Career decisions: walking away from FT M&A

123only's picture
Rank: Senior Chimp | 29

Hi guys,

Having interned in M&A this summer, I now have an FT offer to go back. The offer is from one of the most sought after M&A teams on the street. Now as I finally have the choice to sign and commit to a FT stint in M&A, I am having second thoughts. Would appreciate if I could get some comments from the WSO community.

The other things I would consider are:
1) Go to math/ stats grad school. I like my degree, and would have good grades, etc. to do further study. Would go into tech/ startups or quant/ buyside trading afterwards.
2) Try to get into tech/ product management this year to line up a job before graduation. Will be difficult to get the very best firm/ role possible.

A bit of background:

From a "brand name" target (think H/Y/P/etc.) , studying a v technical degree (think pure math/ stats/ the hard-core stuff) with no relevance to IBD. Overall study hard/ have top GPA but also have lots of extra-curriculars (e.g. sports, debating) on the side.

My current thoughts (+/-) about going into M&A full-time:
+ I had a good time on the internship. I liked my team, and got good feedback suggesting I was near the top of the intern class. The competitive part of me likes this component of banking, and I honestly think if I commit fully to the work then I can do a v good job as an analyst and beyond.
+ If I want an office job with a nice title, brand and good pay (but little more on top of these things), then very few things can beat IBD.

- I am questioning my motivations behind going into IBD. Doing deals and the high-level talk is interesting, but upon reflection that was not my main reason for doing IBD. In all honesty, I think I was motivated more by the competitive image/ prestige it held, and the structured career path.
- Following from the point above, having worked in IBD I do not think that the work is prestigious or deserves the interest it attracts. Making generalisations, I think IBD would be most suitable for people who are feel fulfilled with short-term perks such as spending excess and going out rather than longer term, "grander" ideals. Although I do a good job of fitting in, I do not fall into this group.
- The thing which bugs me the most, given my academic background, is that banking no longer has the same image as it once had, and it is not the not top choice for the most ambitious and intelligent students. I think being intelligent in a "math major" sense actually makes you enjoy the job less, because you have more options to consider. In comparison, if finance is your degree and finance is all you know and all you can do, then it is relatively more interesting (as the comparison is then across a smaller range of careers). Some of my peers from school are going into tech/ product managemnet, and I feel I have missed a trick by not considering it.


Comments (25)

Aug 31, 2015


Aug 31, 2015

There is not a single question mark in your post...
are you ranting or asking something?

Nov 13, 2015


Aug 31, 2015

I take your question seriously and would answer--equally seriously--that if you're having doubts, get out. If you take the job, the treadmill will start in earnest and your second thoughts will only multiply. If you're not passionate about making money (especially for others), then M&A will never be very satisfying.

    • 1
Aug 31, 2015

Since you're at HYP you shouldn't have an exploding offer (or at least should still have several months left on it) so spend the semester exploring other areas and see what traction you get at the types of places you're now interested in. You get something else, great. You don't, well at least you tried, not to mention there are worse things in life than M&A at a top shop.

Sep 1, 2015

Just make sure you put in (even more) time for self reflection before making any decision. It seems you think you made a mistake by pursuing IB for the prestige, but now you want out because you don't perceive it as being as competitive (read: prestigious) as other paths. Ironically, your post makes me think you're the kind of person that routinely does M&A.

None of the potential career paths you mentioned are clearly superior (in terms of pay potential, future opportunities offered) to M&A. The key issue is what piques your interest more/ is likely to be more fulfilling for you.

I would start by considering how much you really want to go to graduate school - I think that is the outlier among your potential options so should be relatively easy to rule in/out. Once that is ruled out/in, you can pro/con decision-matrix the other options to help you get closer to an answer.


Sep 1, 2015

Don't pursue IB. You're not onboard now, and you won't be any more so in the future. Analysts gravitate away from IB as they work in it, not towards it. I really can't imagine doing the job if I wasn't 100% bought in on the idea that currently it's the ideal job for what I want to do in the future. You don't need to love IB, but you do have to be convinced that there isn't a better current alternative, all things considered.

Sep 1, 2015

I disagree with some of the others here. It is perfectly normal to have some doubts, and having doubts right now doesn't mean your second thoughts now will magnify exponentially later on.

