranteed a transition. The pay is better, the work is more interesting, and the time/stress commitment is no more than what I deal with now. And if I'm not fully successful, I come out of it far better credentialed and hedged against career risk.

This isn't a flippant interest of mine. I put together a multi-year plan and I'm sticking to it rather well. I didn't start it without fully understanding what I was getting into. You should be honest with your friend. Let him know the risks and commitments involved. If he's smart and well-informed, he can make a better decision.

You don't resemble my friend in the slightest. He's enamoured with what he thinks is a different and better career than what he has. This doesn't seem to be terribly unique among programmers, they all get a little burnt from time to time, but transitioning to something like IBD (as opposed to ER/PM/Quant which makes far more sense) is pretty extreme.

The problem with a career in software is that, as a service, it has been commoditized over the years. The barrier to entry has been lowered significantly by superior design/development tools. In the long run, I think that doesn't bode well for many development jobs. I think the higher paying jobs will gravitate toward consulting, project implementation and other "high touch" type jobs. Ironically, the skill sets for these jobs are probably not too far from IB. If that's what your friend is into, there might actually be a good translation of skill sets.

I understood what making a transition to ER/PM/Quant would require. It's anything but trivial, but I think it's a good hedge against software development for the long term. If your friend is rational, explaining what such a transition would entail and the risks involved would probably be enough to dissuade him.

Jan 23, 2013

@Sandsurfingbomber: This kid is smart, but the analyst gets stuff wrong, example in oil and gas speak;

Company A does a farm in on Company B's property, under the terms of the deal, Company A will assign a percentage of the interest of the property to B, in exchange, B commits to spending a certain amount on a work program. To my mind, since B is receiving a percentage of the property, then a percentage of the money they will spend on the work will be to their own benefit, and therefore they are not paying that to the other party as part of the exchange. This means that when calculating the cost of acquring the interest in the property, you remove that portion. In this specific example, the difference equates to us saying the deal cost $600/acre, and this nob saying it was over $5,000/acre.

Another example, oil and gas deals are done with an 'effective date' re: if the deal closes it was effectivley owned by the new guys since that date. it becomes important when you're dealing with producing assets, which generate cash, because the cash actually belongs to the new guys. As there is cash moving, you need to incorporate it to the actual cost of the acquisition. This nob analyst doesn't get it, doesn't do it, and so his acquistion price is wrong. As a result, when you calculate acquistion metrics re: $/flowing barrel, $/2P boe, your numbers are wrong. Now if you use recent transactions for a comparative valuation purpose, all of your comps are wrong.

Difference between me and this other kid, he's learned these things wrong, and until someone teaches him better, he will always be wrong, downside, who's going to bother teaching him when they can hire someone that already knows?

Jan 24, 2013

I remember talking to an MD at solid BB that worked really hard to get his brother-in-law a job as an associate. The guy was 40 something. Too old. Didn't work out.

I think your friend needs to consider why he's even interesting in investment banking. He isn't a myopically careerist undergrad that at, worst, has a "quarter-life crisis" when he figures out it's not for him. He has a family; the risks are real; things could really go to shit.

A number of people have asked me for advice because of some tangentially related thread I wrote a year ago; I've actually managed to talk three of these guys out of investment banking. I didn't badmouth it at all- I just told them about what types of students were there, who did the best, and what the environment was like. All of them are pretty happy with where they're at instead (start-up, F500, PWM). These were guys that were asking the "How do I break in???!"-esque threads.

Jan 24, 2013

If you have done everything you can think of to get into IBD - network, quality applications, technical training, fun stuff etc and have have been applying for several years and are STILL not even landing first round interviews at most firms even though a top BB is sayimg your application is one of the bet they got/you 'will land an offer' (but you dont) - is it time to pull the plug?

Jan 24, 2013
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"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Jan 24, 2013
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