Q&A: From State School to MM IB Vice President Without an MBA

WSO Community, I wanted to take the opportunity to leverage my experience to be helpful with a Q&A. By way of background, I attended a state school, broke into MM IB as an analyst, left banking to work at multiple private equity firms, then returned to banking. Currently, I'm a VP at the MM IB firm I worked at immediately out of university. More than happy to answer any questions you have. It's been an interesting journey to say the least, which is chronicled in the posts below from the last seven years. Looking forward to your questions and the discussion. Fire away! Thank You, Broke In Double Break In, Thanks WSO From State School to IBD to MM PE Q&A There and Back Again a Banker's Tale

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Comments (44)

Jan 22, 2019 - 9:22pm

Cheers for the AMA - fellow state schooler here. How was the transition back to banking from PE? Was your firm receptive to your buy side experience or was it more that they hired you because you worked there before?

Also, I was wondering if you had any advice on how to climb the ladder at a given company after starting out there since you're now at a more senior level.

"The future will be better tomorrow" -Dan Quayle

Jan 22, 2019 - 10:00pm

1) It was good - was missing something in the two PE shops I worked at. Turns out it was culture. I am fortunate enough to have a rather entrepreneurial culture in my banking office, with smaller leaner deal teams and the opportunity to step up and take on significantly more responsibility than roles typically define. They were very receptive to my buyside experience, as it was highly relevant - closed a number of relevant deals. However, my prior relationship with my team was also a large contributor to my return to the dark side.

2) Building your personal "brand" is very important - this entails building strong relationships withe colleagues, both above and below you. They need to be able to trust you to produce high quality work, direct teams and present / carry yourself well with clients. Maintaining a positive attitude also helps significantly, as it will enable your colleagues to have a more enjoyable work experience with you.

Jan 22, 2019 - 10:41pm

Firstly, thank you for the AMA and congrats on making it to VP.

As someone that has also hustled super hard to break into IB, do you think this is a main characteristic that helped you set yourself apart from others? Also, what are a few tips you would give your past analyst self?

Jan 23, 2019 - 12:32am

Thanks, Super.

1) I believe hustle is a symptom of passion and drive, both of which are key characteristics of success in anything competitive - banking included. I would attribute "hustle" to my success - in the form of will to win / survivor mentality. However, I believe the most important aspect of my success (albeit limited) thus far, is positive attitude. Positive attitude is what keeps you going during the late nights, enables you to come in with a smile on our face and provides the right frame of mind for you to learn and grow from shortcomings.

2) In terms of tips and tricks, I probably would have told myself to take more ownership of my work as an entry level analyst - would help with attention to detail and better work product. I would also tell myself to be extremely receptive to feedback - even more so than I was. I wasn't a very good first year analyst, but I progressed nicely following my initial year.

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Jan 23, 2019 - 12:55am
  1. How were you able to leave banking on good terms and keep that door open for your return? Was it timing of your exit/ not burning bridges? Did you activity maintain that network while you were in PE?

  2. What's your next career goal? Planning to stay at the same bank, or at least within any IB for the foreseeable future, or anything else interest you?

Jan 23, 2019 - 1:19am

1) When I was an analyst, my firm didn't really offer direct promotions to Associate without an MBA. I secured my PE gig a year in advance of the start date and was fully transparent with my IB team and continued to work hard and produce high quality work despite the fact I was leaving. This was well received and enabled me to leave on really good terms. In fact, about six months after I accepted my offer, the firm changed the rigid rules around analyst to associate promotions, and they asked me to stay. However, I had already committed to joining the PE firm and wanted to honor that commitment.

2) I envision staying at my current bank and with my current team for quite some time. I'm really passionate about the sector and have spent my entire career advising clients or investing in the space, so it's a logical place for me to stay. Additionally, my IB firm really takes care of it's employees well, and my tightly-knit team has developed pretty powerful camaraderie for the world of investment banking. I'm still interested in investing and analyzing businesses, but I can get a lot of that from personal investing. I could potentially see myself being part of a PE firm / family office later in life though.

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Jan 23, 2019 - 1:54am

I really came back to banking because of my current firm and the team in particular. If not for the team and positive experiences I've had, I would still be in PE. So given that, I don't really see myself moving to a BB (even GS / MS / JPM). Not to say those are not tremendous firms - they absolutely are - but I really enjoy the dynamics I have with my team, including trust that's been build over a number of years.

My realization over the last few years is that people (myself included) often get caught in the mindset of "what's the next big thing?" and can sometimes miss really powerful opportunities in front of them. It's not only about the firm name / brand, but also about finding a culture and environment that fosters your personal work style, leadership style and lifestyle preferences. Having alignment in those key areas can be a really powerful force multiplier in terms of learning and career progression, because that alignment will make you more productive (and dare I say it, happier).

Jan 23, 2019 - 1:59am

How are your lifting stats doing today versus when you broke in? (The struggle to keep in the gym is real)

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.
Jan 23, 2019 - 2:02am

Actually stronger... but also heavier. 370 bench/ 315 incline / 480 squat / 550 deadlift

Agreed the struggle is real! I started getting in the habit of going to the gym late night when I leave the office (1am or so) and ensuring I get two workouts in on the weekend. If I manage four workouts per week, I'm pretty happy.

