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Investment Banking and Age: What Can You Do If You’re Too Old?

Too old

If you’re considering a career in investment banking, you may have heard that the industry is known for being cutthroat and demanding, with long hours and high levels of stress. You may also have heard that it’s a field that attracts young, ambitious professionals, and that if you’re not in your 20s, you may be considered “too old” to break into the industry.

But is this really the case? Is there an age limit for investment bankers, and if you’re over a certain age, is it game over for your career aspirations? 

In this article, we’ll explore these questions and provide some tips for what you can do if you’re feeling like you might be too old for investment banking.

Is there really an age limit to break into investment banking?

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: is there an age limit to get a job in IB? Is there a certain age after which you’re “too old” to break into the industry? The short answer is: no. There is no age limit that formally disqualifies you from starting a career as an investment banker. It is possible to join the field at 22, 27, 34, 38, or even 50 and above. 

That being said, it is true that the younger you are, the higher your chances. The older you are, the harder it is. Investment banks (especially bulge-bracket banks) much prefer to hire young recruits freshly graduated from university, for a variety of reasons:

  • Young people have more stamina to cope with the very demanding work requirements and long working hours. You don’t have the same level of energy when you’re 35 as when you’re 25. People who can work until 1am and still function relatively well have a huge advantage over those that are already falling asleep at 10. Now, it’s true that some people in their 30s may in fact have more energy than people in their 20s. But on average, fresh young graduates have more stamina (or at least are perceived to have more stamina by recruiters, which is all that matters really) just because nature is on their side.
  • Young recruits usually have fewer personal constraints, allowing them to allocate more time to their job. People who approach their 30s are more likely to start a family and strive for a work life balance than 23 yo fresh graduates who put all their energy into building their career. As such, young people are perceived as more employable than older ones, as recruiters assume that they will be more focused and invested on their job, mainly because they have less family constraints.  Try working 95 hours a week when you’ve got 2 young kids to raise and daily couple fights…
  • Top investment banks prefer to go for “plug and play” candidates (applicants that have followed the typical route towards investment banking, i.e., target school + top grades + 2-3 internships at tier-one financial firms) over candidates with less traditional backgrounds. Why? Because it’s easier to hire someone that resembles your current employees than someone who diverges from the typical kind of person you hire. Since most investment banking recruits are in their early-to-mid twenties, you are more likely to be perceived as an “outlier” if you start applying for IB roles at 33. It may seem unfair, but from the perspective of recruiters, who are striving to minimize the risk of making bad hiring decisions, it makes sense.

Because of these reasons, being young is definitely an advantage when it comes to breaking into investment banking. With that being said, age is not the only thing that should be taken into account. 

Some people may have legitimate reasons to join investment banking in their late twenties or early thirties.

In which cases is it acceptable to join investment banking at an older age than the norm?

Note that the list below is not exhaustive. There are countless unique cases where someone could have legitimate reasons to get into IB later than usual, but it’s impossible for me to list them all here. 

So don’t insult me if you can’t recognize yourself in one of these situations…

  • You’re 27/28, graduated from university at 22/23, you have around 5 years of experience at a big accounting firm, working in audit (big 4 or global, well-known accounting firm). In that case, you likely have too much experience in audit to join IB directly, as IB recruiters may think that it’ll be hard for you to fit in, that you may have developed “old habits” that will be difficult to replace. That being said, you do have some financial experience that is relevant to IB, so you definitely have a shot if you play your cards well. Your best shot here is to get a top MBA (a good MBA will greatly increase your chance of being considered at the most selective banks), and try to join an investment bank as an Associate. You can expect a lot of questions and resistance from employers during interviews, but getting a good IB job in your circumstances is perfectly feasible. I’ve seen it happen many times.

  • You’re between 27 and 29, you graduated later from university because you have military experience, you have less than 3 years of work experience. If you have finance-related experience, you have decent chances of landing a role in IB as large banks really value military experience. If your work experience is not finance-related, then you may want to pursue an MBA or a Master’s in Finance from a top-tier university, to make yourself more employable.

  • You’re 30, graduated from uni before 24, have 6+ years of non-IB work experience at a corporation with a decent brand name. In that case, it’ll be very hard to get into IB, but it is still feasible with loads of networking, a killer MBA, and if you focus your research on IB boutiques.

