Are you experienced? Thoughts on growing older

labanker's picture
Rank: Neanderthal | 2,137

It's been awhile since I've checked in on WSO. I hope 2016 has treated you all well and you're now settling in for some well deserved rest and relaxation time over the course of the holidays.

It may just be selection bias given I'm starting to get a little older myself (I just turned 34), but I've noticed a certain theme emerging in quite a few threads here on WSO and on some of the other tech / programming boards I frequent. It seems a lot of people out there are worried about the career implications of growing "older". I put "older" in quotes because in many cases I'm not just talking about people approaching retirement age. I'm talking about people for whom the junior tenure of their career is in the rearview mirror. Typically this includes anyone in their early to mid 30s and older.

By this time you've likely completed any post grad educational requirements, you've spent a few years in the trenches working some crazy hours, you have a decent number of deals / projects under your belt, and you've more or less mastered the core technical skills necessary to succeed in your chosen field. In other words, you've been successfully following The Track to a T. And by your watch, since you've done everything right, your train should be pulling up to the Greatness station right about...now.

But instead pulling into some gilded wonderland with golden gates, it seems like The Track just...ends. The familiar steel rails that kept your train on course eventually give way to wilderness. For any veteran of The Track, this is quite unsettling. We've all been told that if we went to X college, worked at Y investment bank, and then Z PE firm we'd be set for life. So what gives? Why is there "no country for old I bankers"? Why instead of being welcomed into the gilded gates of Greatness are we seemingly being put out to pasture?

To any Track veteran, the first reaction is to assume it's because you're just on the wrong track. Maybe if I had done my analyst stint at firm Z instead of firm Y things would be different... or maybe if I had gotten into school C.... You can perform these little thought experiments all day, but my read is that beyond a certain threshold, none of that matters. Whether you did your banking stint at Goldman Sachs or BAML, worked at a megafund or a middle market firm, got an MBA from HBS or Kellogg, you would likely end up in the same place. Even changing industries wouldn't help. Techies often complain about rampant ageism and a short conversation with any 7th or 8th year law associate should be enough to convince you that things aren't any different in law. In short, no matter your industry, no matter your credentials and pedigree, you are going to find there are fewer and fewer people willing to take you on as an employee as you get older and more experienced.

People might say it's because you are more expensive, have more obligations, are set in your ways, etc. These all may be true, but I don't think they are the main reasons companies seem reluctant to take on more experienced hires. I think the main reason companies don't want to hire you is because as you get older, wiser, and more experienced, you become more of a threat. It's kind of like lion prides. When male cubs get to be about 2 or 3 years old, they get kicked out of the pride because the incumbent males know that if those cubs stick around much longer, there's a good chance they'll try to take over. And any cubs that don't have the ambition or skill required to attempt such a coup probably wouldn't help the pride's chances of survival much, so no use keeping them around either.

If you've been in the industry for 10+ years and you've been doing things right, there's probably no real compelling reason why you couldn't be calling the shots instead of your boss. That makes you a less desirable employee. Because even if you tell yourself you can suck it up and report to someone who really should be your peer for the sake of financial stability, there's still a part of you that wants to run the pride. Your boss can't have this. So out you go.

This may seem harsh, but I think it's a blessing in disguise. Think about it. When you're 40 or 50, do you really want to be doing all the legwork for a quasi checked out senior partner in exchange for the few crumbs of carry he deigned to throw your way? Do you really want to be cramming yourself into airplanes flying all around the country prospecting and executing deals while your boss "manages relationships"? Do you really want to have to ask for approval to execute that trade you've been researching for months? Probably not.

So if you're in your 30s or 40s and you're having a harder time finding attractive employment opportunities, maybe the market is telling you something. Maybe it's telling you that it's time to stop implementing other people's ideas and it's time to start implementing your own. Go build your pride.

Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #31 (based on # of silver bananas)

Comments (32)

Jan 5, 2017

+1. So, what are you doing to "build your pride" nowadays ? If you don't yet have a family and obligations. you are still fairly mobile, are you not ?

