How I messed up my career and then got it back on track

A little mini rant/story about how I messed up my career but have finally (I hope at least) gotten it back on track.

I started off on a Big Four graduate scheme. Initially in audit but then moved over to the transactions side. Great learning experience, worked on big clients, but not exactly paydirt.

After c3 years of that I got a chance to move to a small debt focused boutique IB. Big pay increase and got to take on a lot of responsibility. Learned loads and got a lot of exposure to different things, however management/atmosphere was not great. For 2 years straight I got shafted for bonuses, walked away with a big fat doughnut despite working on lean deal teams that brought in a lot of fees.

I loved the work, but not getting bonuses wasn't the reason I got into finance. I was desperate to move and got an offer to join a small REPE. The place had historically paid 50-100% bonuses and had recently exited a very successful fund. Thought that perhaps this is finally the place.

Unfortunately it turns out that 90-95% of my time is spent on dealing with operational stuff. Dealing with invoices, payments, tracking budgets, compliance reporting for banks, even dealing with accounting (albeit no ledger entries). The very stuff that I left audit several years ago to escape I was unwittingly been looped back into. On top of that, as it became clear to me over time, the firm's projects were deeply unprofitable so any chance of getting a bonus were near non-existent. No prospects of advancement, nothing that added to my CV. It was not a job I was proud of

It was very difficult, but after over 6 months of searching while working at this dead end job that I finally secured my dream job (at a large asset manager). For the first time ever, the offer I was given even stipulated a bonus range that was rather nice.

I've worked in finance for over 6 years and the only bonus I've gotten so far has been a tiny graduate bonus in audit. Hopefully this will change soon and not only becoming a "normal" finance employee in the sense that I'm finally getting a bonus, I'll also have a job that I'm proud of and interested in.

It's been a long and frustrating journey, filled with disappointment and anger, but things are finally looking up!

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Comments (20)

Feb 12, 2019

Thank you for sharing and congrats on the new role!!! Here is to a nice big bonus for you!

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Feb 12, 2019

The school of hard knocks is arguably more valuable than life going exactly to plan.

Congrats on the new role, and here's to gaining some wisdom along the way.

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Feb 13, 2019

I'm guessing you are based in the UK? Generally a 0 bonus is the firms way of telling you to look elsewhere, unless the company is losing money/AUM, and even then junior guys still get paid. What were your reviews like in those years when you got no bonus? I'm just curious how your manager spun it. Did you fit in well with your team?

Feb 13, 2019
Ovechkin08:

I'm guessing you are based in the UK? Generally a 0 bonus is the firms way of telling you to look elsewhere, unless the company is losing money/AUM, and even then junior guys still get paid. What were your reviews like in those years when you got no bonus? I'm just curious how your manager spun it. Did you fit in well with your team?

Yes UK.
Yes that 0 bonus might have been that, I was perhaps a bit too thick to realize it myself the first time around. Only after the 2nd year of 0 bonuses did it click that they didn't want me.

This was at a small firm, so there were no official reviews, in fact I got no manager feedback at all. It was mostly the head of the company deciding things himself on a bit of a whim. I suspect he didn't really know what I did at the firm (maybe my problem for not highlighting it enough) as the feedback he gave me was 'something needs to change about you'. When I asked what specifically then he said he didn't know. It was no surprise to me that about 2/3 of the staff at this firm changed every year....

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Feb 13, 2019

Yeah dude, that's actually a management strategy. It's a despicable practice, but if you can deal with the turnover a great way to keep payroll low.

I believe people like this will be judged accordingly in the afterlife...

    • 3
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Feb 13, 2019

My experience was somewhat similar. $5k year 1 bonus for working 70-80 hours per week when the top partners pulled in $8m in fees apiece. Moved into a development associate role after with a discretionary bonus program and got paid substantially less than market, then pivoted back to IS and got screwed on total comp when the MD I supported continuously fucked up pitches.

