A Must Read for Current Undergrads and Interns (Your first job doesn't matter)

Why I made this post: This website has been a helpful reference point over the years and I figured it might be time to give back. Partly what spurred this rant was a cousin of mine calling me asking for advice on consulting and banking recruitment and her dramatic apocalyptic responses regarding her having "No chances" and other such statements. Below is more or less a summary of what I told her, with a few add-ons. I then got curious and began reading some content on this website and felt it largely echoed her dramatic sentiment. Hopefully this post provides a bit of perspective that is brutally lacking from this website and many undergrads minds. I also hope it makes some of you younger guys and girls feel better in these tough pandemic riddled times.

My Background: I'm 5 years out of school (28) and went from a well-known bank, to business school, and now a well respected consulting firm. I also have a brother who is 3 years older who got his PHD in a science related field and now works for a unknown, but pretty dope VC firm.

My Advice to Undergrads

Your First Job Doesn't Really Matter

On this website, I have seen posts asking questions about if people were "Screwed because they didn't get a return offer?" or if they have "No chance with a sub 3 GPA?" The truth is your career likely will last from 22 all the way to 65+: a whopping 43 years! In context this is going through college 10+ times. Think about how much you, and the world, has changed over your high school or college years and you will recognize how fleeting a first job really is. I fear younger adults sometimes don't have the perspective or the long term thinking required to think about their first job critically and it results in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts that really are quite unwarranted. Your first job is a starting point, but the path you take is up to you. On the same vein:

Careers Are Way Way Less Linear and Rankable Than You All Think

The rankings posts are madness because of how unrankable jobs eventually become. Many now know "The Track" of IB->PE->HBS, but there is little consideration to what happens after that. The truth is after that, and before, the world gets way way more random. Also, this arbitrary 6 year track is myopic and ignores what a good career really is. The whole point of job searching and working hard when you are younger should mainly be about finding a job you actually like doing, that can also support you and your financial goals. This isn't likely to be a linear path because the world changes constantly and so do you. I don't know how to explain this concept of careers being nonlinear aside from detailing the paths of my friends/ the reality of what career paths actually look like. These are real people not simply hypothetical scenarios:

Friend 1 + Friend 1.2: Both joined a top consulting group out of school. One went to get his MBA, the other went directly to the corporate world. Both of them are now working for well known companies in the S&P 500 working their way up the corporate latter. One likes his job, the other finds it political and boring. Both work like 9-5 hours, earning decent pay. I'd argue they are roughly in the same position at their firms despite one having an MBA and the other not having one.

Friend 2: Went to a State School and graduated with a sub 3.0 GPA. He got a job out of school making 42k a year at a shotty market research firm and quickly realized maybe partying instead of class was a bad call. He jumped jobs after a year, and ended up at a no-name consulting firm for 2 years. He got his MBA and now will be working at a well known investment bank as an associate. The dude is pumped and I think he might actually be a lifer in the industry.

Friend 3: Worked for a well known hedge fund out of undergrad. He is still there and likes it. Works some pretty harsh hours, but I'm sure he's comped well.

Friend 4: Started at a BB bank and stayed. He is a VP now and hates his job and the hours. That said, he frequently discusses his salary and loves talking about the firm.

Friend 5: Really sharp, but was oblivious in terms of recruiting and a more nerdy/ meek person. He got an internship at a family office that no one had ever heard of, but the founder was a successful investor. He was the only intern and went back to work there doing roughly 9-6 hours. The employer paid for his MBA part time and now he has carry in the firms investments. 90% sure he cleared upward of $1 million last year at 27 years of age.

Friend 6: Did BB-->PE Megafund. Unfortunately, the dude sorta snapped, ended up pulling a Dave Chappelle and now lives in South Africa.

Bro's Friend 1: Went to Law School, practiced for 2 years, now a VP at a BB.

Bro's Friend 2: Started various failed companies before eventually starting a guacamole company. Seems to be going well and I would guess when he exits he will have an annualized return far exceeding $1m including all the years he spent failing at companies.

Bros Friend 3: Went from consulting to a Hedge Fund and has stayed there.

Bros Friend 4: Asset Manager--> PE MM --> Megafund PE. The dude is pretty disillusioned and is slowly staring to recognize he will likely never call the shots because the people above him will never leave.