Jan 4, 2017

you're as mobile as you want to be. some of the most successful people I know moved their families around during the early years. yes, it's hard on the kids, but the career advancement you get by raising your hand and taking risks I think is worth it. every client I have in their 40s who's already at a walkaway number took risks, and this meant moving with young kids, probably forcing the other spouse to find new work, and so on, so don't think being mobile and having a family are mutually exclusive.

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Jan 5, 2017

They may not be mutually exclusive but it's pretty damn close in my opinion. Kids make these kinds of moves exponentially harder.

Jan 5, 2017

I made a transition to tech (as a programmer) a few years ago with an eye towards building my own software product. Currently working at startup to pay the bills while I try to make that happen.

I'm married but have no kids. My wife has her own business and works from home. So yeah, still very mobile -- intentionally so.

Dec 24, 2016

I always thought the "traditional" path was so applauded on these forums because it delayed charting ones own course but appeased the immediate demand of conventional success.

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Jan 4, 2017

It's that plus it satisfies the desires of A-type personalities by always placing a new tangible goal post (with a fairly defined timeframe) to try to reach after each successive achievement (e.g. IB after top college, PE after IB, top MBA after PE, etc.)

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Dec 26, 2017

Is that really an "A" path? Isn't the true alpha making their own path and not following paths planned out.

Array
Jan 3, 2017

Solid quality post, so refreshing. Especially with all the completely idiotic rookie posts recently.

Cheers @labanker

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Jan 3, 2017

Having turned 30, and working in the engineering sector, I see this too often.

+1 SB

Jan 3, 2017

Great post sir. I've never followed any aspect of the traditional path...all wilderness for me. In a way that has been liberating, also a little terrifying, vs many others on this forum

I think your analogy of lion prides is pretty accurate. Once a cub has reached an age that it is considered a full blown lion, it can't go back to the limited responsibility state of a younger cub, even if it wanted to

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Jan 4, 2017

Isn't it wonderful how far fewer sh*ts you give over time? I don't know why I was so worried when I was younger.

********"Babies don't cost money, they MAKE money." - Jerri Blank********

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Best Response
Jan 13, 2017

@labanker I could not agree more. I have been thinking about this alot in the past year. Why did I choose banking, private equity, or business school? As I prepare for the next stage of my career, I feel for the first time, I am able to shake the "path," and truly focus on my own decisions and controlling my own future. This is kind of a stream of consciousness, but I think to truly understand why and who we are, we have to look critically at our own decisions, and analyze how we made them.

The traditional path is designed to remove the decision making process from our lives. By following the path, we are forgoing conscious and active decision-making, and assigning faint control over our own destinies via choosing specific firms and/or schools. This allows us to believe we are truly in control, but alas we are not.

This speaks well to our generation (e.g., millenials) because we have grown accustomed to immediate feedback, instant gratification, and positive reinforcement. As a result, we have sought out this path that deprives us of 100% personal responsibility for our professional journeys, and instead places the emphasis on the institutions to help train us before sending us off to another organization, which will then train us again before sending us off to school, where the cycle continues.

By doing this, we are fail safe, if we do not succeed we can blame the system, the industry, culture, or a number of impersonal factors for our lack of success. The reason we cannot admit failure is because of the cult of the industry that has slowly built us into cocky, arrogant, narcissistic motherfuckers.

Young, brightly educated individuals are told by their peers and educators that the finance and investment banking route is the most prestigious and elite path possible. A stereotype that is only reinforced by the high selectivity of the investment banks, which choose only the brightest and well connected students for prominent internships and entry level positions. Not to mention there is safety in numbers, and no one can get hurt "following the pack," but slowly the pack begins to bleed.

During these "grunt years," we are hazed and repeatedly told by our more senior Analysts and Associates that the sacrifice is a badge of honor, just like your pledge master told you when you were a seventeen year-old freshman. The self-sacrifice speaks to our desire to feel welcome, to be a deserving member of a team, a family. We remind ourselves that the "pain is temporary," and it's just a few years until we get to PE or Hedge Funds, where the hours will be better. We convince ourselves that staying late for Seamless is "free money," and that it would be stupid to head home if that once in a lifetime chance presented itself. When we get hammered with last minute work on a pitch book, we convince ourselves we are playing an important role in the machine that is Wall Street, but we are truly just the weakest and mostly easily replaced cog, but at least we're learning.

