The Lure is More than Salary for Investment Banking

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Jun 13, 2022

The salary for investment banking is a big lure for countless MBA aspirants. But there's more to it than just hefty compensation. To expand upon our previous work on Is Finance a Good Career Path and our discussion on the merits of the investment banking career path, we’re taking a 360-degree view of careers in finance. In this investment banking overview, we’ll cover the following:

  • Salary drivers for investment banking
  • What are typical careers in finance?
  • Which positions are the most coveted among MBA-minded professionals?
  • Which finance employers are the most coveted?
  • Do finance employers find it harder to recruit talent?
  • Are there quotas per campus for finance recruiting?
  • Is recruiting for careers in finance influenced by who you know?
  • Are there any academic or professional prerequisites for careers in finance?
  • Tips for finance career applicants in MBA applications

We’ll tap into the expertise of Ken Adams, the founder of 10X EBITDA, a career coaching firm that provides 1-on-1 personalized coaching services guiding candidates through both the pre-MBA and post-MBA recruiting processes for investment banking, private equity, and hedge funds.

We also cull advice from the former MBA Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC) team. Specifically, we’ll learn how applicants from the finance career path can differentiate themselves from the traditional pool. Plus, we’ll tackle how applicants who have pre or post-MBA finance careers can best position themselves—especially as they aspire to the elite business schools.

Salary in Investment Banking

Q: What are the salary drivers in investment banking?

A: Our friends at Mergers and Inquisitions recently outlined the components of investment banking salary as follows:

Base Salary: This is what you earn via paycheck or direct deposit every two weeks. Up until 2021, these numbers hadn’t changed much in years.

Stub Bonus: Since Analysts and Associates graduate from university or MBA programs and start working in the middle of the calendar year, they receive “stub bonuses” for their first ~6 months on the job. These are typically low percentages of Year 1 base salaries, such as ~20-30%. But they could be much higher at some firms (~50%).

End-of-Year Bonus: You earn this after your first full year of work. Initially, it’s 100% cash, but a percentage will shift to stock and deferred compensation as you move up. As a later Associate or VP, it might be around 20-30% stock/deferred with a 3-year vesting period.

Signing/Relocation Bonus: This applies to Analysts and Associates who graduate and accept full-time offers. This signing bonus might be around $10-$15K at the Analyst level and $50-$60K as an Associate.

Benefits: Finally, you’ll get health insurance, vacation days, and potential participation in the firm’s profit-sharing or 401(k) retirement plans. These are useful in the U.S. but less so in places with functional public healthcare systems, such as Europe.

Q: What are typical careers in finance?

A: Ken, the founder of 10X EBITDA, shared that the three most common paths to break into investment banking as a student are as follows:

1. Analyst Path: Undergraduate / Master’s Degree (Non-MBA) -> Investment Banking Analyst -> Buyside / MBA
2. Associate Path: Undergraduate Degree -> Various Jobs -> MBA -> Investment Banking Associate
3. Lateral Hire: Other Professional Job -> Investment Banking Analyst or Associate

“The first two are the most common paths for students. For candidates who are current working professionals, there’s the third path. They can break into investment banking as a 'lateral' hire. The investment banks often hire talent from adjacent industries: Big Four, Corporations, Tech Startups, Law Firms, Consulting Firms, etc,” Ken said.

“Norms vary a bit by geography. In North America, the overwhelming majority of Investment Banking Analysts embarked on their careers after their undergraduate studies. By contrast, while Europe and the Asia Pacific also recruit Investment Banking Analysts out of undergrad, it’s a lot more common for successful candidates to obtain a Master’s degree (non-MBA) prior to landing the Investment Banking Analyst role.

"Additionally, some countries in Europe and Asia also have mandatory military service requirements," he noted. "As a result, Investment Banking Analyst candidates in Europe and Asia can often be several years older than their counterparts in the US.”

Q: Which careers in finance are the most coveted among MBA-minded professionals?

A: What’s considered “high-demand” summer internships vary based on the students’ pre-MBA background. For candidates with prior work experience in investment banking and/or the buy-side, the most coveted summer internships are:

  • investment roles at hedge funds with several billion dollars in assets under management
  • investment roles at private equity megafunds or upper middle-market firms

Those who perform well at these internships will eventually receive full-time offers to join the firm after graduating from business school.

At hedge funds, the post-MBA title is usually “Analyst.” The responsibilities of an Analyst at a hedge fund are very different than that of an Analyst in investment banking. While they both have the same title, the Analyst at the hedge fund has far greater responsibilities and can significantly impact the hedge fund’s P&L. By contrast, the Analyst at an investment bank is mainly responsible for building models, creating presentations, and handling logistics.

At private equity firms, the post-MBA title is usually “Senior Associate,” “Principal,” or “Vice President.” The interview process is very similar to the pre-MBA private equity recruiting process. Even at the post-MBA level, there’s still a significant focus on technical competence.