My Bro: PHD--> Research ---> Venture Capital

Me: IB-->MBA-->Consulting---> ???? :)

I could go on and on. The point I am making is how random these paths really are. Your career has some luck involved, but the only real mistake is not going on the journey or staying in a job that makes you miserable without a reason why. Your starting job is like looking at the S&P on one down day and extrapolating that we are in a bear market. Hard work and sacrifice over time becomes obvious and the trend over time is much more important than your static position at year 0.

Spend Time To Determine What Actually Matters To You

There was a time where I thought I might accept a well paying PE offer, but it would have required me to move to a city where I knew no one. I took some time to reflect and realized I would rather be paid less and be around my friends and family in a city I like. You drive the ship for your career and you don't have to know exactly where you are going, but you can back your way out of some things. For example, if you hate the east coast maybe it wouldn't make sense to interview there. Or, if you don't care about immediate income, you might forgo a Megafund PE offer for a MM PE in which you would learn more. Or you might accept an offer from Baird over GS because you like the group of Baird and recognize either decision can lead to the same outcome 5 years down the line for the career path you are interested in. Your career path should partly be based on personal values and there isn't a one size fits all approach.

Money Advice

Quick! How much money do you personally need to make a year to be happy? If you don't know, maybe think about this question. The truth is at a certain point money just doesn't matter. You see this a lot with finance professionals who start to make 200k+. After a point (it varies depending on where you live), your quality of life doesn't increase. You either are working because: 1) You like your job 2) Have rampant, runaway, spending problems 3) You are in a junk measuring contest for money, power, or status in which you can't ever win. Thinking about your endgame is important so you don't get lost in the sauce.

On that same topic, it blows my mind how little basic finance education is given and how supposed "experts" in corporate finance can't budget for their life. Live in a smaller place than you can afford and budget your personal life. Nothing is quite as ridiculous to me as a 50 year old MD who hates his job, but can't leave because he has to make enough money to afford his mortgage for his over-sized house, divorce payments, and tuition for private school for two families. This is a man who despite being in the top 1% of earners is somehow simultaneously broke and living paycheck to paycheck. It's pathetic and if you don't create concrete goals in terms of personal finance, this pathetic caricature can quickly become you.

Relationship Advice

A manager who I really respected once said: the difference between an adult and a kid is a kid looks for a boyfriend or a girlfriend and an adult looks for who will make a good mother or father. If you can't imagine a guy or a girl being able to take care of your future kids they might be a bad prospect. I'm watching this unfold with my friends and my brother's friends and it's tragic.

The same manager also had this wisdom: "The beauty of the game is you just have to find one person. All it takes is one!" The dude had a hot wife and honestly, while funny, it's very true. Most women or men could think you are an absolute dog 0/10, but if one person thinks you are a 10/10 that's all the matters.

Don't Be Trapped By Dogma

Look at the founders of the firms that many on the platform idealize--KKR, GS, MS. None of them listened to people on the internet or group think--they all thought independently. There are deeply held opinions on this website that if you listen to, you will become like everyone on this website. Which, from viewing posts, are either other lost undergrads, miserable finance professionals, or blow-hards who hoard status and get off on looking at this website and their supposed superiority. A general note--the real money makers at banks or butt kicking analysts aren't concerned with WSO posts. They are too preoccupied with actual work.

These Posts Aren't Reality

I read one post that was particularly gross where this "success story" described some kid lying about his major to get an internship, securing a FT offer, reneging and ending up at another firm. Comments were praising the individual as crafty and everyone was high-fiving about how he played the banks like they play candidates. Really all the kid did was behave unethically and burn bridges for a marginal gain. That behavior is the sort of stuff that any firm with good culture would sniff out and he'd be rejected swiftly. Yet, on this website he was praised as a hero. Additionally, recruiting posts often have just blatant lies on timing and process because idiot undergrads think the world is zero-sum.

Also, as far as recruiting goes--business isn't school with rigid rules. It is way more improvisation and involves constant changing. My first job at a bank I received an offer 3 months past a bank's recruiting deadline because the office was expanding and realized they would need another analyst. Keep trying and keep networking because information a week ago might not be true today. Also, an anonymous poster saying they talked to HR or received an offer is about as reliable as chunky milk--you just shouldn't trust like that.

