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Surfing the Cataclysm:
Finding Investment Banking Jobs in 2009

By Careers in Finance Staff, March 2009

{Note: As we write this note in late July 2009, the strongest of the bulge bracket firms are showing remarkable signs of life. For example, Goldman has paid back its TARP funds and, barring a downturn in the second half (or the intervention of angry mobs with pitchforks and torches), expects to pay out near-record compensation for 2009. JP Morgan is looking strong as well. The improvement in their apparent health since we wrote the article below in March reinforces some of its main points: upheaval creates opportunity in investment banking, and because investment banks perform functions that are central to a market economy they tend to emerge from downturns stronger than before. You'll find the suggestions below are very relevant in the still-challenging investment banking job market.}

The Sun Isn't Exactly Shining in New York These Days
Clouds over New York City

Are you nuts? You're thinking of finding investment banking jobs in 2009?! Have you read the headlines? TARP! Layoffs! No bonuses! Meltdowns! Salary caps! Have you looked at what is happening to Citigroup? Things aren’t a whole lot better at Morgan Stanley and Goldman. U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Jobs in 2009” report just dropped investment banking as a best job. Dude, drop this “find a job” nonsense and go back to partying (see www.wallstreetpinkslip.com), ranting and traveling to exotic locales like the Andes and Bhutan.

We would like to respectfully take a contrarian position. Finding banking jobs is quite difficult at present. However, in many ways, this is the best time in a long time to get into the industry. The current environment creates unprecedented opportunity in the banking business. Despite talk of low pay, don’t worry – there is still plenty of opportunity to make money in banking (just stay out of the bulge bracket firms that took bailout money). Past periods of instability in this industry (which are unfortunately, all too common) have created great opportunity for upward mobility. As experienced players exit this industry, are laid off etc., room is created for those who remain and those who enter to do well. There is a serious, gloomy tone to the market and people’s expectations. It’s worth bearing in mind that historically markets bounce back quickly from downturns. This happened in ’74, ’81, ’87, ’97, ’98 and ’01. In each case, investment banks ended up larger, more profitable and better paying than before. The reason is straightforward. Investment banks are essential intermediaries in a well functioning economy. They match users of capital with suppliers of capital with ever greater sophistication. In addition, they provide high value strategic advice to both individuals and institutions. Think M&A and financial planning. Banks are not going away. They will bounce back and continue to offer positions that are interesting, lucrative, and deeply satisfying to those who excel (or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time).

The key to finding jobs in investment banking in the current market is knowing where to look and then being very persistent in breaking in. In particular, a job search in banking is a numbers game. You talk to a lot of people and you are going to “hit” in a certain fraction of those discussions. The odds are worse now so you need to work harder. Talk to more people. Be more prepared than usual and very good at following up (the quality of follow-up distinguishes many people who get jobs).

So lets focus on where to look. This is the best way to stack the odds in your favor. There are six important places to look for jobs in investment banking in 2009. These are:

  1. Boutiques
  2. Healthcare Banking
  3. Restructuring
  4. Asia and Middle East
  5. Risk Management
  6. Financial Planner / Private Wealth Management


Boutiques are smaller investment banks that do not provide full service to all industry and geographic areas. The overwhelming number of investment banks are boutiques. But boutiques generally do not show up on campus for recruiting. They don’t capture the imagination of prospective graduates in the same way as legendary firms like Goldman or Morgan. However, in today’s environment, many boutique investment banking firms are doing relatively well. Few are up in terms of revenues but many are profitable.

Examples of generalist boutiques are Evercore (advising Wyeth in its $68 billion takeover by Pfizer), Greenhill (currently advising Roche in a takeover of Genentech) and Lazard (a legendary M&A boutique). There are dozens more and quite a few of these firms are currently hiring. They are not receiving federal bailout monies, they don’t have large portfolios of toxic assets and, importantly for you, have no limits on compensation. Pay in most boutiques is significantly higher than would be otherwise available in a bulge bracket firm.

Examples of industry vertically focused boutiques are Centerview Partners (which focuses on the consumer products sector), Fox-Pitt Kelton (which focuses on financial institutions) or Leerink Swann (which focuses on healthcare). These firms have been aggressively hiring and, in many cases, have had recruiters aggressively seeking qualified candidates. M&A, in particular, is booming in sectors like financial services, healthcare and energy. It’s worth bearing in mind that certain sectors are less economically sensitive.

Other boutique firms are vertically focused but on product areas rather than industries. Certain firms are very good at private placements. Others just do bond trading. Others are inter-dealer brokers, focus on commodities only etc.

Finally, there are numerous regionally oriented boutiques. These are firms that focus on one part of the world but not others. Calayon, for example, is a leading player in France. SE Banking is strong in Scandinavia. Montgomery & Company is a serious player on the West Coast of the United States. You get the idea.

