Q&A: Managing Director in the M&A and PE business w/ 20+ years experience

Mod Note (Andy): Best Posts of 2014 - this originally went up March of this year I am a 20+ year veteran and Managing Director in the M&A and private equity business who has both bulge bracket and boutique investment banking experience. I have served as turnaround CEO of a portfolio company and have originated and/or executed over $40 billion in transactions. I have screened resumes of more than 2,000 analysts and associates, interviewed more than 500 analysts, associates and VP candidates and trained and/or developed training programs for more than 100 analysts and associates. Types of questions I would like to answer:

  • How to succeed as a woman in investment banking
  • To MBA or not to MBA
  • How NOT to interview
  • Is it a good idea to leave investment banking to launch a tech start-up?
  • Starting a boutique firm vs. staying at existing firm?
  • How to switch to a buy-side mindset before interviewing at a private equity firm.
  • How to manage multiple bosses--VPs, Directors and MD's at same time
  • How is what the VP, Director or MD thinking different than what you think they are thinking? What do they really do all day?

Bio: WallStreetOracle is the Managing Partner of a middle market advisory and private equity investment firm. She has over twenty years of Fortune 500 and middle market M&A advisory and private equity investing experience across a broad range of industries including consumer products, food/beverage, industrials, metals, chemicals, business services, distribution, retail, financial services, healthcare, telecom and entertainment/media. She has been involved in all aspects of the investment process and has served on the board of directors of numerous portfolio companies and non-profit organizations.

Comments (143)

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:12pm

Thanks for contributing to the site.

What's your background leading up to where you are now?

Frank Sinatra - "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy."
Mar 3, 2014 - 2:35pm

Hi, thanks for asking! I started my career at an accounting firm and founded their first M&A group (two years), then was hired away to a BB (a top corporate/investment bank) as an associate, progressed quickly up the ranks to Managing Director (by age 32, was there for 10 years). Left to start a company with a CEO of a client in the broadband telecom industry (3 years) and then started my own boutique investment bank and private equity investment firm (past 10 years). Have an MBA from University of Chicago-Booth. What is your background?

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:16pm

started my own boutique investment bank and private equity investment firm (past 10 years).

Do you have a dedicated fund or do you co-invest alongside client transactions? Just wondering if this is your standard merchant banking model vs. the Blackstone model, where the PE arm operates independently.

"For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."
Mar 3, 2014 - 2:58pm

Lol! Great question. I had to think about that for a minute.

I think the best days for M&A/PE are still ahead. But the days will be different and the providers of PE and M&A services will continue to change.

The wonders of regulation changes have caused many cycles so far and have completely changed the face of M&A and PE since my early days in the industry, which I could expound on at greater length in the event there is an interest.

The one thing that has not changed, from the time I started in the industry is the benefit of having an MBA in order to move up in your existing firm in both M&A and PE as well as to move over into another PE role, M&A role or corp dev role.

My firm was one of the few firms back in the day that would promote people from within and not require an MBA to move up. However, were a small partnership in a very large institution and could make our own rules. Plus, the partners did not want to lose trained resources for even a minute.

I also think even within your own firm, they do not take you as seriously without an MBA. I earned mine at night while working a full schedule and it is well worth it. It isn't easy, but it is definitely doable and worth it. If you have the luxury to go full-time, that is a great way to increase your contacts in a way the evening program does not do.

And when you get out, there will still be deals to do on the advisory and the principal side.

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:24pm

Two questions. First, generally, do you have any tips for those who have decided to use the MBA as a way in? Second, more specifically, should the time leading up to the start of the first Fall semester be used to heavily network?

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:04pm

Hi, not sure if your question means that you were not in M&A or PE before going for your MBA full-time...but assuming that it does, absolutely start networking right away.

One great way to get some experience is to intern during the school year at the type of firm that you would like to work for. That will show that you are really serious about the industry for summer internships and then for recruiting second year. You may even find a fit with the firm where you intern.

Hope that is helpful. If you are interested in more specific advice based on your background, feel free to respond back.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:27pm

I am starting college a few years late because I wanted to test my odds trying to run a successful business. I received a football athletic scholarship to a university, because my high school head coach is a position coach at the school.
Will me being 26 straight from undergrad hurt my chances. I plan on interning during the spring and summer semesters. I also am currently in development of a tech product while in school. Will these types of credentials, 1 or 2 internships, and a passion for the industry help?

Mar 5, 2014 - 3:16pm

Thanks again for doing this. This thread has been very helpful (it takes away from your yoga time but will hopefully repay itself in the form of good karma).
So my background is 3 years in a business consulting role (not core finance stuff – no tangible transferable skills into IB/PE). I'll be going to get my MBA this fall at a top 10 school and looking to break into IB at the associate level. A few questions:
1. The group placement at most banks seems to be random and a function of needs at the time. If I'm interested in a particular industry/group, how would I go about making this known? Networking primarily with people within the group I'm interested in? Something else?
2. Are the associate classes as close-knit as the analyst classes, in terms of both networking and socially?
3. Something I've heard very few people talk about, what happens to most associates? Some get promoted to VP (but probably not all). Some jump ship to Corp roles, a few land PE gigs. But it seems like a major chunk are still unaccounted for.
Again, thanks for your help. It's great to hear your perspective.

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:29pm

Thanks for coming on the site. My questions for you focus on "To MBA or not to MBA" and what the first few years out look like.

1. Is ugrad GPA a consideration for MBA hires? I was a lifelong A student until a couple of rough years in college and I'm still lagging in opportunity given that. So, I'm in process of getting an MBA to offset this. I've been dodging the GPA question for years now: when will I be free of this? If I never will, I'd like to know because I'm really at the point of changing careers...I'm frankly tired of justifying my existence at such a basic level.

2. Everyone on this site is obsessed with top three MBAs, and top 7 MBAs. I'm not sure I'm going to be accepted into these programs and am focused on top 20. How big of a dealbreaker is not going to a top tier MBA?

3. Assuming I make it into a decent MBA program and IBD group, how true is it that post MBA bankers have a tough time moving to the buy side? I hear all the time about people being "trapped" in IBD, but I'm thinking that the bulk of this site is analysts who only know part of the story. What's your take?

4. I've been accepted into several accounting MBA programs that recruit into valuation positions (I'm not interested in audit at all). In my mind, being able to sit for the CPA is a backstop against unemployment in the event of a future downturn. Is setting up this back up plan a good idea, or am I fundamentally changing the nature of the work options available to me?

Thank you in advance for any insight you are willing to offer

Get busy living
Best Response
Mar 3, 2014 - 3:37pm

Hi UFOinsider, all great questions.

1. I feel your pain on the GPA front, but do not let it get you down. Everybody has something that isn't perfect that they are self-conscious about. While GPA is certainly important, and not easy to hide, it will not dog you forever, and certainly not after an MBA. Are there other ways you can slice it--i.e., GPA in your major, show your SAT or ACT scores if they are good, your high school GPA and class rank if that is good--could help. Your gmat scores? Or show your GPA for the first two years and second two years if there is a major difference and note what happened that changed and how you learned from it, if applicable.

But make sure to note that your GPA as an MBA will be important, although some schools do not let you show your GPA (University of Chicago for one) you can still list that you made the Dean's List or graduated with some kind of honors. So really make sure to get above a 3.5 for your MBA.

2. I think you are safe in the Top 20. It may mean that you can't get into some firms, but it probably won't hold you back if you have strong activities and good work experience. Knowing how to interview is also key--it doesn't matter what your school is if you can't interview.

3. I've been seeing a lot about IB moving to the buy-side on this site and I'm not entirely sure why it has become all the rage--particularly since many people talking about it don't seem to know for sure what that means and why they would want to. It may be from the IB war stories and how you will be overworked in IB and that buy-side firms have a better quality of life. But from what I see, depending on the buy-side/PE firm you are at, those have become chop shops as well. Being "trapped" in IB is not so bad IF you like what you are doing and you are curious about companies and find the work exiciting. And if you don't, going the PE route won't be any better. How are you trapped if you are getting paid huge amounts of money to work on exciting deals and learning as much about business as you can in any one place? That is the IB side, and while I some compassion and empathy for those IBers, I think often we don't see how fortunate we are to have roofs over our heads, enough to eat, and a really great time doing what we do. If someone doesn't love doing deals they will not enjoy either IB or PE.

That is a long answer to your question though! The short answer is no, it will not limit you going the IB route, but if you really want PE, why not go that route to start?

4. Accounting firms have become great ways to get into IB and PE. Some people will hold a bias against accounting firms still, but people get hired out of valuation groups, due diligence groups and M&A advisory groups all the time. And being at an accounting firm (although I agree with you, not in audit) is a good place to be. Decent pay, decent hours, great training.

Most of all UFOinsider, and this is true for all on this site, go for what YOU want. If you want it, you will get it, regardless of a temporary lapse in GPA. And if you want something that may not be the "in" thing, like going the buy-side/PE route is right now, don't let anyone else's judgment cloud your enjoyment of what you decide to do. Whichever path you take, as long as it is what you want, you will be fine.

