Took an Associate job at a tiny firm, how screwed am I?

I just graduated from a top MBA program in May. I interned at a bulge bracket over the summer but didn't get an offer at the end. By the time I found out I wasn't getting an offer (my last day - they blindsided me) most other banks were already full.

Between then and now I interviewed at a top boutique, who turned out not to actually hire anyone.

I interviewed at three top bulge brackets and got very close. One was actually for a different group at the firm I didn't get an offer from. I also interviewed at a really good PE shop for an Associate role and lost out to one other candidate.

Now I'm at a tiny bank literally working on deals that are like $3-20mm. It was the only job I could get and I had to take it because of my financial situation and figured it'd have to be better to at least have some level of experience and the FINRA licenses than not, as I was already recruiting for lateral hire positions and getting nowhere.

And now I'm terrified of being here because I really, really don't want to end up here or in the middle market. I could've gotten a better job than this without spending all that money and time on an MBA. And I feel trapped.

The worst part is that I have prior experience in M&A before my MBA, so it makes no sense to me why nobody is willing to hire me. I think the no offer really screwed me, plus having to recruit for lateral positions where I'm going up against people with post-MBA experience.

Anyways, how screwed am I? I'm looking at job postings every single day and am trying to stay in touch with classmates in case anything comes up but it's just been incredibly depressing. I feel like my career is irreparably damaged and nobody would take my experience here seriously. It's even more frustrating by how far I got with the bulge brackets and PE firm and yet I end up here. I'm wondering if corpfin at some large recognizable company would just be better for my resume and rerecruiting....

Comments (49)

Sep 21, 2017

Relax; it's your first job post-MBA. Most of your classmates will exit their first gigs between years 1 and 2. Just get as much deal experience as you can -you're in a good spot in that you can probably ramp up your responsibility level(s) even if the deal sizes themselves are small. Ultimately, the MM isn't that bad. My friends at MM banks are all well compensated, particularly the ones who stuck with it into the 3rd year-because of the high washout/turnover rate. If you're committed to a career on the sell-side and have good deal experience the opportunities will open up once attrition kicks in.

Plans get thrown off track; that's life. But you're in a career marathon and not a sprint; I'd say MBAs place way too much importance on what they do starting out when chances are it's a bridge-gap.

Sep 21, 2017

Thanks for the response. I'm really 100% not looking to stay in the middle market so do you have any insight on how this would affect my recruiting with larger firms?

Sep 21, 2017

Small sample size, but none of my friends have had trouble moving over to larger firms as far as I can tell, based on the linkedin updates I see. As for what the breakdown is between networking/luck/headhunting I've no idea, but the movement is a given. So far you've just had some tough luck, but you were still receiving interviews, so just kill it over the next year or two, stack your bonuses, and then test the waters.

Sep 21, 2017

Agree that you should relax. Your ambition is admirable, but if you think your friends and classmates in BB jobs are totally loving their lives you are mostly incorrect. There's a good chance that you won't want to do IB - anywhere - for the long term. Lots and lots of people make that decision early on in their associate years. And take the long view on your MBA. Just because you didn't need it to get your current job doesn't make it worthless.
If a corp dev job comes along that looks perfect for you, maybe look at it. If it's a big company you'll get good experience and can potentially transition back into IB at a BB.

Sep 21, 2017

Why wouldn't I just stay here until I find something up market?

Best Response
Sep 21, 2017

On a scale of one to nature valley granola bar, how much is your life falling apart?

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Sep 22, 2017

This is slightly bad advice. Usually people move from BB IB INTO F500 Corp Dev / FP&A. Moving back is a very different story and isn't seen very often -- particularly deeper into one's career.

But this is a non-issue because there is no reason to move back into IB once you've got a solid F500 Corp Dev / FP&A role anyway. At that point it's best to stick it out and gun for a management seat. Another advantage that you have is that high level F500 loves top MBAs so if you can snag a gig like that you'll be good and have no reason to look back. Ideally, you'd get in at a tech company (highest comp/strongest resume builders) but a GE/Exxon/(insert consumer mega-conglomerate here) would do just fine. Relax, and adapt. You'll do fine.