  • You’re over 27, never worked for an employer, but you have been running your own business for 4-5 years. If your business is successful, is validated by social proof (strong press coverage, great client testimonials, robust revenue growth), you have a shot at getting a role in investment banking IF you have a very compelling, highly persuasive reason to go from entrepreneur to employee at an investment bank. You will naturally face a lot of resistance from recruiters, because they will inevitably wonder if a person like you, who’s been working for himself for so long, is even capable of executing orders without question. If your business was relatively unsuccessful, it will be very hard to get into IB, unless you managed to raise a lot of money from elite VCs (which gives you strong social proof, even if the business ended up being a failure.) 

Now, the question you’re probably asking yourself is: what can you do if you’re “too old”? Are there any actions you can take to improve your odds of landing a prestigious IB role? 

That’s what we’re about to see now.

If you’re “too old”, what are your options to maximize your chances of landing a job in IB?
Option #1: Do a top MBA or Master’s in Finance

Doing a top MBA programme at a target school can greatly improve the market value of your CV, and make IB recruiters more willing to give you a chance even if you’re not the typical “plug and play” profile. 

Doing an MBA is better if you’re after Associate roles, Master’s in Finance are a better option if you’re still in your mid-twenties, but you’re lacking this “finance touch” on your CV. The most important thing is to add a strong brand name to your resume. 

So aim for the best possible schools you can get, and work as hard as you can to pass the entrance exam. These programmes usually don’t come cheap (a top Master’s in Finance can easily cost $30,000-$40,000 for one single year), but they are typically a good investment at the scale of a career. 

Option #2: Favour boutiques over large investment banks

Everybody knows that boutiques have less structured, bureaucratized recruiting processes in place. This means that they have more room for accepting candidates with less typical backgrounds. 

It doesn’t mean that smaller boutiques will accept you with open arms (competition is fierce everywhere), but it will be easier than getting an IB job at JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley. 

Focusing on reputable boutiques will optimize your chances of breaking into the industry, even if you may be considered as “older” than average. 

Once you have 1-2 years of experience at IB boutique, you’ll be able to leverage this experience to land another IB role at a bigger firm. 

Option #3 Network like a savage

If you’ve been reading our articles, you already know that with enough networking, things that are not supposed to happen can happen. 

Using my networking techniques, I was able to land an interview for a 6-month internship in M&A at Rothschild in London with zero experience, average grades, and coming from a non-target school. 

I had countless interviews at elite firms that were way above my league at the time I applied, just because I spent hours networking with brute force. Among all the tools at your disposal, strategic networking (the way we teach it in our course The Investment Banking Blueprint) is by far the most powerful one to bring you closer to the job you want. 

I strongly recommend you join it if you haven’t already, especially if you don’t have a “target profile” or if you may be considered “too old” compared to other candidates.

Option #4: if you have a deep subject expertise, target finance roles that will value your expertise highly

For instance, if you have a Ph.D in biochemistry, you can target specific roles within investment banking that will greatly benefit from your knowledge in biochemistry. 

That includes: equity research teams focused on biotech stocks, fundraising teams specialized in helping biotech firms access capital, M&A teams specialized in bio-healthcare transactions, etc. 

Just be aware of what type of expertise you can bring to the table, identify the specific finance firms, departments, or teams that are most likely to benefit from that expertise, and network with senior people who work there. 

That is a fantastic approach, and since people with deep subject expertise are hard to find, everybody wins at the end.

Final thoughts

You may not want to hear this, but investment banking is not the only way to make a lot of money and work with smart people. 

There are plenty of other opportunities in tech, marketing, start-ups that are more accessible than IB, which can pay very well, and that can potentially make you more fulfilled. 

I know that many candidates have this obsession with getting a prestigious job in IB, but this obsession is often purely driven by social pressure. 

If we look at the facts, there are many other career opportunities that are just as interesting – if not more interesting – than IB. So keep an open mind.


A word about the author

Aurelian Tran is the founder of Alpha Lane and an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst who has spent 4+ years working in the investment banking industry.

He founded Alpha Lane to help students and young professionals achieve their highest professional ambitions, by securing offers at top-tier financial institutions.