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:29pm

Curious on your opinion regarding the intellectual/analytic abilities of analysts vs (not analyst-promote) associates. Obviously is pretty variant dependent on individuals, but if you had to take a stab at the general trend.

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:24pm

Generally, someone who has had an analyst background would have more relevant analytic capabilities and would have proven (or not proven) their level of ability and interest in the industry. The analyst-promote would be easier to train and utilize their efforts right away. The n-p associate would need time training in analytics and the best training--other than what you can find here on WSO, which is awesome btw--is on the job.

Depending on the background of the n-p A, and the relevance of their prior work experience, there is a risk to the hiring firm that this person will not have an interest in the industry and will burn out early.

The best characteristic of either the analyst promote or n-p, is curiousity to work on deals. There is nothing more painful than trying to train someone or work with someone on a deal team who doesn't have interest.

If the n-p Associate is motivated, they can be every bit as good as the analyst promote. You can train analytics but you can't force someone to be interested.

Hope that answers your question!

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:35pm

What would you do different (career wise) if you were give an opportunity to go back?

Are you satisfied with what you have professionally achieved?

Since it is an anon forum:
What kind of money are you earning at the moment?
Is it the high or did you earn more before?
How much are you worth?

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:35pm

Thanks for the question animalz.

I don't think I would do anything different, because at each stage in my career I made a conscious decision of what path to take. I always wanted to have my own company so that is what I aimed for. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had and all of the amazing learning experiences, although they haven't all been easy.

I am satisfied with what I have achieved but I am far from done yet. One of my passions is to have a large platform to give back and create opportunities for others that may not have them. I have done some things, but not enough yet.

With regard money, I think that may not be a good question to ask, even for an anon forum.

Let's just say, I could have retired long ago, but I didn't it because I love doing deals and it is what I like to do in my free time. That and yoga.

Mar 3, 2014 - 7:08pm


Thanks for the question animalz.

I don't think I would do anything different, because at each stage in my career I made a conscious decision of what path to take. I always wanted to have my own company so that is what I aimed for. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had and all of the amazing learning experiences, although they haven't all been easy.

I am satisfied with what I have achieved but I am far from done yet. One of my passions is to have a large platform to give back and create opportunities for others that may not have them. I have done some things, but not enough yet.

With regard money, I think that may not be a good question to ask, even for an anon forum.

Let's just say, I could have retired long ago, but I didn't it because I love doing deals and it is what I like to do in my free time. That and yoga.

Much appreciated @WallStreetOracle, +1.

Sorry for the awkward questions, some users before were open about their comp, and I was curious about how does the comp look after 20 years of experience like yours.

Keep the important answers coming, this AMA is great so far.

P.S. I just realized that you are Certified User. Therefore this is probably not completely anonymous and I shouldn't have even asked.

Mar 3, 2014 - 2:49pm

First of all, thanks for doing this. As an incoming analyst going into a top group (think GS TMT / FIG / MS M&A) my questions primarily focus on how to switch into a buy-side mindset while being an analyst.

What can an analyst do while working on deals that would be helpful for PE interviews? Put another way, what aspects of a deal would be helpful to keep in mind when going into a PE interview / while preparing for one?

What kinds of questions would be helpful for an analyst trying to acquire this mindset to ask senior bankers?

Are there any helpful resources (online or print) for an analyst to read while trying to acquire this mindset?

What are the most important skills to have as a private equity professional in order to be successful?

Thanks in advance for the info!

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:14pm

Hi Classica, sounds like you are in a good spot and are thinking ahead.

My short answer is as follows: Think about each deal you work on as if you were going take money out of your pocket to buy it. That is what PE firms do.

This is my long answer:

I would like to demystify the sell-side/IB vs. buy-side/PE debate, as I think there is less of a difference between the two than it may seem.

When you are at an IB, working on M&A deals, you will often work on the sell-side, represent the seller of a company to a buyer. There may also be advisor to the buyer's side or it may be a PE firm who does or doesn't have an IB advisor. But it is the same deal and you are working towards the same end--a deal that will satisfy the seller and the buyer--without the IB's and the attorneys getting in the way.

So as you are representing a company for sale, look carefully at what the buyers are doing, strategic or PE. When you are on facility tours, look carefully at what the buyers were interested, watch their reactions as your management team gives their presentation--even ask them directly what they think about the company.

The primary difference is that a PE firm is buying a company on their own behalf and on the behalf of their investors. The problems (and opportunities) that come with the company will be theirs to solve. So as an IB representing a seller, we disclose that there may be psychedelic fish jumping out a mud lake in the steelyard, but the PE firm needs to know how many psychedelic fish and what they've been taking and how much it will cost to fix it. (This is actually a true story. I was on the buy-side, and we didn't do the deal because the remediation was too costly).

The reason that IB's work mostly on the seller's side is because if I, as an advisor am working with the seller, there may be 5 to 100 buyers who are trying to buy or invest in my client. But there is a great chance that I will get my fee regardless of who buys, if I have done my work upfront and qualified the seller to make sure they are a serious seller, which I will have done by charging a retainer fee. My counterpart, however, on the buyer's side, has a 1 in 100 chance of winning the deal, so they may not get the fee or in the case of a PE firm, win the bid.

At an IB, you may have opportunities, as I did, to work on buy-side deals--but in an advisory role. That is the real difference. At an IB you are an advisor, and at a PE firm you are what is deemed a principal, more stake in the game, although as a younger hire, not so much right away. If you are interested in the buy-side, try to get staffed on those deals.
Other ways to get into the mindset now--as you are working on deals, even if it is on analytics--lbo models and comps, don't just plug numbers into a spreadsheet. Think about the company and the deal--like an owner. Learn as much as you can about the deals you are working on. Find a more senior person on the deal team who wants to help you develop and ask questions and show interest. Ask how you can add more value to the deal.

And remember that the other side of the deal is the buyer. What you work on as a valuation for a company is fine--but think about the mindset of the buyers you are selling to. If you work for KKR on the principal/buy-side, and you are thinking of buying the company, what would you pay and why? What are you worried about as a buyer and what opportunities do you see that the seller didn't? Why would this company be good for your portfolio? What are the differences if the buyer were a strategic buyer/in the industry? What costs could they save.

Think about each deal and think of if you would take money out of your pocket to buy it. That is what PE firms do.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:01pm

I would be interested in hearing more about 1) how you started the M&A group as a first year in an accounting firm and 2) how that turned into an offer from a BB. I would also love to get your thoughts on leaving finance for a tech startup, and how you left an established firm to start a boutique.

Thanks for taking the time. I'll be watching this thread closely! SB+1

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:18pm

To answer 1) I'm sure the Oracle would kindly agree with me that 20 years ago it was easier to "break in" at least in terms of skillset and pedigree, above average to top might have sufficed. The passion and intensity surely would have had to be top notch just as they need to be today. But I do believe the screens are higher nowadays.

Winners bring a bigger bag than you do. I have a degree in meritocracy.
Mar 4, 2014 - 12:04am

Hi Bat,

I agree with you, but it was hard then and the jobs were kept close within a few bulge brackets on Wall Street that were almost impossible to get into. The industry has expanded and broadened, providing more opportunities.

I agree in particular with you comment with regard to the larger firms--both PE and IB. But often they are much less interesting to work for because your hands on experience is less and you spend your days churning out numbers and not knowing where they go!

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:03pm

What would you suggest to a undergrad student that wants to go straight to the buy side? What type of things (besides internships) can they do to be attractive to buy side firms? When interviewing a prospective employee, does prior eentrepreneurship during or after college stand out?

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:47pm

Hi, thanks for your question.

A few answers that you probably have already heard...get above a 3.5 GPA in undergrad. The best thing you can do is an internship at a buy side firm or an IB--do it for free if you have to. Entrepreneurship definitely helps.

One other idea would be to do some form of research project for school that would involve interviewing PE firms and then giving the research report back to the participating firms. That worked with a student I was mentoring.

Also, find any connection you may have from this forum or through LinkedIn, your friend's parents, any connections you have--to do an informational interview with as many PE firms as you can--at any level you can. Make sure to keep it informational--chances are, if you are a good fit for a job and respectful in your interview, they will come back to you.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:05pm

Thank you for doing this. I have a couple questions:

1. What are somethings that you now know about your 20+ years industry that you wished you would've know coming out of schools.

2. How do you evaluate junior bankers for promotion? Is it based on quantitative or qualitative factors?

3. How is what the VP, Director or MD thinking different than what you think they are thinking? What do they really do all day? How do they go about sourcing deals?

Thanks in advance I'm really looking forward to reading your response.

Mar 3, 2014 - 7:25pm

Hi I canstillhope. Thanks for your questions.

1. For your first question, I have more of the opposite answer--there is something I'm glad I didn't know then, coming out of undergrad. I didn't know how difficult the industry was to break into, and because of that, I wasn't as focused on what my limitations were. While it is important to be prepared and do the right things, sometimes not knowing the cards are stacked against you gives you the confidence to try and focuses you more on your strengths than your weaknesses.

