Paths Back to Buyside?

Going through a career/life rough patch and am looking for advice. Hoping to get some guidance to move forward and out of this rut.

My background:

·       UVA/UMich undergrad, graduated near top of class

·       2.5 years experience in buyout private equity. Tried to break in via a non-traditional analyst program and ended up not being promoted. Shit the bed after unexpectedly being told I was not moving up to associate and had to take a compromised role

·       10 months IB M&A. Went back to square 1 to try to preserve access to recruiting and traditional HH channels. My story was seriously scrutinized by HHs (e.g., why'd you leave PE, if you want to be an investor why did you move to sell side, etc.). Best offer I could get was corp dev and felt myself burning out fast in a horrible group so I accepted it

·       11 months and counting at a non F500, non-acquisitive corporate development / strategy role


Currently hate my career and am regretting every decision I’ve made post college. My target role post-PE was a slower paced investing role – I was looking at tech corporate development roles, early stage investing and other private market strategies like secondaries and co-invest. Unfortunately I lost traction with these associate processes once I disclosed that I was being managed out, so I took the banking offer to avoid a resume gap.

After a horrible experience in banking, I felt like corporate development could be a step in the right direction and a way to spin being kicked out of PE (e.g., wanted operating experience, wanted to join a high growth firm and have executive exposure, etc.), as well as a way to wait out the terrible hiring market for a year or two. Turns out my company has 0 appetite for M&A (despite being assured that the group would be searching for targets during the interview process) and the role feels like a bait and switch. No training, pay cut, and worse branding. I’m spending <10% of my time on M&A and the group has not submitted an IOI.

I realize I've massively complicated my career path with the choices I've made, and I'm trying to get out of this tailspin of taking compromised roles and moving further away from my career goals. At this point I wouldn't mind anything that’s remotely deal/investment related – even something like corporate VC or an actual corp dev role (where I'm getting deal exposure and not just sitting on my hands all day working on BS internal strategy projects). Would take anything where I can write an IC memo again, model a transaction, and get back to doing investment work.

With this complete mess of a career path in mind, how do I move forward? Are there any paths back to the investing world or am I stuck in this dead-end?

Possible routes friends have suggested:

1.     HSW MBA -> buyside recruiting

2.     Lateral to a real corp dev program at F500 -> M7 MBA -> stay in corp dev / try for buyside

3.     Network my ass off for T2/T3 markets and hope someone gives me a chance

4.     Network my ass off for T1 market and try to find a non-buyout seat (no-name shops, any corporate doing strategic investments, etc.) and then consider using MBA to move upstream if desired

Any thoughts or ideas from the forum as to the viability of any of these paths (or alternate paths) would be much appreciated.


Slack off in your current job (unless you need a rec) and spend all your free time prepping for M7 applications.


First off, get out of the mindset that you fucked up. Shit happens and sometimes, there is little you can do to prevent it. Job cuts happen, and people end up on their ass. Props to you for being able to navigate this, the HH experience sounded brutal.

Cleanest way back would probably be MBA. Grind for a M7 and there’s a world of possibilities after. Even if you didn’t get back on the buyside, you know you could always try for consulting or banking (just try to maybe find a place that won’t kill you and give you a similar experience as your first stint.) M7 is the end all be all either. You are truly in a situation where you’ve identified you want to make a career pivot. Getting into an MBA with a decent name behind allows you to do this (even if not M7).


Thanks man, appreciate the response. Agree that burying the mistakes in the past and moving forward is important. 

Regarding your MBA point, I think my one (not unique) challenge with that path is the opportunity cost math. Currently make about $150k a year at 26 which would imply $550k opportunity cost for M7. Maybe I'm overly bullish on M7, but to justify that opportunity cost I feel like I would need to go to a school that materially improves my branding over my undergrad (CBS as a target and Wharton as a reach; HBS and Stanford seem like a long shot right now).

Unfortunately now that I've moved to this weak company I'm not even sure how competitive I am for M7 given the high volume of perfect candidates. Hence my question about strategy and whether it makes sense to try to make a move in the right direction pre business school, since the current role is so far off the mark from what I want to be doing.