To me, banking is about optionality. Sure, banking stuff 90% is mundane shit and you can do product management/tech. Realize that grass is always greener on the other side and you can always pursue tech if you decide banking is not what you want to do after 6-8 months into banking. Not many careers can provide you with the same foundation for you far into the future. Your post makes it seem like if you decide to stay in banking you will stay for the rest of your career, but in reality tons of analysts leave after 1-3 years.

Just my 2 cents.

Sep 1, 2015

All your comments are fine and good, but you really should take the money and prestige part out of the picture for a moment and actually ask yourself what it is that you want to do? Prestige and money are nice and good at the beginning, but only very shallow individuals (of which there are plenty in banking) tend to be sustained by that for the long-term. You don't strike me as that. When I was in your shoes 6 years ago, I just went into banking for the money...I came from a very poor my very one-sided way of thinking can be partly explained by that. But I still wish I had examined more deeply at the time what I want to do for real. I didn't, and 6 years later it's kind of hard to figure out what I would actually want to do now that money is not the number one priority anymore. So have some true introspection of what you would like to do. Every morning when you get up, day in and day out, what do you want to do? "Do something prestigious" is not going to cut it. If you end up doing banking purely for the money, because you want to save up some big $$$ for a few years, great, that's a good reason to do it IMO, but you should always know why you are in it and what you want to do after and where your interests truly lie.

Best Response
Sep 2, 2015

As someone who did two summers in investment banking at the same top bulge bracket and subsequently turned down a full time offer, I want to echo what another poster wrote about being wary of greener grass. It never is. There are always tradeoffs.

The truth is that few jobs are intellectually stimulating. Most work is process oriented and will be until sentient AIs come to relieve us of our duties. There are a small number of critical creative jobs at any given moment. There is some truly revolutionary stuff going on at tech companies like Google in the fields of machine learning and life extension, but the vast majority of Google engineers are just bodies being thrown at more trivial matters like search and maintaining legacy code. On the non-critical but intellectually stimulating side, the pay is dog shit. Think PhD postgrads, lab technicians, journalists, writers, artists, etc.

Something you'll learn in due course is that it's very uncommon to make this kind of money anywhere outside of high finance without being an entrepreneur or principal. This is about as sure fire a path as one can find to a wealthy existence in the long run without any actual talent and large doses of good fortune.

Another thing you'll learn is the financial incentive rarely keeps people in this game in the long run. Tons of grads have done analyst stints in investment banking, and the handful of times I've come across these professionals 10 and 20 years down the line they're often doing something largely unrelated in the corporate world with a solidly middle class salary. One case I witnessed recently: an Ivy League grad with stints in top tier investment banking, top tier business school, MBB consulting, and top tier corporate strategy, just to finally transition into a wealth management type of role where he admits he would have likely been making more money had he started there in the first place.

I took a massive leap of faith and turned down my full time investment banking offer as it exploded just two weeks after the summer ended with nothing lined up. I'm over a year out of school now, and sometimes I wonder whether the decision was a mistake. When times are tough and the future looks hazy, I really miss the guaranteed outsized pay and the illusion of prestige. Sound familiar? I suspected the grass would be greener outside of banking, discovered that the grass was actually blue, and have all but forgotten what shade of green the grass in banking was. One intellectually knows that the grass in banking is still the same shit green. I just actually miss it sometimes. The young, insecure, and ambitious are driven by equal parts desire and fear.

The world outside of finance doesn't come with a six year itinerary in two year partitions. There are no analyst programs followed by stints in private equity and extended vacations at Harvard Business School. This sucks for some people, and those people are served well by taking their investment banking offers and following along the path. But for others, this is a good thing because it forces them to make some actual decisions about who they are and what they want as kids with nothing to lose rather than as adults entering the third decade of life saddled with business school debt as similarly clueless as when they left college.

Since leaving, I've worked at a venture capital fund trying to recreate Silicon Valley in emerging cities. I sat at the edge of a coworking space watching several of our portfolio companies operate day in and day out, CEOs, product managers, engineers, sales reps, and analysts alike. Most startups are simply the new office job. Operating under the illusion of meritocracy -- like finance -- with an additional veneer of creative work and life fulfillment, founders of mostly riffraff companies pay you less to work more of the same chores you'll find in most other jobs. The people who thrive in these roles find what they do genuinely interesting and get a kick out of working at high growth organizations despite the lack of bottomline reward. I'm interested in being an entrepreneur, but I'm not so sure I fit the bill as a startup employee. Luckily I'm doing all of this through a selective postgrad program and have had tons of time that I wouldn't have had in finance to broaden my horizons. I'm wiser, have a more interesting life, and a have far stronger network than I would had I gone into banking, but I'm financially less well off and the uncertainty persists.