As for what I wish I did know then is that there are so many people who are willing to talk to you and help you accomplish what you want to-at all levels, in your firm, in your network at your clients, but you have to ask.

2. I was told something when I was a junior banker when I asked why I didn't get to go out on pitches or to client meetings that I will never forget: "Until you are so important to me that I can't leave you behind, you will stay here."
At first I was stymied, I had filled in thousands of numbers into spreadsheets and handed over perfect analyses, I worked 24 hours a day, why wasn't I indispensable? Surely that bought me a field trip outside.

What I soon realized and corrected, was that it isn't enough to hand over a zero-error presentation, I had to know what it means. What did the numbers say? What did I know about the company and the industry that was beyond the presentation. Did I know the numbers if asked, and what they meant? What did I know so they didn't have to know it. How could I add value and make them look good?

While quantitative is important, it is a base requirement. Making yourself indispensable to your deal teams is what makes the difference, and doing it with the right mixture of confidence and humility is critical. Being helpful and easy to be around, knowing and acting your place but showing how in addition, you can perform above it is the difference maker.

And..most people get promoted because they ask for it, and they ask early so that they can take advice they are given and resolve any issues that would prevent your promotion. Promotion requests go in way before the promotions are effective, so make sure you are talking with the powers that be and getting direct feedback.

3. This is something I always wondered when I was an analyst and an associate, as did all of my peers. What do these guys do all day. We're doing all the work down here. There are some higher level folks that have somehow missed the cut and aren't doing all that much--and everyone knows who they are, but on the whole, the senior officers are performing important functions that are important to respect.

The managing directors are hopefully bringing in new business, getting yelled at by whoever they report to (and everyone reports to someone), yelling at whoever reports to them, who then kick the analysts. They are also trying to retain the clients they have, playing nice with others in the firm and generally carrying the pressure and the weight of the possibilities of bad results...and they are determining how much you and everyone else around them are worth. It isn't easy being in those chairs, so it is important to realize that whatever their mood is, it probably has nothing to do with you and anything you can do to help leverage their time is appreciated.

How do they source deals? Hopefully they have built up a network of relationships (as you will be throughout your career) so that they are getting referrals from former clients. Many are still in close contact with their MBA class and getting referrals there. If they are at an IB or BB or accounting firm, they will be working with their counterparts in other areas to gain access to clients. Also, they will be speaking at events where they will be able to attract new clients based on their expertise.

Hope that helps and that I answered your questions!

Mar 3, 2014 - 7:37pm

Hi packmate. if you have a great idea for a business let me know!

There is not a perfect simple answer for your question. My simple answer is build your company on the side, and leave your job when you can earn money from it. Even if you have a situation that your family will support you while you are building your dream company, I would still recommend getting a job and building your business on the side.

The exception is if you have a company that is so exceptional (repetition intended) that you just have to go for it and then do everything in your power to make sure it doesn't fail. I don't think companies--and this is generally speaking--look favorably on failure--even if it was a youthful failure. Like the adage that says it is harder to get a job if you don't have a job, there could be an adage that says, it is harder to get a job if you were at a failed company.

Timing is sometimes everything. If Mark Zuckerburg were to start a company today, he probably wouldn't make it. There are thousands like him who didn't that we don't hear about.

That being said, if you are really feeling, you may have to go for it. But consider doing it while you are gainfully employed to reduce your risk.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:16pm

Thank you for providing your expertise.

Can you provide some of the pro's and con's of coverage vs product, and how would you recommend structuring your analysis on which one to choose.

Thank you. I'll forward to reading your response.

When luck shuts the door you gotta come in through the window - Doyle Brunson
Mar 3, 2014 - 11:14pm

Hi, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. I haven't gotten a hang of this quite yet!

If by coverage you mean relationship management or business development and product you mean being in M&A, or leveraged finance, I would say that you are best off to get a product skill set and be able to originate/rainmake also. If you go the coverage route, you may find that many organizations do not give transaction origination the value that it is due. You also may find that having the deeper knowledge of executing will help in your ability to develop new deals.

If that is not what you meant, please let me know.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:18pm

Thank you for doing this. Question question:

Whenever I interview for an Analyst role at an IB...I always feel like I am using the same cliche answers, that the interviewer has probably heard a million times over and over again; and in turn, starts losing interest in me. Now, I am a very interesting person, but some answers to interview questions (fit-based) may be the same. Should I try and avoid these answers or think of others ways to answer them? Basically, I don't want the interviewer (MD or associate or vp) to think that I am "overdoing" it.

Mar 3, 2014 - 11:49pm

Hi Crame,

Thanks for your question. I understand what you mean, it is difficult to stand out when so many candidates have similar backgrounds.

It is positive that you are interested in keeping the interviewer happy and awake, because that is important.

One thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer has typically made up their mind in the first 10 seconds of an interview. So if they liked you right off the bat, all you have to do is not change there minds. I can think of only a few instances when someone changed my mind from my initial impression, and that was because their story and earnestness made me want to help--I am a big fan of the underdog.

What you can do to stand out in an interview is show complete respect and interest in the interviewer and everything they have to say from the moment you walk in the interview room and listen intently to how they start the interview to pick up clues about what is important to them,

As you answer questions, focus on the things that make you interesting--you did say you were interesting! You can re-frame questions towards your strengths, but make sure to answer the question without seeming evasive.

Again, the main thing is to develop a rapport with the interviewer, not to answer every question personally. What about you is there that makes them want to give you a shot over someone else? What will you bring to the table?

Mar 3, 2014 - 8:31pm

Hi industrial_banker,

What I like to see is someone who has done the work to understand what the position is and what it requires and if they don't know something will find a way to learn it. I want to see someone who doesn't sit back and wait for me to tell them why they should be interested. I want to see the interest and the willingness to do what it takes to get a deal done. I have passed on Rhode scholars and people with 4.0s who come in with an attitude of entitlement. I would rather have someone with a lower grade point that wants to show how much value they will add. And why do they want this particular position vs. any of the other ones, do they want a job or do they want this one.

I also want the interviewer to make the interview easy for me. It gets tiring interviewing people--how can you take the pressure off the interviewer and make the time more memorable and enjoyable.

Also, make sure not to talk too much. Do not fill in blank spaces--pause after you say something so that the interviewer can prompt you to continue or change courses.

One of the worst mistakes an interviewee can make (and btw, I don't think anyone on WSO will make this mistake, but just in case, I'll say it anyway) is to treat an interview as if it were an informational interview to answer your questions on if you want the position or to be in the industry. There is nothing that will make an interviewer see red more than someone who is asking their advice as to whether they should be in the industry. It is wasting their time.

I had someone tell me in an interview that they were hoping to use M&A to get into money management someday. An interviewer is not looking to train someone for another industry. When you interview, make sure that you know you want the position and convey what you can bring to the firm. Similarly, if you are going into M&A or PE because you want to start your own business some day, don't say it!

Mar 3, 2014 - 10:48pm

Hi Bat!

Thanks for the challenge!! Here are some thoughts...

You can't let it bother you that other people look at you differently than if you were a man. Not much you can do about that. But you can make sure you dress and act professionally at all times--while not stifling your personal style. And, similar to what your quote says above, as a woman you have assets that men don't always have in the same way--and I don't mean physical assets. Women tend to be stronger collaborators, able to build consensus instead of going for ego-based conflict (sorry men, I know I am going to hear about this one, but there are things you are better at too.).

Take note of colleagues and superiors that are treating you differently and find mentors within your firm and outside of your firm that can help you build networks of colleagues to rely on. Make sure to ask for promotions early and find out what needs to be done to get one.

And be careful about following the group from the conference into the men's room. I did that once. We miss all of the best parts of the conversation, but there are some places we still shouldn't go.

Mar 3, 2014 - 11:59pm

Hi Crame!

Having passion for the industry is a deep understanding of the industry (to the extent you can with what you have access to) and your connection with it.

Think of something you really love (for me it is chocolate chip cookies). I get very passionate when talking about how you can tell one cookie from the other.

I also love deals. The way it shows is when I start talking about a deal or a company that I have worked with, I get very excited and it shows in my face. People say all the time, I can see that you really like what you do.

So hopefully you love deals and even the day to day grunt work (many firms are worried that people want the glory and not to do the work) so that you can show your true interest in the industry. Interviewers want to know that this is what you really want, not a stepping stone to something else. They want to know that the time and $ their firm invests in you will be worth it.

As an interviewer, I want to know that the interviewee knows what they are getting themselves into--the fact that it is a grind and a lot of hard work--and still wants to be a part of it.

Mar 3, 2014 - 3:37pm

Thanks for sharing your insights. Do you think success on the buyside is predicated on working harder than your peers, or working 'smarter' than your peers, or some combination of both? What is a normal week at your level in terms of hours (both raw hours spent at the desk and quality hours actually doing productive work)?

Mar 3, 2014 - 8:11pm

Hi MBAGal2014! Great to hear from you.

Congratulations on your MBA and BB Associate position. It sounds like you have everything well under control :-)!