The best way to get a job in a boutique is the time honored way. Network your way in. Meet with people in the industry. Stop by after work. Ask to get a drink. Or volunteer to treat someone to breakfast or lunch. Carry out informational interviews after you study what work the firm has done. Ask smart questions. Ask people what they need. What business opportunities that they would like to pursue if they had the time. Ask how you can help. Etc. There are no boutique job fairs. There are few career sites that even carry boutique investment banking jobs.

You may find our Guide to Investment Banking Boutiques to be helpful.

Healthcare Banking

Healthcare investment banking is red hot in 2009 and many firms are hiring. Examples of recent multibillion dollar deals include the Pfizer bid for Wyeth, the Roche bid for Genentech, the Merck bid for Schering-Plough and the Gilead bid for CV Therapeutics. Healthcare is seeing record deal volume and the need for talent in this area is likely to grow for the long term. The recent bonus brouhaha only improves the opportunity to break in.

If you have good sector knowledge or a willingness to work hard and learn, this can be a good field to enter. Healthcare as a sector is defensive, high growth and ever more important.

Some of the best firms are boutiques such as Leerink Swann and Lazard. The bulge firms are also major players and the top banks have been JP Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman and Credit Suisse.

You may find our Directory of Healthcare Investment Bankers to be helpful.


Restructuring is booming. Restructuring groups at investment banks handle formal and informal corporate reorganizations and bankruptcies. A typical assignment would involve working a firm that is in serious risk of failure due to lack of profitability and excess debt. The work can include M&A (selling off a failing firm’s assets), liability management (restructuring the firm’s debt), arranging post bankruptcy financing (debtor-in-possession loans), cram-downs (forcing debtholders to take less or to take equity) and general coordination of the strategy and planning process. In today’s tough economy, there are numerous restructuring candidates in areas such as autos, financials, industrials and natural resources. Fees for restructuring work can be quite lucrative and it is not unusual for a bank’s total fees on a transaction to be north of $5 million – in some cases much more. Bonuses are good, guaranteed salaries not unusual and the competition for talent in this area is considerable.

Some of the big banks have good restructuring groups, particularly Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. But much of this work is handled out of boutiques. The reason is that boutiques are less likely to have a conflict from being a lender to a troubled company, a past underwriter or to have had an association with past management.

Some of the best restructuring groups are to be found at Blackstone, Evercore, Lazard and Perella Weinberg.

As noted above, the best way to get into this area is by networking and contacting investment banks with strength in the area. Persons with a legal background in bankruptcy are good candidates here. Also persons with a strong work ethic, knowledge of math, knowledge of debt and debt markets can do well in this industry. It is a good area for bankers with experience in capital markets and other industries to transition into.

You may find our Directory of Restructuring Investment Bankers to be helpful.

Asia and the Middle East

The bad economy has also been felt outside of the United States. Markets in India, Dubai and China are all down substantially. But, nonetheless, there are relatively good investment banking jobs available. The reason is that regional economic growth is still positive. China, for example, is seeing a slowdown in growth rather than a recession (negative growth) as we are seeing in the United States. India has experienced massive industrial growth in recent years and governmental control of the economy has lessened. And there is increasing demand for banking services in the Middle East where capitalism has taken hold and many regional firms are starting to harbor global ambitions (always a good circumstance for investment bankers).

The main reason that these markets are a good place to look for jobs is that there have historically been relatively few investment banks on the ground in these markets. The concept of paying fees to a financial intermediary to help with M&A or a financing is relatively new.

A recent scan of the job board on Bloomberg showed numerous job listings in Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai and locales such as Tokyo, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur (JOBS go - not available on the Web – you have to have a terminal to see the position listings – note: many schools have a Bloomberg and a terminal is available in the New York business library). There are a number of ways to break into these markets. The first is to apply directly through the various banks in the markets – this can often be done right off the banks’ web sites. The second is to go through the many recruiters that help find people in these markets. The third, of course, is to network directly. There is high demand for individuals with country knowledge, language (particularly Mandarin and Cantonese), higher education, industry knowledge, M&A skills and analytical skills. Sales and trading operations are popping up as well in India and China.

Risk Management

As you might imagine, risk management jobs are on the upswing. Given that Wall Street got its risk position colossally wrong in the last few years, there is an increased focus on hiring good risk managers and giving them real teeth. Risk management positions take a variety of forms, some involving intuition and common sense but most requiring quantitative skills. The typical risk management job calls for real knowledge of trading, quantitative methods and asset pricing methods. IT skills are a big plus and some jobs are primarily IT related.

Job boards in early 2009 have been swamped with positions for risk managers and this is a good time to interview for jobs in this area. You should take comfort that these “middle office” jobs often turn into “front office” sales and trading positions when the markets come back. We have known more than a few serious players in Wall Street trading who got their start in risk management jobs.

Credit risk management is an area of particular interest with an estimated $50 trillion+ of credit derivatives in the market with untold large amounts of corporate bonds and loans.

