Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top AMA's from 2015, this one was originally posted 10/28/2015.
Reading through @harvardgrad08's posts I think this type of contribution is extremely helpful in de-mystifying certain career fields, especially the lessor known Corporate Development field as well as exit ops out of Big 4 Audit. So I wanted to share my story and hopefully help some folks better understand what can and can't be reasonably accomplished if you put your mind to it. Feel free to ask any question and I'll do my best to answer.
My work history working from present back words:
Currently interviewing for
1.) Senior Manager, Corporate Development @ a mid size (think $2-$5 bil revenue) Private Equity owned Portfolio Company in the Healthcare/ Medical Device industry. I think I have a great shot at landing the role, really a lateral move for me w a substantial bump in salary.
2.) Private Equity Associate- Deal team of a start up PE fund IB back round.
Current Role, total of 5 years & 9 months post undergrad experience:
3.) Senior Manager, Corporate/Business Development @ a top 5 Public Pharma Company. ~9 months in role. Base Salary $150k. Bonus = 20% of base. Stock Based Comp = between $15k-$30k per year. Hours 40-50, more during tight deal deadlines
4.) Manager, Revenue Forecasting and Finance Decision Support @ same top 5 Pharma. Strategic Finance, zero accounting. Heavy Financial modeling. Some deal work on sell sides doing all the deal based forecasts. Lots of scenario analysis, basically supporting all short term decisions as well as long term strategy. Role provided a really nice transition entirely out of accounting and also extensive financial modeling exp. Helped pave the way into CD in same industry. 2 years in role. $110k base, 20% bonus. Hours 40-50, more during 2-3 forecast cycles per year
5.) Senior Associate Big 4 Transaction services, M&A Financial Due Diligence. New Buy side deal every 3-4 weeks. Lucked out and landed on a 4 month sell side deal where my workflow was to build the forecast and DCF model for the seller, which helped me land the sales forecasting job. By far the best job I ever held. Travel was ~50%. Hours 50-65 and up to 80-90 during some PE deals. 1.5 years in role. Salary $80k base, ~$10k-$12k bonus. Pretty decent for only 2 years of experience.
6.) Associate Big 4 Audit, Pharma/Biotech/Venture Capital- Worked mostly on analytical areas like Pharmaceutical Revenue (largely estimated), Intangible Asset Valuations, and Venture Capital Portfolio Company Valuations. 1.75 years in role. Starting salary $48k out of undergrad, w $7k bonus. after 2 years, up to only $60k base, $10k bonus. Biggest factor that helped me transition out of audit and into Transactions and later into Corp Finance was that I avoided typical Debit/Credit or Technical Accounting type audit areas. I asked to be assigned to other audit areas where I barely had to deal with heavy accounting. This went a long way in demonstrated my interest and quantitative skillset and was critical in me landing the Forecasting role down the road.
CPA, CFA level 2 candidate
Top 50 public, 3.95 GPA (overkill as it only takes a 3.3 -3.5 to get in the door at big 4)
12 years in the Marine Corps, 4 active duty, 8 reserve. Made it up to Gunnery Sergeant (E-7). Leadership and soft skills have been vital in both moving up quickly in civilian career, as well as potential MBA admissions
Probably MBA this coming September. Applying to top 5 schools. Post MBA, either direct to PE, back to Corp Development at Director level, or possibly 1-2 years I-Banking at a BB to broaden my experience. long term goals. Director in CD within 3 years. VP of CD within 6. Considering taking a role on the West Coast @ a Biotech startup down the road to accelerate career.
Ok so that is my history. As you can see, I started out in Big 4 Audit and at this point I think I've solidified myself in the M&A space, at least in CD. It seems that it's definitely feasible to work your way into the deal space without Investment Banking. In my experience, certain PE's and most CD roles value a high level of industry expertise as much as pure banking valuation experience. If you take it upon yourself to learn valuation and deal financial analysis on your own (Wallstreet prep, valuation books, CFA = barely applicable), and you have all your experience in one complex industry, you will get plenty of hits for M&A jobs in the same industry. FP&A seems like a decent area to work in. i've never done FP&A, but outside of Banking, PE, CD, and Big 4 TS, FP&A is probably the next most applicable job you can take. In moderation and along with at least 1 deal related role in your CV, you probably stand a decent chance of breaking into Corp Dev.
I'm happy to answer any questions you might have on transitioning from Big 4 or anything else that helps with career planning. I'd love to one day say that I started in audit and made my way into Private Equity, but since I've already landed at least 1 interview and a second PE contacted me today, I figure that eventually I'll break in. Persistence and aggressiveness has been the key for me. Also, linkedin really is an amazing resource, and building a thorough detail of your experience makes a huge difference. Headhunters will contact you weekly on linkedin with some good, and some really great opportunities. Let the website work for you, rather than you working endlessly to find jobs. The last 2 higher profile jobs were brought right to my doorstep, so I didn't have to network aggressively or anything.