Panda Express Is Paradise

You're a lusty 20 year old who just dropped out of college and spend your days gaming in your parents basement. Dim lights, mountain dew, sweatpants. You've developed anger problems, a mix of the rage at losing in the video game while feeling like all your peers are pulling ahead of you in life-- with their fancy majors, investment clubs, and girlfriends. You used to want to break into IB and make your way to the bright lights of NYC to live the life of a stockbroker with a fun, chest-beating boss that takes you to brunch with infinite mimosas. Like Wolf of Wall Street. But you'd need a college degree to do that. And now look at you. Pathetic.

Your mom always looked out for you and understood you, though. You could say a lot about how the world mistreated you, but never your mom. One night she brings you dinner, chicken mcnuggets and rice, and while she's standing at the door she says the words that will change your life.

"I found you a job, honey."


"I found you a job. When I was walking downtown I saw an ad for a job at Panda Express and took a picture. Here, look:"
Panda Express
Your eyes widen. Could that be right? $80,000 comp, and that's BASE? That used to be IB An1 starting salary for the seniors you saw at your ex-college's investment club. And those guys were successful! They got A's and wore sweatervests and sperrys, while you flunked out of earth sciences class.

You could be making more than them in just a couple years, after they burn out and quit their IB jobs while you climb the corporate ladder at Panda Express. They are like monkeys, swinging from vine to vine in high finance until a vine breaks, when they burn out and collapse to the ground below. You, on the other hand will be like a Panda climbing up the bamboo at Panda Express, reaching higher and higher heights, until you perhaps lateral to P.F. Chang's.

Your mom looks angelic silhouetted against the doorway of your basement lair, and smile as you read the top text of the ad once again. 

Panda Express: Inspiring Better Lives

"Thank you, thank you mom!" You throw down your Xbox controller and flip on the lights, standing tall. You suddenly become aware of your stained sweatpants and unshaven face. You're going to need to change that before your interview.

Panda Express management is thrilled to receive your phone call inquiring about the job. There's a labor shortage, and they'd do anything for anyone with a hint of competence. They practically give you the job over the phone, but schedule an interview anyways for good form. You show up wearing a suit. The panda express is beautiful, it smells good, and your interviewer, Melinda, sits you down at a shiny table in the back corner. You kill the interview. There are no technicals, even though you prepared for them-- you memorized how to make dumplings and boil broccoli, and you know it cold. You know the ethics and mission statement straight from Panda's website, and you recite it in your answer to the "Why Panda?" lay-up behavioral. 

~One year later~

You finish up the day at 9pm by wiping down the countertop and arranging some fortune cookies by the cash register. You're wearing the sleek red-and-black uniform of a Panda Express manager, with your name tag displaying your rank: General Manager. You had cut through the ranks like a knife through butter. Even your first day on the job, no one questioned your authority. When coworkers looked at you, they thought, this guy, this guys knows what he's doing. Management had given you a raise and you were now clearing $85K base in a LCOL area. You moved out of your parent's basement to a nice modern apartment building near the store.

You smile and gaze around the store, at the clean wood paneling and warm flourescent lights. But just as you are about to close down shop, a haggard man stumbles into the restaurant. He's wearing a white button-down, half un-tucked, yet cinched against his waist with a tasteless faux-leather belt. He's wearing beaten down penny loafers. He's pale, with dark, sunken eyes that look like they've seen nothing but a computer screen for days. He mumbles something, but you can't understand him. Then you squint and realize that you know him from somewhere but can't quite place him. Oh wait, that's who it is!

"Mark? Is that you?:

"Uhh yeah, wait did you go to college with me?"

"Yeah, I remember you used to be VP of that investment club I tried to join!"

"Oh yeahhhh"

"What are you doing now?"

"Oh I'm an investment banking analyst at Goldman."

"Congrats! I'm a general manager here at Panda Express," you point at your name tag.

"Anyways, are you guys still open? I haven't eaten since this morning, I'm starving, I really just need something quick to take back to the office, I'll take the chicken lo mein please."

He looks at you desperately, a wild, hungry, yet infinitely tired look in his eyes. You glance at your watch. It's 9:02. Technically, Panda Express closed 2 minutes ago and you have every right to throw Mark out, hungry onto the streets. That's a lot of power. With great power comes great responsibility.

"For you, Mark, we're open. I'm a manager." You serve him a heaping portion of delicious chicken lo mein into the styrofoam to-go container. "And you can grab a soda for free, treat yourself!" Mark thanks you profusely, and you watch him as he hurries out of the store, back to his desk. You smile. Panda Express is paradise.

Comments (39)

Jul 24, 2022 - 3:00am
DipDevour, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Shed a couple of tears. Glorious is this gifted text - we are we all fortune for it, that a gm of panda can outcomp the lo regional bank peer pay.

  • Associate 3 in Consulting
Jul 24, 2022 - 3:39am

What LCOL has bonafide Goldman Sachs IB analysts? Didn't Salt Lake City (MCOL?) turn MO/BO only?

Otherwise great! I'm just gonna assume Mark is working on holiday whilst visiting the LCOL city!

Only other improvements I could suggest is that Mark is horribly over weight and you guys have a short chat where he realises he earns much less than you per hour.

Jul 24, 2022 - 9:34am
IncomingIBDreject, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Dallas, Houston  although that's MCOL imo


  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Jul 24, 2022 - 5:53am

Had a friend kind of like this - dropped out of college and spent some time living away from home and worked at a takeout place to earn money. He went through a lot of tough times, but eventually got it together, re-enrolled into university, got straight A's and ended up going into IB at a great shop.

We've kind of lost touch since then, but he always inspired me and I'll never forget the journey he went through

Jul 24, 2022 - 12:09pm
BBK1234, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Haha pure gold. Glad to see the comments in the bonus thread inspired such a masterpiece. 10/10 with rice, would fry again.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jul 24, 2022 - 6:45pm

CEO of PF Changs went GS --> TPG --> HBS so it really is the exit op

  • Associate 3 in Consulting
Jul 29, 2022 - 6:05pm

Never heard of PF Chang's (not from US), but it turns out it's a proper $1bn + revenue / valuation company? Damn I hope this guy is 1 in a million because makes me feel unaccomplished as shit lol. 

Edit the CFO Brad Hill seems much more relatable and realistic career path 

Jul 24, 2022 - 11:03pm
mergelord11, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I have FT offers from Panda Express and PF Chang's? I've heard Panda is a sweatshop but pays a bigger bonus. Any insights?

Jul 25, 2022 - 2:22am
TechBanking, what's your opinion? Comment below:

PX Orange Chicken w Lo Mein is the bomb 

Jul 29, 2022 - 2:34pm
Chosenmonkey74, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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  • Partner in PE - LBOs
Jul 30, 2022 - 9:36pm

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