Financial Planner / Private Wealth Management / Retail Brokerage

There are lots of euphemisms used for what people do in this industry. People are sometimes called financial planners, wealth managers, private bankers, stock brokers etc. There are thoughtul fee-only financial planners working in small-town America, everday “stock jocks” in “bucket shops” trying to sell equities and more rarefied wealth managers who work for Swiss banks in Zurich – catering to the very wealthy. Whether cultured or not, the key point is that private wealth managers provide services to individuals rather than institutions and as such are not investment bankers in the traditional sense of the word. It turns out that in today’s environment that is not such a bad thing. This is a huge growth area and more people than ever are turning to others for advice and guidance in their savings and investment decisions.

A good private wealth manager provides quality, objective advice to a group of individuals and is typically gauged by the dollar amount of “assets under management” that he or she is managing. Top players will have between $500 million and $5 billion that they are managing for their clients. These assets are often “sticky” so a wealth manager can jump from firm A to B and typically take most of their customers with them. Not surprisingly, pay is good in this business once an individual has accumulated a pool of funds under management. In 2009 there has been hot competition to get the best wealth managers in each of the various firms. The major players are perennially trying to pick up assets given that the fee flow from these assets is generally stable. For example, Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch was primarily motivated by a desire to pick up the “Thundering Herd” of Merrill’s brokers rather than their investment bankers. In this tough economy, this is an area where hiring is still taking place. Jobs are available but, of course, it’s not easy. To break in involves picking up customers, knowing your stuff and having a good sales personality. An interesting movie that portrays the sometimes brutal process of getting started in this industry is “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith.

It turns out that if you have been laid off as a traditional i-banker or money manager, this is a good place to go. You may well have institutional client relationships that can be translated to success as a private wealth manager.

You may find our pages on Careers in Financial Planning and Wealth Management to be helpful.

Skybridge Connecting two Credit Suisse Buildings in New York
Skybridge Connecting two Credit Suisse Buildings in New York

Navigating the Post-Bailout Job Market

To state the obvious, it’s time to get out and hustle. Think " guerilla marketing" - out the box. You need to network, think, prepare and meet people who can help you. Here are a few tips to use as you search:

The Resume

The resume/CV is a necessary evil in your job search. I-banks are looking for organized resumes that convey the skills they are looking for, solid schooling, some relevant expertise and a successful track record. A good interviewer is looking for experience, enthusiasm and skill. Obviously, no errors. No hype or exaggeration. Stick to the facts. Bear in mind that many busy people will not read your resume so be prepared to describe your background and hand over a new resume once an interview begins.


The key to landing good banking jobs in this market is to network. Not bad since a banker has to be a natural networker. It really helps to have others batting for you and educating you about the profession. If you indicate in an interview that you already know someone at a firm your chances of landing a position will go up dramatically. There are lots of good ways to network. It's not as hard as many seem to think. Most people will be willing to help you if you give them the chance. Sometimes the firm you want is right on campus and provides an opportunity to get acquainted at a cocktail party or other so-called "cultivation event." More likely, you will need to strike out on your own. You should contact people at the firm you are interested in who come from the same school you attended or who you are linked to in some other way. The best way to get acquainted is over the telephone.

Making The Phone Call

The networking phone call is the single most valuable weapon in your job search arsenal. You can overcome the "intimidation factor" by practicing this technique with a colleague or your friendly career services director. You want to call a prospect and let them know that you are a job seeker with a specific interest in their work or firm. Or you might indicate that you are a student or a friend of a friend. It's important to be sincere, polite, friendly and very interested in the person you are calling on. If you are on the job market now, be direct and ask for help with your job search. "Can I send you my resume?" "What are you looking for?" You might ask a series of questions about the pros and cons of the firm, the work and the life. Or, alternatively, you might ask for help with an upcoming interview. Better yet, ask for a meeting, even if only for ten minutes or so. "I'll be in New York (or wherever) next week and would love to ask you a few questions over breakfast."

Unfortunately, many networking phone calls end up with one of two negative outcomes: (1) "the person is not available", or (2) "sorry but we are not looking." If your contact is not available, ask for voice mail and leave a voice mail introducing yourself and explaining why you are calling. This is a great opportunity to get a conversation started. If you don't hear back, keep trying. An effective trick, is to call the office in the evening. This is when the real work gets done and you'll be often surprised to hear the person you are calling pick up the phone and be willing to talk. Now, what if your contact indicates that they are the wrong person to call or that they are not looking? This is the time to ask for help networking with other people. Instead of being pushy or hanging up, what you should do is ask for names of others that you might contact in your efforts to learn about the field and locate a position. Always follow up. Your persistence in following up will often be key in getting the job you want. Stay positive and do not give up.

Face Time

Ultimately, there is no good substitute for meeting someone. One of the most helpful things you can do is to get personally acquainted with persons at firms that interest you. This may be costly, but it's almost always worth it. If you go to school outside of a major metropolitan area, you will need to visit people at the firms that interest you. It's human nature to favor those whom we know and like in the hiring process.

Good luck in your job search!


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