Don't Be A Bully

If you are working in finance or going to a decent university, odds are the individuals you are interacting with are decently motivated. If you are a bully or a jerk people will remember it and motivated people generally hold grudges and will be powerful when you grow older--even if they take a different path than you. When I was a freshmen in undergrad, I interviewed for a business fraternity while at the time knowing nothing about finance. One of my 3 interviewers was an upperclassmen and after I couldn't properly identify the 3 statements ridiculed and swore at me ranting about how I was a joke. As luck would have it, 8 years later a friend called saying they had just interviewed that individual and since we went to the same school he wanted to know if I knew him. I explained the story and the guy didn't get the job.

Always treat people with respect. Especially those under you. At a certain point the playing field will be leveled and no one wants to work with a jerk-off. The world is small and treating people poorly will come back to bite you. It's not an if, but a when. Even if its that idiot kid that interviewed or that fumbling summer analyst.

And Lastly, Don't Eat Dodgy Mexican Food Before an Interview

Out of college I was interviewing for what I thought was my dream job and I had a burrito from a food stand many hours before. As fate would have it, that burrito hit me during the technical portion of my interview and I had to leave mid-process, while horribly sweating, to prevent brutally pooping my pants. I didn't get the job and was pretty distraught at the time. Looking back, and as a life-rule, almost pooping your pants is almost always funny. That said, be cognizant of what you eat prior to interviews and if you do happen to get the runs during the technical portion, it likely will still work out in the end.

Most Helpful

Great post and nice to see someone with some experience weigh in on reality. As someone quite a bit older, I've seen the randomness you describe many times over. I have seen the classic formula most WSOers refer to a few times, but way more of my "successful" friends and colleagues have taken a circuitous route.

Another important theme is liking what you do. So many get what they think will be their dream opportunity to find they actually don't like it. The thrill was in the hunt, not the kill. One thing you'll find pretty common is once you're more mature in your career, you don't really have patience or stomach for jobs / culture you dislike. Have seen many 40+ yr olds jump shops because of more money, bigger future, cool clients, whatever; only to find they think the new place blows and ultimately find their way back home or some place similar.

Culture is a BIG thing. If you like the company, the culture, the people, the work, and the money is good enough, that's a home run.

Love the live beneath your means approach (have done that for many yrs and it is paying off in spades). When you do this, you'll find more often than not, the money is generally good enough, and you ultimately can do what you want. Provides a freedom to pick and choose on a regular basis.

At some point, the younger readers need to realize it's not a competition. Your life is your life. It's about finding what makes you happy. Nobody really cares what you do and how much you earn (other than you). Still get together with a close group of high school buddies. Been zooming a bunch during Covid. Range of outcomes includes a semi retired former BB Senior MD worth 9 figures and a prison guard who will retire with a full pension in a yr or two. Both have all they need. When we get together in person, it's the same old laugh fest, HS nicknames, roles, etc.

You do you!


I might be extremely dumb for asking this question: does your (prospective) girlfriend care about how much you are making? Doesn't your chance of being with a good-looking woman from a good family background increase as you make more money? I don't think Jane Eyre happens that much now. Maybe it's because I'm really insecure about me making 40% less than my banking peers, but that is a real concern to me.  

Persistency is Key

It's not so much BSing your way through it as it is about so many things changing in front of you all the time. You will not have control of lots of it (i.e you bank merges and they lay off your group - happens all the time). Opportunities and industries that don't even exist will become leaders during your career. Understand what you're good at and what you like and then find a gig that lets you do that (granted there will be entry level crap you have to put up with). Keep that as your ballast. You may be one of the unusual ones who knew what they always wanted to do, are doing it, and love it. Or you may bounce around trying different things. Find YOUR happiness, not where/what others think you should be happy with.

Have only known two people in my life who actually knew early on, exactly what they wanted. One is a kid of a family friend who always wanted to fly fighter jets (from like age 7) and is currently serving our country doing just that in the air force. The other is my daughter who aspires to be on Broadway. Time will tell on that.

There are no set exclusive paths.


That senior manager also told me this about career planning: "At some point you will be interviewing for a dream job and you will need to convince the person across the table you have the proper experience for that job. Work backwards from these jobs as the end game, everything else is just a stepping stone."

If you don't know what job you'd be interested in talk to adults and ask them why they ended up at that job. This is how actual effective networking is done. Call for information, not a job, and keep in touch with people that give you their time. Eventually you can develop a thesis on what you think your dream job is and what skill set is required. However, as you get more information you can modify or change your thesis.