Hitting biceps and shoulders here shortly actually.

Jan 23, 2019 - 2:09am

You mentioned in another comment that you weren't a great first year analyst. As someone who broke into a top MM/lower BB from a non-target, I want to finish my first year strong (start FT in June).

What changes would you make if you could go back to your first year? Anything you'd recommend an incoming first year to absolutely do/not do from day 1? Thanks!

Jan 23, 2019 - 2:17am

First of call, congrats on breaking in! Great news!

If I had to go back, I would have asked more questions earlier on and worked to get more live deal exposure. Didn't get much in the first six months.

I would also tell myself to take more ownership of my work and really invest myself on producing high quality work product. Most first year analysts struggle with attention to detail and don't recognize the importance, so I would stress that more.

Jan 23, 2019 - 2:25am

1) I worked at two separate private equity firms. The first was $1.5B+ and the other was a new fund with partner track opportunity. The link to the post above on the bit I wrote title "There and Back Again..." attempts to fully articulate my rationale. Essentially, the grass isn't always greener - PE was fun but something was missing. Candidly, I think I just got really lucky with the strong fit with my current bank and team. It's pretty differentiated and surprisingly entrepreneurial.

2) The work in IB is quite similar to PE, just applied in a different way. I enjoy banking quite a bit at my current (and at the associate) level. I was a bit tired of the analyst experience after three years, but I have fresh perspective now and a really strong team of more junior folks to help support me. This allows me to have more direct client and buyer interaction - direct CEO and partner level PE discussions, etc. There's also significantly less beta (read risk) in IB as compared to PE. Of course, there's a significantly reduced change of having my own jet, but I'm ok with that in conjunction with less stress :)

  • Incoming Analyst in IB-M&A
Mar 4, 2021 - 1:45pm

You mention less stress in your last point. Can you discuss stress in IB and PE beyond the analyst/associate years. For example, do you think the VP's you worked for at the 1.5b fund worked more/less hours than you currently or were more/less stressed. 

Jan 23, 2019 - 8:11am

Read your previous posts and this current one. First of all, congratulations on all your progression. Also coming from a non-target school and landing a FT gig, I can respect your initial "breaking in" post.

Questions would be:
1. Do you feel in the current environment that it no longer is necessary to get an MBA? pertains to your A2A promote comment

  1. Did you find within your firms that lateraling from departments was possible? Say Corp. Banking to IB?

Not a question but it would be cool if you made a post regarding your days as an analyst and associate and what you wish you had known and what you did to excel and receive such good progression without the coveted top MBA that we all consistently read about on WSO. Just a thought.

Jan 23, 2019 - 1:51pm

Thanks, NTH!

1) In my opinion, I don't think it's necessary for an MBA. They can be helpful for networking, advancing maturity, adding to your personal brand, etc. However, not everyone wants to get an MBA, especially with the high opportunity cost. I'd rather do more deals and make money, personally
2) I haven't seen much laterally, but it's definitely possible. I'm sure firms are open to it as long as you build the experience, demonstrate your passion for the move and have a strong personal brand
3) Ah, the dark analyst days... great idea. I'll think about it!

Jan 23, 2019 - 9:48am

Thanks for doing this AMA and congrats on your success so far.

Do you have any advice for someone that did not break into IB out of UG from a state school?
I know the traditional path is get involved (and ideally hold a leadership position at your schools investment club / fund) and network / break in from there. Do you know of any coworkers that did not break in this traditional way and also came from state schools? What did they do to network / set themselves apart / break in? I'm assuming it involved networking hard for an interview and then having technical on lockdown but some insight would be appreciated. Thanks!

Jan 23, 2019 - 1:54pm

Good question.

One of the Associates on my team came in as an analyst after doing a year with an F500 and he's been a rockstar. He just applied to our opening online and interviewed - no secret sauce in his example. Typically though, you should be networking with industry professionals - crafting an email template and requesting informal informational interviews. Those chats can help you gain valuable insights and potentially position you to fill any positions they have.

Jan 23, 2019 - 12:33pm

Thanks for doing this and congrats. What advice would you give associates, especially those who were not analysts (mba hires, lateral from outside of banking, etc.). Personally I still feel a step behind the A2As as far as knowing next steps and being able to anticipate items in workstreams.

Jan 23, 2019 - 1:55pm

Coming in as an associate in IB without prior IB analyst or deal experiences is one of the most difficult jobs to be in. You are expected to know how to manage key workstreams, oversee analysts (who often know more than you given experience) and present in front of clients.

In terms of advice, I would do a couple things:
1) Be patient with yourself and do everything you can to get more reps. The more deal reps you get, the more comfortable you will become.
2) Take some time to reflect on your prior deals, especially from a process perspective. Write down some notes of key process milestones / workstreams and review the timeline you shared with your client. Then, break down the periods between key milestone dates and write down what things need to be accomplished. Speak with your VP early and map out timing of key workstreams within each time segment. Staying organized and planning ahead is crucial for effective process management.

