There really is no “typical” career path of an investment banker. Investment bankers come from all types of backgrounds, schools, and regions.
A typical misconception is that you have to be a finance or business major to get an investment banking job. This is completely false. When I was an iBanker, my analyst class was divided between 60% business majors and 40% non-business majors. In fact, a good majority of those non-business majors were History or Political Science undergraduates, most have never even heard of the term DCF Model in their life! The banks know this and prepare for this. Each investment banking class starts with a 2 month, intensive training program that levels the playing field, making it possible for non business majors to enter the field.
Can you be an investment banker with a History major? YES
Can you be an investment banker if you go to a small, unheard of school? YES
Traditionally investment banks will recruit 80% of their hires out of “targeted” colleges which include the Ivy League and other top finance schools. While not always the case, this is seen as the typical career path into investment banking.
Stereotypical career path of an investment banker:
Investment bankers sign a 2-year contract stating they will either leave the firm after those 2 years or potentially stay on for a third year if given the opportunity. This is consistent across the industry whether you are talking about bulge bracket or boutique investment banks. A big reason why investment banking is so appealing under very stressful working conditions is the exit opportunities. Most treat investment banking as a stepping stone to the high profile jobs in Private Equity (PE), Hedge Funds (HF), and Venture Capital (VC).
Most private equity jobs, hedge fund jobs, and venture capital jobs have much more reasonable life styles. The time commitment at an investment bank is usually the most extreme. That being said, working at an investment bank is sort of like pledging – everyone has to pay their dues.
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