Sep 21, 2017

I don't think you have irreparably damaged your career, but I understand the mental toll it has taken on you. If you want to move to a BB, then you will have to take a long term view and do it over two steps moving first to a MM firm and then to a BB. I think you will have a hard time today convincing a BB that the sub $50mm deals you are working on now will be relevant, even though the execution process is similar. I think the sell to a reputable MM might not be as difficult. From there, moving to a BB should be pretty doable based on the post-MBA laterals I have interviewed for my BB group. Stay positive!

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Sep 22, 2017

.....

Sep 22, 2017

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Sep 22, 2017

I agree that it makes no sense. But that ship has passed. You are now in the post-MBA lateral bucket. I don't want to discourage you from trying to move up to a BB directly, so you should definitely keep trying. But I do think you will find that you will get more traction with a MM firm.

Sep 21, 2017

well... you're an Associate at a small, no-name shop with a top MBA. You can either put your head down and chase these deals with the folks at your shop, or you could half-ass it while looking for another job? I'd recommend the former rather than the latter, given that you'll probably have to hold this gig down for at least a year or so, and then after that, start looking around again, and pitch the story that you were at a BB the summer prior to finishing your MBA, but wanted to go to a small shop for more exposure to the overall deal process, but after a year have realized that you rather work on a bigger platform, for x, y, z reasons (higher complexity of deals, more cross-selling opportunities between debt/equity/M&A products, chance to work in cross-functional teams, etc. or whatever you feel like saying). And yeah haha that's about all I got. For what it's worth, you have IB experience and a top MBA. You're going to get interviews, you just have to really make sure that you build a credible story. You got this!

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Sep 22, 2017
yessir1:

well... you're an Associate at a small, no-name shop with a top MBA. You can either put your head down and chase these deals with the folks at your shop, or you could half-ass it while looking for another job? I'd recommend the former rather than the latter, given that you'll probably have to hold this gig down for at least a year or so, and then after that, start looking around again, and pitch the story that you were at a BB the summer prior to finishing your MBA, but wanted to go to a small shop for more exposure to the overall deal process, but after a year have realized that you rather work on a bigger platform, for x, y, z reasons (higher complexity of deals, more cross-selling opportunities between debt/equity/M&A products, chance to work in cross-functional teams, etc. or whatever you feel like saying). And yeah haha that's about all I got. For what it's worth, you have IB experience and a top MBA. You're going to get interviews, you just have to really make sure that you build a credible story. You got this!

I don't do anything recruiting related at work. I focus 100% on my job there and am busting my ass to do as well as possible, but there's only so much when you can do when you're working on tiny deals and deal flow isn't that good.

I don't think that story will work because they'll ask if I got an offer which I didn't.

Sep 22, 2017

My2cents:

Can you not help to increase the deal flow ? Can you not help developing the industries your boutique may be covering ? With your experience/degree and the size of your firm I am sure you could in a 6 months to 12 months window reach an internal position with more responsibilities and really add value to the current state of your boutique. Being stuck in MMs for now could be a good test for you to see how you can add value from your person and your experiences, if you joined a BBs / top boutique this would be much harder. I understand you are worried but you need to also make a plan on how to maximise this experience that you have, no matter what, to stick with for at least a year or two depending on your age.

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Sep 22, 2017

The best possible thing you could do would be to spend one year at your current company and do very well. Execute like crazy on the deals that you're given, know every number forward and back, spend the year doing informational interviews and networking, do business development for your firm, impress the senior bankers at your firm, etc.

We recently interviewed a lateral candidate from a lower MM and you can expect at least the following questions:

  • Did you receive a return offer at your BB internship? Why not? ... seriously, why not? (grill the person a lot on this story, see if they make excuses or have shown some personal growth or reflection; internally decide whether this is a dealbreaker)
  • What was your experience like at your lower MM firm? (see how well the person knows their deals, what else they did, can they work hard, are they smart)
  • Why are you lateraling?

You need to focus on being able to nail the above three questions one year from now.

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Sep 22, 2017

OP, I don't know you or your abilities but as an outsider looking at your post it seems you might have an entitlement problem.

I'd suggest you take a long look at your performance over the summer and evaluate the areas you can improve on. Every single interview you have from here on out will ask the question of why you didn't get a return offer. If your explanation is any generic answer like "culture fit" or "they weren't hiring" then you will continue to get passed over. Evaluate your weaknesses and when they ask the question, state you used to do A, B, and C but now in your new role have corrected that by doing X, Y, and Z - and here are the results (deals, projects, etc.) to prove it.