I recruited for banking because I thought consulting was "Banking lite" and I had no other options. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I think by and large the friends that ended up at MBB firms were sharper than the Bankers. I'm glad I have my banking experience and wouldn't do it differently, but clearly my opinion changed and clearly I valued a MBB offer over a PE firm offer despite people on this forum saying the hard rule of PE>MBB. Like rickle said, it['s not really BSing as much as you aren't facing a static environment for getting employed. You need to keep modifying your approach and reevaluating your thesis. Personally, I fully believe my dream job I am shooting for involves a product or service that might have just been discovered or doesn't exist yet. What a wild and exciting thing to prepare for!


I'm going to disagree that your first job doesn't matter. IB, PE and consulting offer huge optionality for your career and act as a sort "instant credibility" on a young professional's resume which helps in landing your next job and career step. As someone who failed to get into IB straight out of school and had to take the scenic way in after working in some pretty shitty back office-y jobs, getting IB right away would have opened up a ton of doors that are effectively closed without said background; my net worth, income and career trajectory would be significantly higher had I been able to get into IB straight out of school.


Have to agree with NPV.

Only "Friend 2" seems to have started off the rails a bit and able to find his footing eventually. All the other examples of success just confirms 12 out of 12 that first job being IB/Consulting/AM provides a lot of momentum. Yes, careers are random, but the randomness heavily tilts toward lucrative if you start in a target role.

Great post anyway, even with the proper pedigree you need some "right place, right time" luck to get to wherever you want to be. And you may be very happy in a role that you didn't envision a few years ago.


Of course, compared to any average job, a job in either blows. But people here often have a tendency of ranking IB over consulting, or PE over IB, or consulting over CorpFin or whatever. OP is trying to say otherwise - that distinctions between those don't matter. Even the "ranking" of the firms don't matter - as long as you are at a solid productive firm, most of them will open doors to newer, more fruitful opportunities.

GoldenCinderblock: "I keep spending all my money on exotic fish so my armor sucks. Is it possible to romance multiple females? I got with the blue chick so far but I am also interested in the electronic chick and the face mask chick."

Agree with this fully on the 1st job mattering a fair amount. I posted something similar on another thread. Of course when you're 20+ years into your career, nobody is going to care whether you were an analyst at GS or Baird or whatever, but in the first 10 years, it definitely seems to. I've been shocked to see that multiple jobs out of IB, my IB analyst role still gets a lot of attention from prospective employers / recruiters because of the brand value. It doesn't necessarily make a difference that my last roles are both more recent and relevant to the jobs I'm looking at, the banking job serves as a sort of stamp of credibility (as NPV said) on my candidacy / resume.


That last piece of advice is incredibly crucial: Had an interview also for my seemingly dream job while in my last year of undergrad and ate a large amount of spicy cajun food the night prior. Was able to utilize a break in between interviews to blow up their bathroom but prior to that was absolute misery and definitely hurt my interviewing ability.


Awesome post, and as a guy struggling to make it in this industry I honestly feel better after reading it.

That said, it still feels like your first job defines you somewhat. And all of the examples you posted except one sound like they were people who came out of college not exactly knowing what they were doing but in competitive places nonetheless.

There's a place I really want to be. Not just for the money, it's a specific area I really love following and I think I would be great at. I'm hustling with every atom in my existence - doing the CFA, learning a language, moving countries three times, spending all my free time looking up contacts on LinkedIn - but my lack of equity experience and more importantly my lack of deal experience means I never get call backs, recruiters won't touch me, etc. I'm in my fourth year out of school and I have a decent, but niche job, and it feels like the pigeonhole is very real. Not that I'll give up, it's just hard.


Re the first job defining you, I guess that depends on you. Whether you let it or perhaps want it to. My brothers and I are a good example.

Oldest: Chem E / Econ double at state flagship. 1st job at a major F500 in an engineering capacity. Became a product manager (not really involved in engineering anymore although supply chain was a big thing. Stayed 5 yrs, HBS , Mck, President of F500 subsid. CEO of start up andmany biz development roles since. I would say he took the least risky, most straight forward path.

Middle: Zoology / Psych major. Was supposed to go to med school. Fell in love with the guitar as a junior. Took a entry level job in a department store to just make money while he practiced, wrote music, etc. Bounced around for 10 yrs. Got a consulting gig at a human factoring shop. (because he's brilliant) Became a industry thought leader. Went back to school to get his PhD at top program. Back to consulting gig. Started his own consulting gig. Now is a senior project mgr / consultant contractor working on really cool stuff with the feds. Testifies before Congress on many occasions involving the FAA, flight safety, train derailments, etc. Still plays guitar and writes tons of music. He plays at their annual Christmas party.