The learning experience for me is that negotiating a strong base salary (at pre-partner levels) is hyper critical. This is stable income that you can program your life around. Discretionary bonuses aren't contractual pay - theoretically you can get paid nothing. It's better to structure event driven bonuses ($x per closed deal) or negotiate equity carry (no thoughts here, still trying to get there myself) so higher performance/effort contractually creates higher comp.

The sad reality is that there are plenty of greedy principals in finance that will bait and switch young hungry kids with the discretionary bonus carrot when they understand (a good lesson to be learned) that they have no contractual basis to payout. This seems to be very prevalent in boutique RE development/REPE as the principals may have started out cold calling early in their career in commission only roles and feel that we should all be so "fortunate" to make $50k all-in out of school...

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Feb 13, 2019
InVinoVeritas:

the principals may have started out cold calling early in their career in commission only roles and feel that we should all be so "fortunate" to make $50k all-in out of school...

I hate when they say that or something similar like "Oh you're making like $10-20K more than when I started in the role 20 years ago"

Like seriously? You paid pennies on the dollar for your college education and could outright buy your mansion of a home in 2 years. Cost of living is different man.

Feb 13, 2019

They don't believe in inflation unless it involves their real property appreciation.

Feb 22, 2019
InVinoVeritas:

The sad reality is that there are plenty of greedy principals in finance that will bait and switch young hungry kids with the discretionary bonus carrot when they understand (a good lesson to be learned) that they have no contractual basis to payout. This seems to be very prevalent in boutique RE development/REPE as the principals may have started out cold calling early in their career in commission only roles and feel that we should all be so "fortunate" to make $50k all-in out of school...

Glad to see someone calling out the banks on how they trick young graduates into working soul-sucking jobs for a pittance of salary. So many entry level roles are essentially no different from scams - big promises for many draining hours of work, but the people running it at the top keep all the rewards to themselves. I blame the university system and naive professors for encouraging students to pursue roles like that.

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Feb 13, 2019

Professors are completely clueless most of the time. They live in a sheltered academic bubble where they don't have to compete or take on risk.

Feb 23, 2019

Can't agree more with this. I've even had the discretionary bonus fuck-over experience at a small management consulting boutique. I definitely had carrots dangled in front of me. All comes down to the partners/owners of the company and how they run shit. Like someone said above, these people will be sorted accordingly in the afterlife.

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Feb 13, 2019
VanillaGorilla:

Can't agree more with this. I've even had the discretionary bonus fuck-over experience at a small management consulting boutique. I definitely had carrots dangled in front of me. All comes down to the partners/owners of the company and how they run shit. Like someone said above, these people will be sorted accordingly in the afterlife.

The thing is that it isn't just juniors who get treated this way. Apparently at the boutique I used to work at, a while back there was a very successful MD who brought in a lot of deals/fees but was left severely disappointed by his bonus.
He left the firm to set up his own shop to do the same thing on his own, which has now outgrown the company that had left both him (and me) empty handed.

    • 1
Feb 13, 2019

You're that guy from reddit who slandered cover letters. Booooo

Funniest
Feb 14, 2019

"My dad gave me a small loan of $1 million dollars". I've heard these tragedies exist, but never experienced one myself

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Feb 18, 2019

Great story + wish you all the best in your future in AM.

Had a Q relating to your audit/finance experience. Interested to know if you felt your 3 yrs in audit/TS were valuable, and whether or not they are worth putting up with the BS that comes along with big 4 - fairly average cohort, long hours, poor remuneration etc.

Currently debating packing it in and to shoot for consulting because I feel my personality doesn't fit well with TS/audit work but would love to hear any positives or negatives from your time (what you would have done in a similar position)?

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Feb 13, 2019
Extrapreneur:

Great story + wish you all the best in your future in AM.

Had a Q relating to your audit/finance experience. Interested to know if you felt your 3 yrs in audit/TS were valuable, and whether or not they are worth putting up with the BS that comes along with big 4 - fairly average cohort, long hours, poor remuneration etc.