As much as things have changed since my early days in the industry, much has stayed the same. IBs are still male-dominated at the upper ranks, many even at lower and mid-ranks.

Some of that may be by choice, in that IB is a difficult and time-consuming path, it may be because people like to promote people who remind them of themselves when they were in the same position, or it may be because we don't know we need to ask or are afraid to ask for promotions.

The best way is to find a mentor/mentors within your organization and within your group--and they probably will not be a woman or a minority, but they still will have an investment in your future. Also, see if there are already groups with women and/or minorities within your firm that get together and there are many groups of women in IB and PE that have events that might be helpful to get involved in.

One thing I learned to do after seeing others get promoted around me was to make sure I "promoted myself". Ask the VPs and MDs you are working with what it takes to be a top tier associate, and then check in periodically to ask them how you are doing based on what they told you. Find out when promotions are set--often 3-6 months before they are given out and make sure that you have asked what you need to do to get one before then.

Hope this helps. If there is anything more specific, I would be happy to talk to you about it. It is hard to be completely open given that this audience is probably less than 50% female.

Mar 3, 2014 - 10:31pm

Hi TwoThrones. Thanks for your question.

Nothing is easy, but anything is possible if you want it. I realize that sounds cliche, but it is true. What is most important to figure out is why you want to go to PE. These things go in waves. In my time, consulting was the big new thing instead of IB, then it was back to IB, then it was PE, then it was hedge funds, now it is PE and in between, when the markets started going down, it was restructurings and in hot tech markets, it is starting a company. It's most important to decide why PE is attractive to you--that way you will be genuine when you are interviewing because you will know what you want and why you want it. Maximize the opportunities you have and make sure you are building experiences that you will be able to talk about in interviews.

If PE is really what you want, then it is absolutely possible to get there. If it is want you totally want, then it may not happen. The reason I say this is because if you have an MBA from a top school and have CF background, there are many places you can go, but if you don't want it bad enough it will be painful.

One other way that you could go is to go into a corporate development department where you are involved in acquisitions--PE firms like corporate development backgrounds.

There are so many PE firms now that there is no one set rule of what your background has to be. You just have to work the background you have and go for what you want and don't let someone who tells you you can't get from IB to PE make the decision for you.

Hope that helps!

Mar 3, 2014 - 4:54pm

Hi WallStreetOracle, thank you so much for doing this! I'm a female incoming analyst in IB, and hoped to move into PE eventually. I'm genuinely interested in the work in PE - which feels much more proprietary and exciting - not just because PE is a "natural path" of sorts of IB analysts.

How do you feel being a woman in PE seeing that the gender imbalance there is much more pronounced than in traditional banking? When I interned in PE over summer (which first sparked my interest in the work), I gravitated to the other women in the office (shared interests, familiarity etc.) but most were either personal assistants or in administrative roles. What do you think of the dichotomy between choosing a high-strung career path, or naturally "dropping off" the rat race after your first few years as an associate (and manage a family, children etc.)? There's so much talk about leaning in nowadays, but I often feel like the glamourized women who've "made it" with a work-life balance almost present an unattainable image of perfection, and are distanced (or even ignorant) of the process that women lower down the totem pole have to face. Don't know why, but I've always had much less success interviewing with women that I've had with men.


Mar 3, 2014 - 11:08pm

Hi Dotcross!

Great questions and very insightful. I found myself in the same situation at the M&A group at the IB that I first worked at, the only professional female. What was difficult for me and I am guessing for you at you summer PE internship, is that the men treated the non-professional females like staff and you and I want to treat them like friends and staff and colleagues.

Don't change the way that you are on that front.

With regard to interviewing with a woman, that made me smile because that is so strange and so true. Women still feel like there is only one slot for a woman, and there is a snarkiness about sharing that with another woman. And, women may feel like they want to be the attractive one in the office, so for attractive younger women that are interviewing, again the claws may come out.

The women who have made it generally have husbands that assume the role of the wife. That is what makes it possible to be Uber-Woman. Or, they do not have a family--since that is hard to fine and have dedicated their life to their career. It truly is hard to do both, although men in general do appear to be stepping up their game a bit and helping more at home.

There is a terrific book I read years ago, maybe decades, that if it is still around I would definitely recommended reading it. It's called the Power Failure and it's interesting that most of it is still valid today. It is a study on why women hadn't gotten further or progressed and if it was their decision or if they were pushed down and out.

One of the interesting findings was that women, who are often humble and hard on themselves, were concerned they didn't deserve a promotion and afraid they couldn't handle it, and made the decision to leave.

I love this business, clearly--all parts of it. But the most important thing is doing what makes you happy--and that may change over time. You may find a Mr. Mom, you may decide CF at an accounting firm provides a better lifestyle, or go PE. There are some PE firms that are reputed to be less favorable for women--possibly the one you were at, but there are many that have a more modern outlook and the lifestyle is often more conducive to having it all--almost.

One other thing, even though there is not supposed to be a bias from an HR compliance perspective, there is a bias on the part of both men and women interviewers that women are not long term in the industry. Not fair, but the bias does exist. It is important to communicate that career comes first, at least until it doesn't.

Mar 3, 2014 - 5:22pm

@WallStreetOracle - Thank you for this thread. It's really nice to finally get the perspective of a senior female professional in finance at WSO.

Would love to hear some of your thoughts on succeeding as a woman in finance as asked by the other users. Also, if there are any key takeaways you've picked up that you can pass along to women in finance looking to move up the ladder, that would be greatly appreciated.

I also have had a similar experience as dotcross in that I have had more success interviewing with men than women. Also, the few senior women I've worked with in finance have been extremes - either they are highly competent or not very, or very personable/approachable or kinda bitchy/type to backstab or not care about their juniors. Obviously it pains me to say this as I am a female in finance, but I've so far have had really only a few senior female superiors who are on the first quadrant for both counts (being a rockstar performer, and is very approachable), and unfortunately they were all at the same firm where I interned for a few months, as opposed to have worked for full time and was able to develop a mentee-mentorship type relationship.

So far all my best mentors have been men. Largely due to numbers, I imagine, but also probably due to personality/fit (e.g., liking sports, cars, etc - I'm not that girly). But I've come to realize that there are some things male mentors can't teach, and that's navigating through office politics and moving up the chain as a woman. Since you moved up from a time where I imagine there were even fewer women to look to, it would be great to hear what are some steps you took (short and long-term) that helped you along the way.

Mar 3, 2014 - 11:28pm

Hi Kanon. Great insights. I hear you on the difficult women issue. It is sad that it works that way. But it is also true that women who are capable and confident in themselves are good superiors. It is also true that men who are insecure can be just as bad or worse to work for. I have seen partners compete with associates for credit.

Having interests in sports and cars and other things that interest men is very helpful. I am a huge sports fan, love football and golf and running. It is natural that people want to work with people who have things in common.

I have an odd suggestion. If you don't have a female mentor to help you move up like a woman, move up like a man!! Your current mentors can be very helpful here. One of my male mentors (and thank goodness it was a strictly business mentorship interest) was instrumental in changing the trajectory of my career.

If you feel comfortable, you can ask them about your dilemma and see if they have suggestions of what you need to do. Ask them if they feel that being a woman will prevent you from moving up as quickly as you are able to based on capabilities. That should open up some very interesting conversations...and I want to hear all about them!

If there is a woman in your firm that is in a high level position, you may try to approach her and tell her that you admire what she has accomplished and ask her what barriers she faced. There are some women who won't be helpful, but most do want to help.

Also, try finding women's leadership groups within your firm and outside of your firm. I am part of a group called Women in Private Equity and that helps as well with networking, but still not a "good old boys network".

The book Lean In is a bit fanciful, but a main point is similar to one I always stress..."Take a seat at the table.". As women, we often let the men take the big boy seats and we have to believe in our right to be fit in one too.

Hope that is helpful :-)

Mar 3, 2014 - 5:25pm

Thanks for taking the time out!

My mother is a serial entrepreneur and is expanding the companies under her umbrella like crazy. I am currently working in the commercial bank of a BB and am trying to transition to an IB role somewhere else. What would you say is a good launching point to leave the banking world and go back and take over one of the family businesses. I want to make sure I have enough experience first but am wondering if you could give some insight into how many years you think it would take?

Thanks again!

Mar 3, 2014 - 5:51pm

thanks for contribution @WallStreetOracle.

whats the most unconventional/interesting (def DONT mean cookie-cutter Ivy League MBB Peacecorp Social Start up person) post MBA associate background that you have encountered? in such situations did those people ever go into a IBD group which was covering something outside their area?

e.g. if geologist & MBA, always = natural resources group?
e.g. if chef & MBA, always consumer group?
e.g. if plumber business owner & MBA, always utilities?

any CVs you saw that made you thin "huh, thats interesting career path/strange". what do you think those people posses extra that help them make the leap (apart from knowing the technicals & not being socially awkward)?


Mar 3, 2014 - 6:12pm

Thanks for posting @WallStreetOralce...What are interviewee's lacking that is not setting themselves apart and not learned either via business school or work that would make them successful even if they are not hired in your firm? Thanks.

Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum
Mar 3, 2014 - 10:45pm

You are awesome.

Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys to men. From men into gladiators. And from gladiators into SWANSONS.
Mar 3, 2014 - 11:53pm

Hi WallStreetOracle,

Again, I think that all readers here really appreciate your insight and help. Since you not only have had experience at a big firm like a bulge bracket, but also with a boutique, I was hoping to get your opinion on boutiques vs. Bulge bracket. By this, I mean bulge brackets versus so-called "boutiques" like Lazard, Evercore, Greenhill. I will be a incoming summer analyst at a bulge bracket, and was wondering what are the pros and cons of going to each type of firm. WallStreetOasis users have discussed this a lot and the consensus here is that the experience at the mentioned boutiques would be more highly valued (for Private equity as well as corp dev in some instances) and that the bulge-bracket model (all in one) is at a decline with more stringent regulations and the rise of competition from the boutiques.

What are your thoughts on this and perhaps where the industry is heading in terms of players? And what might this mean for where top talent will go?

Mar 4, 2014 - 7:39pm

Hi Ataraxy, valid question.

While regulations have made it difficult for BBs, regulations can change overnight and often do. Plus, the names still carry the prestige--and PE firms like prestige.

As a summer analyst, you will get a great foundation and probably have a blast with the analyst pool. Even as a full-time analyst, you can't go wrong, but you will need to try to get more involved on a deal team and not be stuck in the pit typing in numbers all day. It is true that with boutiques, you will likely have more exposure to the big picture and have more responsibility sooner that is helpful when you need a story about how you contributed on a deal.

Getting the top analytics training and working on as many deals and getting as deeply involved as you can (summer analysts may not have much luck here) is what you need to focus on. Have a great time over the summer, but realize that every event or outing that involves anyone from work is a work event, so be professional while still having a good time. Make the most of it--the contacts that you make in your peer group will be networking friends for life.

Mar 4, 2014 - 12:20am

Thank you for willing to answer questions!

I am a recent grad with a BS in math and engineering from a big ten school in the mid-west.
I graduated with 3.9 GPA last December, and have internship experience in engineering/operations roles at tech companies.

I would really like to break into investment management, HF, or IB but am having difficulties, as I lack connections and experience in the field.

1. What should I do to maximize chances of landing interviews? Should I keep banging doors through LinkedIn?

2. You mentioned things NOT to do during interviews. Could you cover them in detail?

3. What are some characteristics of candidates that leave a very strong impression on you during the interview process?

4. Have you seen anyone who jumped into PE post-MBA without post-undergrad IB, consulting experience? If so, can you give details as to how that particular jump was made?

5. You advanced very quickly during your IB years. What are some key things you did to differentiate yourself from your peers?

Mar 4, 2014 - 11:10am

Hi Dr. S,

You have an interesting background--PE firms love engineers and engineering work experience, so that may be an option for you as well.

One of the best ways to break into the field is through informational interviews with peers first (who can give you a birds eye view and may have connections to get you into a firm). Once you have a stronger sense of where you want to be, HF, IB, PE, then I recommend finding higher levels--VP/MD to talk to at firms you are interested in so that you can ask for their views of the industry, but not what the industry IS.

Make sure that you ask for 15 minutes of their time and offer to buy them coffee in or near their office. Only take longer than 15 minutes if the VP says they want to spend more time--make sure to say that you don't want to take more than the 15 minutes and they will likely say they can spare a few more. If it feels appropriate and the conversation has gone well, ask them if they know of any opportunities that might be a fit for you or if they have ideas of how you can break in. Make sure to follow up with a hand-written card the same day. And touch base from time to time if you see an article that would be of interest to them or if they asked you to follow up with your progress. And when you land somewhere, let them know and thank them again for the help. A little thanks goes a long way.

LinkedIn is a good source to find people that you can ask for informational interviews. Again, do the peers first and when you do the higher ups, make sure to complement them about something in their background and why it would mean so much to you to have a few minutes of their time. Search news stories to see if they have received accolades or awards or gave quotes on completed deals.

I need to run to catch a flight, but I promise I will answer the rest of your questions as soon as I can!

Mar 4, 2014 - 12:39am

Thank you so much for doing this. It is great reading about a woman able to successfully climb the ladder in a male dominated industry, and your successes are quite inspiring. I've read through most of the thread, and don't believe I have a question you haven't touched on, what does your day look like? Where do you spend most of your time? What aspects of your job do you enjoy most and which do you consider most menial?

Mar 4, 2014 - 11:15am

Hi Verbal, thanks for your interest and thanks for your question. A quick answer is that my day often looks like running to the airport to catch a flight...which I need to do now. I will finish the answer when I get to my destination. Hope you are having a great day.

Mar 4, 2014 - 6:40pm

Hi verbal, landed safely! As an MD, I spend most of my time with prospective clients and deal sources and playing the lead role executing deals. The more that the deal team can do, and the more that the client wants to talk to the VP or Associate instead of having to talk to me, the more I can be out bringing in new business--or doing yoga.

What I don't like the most about having my own firm is the administrative side--HR, office, internal accounting, compliance and to be honest, I don't like it! I want to spend 100% of my time with clients and I find I spend 30% on the admin details.

One of the most important things to think about as a woman who wants to prove herself in the business (and I am still learning this) is not to try to play superhero. Early on, I would say yes to any deal for any partner or superior that needed help, and I was overloaded to the point that I was working 24/7 and starting to miss deadlines. It is important to learn how to manage your bosses--ask them to ask the other partner which is the priority...if you try to decide or try to play middleman, the results can be disastrous. And as you move up the food chain, mentor and train the people downstream and help them take over as much of the work as possible.

Hope that helps and thank you for you interest!

Mar 4, 2014 - 3:16am

Hi WallStreetOracle,

First of all, definitely appreciate the time you're taking to do this. I'm sure all of us on the boards, regardless of our current academic/professional positions, can gain something from this thread. Would you mind answering a couple of questions below:

1. Is it true that MBA IB Associates can't exit to another job as easily as IB analysts? Or do you see fewer exits for other reasons outside of lack of opportunities (e.g. Associates are older and have had more time to decide banking is the career they want, etc)

2a. Is it true that it's [almost] impossible to break into PE for an IB Associate if he/she didn't have previous PE experience?

2b. What if the Associate was promoted directly from an analyst, is it still difficult to break into PE in a pre-MBA capacity (I assume an A to A promote can't go into a post-MBA PE role directly)?

3. What would you say are the benefits of joining a middle-market PE firm over megafund PE firm in a pre-MBA capacity? What about in a post-MBA role?

Thank you!

Mar 4, 2014 - 5:32am


Many thanks for taking the time to post on the board. It has been great reading both your thoughts and responses to questions.

If you have time, I'd greatly appreciate your thoughts on an issue I am currently facing, but one that I think many others on the forum have already/will face during their professional career - a decision between industries/positions.

I'm currently a junior associate at China-based middle-market private equity firm. Unsolicited, I've recently received two job offers through tangential connections: one is in the business development (M&A) arm of the global leader in a globally mature industry (without giving away too much, think beverages/alcohol) and the other is a general management/VP position in a start-up in the biotechnology space (they have developed a 'revolutionary' device that is geared towards reducing heart issues. 5 years of R&D. Already FDA approved.)

What questions would you be asking yourself at this moment to help you decide which path to go down?What considerations do you believe are most important in a cross-industry/cross-functional job decision?

Let's please assume my medium-term goal (5 years) is to get into a top-flight B-school. Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal clear idea as to what I want to be doing 10 or 20 years from now, which I know will make your help answering this question more difficult. Sorry.

Your wisdom would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again.


Mar 4, 2014 - 7:02pm

Hi Niushi, I have landed. Thanks for your patience!

You are in a great position. You are clearly in demand. Each of your options, including staying where you are, will put you on the right track to get your MBA in 5 years.

You may want to consider each position and rank them against each other: compensation, where you will be located, what you will learn and what your possibilities for advancement are, what the risks are--particularly with the start-up.

Since all are good options, you have the luxury of deciding which role excites you the most and will make you happy now. Are you interested in the spirits business? Biotech start-ups (by the way, that sounds like the most risky option of all, make sure you get stock to at least participate if it makes it--otherwise, it may not be worth the risk), or are you happy where you are now. Being happy and motivated is the most important factor you should use to make your decision. But don't feel like you need to move from where you are if you enjoy it.

Mar 4, 2014 - 4:24pm


thank you so much for doing this!

I am 23 and a grad student (Masters) in Financial Engineering in a target school in NYC and I hold a BS in Economics. My GPA is 3.7 and I have one more year to complete my program. I have experience in insurance, banking (commercial loan department) and risk management. (not in USA)

My dream job is investment banking but I know it is very difficult to break into IB as a grad student.I have some connections in BB banks, but I don't know how to use them. For example, the head of the ECM of a BB bank called me, we discussed about that department, his role, etc but nothing about my background or an internship.

