Investment Banker: Executive Summary

This career routinely pays $100,000 to $500,000 a year.

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This career routinely pays $100,000 to $500,000 a year. Top guns can earn seven or even eight figures. You get to work among some of the world's most successful (and driven) people. And you also may facilitate mega-transactions that enable companies to bring new products to market or a local government to stay out of bankruptcy.

Yet, investment banking didn't make last year's Best Careers list and only crept in this year because the list has been expanded.

Why is investment banking not a slam-dunk selection? First, because entry into the field is most difficult. The admission ticket to a job interview is usually a transcript from a designer-label college or an M.B.A. program filled with "A" grades and highlighted by quantitative courses. And the interviews are unusually challenging, requiring high-level thinking on the fly while appearing groomable as a big-time rainmaker or quant jock.

Another problem with i-banking is that the first few years usually require 70-to-100-hour workweeks, most of which are spent in front of a computer creating models or pitchbooks for deals. What sorts of deals? Deals to help a company go public. Deals to help a pension fund wisely acquire specialized securities. Deals to facilitate a merger or acquisition.

After those first few years, the workload gets a bit (just a bit) lighter, consisting heavily of reviewing the models and pitchbooks created by your underlings and pitching the deals to clients.

For the brilliant and driven person who would love to craft and close big transactions, there may be no better career choice. Perhaps that's why i-banking is always among top college graduates' prime career picks.

Median Pay

National: $258,000. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

A degree in computer science, math, or finance from a brand-name school is usually a must. An M.B.A., law degree, science-related Ph.D., or Chartered Financial Analyst certification will give you legs up.

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