To counteract our feeling of worthlessness of not feeling "valued," we surround ourselves with our fellow pleebs. This is important, as our analyst "class" drinks the same KoolAid. Slowly, we build each other up, convincing each other that we're the best and that the girls will soon realize that, maybe they do.

When we get to Private Equity or Hedge Funds, we are forced to begin to acknowledge our own mortality. We realize maybe we are not the best, or at least according to the GMAT and Business Schools, whom now dictate our value. However, we are just excited to take "two years off" and rack up thousands of dollars in debt, because no, you're not getting a need based scholarship after 4-5 years of IB and PE comp. I'm at this stage now, so I can't speak to what comes next, but time will tell.

This may sound like a negative portrayal, that it is not. In order to become the best version of ourselves, we must critically evaluate our decisions. By looking back at our thought process and the factors that influenced our decisions, we can continue to improve how we make decisions and gain control of our destiny. I would not trade the path for anything else, maybe it's the KoolAid, but it could have been worse. If you disagree with my comments above, feel free to voice them, feedback is great gift.

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Jan 8, 2017

I wish every "Summer Analyst" or "Incoming IBD Analyst" on this website was forced to read this. I've seen far too many cattle following the herd without a real sense of where they're going

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Jan 10, 2017

You are so right. Though in my case it wasn't Finance--I made the Finance decision on my own--everyone else in school thought that was a terrible idea/immoral/etc. etc. But you're right as far as this generation goes, unfortunately.

Jan 4, 2017

Great post, would love to see more content from the 30+ crowd. This concept probably explains a lot of the recent firings at my company.

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Jan 5, 2017

Did you ever get on the Max Factor ?

Jan 9, 2017

Thanks for sharing. As someone in my mid-twenties, currently recruiting for private equity roles, I have always wondered where the majority of people go after 35. It scares me at times I suppose. This may sound strange, but I am already starting to feel old - like my 20s are flying by as I have slaved away in the rat race. My Analyst years in particular all feel like a blurr.

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Jan 10, 2017

Did you feel like you learned a lot in your analyst years and that they were valuable?

Jan 10, 2017

Definitely, I didn't know much about finance before entering banking. I definitely learned a lot and made some great connections. However, perhaps I had unrealistic expectations.

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Jan 12, 2017

Powerful post. I thought I was the only one in the wrong for believing that my 2 points of carry were not worth being someone's bitch forever and realizing that I'm not the top 1% after leaving the banking facade.

Jan 12, 2017
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Jan 14, 2017

Ianbanker - Thank you for this post.
EightAceTres - Thank you for the great reply.

As a someone hoping to start a MBA this year (will hear the results in couple of months), I feel lost and angry at myself. I am not coming from a traditional ibanking career like many of you have. I was an international student who came back to my country and started working for our country's infant capital market industry. After 3 successful years as an analyst, I thought I can give a shot at moving to the US with BB banks. I thought I could get recruited as an associate, not an analyst. Nope.
Then I thought MBA can give me a better chance at BB. While I have been preparing for mba apps, I have been with my family related business for 2 years. This experience was very challenging since I did not grow or learn much professionally; however, the experience has been a good opportunity to grow personally and reconnect with my family.

MBA applications and GMAT have been very painful and lonely experience for me. I am still applying more schools as well.

I really wanted to work for BB banks since undergrad. Due to Visa issues and my own inefficient moves, I did not get recruited right after college. Now several years later, MBA will give me another shot. But I spent these several years .....experiencing lot of unhappy, stuck, alone and occasionally miserable times.

Also, I was always too focused on BB and convinced things would turn around for me. As a result, I did not want to get married or have a child. Now I am over 30 year old, never have been BB banker and waiting for grad school replies.
Even if MBA works out, I dont know if MBA and BB will be worth the pain I had and the time I wasted...

Sorry for a self pity post guys!

But many thanks for sharing your genuine feelings!

:)

    • 1
Jan 14, 2017

Interesting thread.

I have a completely different take on the reason why the "track" (IB-PE-MBA-PE) stops...