So my recommendation to you:

  1. Accept that you haven't much of a clue what will make you happy in the future but have a hunch as to what you might like to do in the near term. It sounds like you're learning towards something quantitative. You're lucky to enjoy something that pays well and is in very high demand. Whatever you do in your career, you'll always have this technical floor you're unlikely to fall below. Worst case scenario, you'll pick up some cushy data scientist gig somewhere.
  2. Throw out the notion of prestige and embrace the concept of networks. Nobody gives a shit about brand name outside of industry. Your friends are too busy worrying about themselves, it's not gonna get you laid, so why place so much emphasis on the opinions of others when making this important life decision? Do something that gives you a network of intelligent and accomplished friends and peers your age that you can not only leverage for the rest of your career but also enjoy as a social circle. This could be quant grad school, Google, an analyst program, etc. These coincide with prestigious organizations, but your mindset is exponentially different taking the latter approach.
  3. Realize that life isn't deterministic. Outsized success requires good fortune on top of the usual suspect accolades, but good low six figure pay is firmly within your reach in whatever direction you choose. You have a great school on your resume. Start your career on a strong base network, then take some calculated risks as you get a better sense of life and what you want out of it. With a good network, opportunities that you couldn't have predicted will present themselves later in life.

Make a decision, watch it play out, learn from it, and make some more decisions. Goals are nice, but enjoying -- or at least not hating -- the ride makes all the difference between a life well lived and a life wasted in our privileged first world. Careers are long, so make sure you do that too. Rinse and repeat.

Good luck!

    • 33
Sep 1, 2015

Thoughtful reflection.


Realize that life isn't deterministic. Outsized success requires good fortune on top of the usual suspect accolades.

Good post with a mature perspective.

Sep 1, 2015

Moneymogul, cheers for that

Sep 3, 2015

This, my friend, was purely epic.

Sep 1, 2015

The "top choice" for ambitious and intelligent students is irrelevant. Find what you enjoy and excel.

Sep 1, 2015

Many top tier tech firms (Apple, Google, FB, etc.) recruit heavily from top M&A teams. Not just for Corp Fin but for their own M&A teams. If you want the long term view with some of the interesting aspects of M&A that would be a path to look at. Not to mention if you learn programming on your own on the side you would have the ability to work cross teams at the top tech firms thus seriously boosting your ability to move up at those firms.

Just a potential option.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Sep 3, 2015

Hey, out of curiosity - what potential roles would involve previous IBD/M&A experience and programming? Physics/Math major here, trying to decide between PhD and FT ...

Sep 3, 2015

I'm no where near 100% sure about this but from what I understand the programming knowledge isn't specific for any role perse it more has to do with ability to interact with the engineers. If you are trying to value a business that is based on software, you can do it with the financials sure. However if the engineers are throwing up red flags and you have no idea wtf they are talking about it might affect your ability to properly value the asset.

That was a hypothetical of course, but I have spoken with people at big tech firms and they say that programming experience is valued in all applicants even those who aren't engineers.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Sep 1, 2015

Moneymogul's post


Sep 1, 2015

A number of Wall Street execs have talked about starting their career in Silicon Valley if they were 22 again. But listing the reasons as to why it's a good idea is probably too esoteric. If you have the balls to, with total conviction, take advice from those who really know what they're talking about then you should consider it.

Sep 1, 2015

moneymogul post is one of the wisest I have read here. And probably one that every student should read.

Sep 2, 2015

Moneymogul for president!

Sep 2, 2015

OP, there are IB people who don't match the stereotypes you are describing. You can still find your place in IB even if you don't think you fit the typical IB person.

Sep 2, 2015

Take the job.

Not for the reasons mentioned;

Take it because you're going to be able to do more than you ever imagined with the brand name on two accounts (first job and undergrad) and the EXTREMELY valuable network both provide.

That network from the combination of both of those will only distance you three phone numbers away from some of the most powerful and innovative men in the world.

You mentioned the pros/cons, but also realize that tech/product management is something you can easily transition to after a 2 years stint at the M&A role. You'd have the contacts and you could make it happen, who knows, by then the NEXT up and coming start up for be looking for a Corp Dev or Product guy and you will meet all the check marks.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Sep 7, 2015
Sep 7, 2015