Q&A: M&A to PE and the Importance of Mentors

European national living & working in London since 2014. 4 years IBD, 3 years PE & Special Sits at a US-based fund. Happy to answer any questions.

Provocative thought: I think young bankers have it all. A job without risks (sitting at their desks moving fingers on a keyboard) with a salary almost all new grads can dream of. However, they complain because the privilege does not sink in. I have seen a bunch of new analyst classes and they all make the same mistakes, complain for the same reasons, change job too quickly and end up regretting it. My 2 cents: you need to find a mentor, i.e. a senior professional with whom you can connect for whatever reason (same nationality, same interests, same favourite drink?) and build a long-lasting relationship, ideally a friendship.

I found my 1st mentor during my 2nd analyst year: a Director in the team, he later moved to a corporate; after 6 years we are still in touch on a weekly basis. I found my 2nd mentor during my 3rd PE year: a senior MD. When I wanted  to jump onto the buyside, I interviewed with tons of shops: I did not know any of the people but I always asked my mentor's view of the firm and specific individuals. I (and you, junior banker reading this post) are too young to know people's reputation, but your mentor will have a view, they have just been around longer. 

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Comments (19)

  • Intern in IB - CB
Jun 10, 2021 - 11:27am

Thanks for doing this! What were the best tips your mentor gave you that helped your career a lot?

Jun 10, 2021 - 3:06pm

Difficult to generalize them but I'd say that I realized how much people really matter, way more than brands. ANL1/2 jumping ship without talking to a more senior person are naïve and I have seen them ending up unhappy. Your mentor should help you see the bigger picture and help you due diligence your next boss.

  • Prospect in Acct - Other
Jun 11, 2021 - 2:37am

What's your career progression like? How did you stand out from the rest?

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Jun 11, 2021 - 3:07am

Started July 2014 as Analyst 1 (no internship before). Promoted Associate in July 2017. Moved to buy-side in October 2018. Promoted VP in February 2020.

Not sure I understood the "stand out part". The career path in IBD is written in stone so no room to stand out there. If I have to pick an achievement is getting VP promotion after <2y in the buy-side, though getting promoted fast can easily backfire if it's too early. It's better to be Associate for 5y than VP after 3y and getting fired 1y after that. 

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  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Jun 11, 2021 - 2:13pm

have an assigned mentor at my bank, we have scheduled meetings quarterly and he said to reach out whenever I have Qs. What should I be reaching out to talk about?

Jun 11, 2021 - 2:50pm

Assigned mentors are not real mentors: mentors are senior people you make a personal connection with. You need to be very comfortable that your "assigned mentor" will not leak any of your conversations (especially to your boss). Since they are both senior they are likely to know each other and it's not a remote possibility.

Also, the added value of the mentor is to give his/her view on other people / teams: are you sure they will do that with no other selfish interests?

I find assigned mentors quite pointless, more to tick the box "we have a mentorship program".

I would still use the assigned mentors for the occasional coffee chat so that you also tick that box and they cannot blame on you that "you didn't use the HR resources of the bank"

Jun 12, 2021 - 6:13am

I get your mentoring point, but I struggle in taking a degree of confidence that someone in my team (even those I trust most) will not snitch to the team head and screw my bonus if I was to still be there by Year End. How did you go about buidling your relationship beyond the simple he's a great guy, we both trust and rely on each other but I am giving him a knife and he can stab me anytime if he desires to do so.

Jun 12, 2021 - 6:24am

Not sure I understand your concern. If the mentor is a senior person in your team (in my case it was a Director) and you work for him too, what is his interest in talking to the group head about what an analyst tells him over a beer? If it's from another team, I don't see the concern at all.

I would totally separate the comp / rating discussion from the mentor's role. However, if your mentor is in your group, you only have upsides if he's one of your reviewers.

Jun 12, 2021 - 11:58am

Sorry if unclear - my group is not really supportive of recruiting. Having a mentor within my group - although I am sure he'd be a great one is tough for career choices given that they view anyone leaving as a "bad leaver"/traitor kind of thing. I am sure I am not the only one in this situation, my question is how to break the recruiting ice when in such situations?

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Jun 12, 2021 - 8:17am

What are your thoughts on going to PE vs. a career in banking? Why are some people willing to stay on either path for 20-30+ years?

You say junior analysts have it all, but what about the cost in work-life balance? Do you think its sustainable over the long run? 

Jun 12, 2021 - 8:29am

As you pointed out, I said "young bankers have it all" not bankers at all seniority levels. In my experience, most senior bankers just didn't manage to find a buy-side role in their earlier years (either lack of opportunities, lack of effort, or lack of capabilities), though they will be reticent to admit it. For some of them the PE option was less appealing as 20y ago PEs were much less developed and riskier.

Why I chose banking: at the start of my career I wanted to invest as much time as possible to learn as fast as possible for as much money as possible: only banking (I believe) gives you that.

On your question re: 20-30y: I think that banking salary doesn't justify the hours in the longer term but I'd look at it on a risk-adjusted basis: on the buy-side you need to take decisions which impact real invested $, hence the higher pay. Wrong decisions will lead to poor track record which will stay with you. Banking is a safer path.

Jun 12, 2021 - 8:35pm

Hi, I know this is not related to the post (in terms of the career level), but I have been assigned a mentor who's an MD at a EB, and roughly the coverage team I want to get into. We had a first meeting, and it went on for about an hour and went well, imo. They said reach out, whenever you have questions, how do you think I should go about talking to them? I don't want to bombard them with the amount of questions I have.

P.S. I'm a student at uni.

Jun 13, 2021 - 10:42am

I am finishing a BSc in Engineering in Madrid, top 5% of my class. I would like break into IB in London, but MC could still work out for me, at least as a summer internship

In your opinion, which one would be the best option a MiM or  a MiF? And between schools, my choice is HEC, would Bocconi/LBS increase my chances?

Considering your engineer background, are the skills acquired during the BSc applicable to IB, finance in general? Thank you in advance.

Jun 13, 2021 - 11:25am

Luis - first, if you want to do IB pick a Master in finance. I did BSc Engineering / MSc Finance too.

Re: school, I'd stay as close as possible to London since anyway interviews and ultimately jobs are there. HEC and Bocconi place both very well. (1) HEC program is shorter: so with Bocconi you almost have 2 chances at internships, but it's in Milan so clearly not an ideal location and you need to consider 2y of expenses. (2) HEC will push you hard to find a job, vs Bocconi who will let you do all the work. (3) HEC student body is way more international vs Bocconi.

LBS is more famous for the MBA so if you pick London I'd go with LSE (and I'd put LSE above HEC / Bocconi).

I can give you additional info in PM.

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