The Lure is More than Salary for Investment Banking

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
  • Sample MBA application essays
  • How compensation and salary in investment banking have changed over the years

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

Curious about your chances of getting into a top B-school? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant. 

Salary in Investment Banking

We have previously covered the best-paying jobs in finance. Now, Mergers and Inquisitions has just released its 2023 overview of the salary range for investment banking. Here is a quick snapshot:

Salary Range for Investment Banking

Position TitleTypical Age RangeBase Salary (USD)Total Compensation (USD)Timeframe for Promotion
Analyst 22-27$100K-$125K$150K-$200K2-3 Years
Associate25-35$175K-$225K$250K-$450K3-4 Years
Vice President (VP)28-40$250K-$300K$500K-$700K3-4 Years
Director/Senior Vice President (SVP)32-45$300K-$350K$600K-$800K2-3 Years
Managing Director (MD)35-50$400K-$600K$700K-$1500K+N/A

(All numbers are pre-tax and include base salaries and year-end bonuses, but not signing/relocation bonuses, stub bonuses, benefits, etc.)


Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

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.

If you’d like feedback on your MBA profile and recommendations for target business programs through a free candidacy analysis, please request a 15-minute email or phone consultation.

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.

Q: What advice do you have for MBA applicants who have investment banking in their pre or post-MBA plan?

A: 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.

Q: What are sample MBA essays with investment banking career goals?

Example #1

After receiving an MBA from Columbia, I first intend to transition from strategy consulting into investment banking, where I will gain financial modeling skills and have the opportunity to identify and evaluate prospective targets. In this role, I would combine my previous acquisition implementation experience from consulting with M&A finance principles from my MBA coursework to achieve a well-rounded understanding of the entire transaction life cycle.

My role in investment banking will then serve as a critical stepping stone for me to move into private equity after 3-5 years. This transition will allow me to integrate financial and operational deal knowledge to make sophisticated investment decisions and enhance stakeholder values. An MBA at Columbia at this time would be pivotal in helping me navigate my career transition from strategy consulting to investment banking.

Example #2

An MBA from Wharton will enable me to transition from management consulting to private equity. As a consultant, I have sized markets, analyzed SWOTs, and developed quantitative and qualitative research techniques. As early as 2007, I was leading projects on my own, including a study to expand market penetration strategies and scenarios in the regional jet market for Spirit Aerosystems, a multibillion-dollar aircraft structures manufacturer.

Based on my recommendations, Spirit has expanded into a standalone aero-structures supplier, breaking out of its captive supplier position by broadening its customer base. My five years as a consultant, coupled with my military training and leadership, have provided me with a solid foundation to begin my MBA.

A Wharton MBA will allow me to integrate the lessons I have learned in both pursuits and provide me with the managerial knowledge, cross-functional business acumen, and formal leadership training required of a successful private equity professional.

Q: Finally, how have salary and compensation changed in investment banking over the years?

A: As reported by WallStreetOasis, you can see the comparative salary trends in the following two charts, with  2018’s on top and 2023’s below.

Investment Banking Compensation – As of December 2018


Investment Banking Compensation – As of June 2023

2023 Bulge Bracket Bank average compensation.
Source: Wall Street Oasis 2023 Investment Banking Industry Report

10X EBITDA is 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. The team is composed of former investment banking professionals and investment professionals from the world’s top private equity firms and hedge funds, such as KKR, TPG and Carlyle. Its mission is to cultivate the next generation of top talent for Wall Street and to help candidates bring their careers to new heights. Whether you’re a student or a current working professional, check out 10X EBITDA’s website for helpful recruiting resources.


Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Wharton, Columbia CBS and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Erin, who has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


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