Jan 23, 2019 - 5:12pm

Thanks for the AMA, do you feel like candidates who have liberal art major (political science) and extensive experience in financial modeling and portfolio management coming from managing family and friends money would be competitive in the recruiting processes?

Cash and cash equivalents: $138,311 Financial instruments and other inventory positions owned: $448,166
Jan 23, 2019 - 6:01pm

There are a multitude of factors beyond degree and type of experience for an initial screen. A resume only gets your foot in the door, then you have multiple rounds of phone interviews followed-by a superday. Each phase is a bit different.

1) Resume phase - here I'm looking for a couple motifs, namely pursuit of excellence (e.g. high GPA, test scores, competitive athlete, clubs involvement, good internships, etc.), as well as passion (relevant clubs, investing experience, etc.). This will get you passed an initial screen

2) Phone interview - looking for the "check the box" questions to test your preparedness with technical questions, as well as a few behavioral questions to get a better understanding of your experience and how you've performed. I'll also be looking for a crisp and logical story as to why you want to pursue investment banking. Potentially a couple fit questions as well

3) In-person / superday - testing a number of things, including how you carry yourself / communicate, ability to react on the fly to brain teasers / more complex technical questions and discussion topics to test your thought process. There will also be an intensified focus on fit to see if the environment will be one you can flourish in and to understand if we would enjoy working with you. I'll also be focused on better understanding what drives / motivates you and inspires you to win

Jan 24, 2019 - 8:32am

Would you recommend not taking an MBA if you are coming from a non finance degree? curious the path you took which broke you into MM IB as an analyst! Thank you for doing this AMA!

Jan 25, 2019 - 5:29am

Appreciate you taking time to do this AMA.

Couple of questions

1). You mentioned having a positive attitude was/is really important in the roles you progress to. Do you mind sharing how did you maintain a positive attitude? Were there any books,seminars, or things you did on a daily basis to get through those all nighters?

2) Do you feel you've made the best decision(in terms of work life balance/compensation ) coming back to banking given you were on the potential partner track at the pe firm?

3). I know this will depend a lot on timing, personal growth, and culture of the group and firm, but do you think MM firms have a better platform to become a career banker vs a BB or EB?

Thanks again.

Jan 26, 2019 - 4:04pm

1) No books or seminars. I think I was just able to come to grips that it is going to such no matter what, so I should do as much as I can to keep myself in the right state of mind - being thankful for the opportunity, focusing on the long-term, thinking about what I'm doing vs. peers I graduated with, thinking about the life I can build, etc.

2) The smaller PE firm I was at had a lot of risk involved, and I wanted to reduce that risk significantly, which also reduced my stress levels. If you want to excel in any field, you are going to have to work hard and attempt to find the work / life harmony. I don't think about work life balance that much to be honest, though 70 hour weeks are much better than 90 hour weeks. If I can leave the office before midnight and have limited work on weekends, I'm a pretty happy camper.
3) I think that comes down to the individual and the firm / culture. Certain people will thrive in the BB / EB environment and others will do better at certain MM banks. If I had to choose though, I would say you are statistically more likely to make a career at a MM bank then a BB / EB based on the tenure of the MDs / Ds I work with.

Jan 25, 2019 - 1:32pm

Thanks so much for doing this.

As someone who had only had a vague notion of what IB is in undergrad and now is 3 years into my career, what would you say is the best way to break in now that I'm a few years out of school (I went to a target school if that's relevant)?

I've tried a bit to apply and network in but have had no luck. Is it better in your opinion to push harder for an analyst role, or pursue an MBA in a couple years (which I've been planning to do) and try for an associate role out of a good program?

Jan 26, 2019 - 3:58pm

Network as much as possible - email IB professionals in your alumni network and current working network.

I think your suggestion is a good one, but keep in mind that being a post MBA associate without prior banking or deal experience is quite difficult - painfully difficult. I see a lot of these individuals struggle, as they are expected to be competent and lead but 2nd year analysts tend to run circles around them.

If your experience is highly relevant and you've done deals, performed diligence, etc. then you are a bit better positioned.

I would still focus on getting some experience now as an analyst though. Less pressure on you and a great opportunity to learn.

Jan 26, 2019 - 4:53pm

Thank you for doing this.

I graduated from a non target state school and I currently work in credit risk. I really enjoy working on transactions and I would love to transition to IB.

I was wondering if you could share tips/insights on how to network with IB professionals.
1. Should I reach out to my alumni network or cold email? Would you recommend reaching out to as many bankers as possible?
2. Would you recommend reaching out to junior bankers (Analysts/Associates) or senior bankers (VP/Directors/MD)?
3. How did you structure your informational interviews/chats? Does it have to be 30 minutes?
4. Would you recommend meeting the bankers in person or chatting with them over the phone first?
5. What is the best way to ask if they are hiring?
6. After the initial meeting, when do you recommend I should reach out again? Should I reach out after 3-4 months?

Thanks again!

Jan 27, 2019 - 3:14pm
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