It makes no sense why no one is willing to hire you? Makes complete sense - you have basically no banking experience and your one data point of reference shows you did not stack up with your peers. I'm not sure what prior M&A experience is but unless it is directly relatable MM/BB IB experience then you are on the same basis as all MBAs.

I've actually worked with a number of MBAs who did not get return offers and after a month or so of working with them it was clear why - they weren't good bankers. Even more embarrassing (for them), they actually still thought they were better than the people with boutique/MM backgrounds. Again I don't know you OP, I don't aim to cast judgement but if you fall into this bucket then I suggest you change.

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Sep 22, 2017

^ This. The irony is someone interning at a lower MM with a return offer from a top-30 MBA would be better positioned to recruit at a BB! OP, you're in recovery mode and need to prove out your work experience first. Would be lucky to get a shot with a reputable MM shop (HLHZ, HW, etc.)

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Sep 22, 2017
Quaneaser:

OP, I don't know you or your abilities but as an outsider looking at your post it seems you might have an entitlement problem.

I came here to post this same exact thing.

@Idkmann80, I never was an associate, but I was an analyst at a "no-name" boutique similar to yours, except I graduated from a non-target and had absolutely no network. This definitely is not the end of the world for you, but you really need to work on two things before doing anything else:

  1. If you are constantly thinking about how terrible your situation is, how this "no-name" boutique is below you, how you are overqualified, etc., people pick up on it. This could affect your interviews or worse, get you fired at your job. It might also be part of the reason why you did not get a return offer.
  2. You need to figure out why you did not get a return offer and craft a story around it ASAP. Banks hate risk, which is why they tend to hire from only top schools and why they have these large summer internship programs with little FT hiring. Because of that, banks do not like offering FT positions to someone that another bank not only rejected, but rejected after "trying out" for three months. You need to craft a story around this.

I wish you good luck. If I was able to lateral to a MM firm after a year at a "no-name" boutique after graduating from a non-target, I am sure you can do this with the backing of a top MBA's network behind you.

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Sep 22, 2017

...

Sep 22, 2017

It's not entitlement so much as feeling like a complete failure after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and two years and ending up in a job that was actually worse than the one I had before school (worse in terms of pay, deal flow, deal size, culture). I don't think that I deserve anything, but I do wish for my investments in myself to pay off, and this one (literally the biggest investment I've ever made in my entire life) feels like a complete flop and has left me feeling pretty defeated and has really destroyed my self esteem.

My story for why I didn't get an offer has been accepted by everyone I've interviewed with so I'm not too concerned about that. Now I'm concerned about the "why did you go to xyz bank after school?" question, because I don't think they'd like to hear "because it's all I could find, the people were nice, and I figured it'd be a good way to get post-MBA deal experience".

Sep 23, 2017

At the time you accepted the offer, you must have had a plan on how to get to a BB from this job. Something I think is really important for you to do is to think back to what your plan was at the time. How did you envision making the transition and over what timeframe? Now that you have been on the job for a few months, how has your understanding in terms of making that transition changed? Maybe you realize that it's going to be a lot harder than you imagined or that it will take a lot longer than expected.

If you feel that the situation has changed and you are not ok with it, then you need to cut bait and get out of your job. For example, in my job, where I am responsible for picking stocks, the most important thing about managing losses is to reassess your original thesis against the new set of information. If something is not what I expected, I need to get out as quickly as possible -- as much as it pains me that I spent a huge amount of time and resources researching the name, not to mention feeling like a failure and looking like an idiot.

But it's all sunk cost and that's what you have to really understand. If things have changed, you can't sit there and think...I spent over a hundred thousand dollars on my education along with two years of my life, so I need to see this through. I understand that's why you feel frustrated and panicked and feel like a failure -- you made an investment in yourself and it did not work out. But that most definitely does not make you a failure and I hope you understand that, when you look back on your life, how you deal with this setback will be more important than whether you were able to transition to a BB or not.

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Sep 22, 2017

What's wrong with middle market? I've worked at boutiques my career thus far and the only two things that would take me out of this environment would be if I've hit that level where I am comfortable with retiring or I've found something entrepreneurial that I can't pass up at least trying.