Ultimately it comes down to weighing the pros and cons of applying now in a weaker position vs applying at 29/30 after the market has hopefully bounced back and after I've turned over every stone on the networking path to find a better role.


In a similar situation but took time off for personal reasons and am looking to for new opportunities.

The opinions I've gotten suggest that you need to be very proactive with networking. Traditional HH channels may be tougher since they're looking for a specific profile (1st/2nd year banking analyst). Not to say they won't be helpful, but I think you'll have better results by making connections with alums or individuals with shared backgrounds at the firms you're targeting.


Just would remember that even coming from an M7, you will be competing for a limited amount of PE spots with candidates who have more of the traditional experience funds are looking for. Was considering B School myself to try and get back into PE, but realized at the end of the day the likelihood of the MBA getting you that PE spot is small. The higher probability is you will go to B School, rack up tons in debt, the PE spot you are targeting will be filled by someone with a more "polished" resume (as if billionaires all went down the beaten path to get to where they are), and you will land in IB


I imagine it would be easier for OP to try for a pre MBA associate role right now where 2 years PE + 1 year IB would fall into experience wise. Most post-MBA PE positions are will want 2 years of PE associate experience already.


Agree that business school is a reasonable option. Regarding your other point about story/narrative, unfortunately I had to come clean that I was not getting promoted when I was recruiting for post-PE roles. Pretty much everyone asked if I was getting promoted which is when I had to disclose that I wasn't. Most places ask for references and I didn't think that the partners would lie on my behalf on that point.

I definitely don't say that I was managed out in my current interviews, which is also part of the reason why I took an associate corp dev role to try to spin my exit from finance as a desire to gain operating experience. Although it was a bad move in hindsight, it has at least been helpful in solidifying my view that I don't want to be an operator long term.


Smoke Frog 

There is no way you're an actual adult. Surely you're some elitist POS 18 year old who never broke into banking. You're so rude and condescending that I sincerely doubt you have the soft (or hard for that matter) skills to excel in banking. 

For you to shit on UVA / UMich shows how out of touch you are from reality. 

I would love to meet you in person you absolute mess of a human being


How am I rude?

Literally the overwhelming opinion is to go back to school to break in, just like I said.

And those state schools are not in the same league as top ivies, so why not just go there? The tuition costs the same and the brand is better. Just cause you’re resume is sad and you couldn’t get in, don’t advise others to live by your loser pedigree and mentality.


I’d say best option is MBA given you’re early in your career. If you’re smart you can go to a good school. 

Alternatively, going to do Corp dev in a t2 or t3 city wouldn’t be bad either, they likely don’t have as much demand out there so if you come from a pe and ib background you can probably do well out there


HSW MBA -> right to PE is not likely imo. I know you have PE experience but you'll be competing with people who have 2 years of quality PE ASO experience. It'll be clear from your resume you didn't get the promote. MBA -> IB -> PE is a viable path if you're willing to grind that out.

I would get to a F500 dev group that is acquisitive... unfortunately with no M&A work your current experience is not going to be super useful. If you can't land that, look at LMM PE shops in T2/T3 markets, especially non-buyout (credit is having a boom right now).


OP here - agree that HSW -> PE is a long shot without pre MBA associate experience, and it's probably less of a leap to try to find a better corp dev gig pre MBA and then try to jump back into finance with more robust deal experience. Just to clarify, I wouldn't be looking to move back to direct buyout. I don't see the lifestyle as sustainable for me, and if I'm brutally honest with myself, I don't have the smarts or the pedigree to climb to the top at a big fund. I'm now completely off the track so I don't expect legit MM/UMM/MF places in a T1 market to look at my resume.

I think credit, secondaries, and co-invest are all interesting paths that seem to have a good blend of stimulating work and more reasonable hours, but I'm not sure how I can bridge the experience I'm currently getting to any of those positions. Any thoughts on trying to go through HHs for these strategies? 