My problem is that I know exactly what I want, what the role is about, but I don't know how I can get an interview.

What should I do to get interviews? How should I manage the informational interviews?

thank you in advance

Mar 4, 2014 - 6:31pm

Hi fingrad,

Your background in commercial banking will help as will your your masters and possibly even insurance and risk management background. Your problem is your opportunity--you know what you want, so you are ahead of the game.

On your resume, make sure to emphasize deals you worked on at the commercial bank--any industries and customers, deal sizes and highlight what your financial engineering degree--I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it sounds like it could be particularly relevant.

You could try to follow up with the person you talked to at the BB. Email to say that you appreciated hearing about his firm and if he thinks that it is difficult to get into the industry with your background, and tell him what you told me, with emphasis on the commercial banking and why you feel that from what he said, and from what you have learned about the industry, that it is something that you have a strong interest in. If he responds, let him know that you hate to take his time, but would he happen to know someone that would be helpful for you to talk to.

Do the same with all of your contacts, starting with those who are closer to your peers and try it out on them. If someone goes out of their way to help, send a small gift--maybe chocolates or something they might like, or even just a thank you note. Talk to everyone who will meet with you--offer to take them to lunch or coffee near their office and absolutely try to pay. When you have warmed them over, ask if they know one or two people you can talk to and/or might know of an available position. Anyone they will email and copy you on would be a huge plus.

Mainly, do not be afraid to approach anyone. One cliche that is very true is that it is lonely at the top. You may get turned down a time or two, but I have always been amazed at how many people have been willing to talk to me and want to help. Also, if you have connections where you know there is a position open, ask for an informational interview with someone in the firm. It is a better way to go because there you aren't there asking for a job. I have hired several associates who have come in for informational interviews because it is a much more relaxed way to get to know someone.

Mar 5, 2014 - 9:53pm

Hi WallStreetOracle, great post.

In a few months I will be starting an associate summer-internship with a sell-side M&A shop during my MBA and I have a few questions for you:

1) How do interns stand out and get a full-time offer? I'm young for an associate (25) and am not a financial savant. But I'm likable and know how to bust my ass. Is that enough?

2) Related to my first question, in your opinion what does an all-star associate look like?

3) Big-picture - how has banking influenced (positively or negatively) your life, both professionally and personally? I value my physical health and (future) family. Can I have my cake and eat it too in banking?

Thanks for your time.

---- Not a wannabe anymore.
Mar 5, 2014 - 11:28pm

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! I have a few of my own:
1) (This one may be a bit taboo...so I understand if you are unwilling to answer it) The compensation at the MD/VP levels in IB seem to be very opaque and obviously tied to performance. But I was wondering, based on your experience, how do banks calculate bonuses and determine starting salaries for MDs and VPs?

2) As far as recruiting goes for the buy side, would you recommend getting a CFA or MBA? What about a candidate with both?

3) With the immense time and compliance constraints that come with working in finance (at least before you started your own firm), how would/did you recommend going about investing your savings?

4) As an incoming analyst, how can I differentiate myself from my peers and become one of the most dependable members of the team?

Mar 6, 2014 - 12:21am

Wow, great questions, you are really thinking ahead. It is great you are thinking about savings.

As an analyst, I used my bonuses as my savings/investing pool. I started with real estate, bought a condo sold that, bought a townhome, sold that, built a house...which is a great way to invest when there is a market with an upward trajectory. This may a good market to buy, as long as you are savvy and negotiate a price well below market--which if you are going to be good at IB you will be good at negotiating.

With regard to investing in the market, believe it or not there was compliance back in my day too! But we were then able, as you probably can now, to have accounts and invest in stocks that are not on your firm's restricted or gray list.

You may also want to take a high risk gamble with a small part of your bonus and invest it in a start-up that you believe in. Make sure it is really small so that when you invest it you understand that there is a 99.5% chance you will never see it again, but if you do, you will get a lot back.

For PE, an MBA is critical, CFA is an added plus. There may be some exceptions, but CFA's tend to be required more for equity research roles and private wealth/money management. That may change, so you may find you want one at some point. But even if a position says MBA preferred, it probably is required.

And for your last question, let it be known that you are willing and able to do anything and everything (legal, ethical and moral, of course) to help. That includes the typical stuff the analyst is expected to do, carry the books, carry the luggage, drive the car--but do it with enthusiasm. And know everything you can about the project(s) you are working on--know the financial statements--revenues, EBITDA, margins, comp multiples, other core items so that when you are asked you know the answer. And very important, when you are in a group setting and/or in meetings, be very careful that you do not try to stand out by answering every question--say nothing (unless you are asked directly) and look intelligent. The less you say the smarter you will seem. Think of one or two points that you can add, and when the moment is right, state your point in 10 words or less. Don't try to look smart, be smart!!

Keep in close touch with the higher level professionals on your teams and in your group and be proactive, ask them how they thought you performed, and what you could do to contribute more. Then do it, and ask again.

Thanks for your questions!

Mar 6, 2014 - 2:44am


I am a graduating college senior. What do you think about switching my career goals from investment banking to working for a tech startup given the changing outlook of the 2 industries? I also thought that working for a tech startup would allow me to learn more instead of doing the grunt work as an IB analyst since I want to start my own business down the road.

Thank you

Mar 6, 2014 - 9:48pm

That is a difficult question to answer, without knowing more. Here are a few things to think about:

1) What is your risk profile?

2) What is your financial situation--how long can you sustain yourself if the company doesn't make it?

3) What is your analysis of the company and its chances for success>

4) What happens if the market conditions change-which they will--that is one thing we know for certain--the question is when. Most companies that are accessing capital now who not have been able to 2 years ago and likely will not be able to in two years.

5) What is the current level of funding for your company, and how long can it last without more capital than it has in the bank right now? If the company will not answer, or you aren't comfortable with the answer, you should think about it further.

6) What people call grunt work in IB has much more value than the term implies. It is hard work, but it is critical training for almost anything you want to do in business.

7) What is your role at the company, what will you learn and what will you do after if it doesn't work--odds are against it. For every company that has the $19 billion success, there are 100's that lost everything.

8) If all of this hasn't scared you off, you are probably able to handle the pressure and uncertainty that is inherent in a tech start-up.

Best of luck!!!!

Mar 7, 2014 - 12:31am

Can you speak about:

How NOT to interview

Much appreciated!

Robert Clayton Dean: What is happening? Brill: I blew up the building. Robert Clayton Dean: Why? Brill: Because you made a phone call.
Mar 7, 2014 - 1:49am

Now this is awesome! I immediately gave OP a SB. We need more AMA with credible people. I'm getting sick of the AMA's started by that one analyst with a year or two experience or the guy who luckily left Big 4 and think they are worth gold.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right." -Warren Buffett
Mar 7, 2014 - 1:58pm


Now this is awesome! I immediately gave OP a SB. We need more AMA with credible people. I'm getting sick of the AMA's started by that one analyst with a year or two experience or the guy who luckily left Big 4 and think they are worth gold.

A 2nd year analyst has a completely different, and equally important, perspective on their respective career as a senior professional. They have been through the process more recently and can simply add a fresher perspective - things change rapidly in business and finance.

Also, people don't do AMA's to brag - they do it to give back to a community which, in many cases, helped them achieve some sort of career success. Not finding value in these success stories is your own problem.

"For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."
Mar 7, 2014 - 2:14pm

Thanks for doing this.
What your advice would be to an ambitious Big4 Tax guy (2.5 years in) from non-target looking to make a transition in IB/PE (eventually)? Looking for immediate/long-term plan of action (i.e. quit your job and network 18 hours a day or stick around a bit longer to position myself well for an MBA, etc.)

Mar 7, 2014 - 9:58pm

Haha, I had a feeling I'd get monkey shit for that one

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right." -Warren Buffett
Mar 9, 2014 - 6:15pm

Hi RM,

It is hard to say what age is the max, it varies based on your background up to that point.

For example, if you work for a company in operations or acquisitions or something that would have relevance--or an IB Associate or similar, and you were in your 30's, you could possibly come in as a VP and not an associate, depending on the level and depth of your experience.

If you are over 30, and have not had relevant experience such as I mentioned above (with an exception being in the military), the difficulty of getting into PE would be difficult over 30.

Mar 8, 2014 - 7:48am

HI Thanks a lot for posting this. I've worked in BB equity research for the past 8 years at JPM, GS, ML and am currently a VP/lead analyst on a small sector. I am considering my options on moving into PE and wondering this is realistic. Apologies if these topics are dealt with elsewhere on the site, I've only recently joined.

My questions are as follows -

1. Could I realistically break in at this late stage given my focused career?

2. Would an MBA help?

3. What kind of role could I end up doing? I consider myself more of a broker than a detail geek. Would I be most suited to working as a placement agent or PE portfolio manager rather than deal originator?

Mar 9, 2014 - 6:23pm

Yes, I think you could--that or an HF, certainly in a firm that is interested in the sector you have the most knowledge in.

Key factors will be your true connections in the industry--do you know the management teams personally? If so, that would be a big plus.