I've found a good balance of culture, compensation, work/life balance, and exposure in the process. As long as I'm working with clients in industries I truly enjoy and want to continue to learn about, I am content. Not trying to take the "be like me!" Approach here, but think of the positives and get rid of the mindset that bulge is the only way to go or life is over.

Like others say, life is a marathon, not a race. Kill it with what you have now and your experience will speak volumes.

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Sep 22, 2017

There's nothing wrong with MM at all, it's just not for me. I went to school to get out of it.

To be honest, I'm not looking for work life balance right now, either. I'm looking to bust my ass.

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Sep 22, 2017

As others have said, you might want to do some serious introspection on why you aren't getting offers/why you didn't get a return offer. Do you have an issue with attitude or work ethic?

You are by no means screwed. People move up market in banking all the time. I worked at a ~15 person boutique, and we had people leave to GS and MS. You may need to take a couple of steps if you want to get to a BB, but it's easily achievable. You'll need to craft a good story, but for now focus on getting good deal experience, taking on as much responsibility as possible and looking for new opportunities.

One question I have is why are you so against jobs at MM banks? I liked working at a small boutique way more than at either BB I worked for. I got paid well, had good deal experience, worked reasonable hours and a much more laid back culture at the boutique.

Sep 22, 2017

Definitely wasn't work ethic or work quality as I was told I'm good at the job, and I staffed up a lot voluntarily. I think it might've been attitude because I was going through a ton of personal stuff at the same time as interning and might not've recognized it affecting my attitude (friend dying, mom cancer, LTR breakup all at once and I didn't really tell anyone about it all because I didn't think it was affecting my work).

Maybe I sound entitled, I don't know. I just have a lot of debt, I could've gotten a job like this without spending all the money so it feels like a complete waste of two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars by ending up here, they're underpaying me pretty significantly relative to my peers even at other smaller firms (which wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for the debt I have to service). And I came here to move upmarket, so I feel like after spending all that money and time, I'm a failure.

Sep 23, 2017

Honestly, it's good that you can come out and say that this is your concern. You're not alone in that realm. Many, even at the bachelor level (and not in business) are thinking that college was a waste at this point, considering the rewards vs. cost. That's life for us younger generations at this point, unfortunately.

In the end, you still got a job in investment banking, which is a hard industry to get into, and you still have opportunity. What everyone is saying doesn't change - kill it in your current role, and the rewards will come. Not sure why everyone thinks investment banking is a dick-measuring contest - not many stay in IB long term, and those that turn out to be "mega rich" are probably few and far between. Don't worry about where your former classmates are right now, because where you are compared to them now may easily change in five or ten+ years.

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Sep 23, 2017
Idkmann80:

I could've gotten a job like this without spending all the money so it feels like a complete waste of two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars by ending up here, they're underpaying me pretty significantly relative to my peers even at other smaller firms (which wouldn't be an issue if it weren't for the debt I have to service). And I came here to move upmarket, so I feel like after spending all that money and time, I'm a failure.

This is a risk of getting a MBA that many people don't consider and combined with opportunity cost is exactly why I never got a MBA. I got an associate offer to stay in IB and continued to move up from there.

Most of my friends got top MBAs, and it worked out just fine for them, but I always wondered what would happen if I went into b-school and the economy tanked before graduation. Would I end up in a worse place and also be deep in debt?

Sep 22, 2017

Not as much as you think. I know a couple of guys who did just that and are now in various mid to senior level roles at BB and EB firms.

Sep 22, 2017

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Sep 22, 2017

Become a rainmaker at your small firm and then move to a true middle market boutique - ie, a small firm that works on big deals. Great example is FT Partners - small firm, but pulls in billion dollar transactions.

Really, becoming a rainmaker is your best bet. And don't poop too much on boutiques - the lifestyle is much better than BB and you can make a ton of money if you're killing it.

Also important - don't have a bad attitude at your small shop. Your future employer will no doubt call on your past employer (even if you don't know about it).

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Sep 22, 2017

Thanks, I'm doing my best and have a great attitude at work. I'm not looking to stay in the MM, though.

Sep 23, 2017

So youre basically saying that you worked so hard that you dont wanna settle for less. But to echo others above the MM aint bad at all. What exactly is the reason why you like BBs better? Think about it really hard. Usually folks go straight to BB then hate it leaving altogether after 2 year analyst or associate (half my Linkedin connections) Move downwards a market or simply start at a no name like Sil said and work their way up.