As an aside, I think part of the challenge - and also the main driver of how I ended up in my current poor fitting role - is that I still don't really know what I want to do. In peak burnout, I was looking for a role that was better WLB investing, which is why I somewhat ignorantly started exploring the corp dev path. Realized that these two fields really have nothing in common unless you're at a highly acquisitive conglomerate, but I guess you live and learn.

Most Helpful

FWIW, did strategy/corp dev post my analyst stint and was able to come back to the buyside. Finding headhunters who will go to bat for you and having a very well-crafted/authentic story is essential. An MBA will help but only for the networking, I'd definitely try networking within your undergrad and previous firms' alum networks first before deciding to go down that route and spending a ton of $$$. You could also consider something likes Booth's night/weekend MBA and try to get your company to sponsor while also looking for another role and use your downtime from not having deal flow to your advantage. I'd definitely have an open conversation with your manager about your career goals and bring up sponsorship, you'd be surprised how much corporate will invest in you. 

Grass is always greener on the other side. I sometimes think of going back to corp strategy, though I don't think I'd do corp dev again to be honest. The politics are worse in corporate but if you like strategy its a much less stressful gig. One option you should seriously consider is getting yourself into a strong/well-known corporate development role/program at a F500 company and just working your way up the ladder. If you look at leadership in these companies (GM/country managers, SVPs, even C-suite) many times their background is not very impressive, they've just been at that company for 20+ years. It's seriously a pathway to consider and very underrated, especially if you think you'd be ok living in a T2/T3 city and adopting the mindset of staying within one company. You have a really strong background for corporate and if you think a more acquisitive/structured corp role would be a good fit I would definitely look into that before going down the unsponsored MBA route. 


Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I have a couple follow up questions I'd love to get your thoughts on if you have the time:

1. How did you go about approaching HHs? I'm thinking I'll have a tough time getting much traction with the usual channels (Henkel, CPI, Amity, etc.) given my non-traditional profile but maybe I'm wrong on that

2. Did you do corp dev and strategy roles separately post analyst experience or did you join a hybrid group? Not that this matters much (and understand if you want to be vague for anonymity), but I'm trying to understand sequencing and how you told your story. I'm concerned that the non-existent deal flow in my current role will hold me back, and I'm not sure how relevant the strategy parts of this job are for an investment professional role. I'm thinking that I'd need to move to an acquisitive company / brand name dev role first so that I can speak to deal experience in interviews, otherwise it's too much of a leap to go from this role back to investing (which seems to be what you're suggesting as a possible path based on the F500 commentary). Like you mentioned, maybe I land a more specialized corp dev role and find that I really enjoy it and climb the ranks there, so I definitely think that's the most logical path near term given the potential battle I'll face trying to sell myself to HHs

3. What are your thoughts on taking the banking experience off of resume? I feel like it may look worse from a recruiter's perspective to say I went from PE -> short IB stint -> strat/dev than it is to say I went PE -> strat/dev. It could be easier to spin that I felt operating experience and C-suite exposure could help me improve as an investor, rather than having to explain an awkward IB jump in the middle. If I removed that experience I'd have a resume gap, so either way it's messy. I'm just trying to manage optics and make sure I can tell a compelling story for both adcoms and future interviewers 


1. HH's continued to reach out to me on LinkedIn throughout my tenure in corporate. I did not do any outbounds to HHs so I can't speak to this. I came to corporate from a strong team at a BB so this probably helped. 

2. One job, both corp dev/corp strategy. I use my strategy skill set every day on the buyside, I'm not sure why you would think you wouldn't? Any job working with PortCos will have a solid amount of strategy work and it can be helpful in knowing what to look for and ask during DD. 

3. I wouldn't "hide" anything or take anything off your resume. It makes you look bad later if it comes out and it isn't authentic. Craft your story, tell it well, and work on improving your resume going forward. You can't erase or change the past and the best way to navigate it is to own it. Really think about what you learned and liked about each job you've had and practice telling that story with someone in the industry you trust. You are definitely not alone in taking a role and realizing it was different than you thought or not giving you the training you are interested in. This can also be helpful in actually reflecting and finding your niche. 


