M&A Science
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M&A Science

Mergers and Acquisitions Career Path (Roles) in 2020

Anyone interested in following the mergers and acquisitions career path should be aware from the outset: It’s not for amateurs. While it may look from a distance like it’s all wheeling and dealing, spotting the potential for a deal and making millions on commission from closing it, the reality is actually quite a bit less glamorous.

Companies aren’t that easy to sell and can spend several years waiting for the right buyer to come along. During this time, the investment bankers with the mandate for the sale will update the selling documents dozens of times, performing repetitive tasks such as refreshing company information, financial and the market outlook.

The team may not have heard of the company at the beginning of the project but it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that they’ll be more familiar with its workings than 95% of its employees by the time the company is sold. Such is the repetitive nature of the work, combined with the fact that potential buyers can ask literally anything about the company.

This is not to be negative. Working in M&A puts you at the nexus of finance and strategy unlike any other position. From very early on in your career in M&A you’re likely to be exposed to a level of seniority — and by extension, industry expertise — that most other roles take years to achieve. If that sounds like an interesting career path, read on…

M&A analyst positions

Analyst positions in investment banks are keenly contested at both the entry stage and after you’ve started your trial period. You’ll need excellent marks in whatever you do (invariably you’ll be from a numerical background with engineering being an increasingly popular go-to for IB recruits), as well as being highly capable socially (so they can put you in front of clients).

The stories are legion at some investment banks about the lengths that analysts have to go to in their first years to achieve permanent positions, but thankfully, this unhealthy macho culture is largely a relic of the past. Goldman Sachs, for example, stopped its 2-year analyst program in 2012, now only taking on permanent hires. And that means more investment in the individual.

The analyst position in M&A has one of the steepest learning curves, which, aside from the often attractive salary packages, makes it a highly rewarding career path. Even a brief period of just a couple of years at one of the most well-known investment banks can mean someone is much more in demand in the job market for the skills they’ve obtained.

These opportunities include but are not limited to:

  • Strategy positions at companies (or consultancies)
  • Private equity positions
  • Fund/portfolio-related positions

M&A associate positions

Associate positions at investment banks are usually filled by one of two groups:

Those that missed the cull/exodus of analysts after the first 12–18 months, and those who missed out on an analyst position when the graduate recruitment round was underway. If the latter is the case, you’ll need to show some stellar and relevant work in the intervening period. Perhaps this was working for a boutique bank where you had lots of client-facing opportunities, for example.

That’s the next thing: This is where client facing begins in earnest. There’s less of the powerpoint and financial model reworking (although that applies to every level of M&A to some extent) and more advising clients, meeting potential buyers (or target companies if you’re on the buy-side) and even some wining and dining, where the managers are kind enough to invite you along.

Moving out of investment banking for a moment, the associate position is usually the most junior that a company in the industry will hire in M&A. That is, it’s very unusual for a non-financial company to hire somebody in an analyst position — these companies don’t have the kind of transaction pipeline that requires a long hierarchical structure in the M&A department. Usually an associate or two and a couple of managers doubling up on strategy tasks is enough.

Continuing on the industry theme — for anybody that hasn’t worked until now, this is a great jumping on point, with companies being far more open to atypical backgrounds working in M&A than investment banks. As mentioned in a recent article on working in M&A, in some complex or specialized industries, having a good grasp of the market and the competitive dynamics is more important than being an expert in Microsoft Excel.

M&A manager / managing director career

At investment banks, the M&A manager’s job — aside from the traditional role of overseeing the company’s operations — is above all, sales. Look through the prerequisites for any senior M&A position and something that occurs again and again is a ‘portfolio of clients’ — the CEOs and CFOs of companies you can call on a whim to discuss potential deals.

When appointments are made by investment banks and announced in the financial press, it often goes hand-in-hand with a mention of how they’re a deal-maker. Deal-making, or selling the services of the investment bank, is the alchemy of investment banks. It’s still their biggest source of income, and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The ability to do it well goes back to why they’re so keen to test analysts’ social skills at the very beginning.


If you’ve missed the cut for an analyst position at an investment bank, don’t worry — there are opportunities to get back involved at all stages of the career path. There are more resources online than ever before which give the ins and outs of what goes on in what was once a very secretive industry. Small boutique investment bankers are also usually reasonably willing to share some of their commission if you convince them you may have an interested buyer. In 2020, the M&A career path has more paths leading onto it and off it than ever before.

Originally published at https://dealroom.net.



Real Dealmakers. True Stories. 100% Unfiltered. M&A Science.

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