Do you like math and Microsoft Excel? If so, then a job in finance may be for you. Of course, that’s a gross oversimplification, but you should be comfortable working with numbers if you want to be successful in the field of finance.
Coming into the industry with a PhD, you are likely most attractive as a candidate in one of two areas of employment: an industry-specific equity research associate, or a quantitative analyst (otherwise known as a “quant”). Equity research associates usually cover a specific industry, (such as biotechnology, energy, software, communication, etc.), so the most attractive candidates for these positions tend to be those who have their PhD in a discipline related to the industry to be covered.
Quants, on the other hand, are more sought after for their raw mathematical and computer programming power. The quant analysts couldn’t care less about specific industries or companies, they are instead busy building mathematical models and computer programs that will price stocks & bonds and execute trades. As the name would imply, quants usually have their PhD in a mathematically related field (such as statistics, physics, engineering, etc.) and have extensive experience in computer programming.
Most PhDs will come into equity research as associates. It is important to note that while investment bankers (and quants) are promoted from analyst to associate, it is the opposite for equity research with analysts being the more senior position over associate. Therefore, when it comes to quants, you are usually looking for an analyst position.
The next distinction to make regarding entry points in finance is sell-side positions vs. buy-side positions. Positions on the sell-side generally entail collecting data to compile reports and recommendations regarding whether a stock should be bought, held, or sold (these positions are often found in the larger investment banks). Positions on the buy-side are generally the ones doing the buying and selling (these positions are often found in smaller asset management firms and hedge funds). Although there is some amount of subjectivity involved, it is generally considered more desirable (and more profitable) to obtain a buy-side position. Of course, buy-side positions are more scarce given the demand and often require direct experience as an analyst, so it may not be an option to look for a buy-side position without any previous finance experience.
Who are the Employers?
Many of the larger banks and firms have career sections on their websites, from which you can peruse the openings and submit your application. Some of the smaller employers, including hedge funds, are a bit more elusive when it comes to seeking employment. Most of these more difficult targets require some expert networking, so don’t be afraid to look up alumni from your alma mater, attend career fairs, join LinkedIn groups, and just ask friends and family for any friends of friends that may be helpful in landing an informational interview.
It is also important to prepare properly for any interviews that you may be granted. This is an important topic to cover if you are able to get any informational interviews as different banks and firms have different expectations for specific finance knowledge when interviewing. While few employers would throw an expert level finance question your way right off the bat, it is definitely within the realm of possibility that you will be asked to “pitch a stock”, which requires some knowledge of the stock market and basic financial principles.
As an equity research associate, you are looking to move onto equity research analyst, and perhaps equity research senior analyst. You will also concurrently be looking to climb the typical investment banking ladder, which is most often laid out as analyst > associate > vice president > managing director. The timing for these promotions has many variables, not the least of which is your performance. Generally, high performers can expect promotions within 2-3 years and lesser but still competent performers within 4-5 years.
While equity research associates and quantitative analysts aren’t subjected to the inhumane hours typical of an investment banking position, it is certainly not a 9-5 job by any stretch of the imagination. It is generally an early start so that you are ready and prepped before the market opens, so a reasonable expectation would be 12 hours per day, 7 am-7 pm.
Salaries and bonuses can largely be dependent on the kind of firm you are with. The largest and usually highest paying firms are known as bulge bracket (they include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and UBS.) The next tier down is known as the middle market, followed by the boutique.
Generally, expected pay would be:
~$70-120K salary and $40-100K bonus for a bulge bracket associate
~$60-90K salary and $10-50K bonus for an associate at a smaller firm
For entry-level quantitative analysts, the salaries and bonuses are similar to that of equity research associates, but it can largely depend on the specific job description and the nature of the work.
Reasonable estimations of pay at more senior-level positions would be in the range of:
~$175K salary and ~$300K bonus for VP
~$200K salary and ~$500K bonus for senior VP/director
~$300K salary and potential for astronomical bonus (10’s of millions of dollars) for managing director/partner
The field is pretty much wide open for PhDs coming out of finance. Common moves include going on to management positions in the industry that you covered, management consulting, business development, and venture capital.