Do you have a view in your industry/industries of expertise of where the areas to invest are? Specific companies to acquire? Trends that will favor the industry and/or industry concerns (for example, need for capital investment) that smaller or mid-size companies can't keep up with. This type of intell is very valuable for deal origination and due diligence.

As far as working as a placement agent, you may be thinking more of IB and less of PE, as typical the IBs are the placement agents and the PEs are the buyers.

It wouldn't hurt for you to have your MBA--maybe start a program where you can get it at night and have it paid by your current employer. If your background and connections are really strong, there is a chance you can get away without it.

Mar 9, 2014 - 3:58pm

WallStreetOracle, thanks for contributing. My question falls almost under your 2nd topic. I am faced with a difficult situation that I am trying to decide on and would love to get a seasoned veteran's perspective/advice. Currently, I am a junior at a target school, have 1 SA gig on my belt (but within structured products), as well as 2 off-cycle internships with an elite boutique and a bulge bracket, both of which are non-IBD. I recently got accepted to USC's MSF program which I can attend this summer by graduating early, but at the same time I also received a SA offer from a firm just outside the bulge bracket. Which route do you think I should take, the USC MSF or the SA internship, if my ultimate goal is IBD? Thanks!

Mar 9, 2014 - 6:43pm

Hi sunmaid, it sounds like you have good options.

My view though would be to go for your MSF and get an internship at an IB (if that is what you mean by IBD!) or PE, if that is the route you want to go. Try to find a position that you can have at least three strong months of experience so that you have real deals to talk about in interviews. If you know you do not want to be in SA--don't go that route. Use the MSF to help bridge you to IB.

Hope that helps!!!

Mar 9, 2014 - 7:21pm

@ WallStreetOracle, thanks so much for your reply! Sorry maybe I should have been more clear about the Summer Analyst internship that I was offered. The opportunity is actually something I want to do because it's in the investment banking division of that firm, however my dilemma is that I don't know which route is better ultimately. Should I take the internship, then come back to school the next fall to do full-time recruiting OR graduate early and go straight to the MSF program and do full-time recruiting from there? Any further insights are appreciated!

Mar 9, 2014 - 4:53pm


Thank you very much for your contribution. Regarding with being an MD, has it ever happened that you or a colleague have been advisors in a merger where the post-merger company failed and got the "blame" from the CEO of the company you advised?
Or - I do not even know if that has happened ever - has it occurred that a client paid less than the expected fee? (perhaps due to a misunderstanding? using some absurd reasoning?)
How does someone deal with these situations?

It's perfectly understandable if you do not want to answer these questions :)

On a lighter note, what's your opinion of other successful female MDs (Michele Lamarche, Christine Lagarde etc) ?

Colourful TV, colourless Life.
Mar 9, 2014 - 6:37pm

To answer your second question first, I would say that it would help to have a name that sounds French :-)!!

I am not familiar with either, but from a quick google search it appears they have had successful careers and of course, that is a good thing!

With regard to failed deals, there is a story in the WSJ that about RBC getting sued for a deal gone wrong--the acquisition of Rural/Metro Corp., an Arizona-based ambulance operator and an allegation that the advisor pushed the buyer to pay more in order to get higher fees. It does happen that companies are unhappy with the results of deals and they blame anyone they can in order to avoid the blame. Sometimes the blame is warranted, as some investment bankers with short term outlooks may indeed push companies to do deals because of the fees. That is the purpose of fairness opinions, but oddly enough they are often done by the same advisor, so that doesn't help much.

My view is that the only way to exist mid and long-term in the industry is to help the client complete deals that are the best for them. I have had several deals where I advised my client not to pay the price for a deal and was able to advise the client on other transactions shortly thereafter.

With regard to your question of clients not wanting to pay, it is important to have strong engagement letters in place. While most clients are happy to pay the fees and are very honest and upstanding, there is a small minority of clients, like in any business, that will try to avoid it, even if there was a favorable outcome for them. If you keep clear records of what you have done for the client and you have an airtight engagement letter, you will be in good shape.

Mar 10, 2014 - 3:53pm


Thank you very much for doing this! I've gone through all your posts and have gained a lot. As an FYI - I graduated from Chicago Booth's part-time evening program this past December and will be starting at a middle market bank this upcoming July. I cannot wait to start! I've been reading a lot of books and sharpening my technical skills as this is going to my first job in IB (started off in public accounting and currently placing real estate debt). Do you have any recommended books that you've found useful in your career?

Also, without trying to be personal here, do you have any tips on balancing work and personal life? I'm married and have done everything I can to prepare my wife for what is to come and she has been nothing but supportive while I balanced work and school. We understand that our marriage will suffer during my first 18 months or so on the job as I try to catch up to my peers. Any insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated!!

Mar 11, 2014 - 11:40pm

Oh, IBDAssociate, you are in for a lot of fun. But....you better warn your wife, depending on which firm, it may be just a little bit (as in years!) where you may have limited free time. Each firm is different though, and many are making efforts to change the 24-hour is standard policy. Since you already balanced work and school you may be in good shape. Hopefully you are working for a firm that values efficiency over face time!!

One tip is to make sure that as you are given work assignments, that you are not taking on too much at one time in an effort to "catch up". Make sure to be willing to do and work on anything, but once you are fairly loaded up and someone comes to you with another project, make sure to ask the people in charge to discuss amongst themselves if one deal is more critical than the other or is someone else possibly available. Don't try to negotiate that yourself, because to each person's project will be the most important. Tell them you would love to work on it but that you will have to check with ______ and ________ to let them know and let them determine priorities. That alone will save you some all-nighters.

Also, try to bring your wife in for dinners when your group orders in--or take your wife out to dinner and then come back. If she has work or is studying, have her come into the office and work quietly there too. (Some firms might mind so be careful, but many won't.

With regard to books, a great one if you haven't read it is Barbarians at the Gate about the RJR transaction. It is what kicked off the PE industry and will give you a good sense of the drama on both sides of a deal. Another is M&A Playbook by Mark Filippell.

If you aren't up to speed on valuations and modeling, you will definitely want to get fluent before July. There are some great materials offered here on this site. You will want to practice public comps, transaction comps, DCF's and lbo models. This one also may help--Investment Banking: Valuation, Leveraged Buyouts and Mergers & Acquisitions by Joshua Rosenbaum.

Good luck and I hope you enjoy it!

Mar 10, 2014 - 5:39pm

Thank you in advance for all your help!

I have a slightly different question from the many questions already on the board. Hoping this is not too out of line with your above stated questions you would like to answer, as a female how would you suggest breaking into corporate finance from a public sector budgeting career? I suppose we could replace Corp Finance with IB and the answer would be generally the same.

Background: I have a BA in Business Economics (GPA 3.9) from an unknown school in the snowy depths of upstate NY and an M.P.A. specializing in International Finance from Columbia U (As in all finance courses except one). I tutored in Accounting at both schools. My original aim after graduating with my BA was accounting/ finance but was persuaded to go the MPA route by my then-mentor who LOVED the Columbia MPA program.

As an MPA would suggest I ended up in federal budgeting, which I thought would be a good stable balance given my family obligations (small child). Now the child is not so small anymore and I am ready to pursue my original dream which of corporate finance.

I have considered several options: 1) Find a way back into one of the top MBA programs (possibly at my alma mater C.U. all of my colleagues from the B school got EXCELLENT positions) but that seems next to impossible without some work experience first. 2) Look for federal positions that could give me the experience I needed to move to private corporate finance (perhaps in the regulatory realm). But these positions are hard to get into without previous experience especially given my advanced grade (federal government for 3 years). 3) Attempt federal experience then try for one of the top MBAs. Repeat blockade above. I have also considered certificates to augment my resume and skillset as well as to tap into a network but I am not sure how helpful that would be.

Do not really want to start from scratch or go back to student salary but I will if I have to. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Mar 11, 2014 - 11:01pm

Hi MissPriss,

Interesting dilemma and sound reasoning. What about trying to go for an associate position at an IB? It sounds like you have good experience and your MPA and all of your finance and accounting classes should get you out of needing an MBA.

Other avenues are the firms that are taking a lot of the IB business from the IB's because of regulatory conflicts--that would be firms such as the Big 4 accounting firms and valuation advisory firms like Duff & Phelps or Houlihan Lokey. They have various types of opportunities that will give great training and then you can figure out from there if you want to go BB--depending on which firms are most relevant at that point.

Mar 14, 2014 - 10:36am

That is great advice! Angles I had not considered.

Also, I assumed (bad, I know!) that the recruiters for associate IB positions would not consider an MPA. Regardless of the specialization (which actually defines the degree at Columbia) or where it was from.

If successful, either of these options would also give me the experience I needed for both my CFA and CPA and set my trajectory in the correct direction.

Thanks so much for your feedback!

Mar 11, 2014 - 12:53pm


First of all thanks for doing this, Great to hear someone's big picture view for those just entering the industry.