  • The skill set which you acquire doing the "track" has become commoditized, and supply greatly outpaces demand
  • Only the real stars make it all the way to the top, everyone else is left scrambling for other opportunities...
  • ... other opportunities are scarce, because the IB/PE skill set really isn't applicable in industry, you may know something about everything, but companies are looking for specialists (accounting, production, etc.) with "actual" industry know-how (more than the typical pitch book / IC memo bulls%&%).

So what have I done? I was able to transition from PE to industry be leveraging my network. I first had to take a pay cut of 50%. Then I had to build my second leg of my "pi" by becoming an accounting / finance specialist (ACCA, IFRS and Local GAAP certificate), broadening my base (purchasing, IT, etc.) and actually learning about my industry by visiting our factories and talking to our distributors and customers.

Three years later, I'm now the deputy CFO of a public company responsible for group controlling (group consolidation and group audit) and M&A. I have now been able to differentiate my profile from 95% of finance nerds, with a road to become a commercial CFO and true co-pilot for the CEO.

Jan 14, 2017

Control is more important than money. I tried my hand at an extended internship in banking at a small boutique after graduating and the stress level was astronomical - I was out of shape, irritable, tired, and never home. Decided to work in tech sales instead of pursuing finance and couldn't be happier. Do I make as much as an IB analyst? Not in the beginning but, after the first promotion, the pay is roughly the same as an EB analyst and I can make double or triple that if I blow out my number this year. The best part is no one puts a limit on my pay - I literally eat what I kill. I work roughly 60 hours a week (by choice), make it to the gym almost every day, and never get asked to work weekends. Will I ever be a partner at a buyside shop? Maybe, maybe not - a few decades between now and retirement so who knows where life will take me. Is that a goal that I have to meet or else my whole life will be spent in the office for nothing? Absolutely not.

Finance is a great opportunity, I'm not pretending it isn't. There is, however, way too much onus put on following some defined path to the 1%. In my own experience the path to greatness is field agnostic. If you go somewhere, work your ass off, accept criticism and coaching, take time to get to know your colleagues, and make an effort to help those who are struggling - the sky is the limit.

Jan 14, 2017

eh, there are some places where you can be seen as a "threat," and those aren't the kinds of places you want to work, but often I don't think that's the issue. If you're actually so valuable, and it's a healthy company, they should be excited to hire a highly experienced worker.

Let's say you've been doing something for many years. You should be an expert. If you're smarter and working harder than most people, if you're the kind of person who really excels at whatever they do, you should be in a very high level position, or be coming from a very high level position. If someone's interviewing to hire you for a position and they're significantly younger than you, they've probably done better, at least in navigating their careers, than you have. How are you going to feel about reporting to this person? Are you going to feel like you are learning from your manager and appreciate and carefully consider his input/feedback? Or are you going to attribute your manager's success to luck, and question his decisions at every step? Will your ego and view of yourself get in the way of your ability to develop as an employee, and contribute to the team?

I think the above is an important conversation that's going on in some people's heads when interviewing an older worker. Thinking that late in your career some high-performing manager doesn't want to hire you only because you're a threat to his job -- that seems like just the lack of humility a hiring manager might want to avoid bringing into his team. I certainly don't want to hire someone who's view of me is "tell yourself you can suck it up and report to someone who really should be your peer for the sake of financial stability." If it were true that you are a peer, apply for a job at that level, not one where your manager is someone you think you "threaten." If you can't get a job at the level you believe you've reached, maybe you should reconsider where you stand with your skills and experience.

And what are your expectations? Do you expect to manage a team even though they already have enough managers? Cost is also a significant factor -- someone in their 30's costs more than twice the price of a fresh graduate. Every 22 year old is going to become a 32 year old, and every 32 year old a 42 year old. They can't all be in charge, and if you chose a competitive industry, you're going to be around some people who are smarter or harder-working or just generally more effective than you. I'm older than you, but I haven't really experienced much ageism beyond the internal struggle of ego. What I have seen in a number of companies is the sentiment of "too many chiefs and not enough Indians."

I have a lot of respect for my current manager. He does things I couldn't, right now, do quite as effectively as he does. I hope to find myself in his position someday, and to get there I learn from him. I don't think I'd get there faster by "starting my own pride" and assuming I already know everything.

Dec 26, 2017
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Dec 27, 2017
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********"Babies don't cost money, they MAKE money." - Jerri Blank********