Me: Broadcasting major. Actually did a bunch of play by play. First job was only paid 14k while my CPA friends were getting 30k. After a few yrs made a pivot in to corporate sales with IBM. Did well. Loved the people, hated the pecking order. Got in to insurance and financial services 30 yrs ago. Worked my way up to MD of a major firm (insurance carrier). Went out on my own to start a brokerage shop and was a leading distributor for several companies for many yrs.

Work my own client base when I want, visit with a few reps and play a lot of golf.

Life takes many turns. Even for my oldest brother, events way out of your control make you reinvent yourself. There's not one path. You may think the only way to get from A to B is X but I assure you there are alternatives.More importantly, at every stage, examine who you are and what makes you tick. It's OK to evolve. It took me about 10 yrs to figure that out. Used to compare myself to so many people in my field until I realized I just don't want to do what they do. I like what I do.


I wish I could give you 10 SBs for this. To reinforce your point, here are some more examples from my college friends (we all went to a top target):

Friend 1: MS in Comp Sci, has worked at 4-5 companies since, including 2 small startups, for himself once and now for another startup - no FAANG and generally not "unicorn" type companies Friend 2: Dicked around, law school, practiced 4 years and started his own VC fund which just raised fund 2 Friend 3: MM S&T, by year 5 was depressed and burnt out, quit cold turkey, took a coding bootcamp and now works as an engineer at a top tech firm, exponentially happier Friend 4: Top BB S&T, quit after 5 years to work on some side projects, after 1.5 years off joined a quant HF Friend 5: MM IB, MF PE, joined a FAANG firm, still there 7 years later

I could go on, but the point is there are lots of people who were on "the path", realized it wasn't for them and jumped off to do something else and life has worked out just fine.


No, he's just "plain vanilla" CF. He hated the PE fund he was at and was more interested in the FAANG company he joined than the specific role. He joined in a pretty interesting CF role (not plain vanilla FP&A) and has done a couple others since then, but no CD. I would say more but it would out him.


Amazing post, thanks so much for this. Really great for an incoming undergrad like me to see this and put things into perspective.

Just something I wanted to add about maintaining good relationships and treating people with respect: My dad works in tech recently had to let one of his employees go due to the pandemic, but since they had a good relationship, my dad wrote him a recommendation and helped him secure another job. That employee was pretty happy and even sent home a gift card to show thanks.

So, not burning bridges and maintaining good relationships is always going to pay off down the road.


Top post, but all the positions you described are still incredible opportunities that almost all would kill for. For those jobs, yea first job doesn't matter once you have the reputation and experience from these places, but if your first job is something way less glamorous then i would argue that it definitely matters.


I loved the point you made on the amount of money when one makes over $200k where it really doesn’t matter.

I had a great opportunity taking one of top medical company CFO to work few times a month last year ( about 1 hour drive with traffic) and was able to get an idea and dig his brain to realize that money isn’t really important if you don’t like what you do. Hw was open with his pay and it was almost $3 mil but he just couldn’t do it anymore as he had lost interest throughout the years. I was just happy to get him Venmo me $300 for a ride every time.

Fast-forward to today and he quit that company, moved to another state more green and working as a consultant for 4 companies all remote from home. Last time I talked to him, I’ve never heard his voice so happy.

fast forward


The money aspect of this post is so key. It's liberating when you realise you don't actually need 200k+, it literally opens up so many different career paths instantly, ones that may better align with your interests and strengths.

When you get so caught up on having to have the potential of earning such salaries, it really constrains you to a set few career choices i.e the standard IB, consulting, PE etc which are honestly not for everyone.


Great write up. However, I definitely want to push back on the money issue because I believe when you younger in 20's and 30's, you have the time and energy to work those long hours. It becomes increasingly harder as you get older due to family / health issues. To say it doesn't matter if you earn over 200K / year is simply not true because finance, in general, is sort of unstable and you should be making as much as you can early on. Also, There's a big difference between someone who has a 5 million net worth and generate 200K / year in passive income vs. someone who earns 200K / year even though they "earn" the same.


This is probably one of the best pieces I've read on WSO. It really shows the importance of focusing on the long-term picture and avoiding the blatancy of anon posters, usually students who just read one of Michael Lewis books thinking they are the next big thing. Everyone should be grateful for whatever they have, work hard towards whatever they are after and proud of their achievements.