You stressed multiple times that you should have, as an undergrad, a 3.5 GPA to enter a top 20 MBA. However, I am on the short end of the stick with a 3.3 GPA. Are my chances completely shot? Should I even bother going the MBA route? I've been thinking lately if I wanted to go down the MBA route and been leaning on doing so but my chances seem a bit slim from what I've been told and read.

I'm currently at a F50 tech company doing Corp. Finance in a highly respected rotational program that constantly puts their analysts into top 10 MBA's. Will this work experience and (hopefully) a good gmat score push me through?


Mar 11, 2014 - 11:06pm

Yes, definitely your work experience, GMATs and MBA grades will overcome the slight discrepancy in undergrad GPA. The 3.5 undergrad GPA is important to get into an analyst position at an IB or PE, but your experience and MBA will outweigh that.

Never give up on an MBA!! Or IB or PE if that is what you REALLY want.

And anyone else reading this, do not let generalized standards stop you from pursuing your goals and dreams as long as you have some degree of realism. Some of my best successes, and yours will too, will come when you don't realize how stacked the odds are against you.

Mar 11, 2014 - 3:38pm

Thanks again for your advice. You've been in the industry for quite some time and what do you do stay passionate about the industry. How has your level of enjoyment and excitement for your role changed over the years.

Thanks again. looking forward to your response.

When luck shuts the door you gotta come in through the window - Doyle Brunson
Mar 11, 2014 - 11:18pm

Great question and very important question. As with everything we get used to, we start to appreciate it less and stop realizing how fortunate we are. We also start to believe that there is nothing left to learn--and then realize there is so much always left to learn.

I loved M&A from the first deal. I couldn't believe I was getting paid and the days (many 24 hour days) flew by.

I took some time off at one point, because I felt like I had hit the proverbial wall--working all the time and losing some of the appreciation I had always had. I spent time with nature, yoga, etc and had a chance to recharge. And then I realized how much I missed the deals and the intrigue, and came back with a renewed passion and as much or more energy than when I first got into the industry.

So make sure to take any moments you can to refresh, and enjoy whatever free moments you do have (I got that advice and ignored it and thus eventually hit the wall) and appreciate the opportunities you have and the freedom the business ultimately affords.

Mar 13, 2014 - 4:44pm

Looking back at your career in IB, would you say that it was worth the personal sacrifice of free time and things associated with that extra time (relationships, friends, hobbies, etc.)? Would you recommend a fresh faced college/MBA graduate to pursue IB even if the pay is not what it used to be (from what I've heard)?

Mar 19, 2014 - 1:57am

Thanks for your question. For me, yes, it was worth the personal sacrifices--but that is because I loved every minute of it even more than I loved the money. I am not good at dividing my attention--I either needed to focus on work, or focus on life--because if I had a choice I always picked work. If you can find a way to maintain balance and still get what you need to get done done, that would be ideal.

If you have a hobby, it better be doing deals :-). Relationships and friends, try to maintain as best you can and if you commit to someone to be somewhere--make it. Those moments won't come back--just don't over-commit.

If you think you will like it, absolutely go for it. The training you will get will help you no matter what you decide to do after. And, yes, the pay may be less then it was, but it is still outrageous compared to most other jobs.

Appreciate how much what you will get paid actually is--it is a lot. Realize the advantages and opportunities you have been given and look around--there are people who don't have a chance to do what you do. It will make you feel a lot better and if you can find a way to help others get opportunities, that would be another great hobby and great for your peace of mind. Sorry to pontificate a little bit here, but I have found that realizing how absolutely lucky we are takes away a lot of the angst and pressure that really doesn't matter at the end of the day.

If you don't feel like this is the industry for you and you don't feel lucky to be in it, that is ok too. The most important thing is being happy--pontificating again, but it is true--if you can't find the balance that you need, don't let it get to you--do what makes you happy.

Best of luck and balance!

Mar 13, 2014 - 11:47pm


First and foremost, your dedication to giving thoughtful answers to every question asked on this thread is incredibly admirable. In my opinion, this is one of the best AMA's I've ever seen, although I may be a bit biased, since I'm looking to break into PE.

My situation is such: I'm coming from a non-target, to the point that I have had interviewers mispronounced the name of my school. Despite that, I've held FO internships in PE, HF, and IB. I also have a 4.0 GPA and strong extra curriculars, high SATs and should have a strong gmat score. I'll be joining a mid-tier BB as a full-time analyst this summer, and am hoping for a top group (placement TBD).

My question is this: Since I am looking to break into PE (MF or top MM fund), I am curious how much my non-target status will hurt me during PE recruiting. I know the top funds like to recruit people from both top groups and top schools, and have heard mixed things about how much a non-target undergrad education will hurt my chances. Further, how do you think I can best spin my story for PE recruiting coming from a non-target (besides the financial reasons for my decision)?

Thanks in advance.

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be”
Mar 19, 2014 - 1:10am

Hi nontarget,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. It has been quite a busy week!

It sounds like you excel at everything you do. Your multiple internships and the one your summer internship will give you the training that will help you break into PE and also be able to explain why you really want to be in PE as opposed to IB. At your internship this summer, try to network as much as you can and learn about the PE firms that your IB covers--see if you can work your way into the sponsors coverage group if there is one.

I don't think that being from a non-target will keep you out of PE. There are so many PE firms out there that you can avoid the ones that may only look at Targets, but many will be impressed by a 4.0 at any school, and your internships and extracurriculars. If they don't recognize your school, make sure that if there is something special about your school to highlight it--i.e., top liberal arts _____, or why you went there (i.e., scholarship) if there is a reason. By all means, do not apologize for it--it brought something special to you--you just have to describe what it is and make Mr/Ms Rhode Scholar wish they had gone there also :-). Actually though, don't focus on it if it isn't brought up as an issue.

Best of luck! It sounds like you are well on your way.

Mar 17, 2014 - 10:39pm

This is one of the most useful threads I've seen here. Thanks again. I noticed a comment that went unanswered above, it probably got lost in the sea of questions. I'm pasting it below because I am curious about your answer to these, especially number three (although you've hinted at it in this thread).

MinneapWannaBeBanker asked:

"Hi WallStreetOracle, great post.

In a few months I will be starting an associate summer-internship with a sell-side M&A shop during my MBA and I have a few questions for you:

1) How do interns stand out and get a full-time offer? I'm young for an associate (25) and am not a financial savant. But I'm likable and know how to bust my ass. Is that enough?

2) Related to my first question, in your opinion what does an all-star associate look like?

3) Big-picture - how has banking influenced (positively or negatively) your life, both professionally and personally? I value my physical health and (future) family. Can I have my cake and eat it too in banking?
Thanks for your time."

Mar 19, 2014 - 1:34am

Hi Silky_J,

Thanks for your questions and re-questions!! And MinneapWBB...I will try to find your original post in case you don't see this answer!

1) How to stand out--being likeable is definitely important and the ability and willingness to BYA is also a major plus. Some people look at internships as an opportunity to be sold on the firm. If you take it seriously as if it were a full-time job and try to learn as much as they will let you, you will be able to stand out. Try to get as much experience on analyst training as possible before you start--learn how to value companies, do lbo models, become absolutely fluent in Excel. Also, utilize whatever your specific knowledge or skills are--a particular industry that you know or anything else that is unique to you--a second language, personal connections, etc.

2) An all-star associate can be different things to different people and different at different firms. That being said, to me an all-star associate only needs to have a project/assignment described to them ONCE. ALWAYS bring a nice looking notebook (even a business-like spiral will do) with you and listen closely and take notes. It may seem silly, but one of the most frustrating things, particularly when someone is new, is having to describe things over and over because the person was so excited (or not) and had no idea what I had talked about. Taking notes shows that you are listening and it will help you materially when you can't recall exactly what was said. If you don't understand something that is said and you think it is something you should know, write it down and ask someone closer to your level to explain it or look it up on the internet. If you can't find an answer, make sure to ask the person and let them know you hate to bother them but you could they point you in the right direction.

Also, seems small, but HUGE for someone who hasn't had an analyst background--NO TYPOS, ZERO. Check and recheck your words and numbers. If you are too tired to see straight, have someone else--peer or below--review it for you and do the same for them. You will not want to see what happens when someone catches your first typo, so please don't make one!!!

3) Always stay healthy, at all costs!! Work out, eat healthy--don't get drawn in by heavy ordering in. You may be able to maintain a more balanced life as a summer associate, but when you go full-time, that likely won't be the case. So when you start full-time, make sure you decide on what you absolutely won't give up and warn people that your time may be scarce and schedule times to see the people who matter most. And do things that help keep you calm and balanced--yoga, meditation--whatever works for you. And yes, go ahead and have your cake and eat it too, but don't eat too much cake :-)

I love banking--I love deals, the intrigue, the stories, the clients, everything about it is interesting to me, so it has had a positive impact on my life from that respect. The one thing to make sure of is to not take things personally--the hierarchy, brown-nosers who get ahead short-term--understand that it is business and that if people are upset, it probably has nothing to do with you...unless, you forgot what someone asked you to do, or you let a typo get by you.

Best of luck. I hope that helps!

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