Also curious to know how any bankers are on your team? (<10, >50?). Is this in a major city? Lastly, whats their pure bread and butter industry vertical? You can kill it in that space and lateral to an easier group at a BB (assuming the barrier to entry isnt high).

Sep 22, 2017

Man, this is what websites like WSO do to otherwise intelligent, capable people. Make them think that any veering off the 'established' trail is career suicide.

Instead of thinking about your career, think instead about how this fits into what you want to do with your life.

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Sep 29, 2017

My first thought is "If you have to ask about how screwed you are, then it's probably already halfway up your ass." My second thought is, "If you could get a better job before getting a MBA, then why can't you get a better job now?" You sound a bit unrealistic. The fact that you didn't get an offer from the internships or the reapply should tell you something. Working a year there isn't going to kill you. IMO, you're either leaving something out or you did something wrong...unless your idea of a "Top MBA" is "Think Harvard/Wharton/NOTRE DAME."

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Sep 30, 2017

A lot of negative thoughts on this post by the OP. As many had said it, you do sound as if you have an entitlement issue. Spending thousands of dollars on education never guarantees you anything, for that matter.

I think what mostly people had said, is for you to nail it and kill it here at your first job post-MBA, this is key. I think you are too focused on the negative aspects or keep figuring out why you did not get a return offer, I think your time spent on these are better spent on improving your current performance. Negative behavior never, NEVER helps.

I'd say stick it out for 2 years, then re-apply again. Keep your head up, a good attitude, and I think you will do just fine.

GL OP.

Oct 1, 2017

If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster - Clint Eastwood

Jun 13, 2019

Yup

Sep 30, 2017

First of all, stop freaking out. Associate spots are seemingly difficult to fill (bc demand > supply of high quality candidates), especially outside of NYC. The odds are in your favor. Middle market banks like Citizens Cap Markets, Regions Securities, SunTrust, etc are all actively growing their IB platforms like crazy, and as such are hiring 24/7, 365 days a year at the Associate level. You should be a shoe in for a place like this considering you have a top MBA with good experience.

I've seen so many people from no name 5-person boutiques lateral to mid market IB. Keep your head up and start applying. Your story makes sense so unless you come off as a weirdo during the interview, I guarantee you'll land something.

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Sep 30, 2017

Learning wise I would say you probably pick up more at a tiny firm. Less grind and more responsibility. Of course, you probably will not work on the largest of deals and in an international environment, so it is a tradeoff.

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Jun 13, 2019

Seriously. Stop being ungrateful and dig the eff in. There's a reason for everything. You can learn a ton at a smaller shop, because you're involved soup to nuts. More responsibility, broader task load. All the BB's are opening MM departments - you will already have experience. Smaller clients need hand holding and personal touch - get good at your job, get given the responsibility to interact with the clients, so you can tell a bigger firm you already know how to do that. Stop wasting energy looking at job boards and look at the people around you who can teach you. Maybe you'll love the firm and colleagues. Get your licenses and get some experience. Don't let on that you're not happy - someone will be happy to replace you and then what?

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Jun 14, 2019

While well intentioned, in my experience much of the advice above is incorrect. Now let's be clear, at the end of the day you're life is not ruined, work is just work, and ultimately it is what it is. Friends, hobbies, dating, family, etc. all will be the same in the end.

That said, people are totally underestimating how different the opportunities are from small no name shops - both in terms of getting good corporate jobs and lateraling upstream. Also, the entire mba thing is so weird in that while you're in school these great opportunities are available but the second you're out of school they are gone. Its true, its a thing. The whole spin factor recommended by others is silly - "I wanted more deal exposure so I went to a small firm" is obviously complete bs. No one would have made that decision, its clear it was your only option - especially in the construct of interviewing for a large firm again. Furthermore, the jobs of a lower mm shop and a bb are fundamentally different. The bar is just so much higher in that setting - they longer you're out of that system the further out of reach it becomes.

If this is what you are dead set on, networking with your classmates and alumni is the way to go. Keep doing your job well but network like crazy. Unlike other, I think the sooner you make the switch the better. The longer you are away from the top tier firms the harder it will be.

Again, ultimately you life will be fine, but I totally understand the feeling of thinking you blew your mba opportunity. Just be aggressive in networking and make it happen.

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Jun 14, 2019
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