Strategy felt like it had more of a cadence and I really enjoyed doing deep dives and working across the organization. Corp dev is more insular within your team and has less predictability - extremely slow periods where you aren't doing any deals and then suddenly picking up with hours similar to banking which makes it hard to plan vacations etc. but without the rewards (aka salary) you get in finance to compensate for that. Corp dev can also feel very high level in corporate since you'll often assign different diligence streams to experts within your company, whereas in strategy you'll often work together with those experts to gain an understanding to a level where you can put it on a slide and communicate it clearly. There are obviously pros to corp dev too, like having concrete goals (close a deal, # of outbounds, etc.) whereas strategy can definitely feel more nebulous and sometimes like you are sending slide decks into the abyss of the matrix. I'd also say strategy is more data oriented but much less financially oriented. It really depends on how you like to work and what you enjoy doing. 


HSW/M7 MBA = zero chance as you are a non target with questionable work experience and thus a liability.

Despite that, I do sympathize with you and would instead go for a corporate development role at another company/start up as the space is less critical of your background and offers the better WLB you are looking for.

Your background is not a good fit for upper tier investing roles. You should also focus less on branding/the pay cut as that is inherent to a corporate development role/one that offers WLB.


Agreed with H/S/W but more MBA business schools">M7 are open to people with unique backgrounds. That's of course you can show strong differentiation through leadership and test scores. 

M7 is out of reach for OP. While M7 may be more open to people with unique backgrounds, they are not seeking vanilla finance people like OP (especially if your background isn’t particularly impressive, again like OP). Rather, they are looking for candidates who did Teach for America, NASA jobs, foreign service, Fulbright, etc. 

OP would be better off shooting for start-ups/another corporate development role.


Thanks for the brutal honesty about business school prospects. I agree that it could be a good move for branding, experience, and network to move to a F500 strategy/dev group instead of my current role, and that may improve my admissions chances if I chose to go the business school route. 

To clarify my original post,  I definitely wasn't suggesting that any of those MBA paths are a sure thing or easily attainable (they certainly aren't - I recognize how competitive M7 apps are, and I really need to step up at this job to distinguish myself), but wanted to note them as options that could be pursued to better position myself career wise for pivoting back to an investing/adjacent role that fits my interests more. 

One question: what do you mean by "non target" for M7? I thought that there aren't true target/non-target backgrounds for these schools, and that they're even shifting away from accepting bankers, consultants, and investors in favor of non-traditional backgrounds (incl consultants/bankers who stepped out into industry instead of pursuing buyside or whatever).

My understanding is that I'm no longer bucketed in the finance applicant pool now that I've switched to a corporate role. From the adcom's perspective, I'm competing primarily against others in my industry vertical. So for example, someone who went to a CPG corporate strategy role would be competing against others in the CPG vertical, not the PE associate from Thoma Bravo - this is an oversimplification as there's also an element of competition across the pool, but I've heard that this "industry bucketing" component is an important aspect of application strategy. If anything, you could be at a disadvantage if you're applying from a PE seat, as it's the most competitive vertical and you'll be vying for limited seats against others with similarly perfect backgrounds. 

Regardless, will focus on things I can control and keep networking / looking for roles at F500, get a competitive GMAT, and continue to work hard at my current role to get a strong rec if I need. 


Without going into much detail, I had a similar run of awkward/less than optimal career steps after college. I (reluctantly due to cost) made the move to go back to business school. It made a big difference and things have been back on track since then. Business school let’s you network with a lot of companies and industries without having your back against a wall or having to constantly explain yourself 


Assuming you're in PE now judging by the badge - did you do banking before moving to the buyside post business school? After the terrible experience I had in IB first time around I don't think I could ever go back to that environment. I just wasn't built to do 80-100 hour weeks and be on call 24/7 - it seriously affected my mental health and it was probably the worst I've ever felt mentally/physically, which is why I left so quickly. Maybe this was unique to my bank, but I hear a lot of similar experiences on this forum. That in mind, I don't think I could go back to banking as a means to an end to get back to the investing world. I'd be more interested in targeting MBB or something similar where there's a reasonable balance between great training/comp/career optionality and hours.