For candidates without prior work experience in investment banking and/or the buy-side, the most coveted summer internships are Investment Banking Summer Associate programs at the top investment banks. Investment banking programs are more welcoming to people from other industries and looking to switch careers.

Your pre-MBA work experience can be in any field (i.e., military, sales, marketing, accounting, corporate, legal, operations, etc.). Being part of the MBA program gives you a ticket to be considered for the Investment Banking Summer Associate internship programs.

Q: What are the most coveted finance employers?

A: The most coveted employers do vary by geography. In the United States, the most coveted firms are Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Evercore, Moelis, and Centerview. The elite boutiques are primarily a US phenomenon.

Image credit: Alex Proimos (CC BY 2.0)

Outside of the United States, the most coveted firms are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, and UBS. For example, in the Asia Pacific, elite boutiques have very poor deal flow and exit opportunities that are not comparable to that of the US experience.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan are usually the top choices because they have the best brands and the best deal flow. They also have “global pay,” meaning that bankers in other countries get paid the same as bankers in the home country (i.e., US / UK). Which other banks are coveted varies by geography.

Q: Do finance employers find it harder to recruit talent?

A: Yes. Investment banks find it harder to recruit talent because of increasing competition from technology companies and because there’s been a tremendous amount of deal flow over the last three years. The COVID pandemic and the looming tax increase created an incredible surge in deal flow.

The banks found that they were inadequately staffed to handle such significant deal flow and had to hire more talent. As a result, investment banks across Wall Street have announced material pay increases for Investment Banking Analysts and Investment Banking Associates.

Q: Are there limited quotas per campus, so recruiting is becoming more diversified?

A: Yes. The investment banks usually have a specific quota for each campus. Some have a quota per campus for interview slots. Others have it for offers. However, their HR campus recruiting team will never admit as such.

Q: Is recruiting for careers in finance influenced by “who you know?”

A: “Who you know” and networking in general influence recruiting—not just for venture capital and hedge funds, but pretty much for all the jobs. While there’s certainly on-campus recruiting where companies post jobs through the business school’s career center, many private equity/hedge fund/venture capital roles only become available to candidates who reach out and network rather than being readily attainable through the career center.

Q: What are the burning questions you hear about careers in finance?

A: The burning questions are usually the most surface-level questions. They revolve around:

  • compensation
  • exit opportunities, and
  • work-life balance.

Q: Are there any academic or professional prerequisites for careers in finance?

A: You just need the degree; you don’t need any other certifications. Don’t spend time on the CFA. While many fields in finance certainly value the CFA, it doesn’t help for investment banking, private equity, and venture capital.

Q: What do you recommend that undergraduate vs. MBA students do in the first semester to start planning for an investment banking career path? When do your clients hire you?

A: The investment banking, private equity, and hedge fund recruiting process begins in the first semester of the MBA program.

The investment banks need to hire a big Summer Associate class every year, and so they usually follow the business schools’ rules and policies. They host various networking programs and informal networking sessions with MBA candidates throughout the first semester. Interviews begin towards the end of the winter break and at the beginning of the second semester.

Private equity firms and hedge funds hire few MBA interns every year. Because they hire few people, some firms often go beyond the business schools’ career centers’ rules and policies. Some firms refuse to comply with the rules and policies; therefore, their opportunities are not readily available through the career centers. They can interview whenever they like.

Unlike investment banking, these buy-side interviews begin as early as November (after Thanksgiving) of the first year. By January, many of the most coveted offers have been extended.

Because of the timing of the recruiting process, we’re most effective when we start working with candidates in September of the first year. For post-MBA buy-side recruiting, in particular, because interviews can happen after Thanksgiving, we need to spend September, October, and November on preparation.

However, every year, there are always candidates who contact us last minute for prep during the winter break. We can certainly try to provide our coaching services on short notice. But it’s ideal to start at the beginning of the first semester rather than at the end.

Advice for MBA Applicants Who Have Investment Banking in their Pre or Post-MBA Plan

Stacy Blackman polled our SBC team on this topic and noted, “Top business schools expect holistic interests and achievements. Highlighting personal qualities and triumphs is essential to your MBA application strategy. We charted the application journeys of 21 MBA candidates from private equity firms applying to Harvard (HBS), Stanford (GSB) and Wharton.

“Our review concluded that neither past academic background nor GMAT scores could reliably predict whether finance applicants were admitted or rejected. Rather, success— defined by either an admit or interview invite—was predicted by how interesting the candidate was to admissions officers.”

“What does it mean to be ‘interesting?’ Successful finance applicants talked about activities they engaged with outside the classroom as an undergrad or work today. For example, debate leadership, athletic activity and a remarkable thesis were undergraduate experiences that led to admits to GSB and HBS. Emphasizing earlier life interests that show character and values can differentiate finance candidates vying for top MBA programs,” said Blackman.


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.