Used B-School to Move From Back Office to IBD Associate at 25

I'm using a throwaway, but I've been on WSO for the last three years trying to move from a F500 back-office job Into M&A. I'm 25 and just landed an Associate gig at an elite boutique in M&A. I figured I would outline my story, and give back to the community by answering questions (if any) people have about my experience.

Undergrad: Ivy, 3.2, Football, Econ/Engineering Minor

For two years after undergrad I worked in a F500 (think GE/Travelers/AIG) IT Leadership Development Program. After the 3 months of working in the corporate strategy division, I knew I wasn't going to last long in this career. All the issues of a typical corporate job - meaningless work, bureaucracy, unmotivated colleagues, and meetings about meetings. After 12 months of working hard it was clear I was a top analyst. My $65k salary, $3k bonus, and 3% raise were very underwhelming, so I started positioning myself to break into investment banking.

At the end of my first year on the job my company announced the divestiture of a large business unit. I spoke with the manager of my LDP program and got staffed on the divestiture team. Clearly this would be a great opportunity to learn and build a "why investment banking story". It turns out that I did not learn ANYTHING useful working on these divestitures, but it definitely helped the story.

I got in to a top 20-25 ranked B school, and left my job for more school two years after college with one year of working on quasi-m&A related projects. I targeted elite boutiques in a single specific T-2 banking city (think Charlotte, Minneapolis, Houston), meaning a maximum of 8 spots for summer associate interns across maybe 4 firms.

I networked extensively, rehearsed interviews, and connected with mentors for guidance. I made sure my grades were top-notch, and I read the Pearlbaum book. I ended up landed an associate internship for the summer after my first year with a great firm.

Over the summer I worked extremely hard and got an offer to start next August.

I am currently in my living room drinking scotch and doing my B-school homework halfheartedly. Thanks have to go out to all the WSO posters that provided their insights on my path.

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Comments (31)

Sep 16, 2014 - 11:03am

My plan as of right now is to make it to VP (~4 years), then reevaluate.

I enjoyed the work (hard not to given the current market), and think my skill set matches up well. So yea, I think being in IB for the long-haul is a definite possibility for me.

Sep 16, 2014 - 11:03am

My plan as of right now is to make it to VP (~4 years), then reevaluate.

I enjoyed the work (hard not to given the current market), and think my skill set matches up well. So yea, I think being in IB for the long-haul is a definite possibility for me.

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Sep 17, 2014 - 2:51am

Two banks came on campus, and two more were recruiting but not on campus. No NYC banks came to recruit, but trips to NYC were sponsored by the school.

Sep 16, 2014 - 1:31pm

Congrats, that's a great story. How high did you aim for bschool applications and what was your GMAT like?

This to all my hatin' folks seeing me getting guac right now..
Sep 16, 2014 - 8:59pm


Congrats. OP's story is further proof that b-school, if leveraged properly, is life changing.

But but he goes to a 20-25 ranked school. Gasp!

Congratulations. Just started out at a F500 firm and I can not believe the amount of time they waste in meetings. (Love the comment "meetings about meetings!") I am a few months into this, and I'm already starting to hate the un-ambitious nature of the people I work with. Everybody is ready to check out at 445.

I'm also planning the same route as you.

Best Response
Sep 16, 2014 - 11:16pm

+1 OP, congrats on the offer!

Would be great if you can expand on the following for benefit of monkeys here:

1. Can you describe the recruiting environment at T20-25; what kind of firms did you mainly see as far as IBD recruiting goes?
2. How many people were after banking in your class and how many were successful?
3. I would guess it was pivotal for you but would like to hear your perspective how helpful you think the divestiture experience was in landing an offer? Making the jump from IT to IBD is very difficult but having something quasi-related in addition to being able to weave a good story from it would make great talking points in interviews.

Sep 17, 2014 - 3:11am

1. Recruiting: No bulge brackets on campus, only mm and boutique. Five firms in total that actively recruited from my school. MM/boutique guys. Think Moelis, Houlihan, Evercore, Lazard, Harris, GHF.

2. In my MBA class ~7% pursued associate internships in sell-side banking. Of the people pursuing positions, roughly 1/3 were successful. The others ended up in corp fin, Asset Management, and equity research.

3. The divestiture bit was part of my "why banking" answer in interviews. Everybody's answer will be different, but it is very important to have. Honestly, fit is the most important thing in many ib interviews.

Sep 17, 2014 - 5:41pm

Re: b-school application - On paper I was not a rockstar candidate. Two years less experience than average (I applied at 23) and lower than median GMAT (by 20 pts). But, I did have a good undergrad university, good extracurricular involvement, a compelling story, and good interviewing skills.

There was no final straw, but rather a realization (over the course of a few months) that I was not satisfied with my career or life. I considered options for changing/rebranding (lateral hire in another field, law school, pt mba, taking a year off to travel), and decided that ft mba had the best ROI.

Personally, I think I needed a 4.0 during the fall of my first year to bring into internship recruiting. Once I accomplished that, I sporadically attended class. Grades are table stakes for Ibank recruiting. It is not difficult to pull a 4.0 at a 10-30 ranked bschool (dont know about top 10...), so no one is impressed if you do. But if you didn't even get close to a 4.0, then there will be questions.

Sep 26, 2014 - 3:56pm

What was your role in this divestiture at the F500 company? I know it's still possible to spin a story even if it doesn't relate to banking in the way you had imagined, but I'm curious as to why you didn't find it useful at all.

Sep 26, 2014 - 5:32pm

The only divestiture projects my staffer could find were in the IT realm - SOX compliance, and post-close systems integration. These projects were "on-site", meaning I left my nice cube in the East Coast HQ of my company to go to an IT-focused back-office in a small town.

My day to day work for almost a year involved mapping system-to-system communications, and making sure divested employees had the correct access to IT systems and tools. I continued to learn base skills (like Excel and basic project management), but the work really didn't translate to Banking or Finance. Also, the work was really slow for almost 3 months straight. Meaning some days I never even went in.

I really made my story by scheduling 1/2 hour on the calendars of the most senior people I could find at my company to talk with them about the strategy behind the day-to-day. I then researched (i.e. Googled) the various topics, concepts, and processes that came up in the discussions.

During interviews when I was asked about my divestiture experience I always began by talking about high-level concepts that I learned and related to M&A (see link at bottom for example). When pressed about what I ACTUALLY did (which wasn't all that often), I was honest, but again focused on valuable things I learned, or other work experiences.

In hindsight, my divestiture experience was very useful, but not in the way you might expect.…

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