Yes I did a 2 year banking stint, I wasn’t willing to roll the dice on post MBA PE recruiting with my background. Despite the doom/gloom on this site for post MBAs going into investment roles it’s eminently doable I’d you are proactive and spend the time. But don’t expect it to fall in your lap, and keep an open mind around roles. If banking is an abhorrent path for you, there are many other career paths an M7 will open up. 


Honestly, I think you have a good shot at non H/S M7, including Wharton.  You went to a good undergrad and had a strong GPA per your note.. business schools care a lot about undergrad GPA [shows you have work ethic and can follow directions :) ], arguably more than GMAT imo.  You have PE experience already and you can spin your corporate experience easily (wanted more operating exp vs being advisor / investor etc). 

All these people in this thread saying you're doomed are making me confused.. nothing about your background seems to suggest that, especially with a bit of not terribly creative positioning of yourself.  Also, I don't think you will be judged against the associate from Thoma or KKR (if they are even choosing to apply to B school these days).


Maybe it’s just your post, but your story is completely intelligible.
I have no idea what your track has been, so tough to give useful advice.

Were you in MF buyout directly out of Ug?

You shit the bed how? By call your Partner a Jewish slur? By making a bad career step? By messing up a model?

To start with, if you have a complicated story, your #1 job is to make it easy to understand. If you’re not doing that, no one is going to spend the extra 1 minute of cognitive processing to figure out what’s going on with you, they’ll just default to the pattern recognition part of their brain.

Good not great college, impressive first job, meaningful downgrade second job, incoherent story = not worth a convo.


OP here - appreciate the response, I'll try to clarify a few points:

1. No, I was in UMM PE

2. Regarding my "shit the bed" comment, in the initial post I mentioned that I was unexpectedly walked out. I was given 2 months to find a new role, which provided very limited time to find a next role or to be thoughtful about my search. After the experience I had in PE, I knew that I did not want to continue my career in buyout; however, I really enjoyed the investment process and many aspects of the day-to-day. I just did not enjoy the ever-present threat of weekend blow ups and having a paltry one week of vacation per year - the lifestyle did not align with my views on what a happy, healthy life looked like for me. 

In a perfect world, I was looking for investing roles that offered marginally better WLB, where I could continue building a similar skillset at a more sustainable pace (co-invest, secondaries, etc.). Unfortunately, instead of landing a job that was a step forward, I took the first offer I received knowing that the market was heading towards a cliff and the recruiting environment was cooling rapidly. I thought that it would be better to take a downgrade temporarily and try to keep recruiting from an employed seat in finance, rather than keep rolling the dice while out of work. It was a mistake in hindsight, but I'm also not sure what other options were available to me outside of being unemployed and hoping to land a perfect gig while interviewing from a position of weakness. At the time, I thought it was unlikely that I'd be able to land an optimal role given a) the competitive nature of recruiting for any type of buyside associate jobs, and the strong negative signaling that comes with recruiting while being unemployed, and b) the deteriorating state of the hiring market. If anything, I thought it would be more likely that I'd be stuck with a job that was an even larger downgrade after 6-9 months of unemployment.

3. Totally agree with your point about the complicated story, and another reason why I posted originally: to try to get clarity from more experienced users about plausible paths and strategies to get my career back on track. 

I asked another poster this same question, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it as well: Would it be helpful to remove the IB experience to simplify my narrative for HHs, business school admissions, and other interviewers going forward? It could look a lot cleaner to go from analyst -> associate in corporate than to try to explain the detour on the sell-side, even though I would then have a resume gap. I'd figure out a way to spin the gap (travel, family, whatever), and then I'd position my current role in the same way that associates do who leave after 2 year programs to chief of staff / strategy / etc. roles (i.e., desire to gain operating experience and add another dimension to my investor skillset). Thoughts?


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