Currently debating packing it in and to shoot for consulting because I feel my personality doesn't fit well with TS/audit work but would love to hear any positives or negatives from your time (what you would have done in a similar position)?

Thanks!

I actually did an AMA on this earlier regarding using Big Four audit as a starting point in your career, might find some relevant info there: https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/i-went-b4-a...
But to summarize, I went into audit kind of knowing that it wasn't what I really wanted to do in the long run. So I always had the mindset that I was going to move on at some point, but frankly most people go into it with that mindset. It did give me a very good grounding in the nuts and bolts of accounting which has proved very valuable since.

Regarding 'TS', I just wanted to clarify something here. The Big Four have a whole host of services that they offer under the wider Transaction Advisory/Deal Advisory/Corporate Finance umbrella. TS specifically refers to transaction services i.e financial due diligence. There are also many other teams like M&A, debt advisory, valuations, etc. I was in financial modelling which was super helpful because when I was applying for other roles, I could objectively show that I have been formally trained in best practice financial modelling compared to the back of the envelope studies that most people have done. I think this did put me at a bit of an advantage.

What makes you think the Big Four have an average cohort? They still have their pick of the litter when it comes to candidates. Remuneration yes isn't IB, but it's still relatively top percentile when compared to most people your age group. The world is much larger than just the bulge bracket banks of Wall Street. The hours will depend, and it's down to the luck of the draw. I was staffed on some relatively decent projects and never worked very crazy hours, however there were others who were in my year group who happened to have less fortunate clients and therefore may have done an extra 10-20 h/week over me. It's not really something you can control.

I think the Big Four opens a lot of doors, everyone knows who they are, they train you well and give you good experience. I have no regrets starting my career there.

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Feb 18, 2019

Really appreciate not only the reply, but the link to the thread - which funnily enough I have read before! I agree entirely that the audit experience is somewhat invaluable to gaining a thorough understanding of accounting and business processes; however the 3 years seems fairly arduous.

Interested to know how you find AM in terms of hours, culture team etc.? I interned there prior to B4 advisory and found the culture entirely different to that of Big 4.

I'm aware of the different advisory teams within B4, in my experience as Year 1 TS, I've noticed CF seem distinctly more separate to other advisory functions. RE your move: audit --> TS, as someone in early stages of TS, what is your perspective on remaining here to complete the ACA and potentially a post-qual exit? The learning curve in big 4 is great and I've met some great people but I do get frustrated with lack of integration with CF/modelling opportunites in TS. As someone a few more yrs down the line would you say it is worth moving early to CF boutique elsewhere/B4 or remaining in TS for foreseeable future? It seems the TS skillset lends itself more to PE/VC in terms of technical aptitude but modelling/deal origination are key skills, and these are sort of 'missed'.

I should have better phrased the 'average' comment - a long day and some BS to deal with so it was a frustrated comment nevertheless. Agreed the calibre of B4 London is very strong and have noted a marked difference between London B4 and regional B4 teams in terms of technical capability. To add to that, getting into B4 is ofc no mean feat, I recall for our TS position there were multiple Top MSc candidates. Again definitely agree with the hours comment, it really has been luck of the draw with regards to what clients/projects you are staffed on, and very often little you can do to influence this.

Appreciate the reply, drop a PM if you're interested in discussing further.

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Feb 21, 2019

Hi, if you don't mind me asking, what was the range of salaries you were being offered with 6 years experience?

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Feb 13, 2019
hedgehog23:

Hi, if you don't mind me asking, what was the range of salaries you were being offered with 6 years experience?

I can't disclose the precise figure my new employer will give me, but with my background I was seeing salaries around the low PS60Ks to low PS70Ks range when I was seeking new roles. Plus pension contributions of c5% to low % teens which really are a part of your salary.

Had I had a BB IB background, I imagine those numbers would have been a tad higher as I'd have had a better starting point.

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