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How to swap jobs in IBD and achieve a simultaneous promotion, or not

Promotion to MD investment bank

Make two moves at once.

If recent promotions are anything to go by, you need to spend your career in investment banking climbing the greasy pole at a single organisation. Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Credit Suisse have each appointed new heads of M&A this year, all of whom have spent years slogging it out at one firm.  

And yet, you can still move jobs in an investment banking division (IBD) and achieve a promotion at the same time. Take Rosie Bailey, the former executive director at Morgan Stanley who was promoted to managing director (MD) when she joined Royal Bank of Canada last month.  Or take Shreyas Bordia, another ex-Morgan Stanley executive director who joined Citigroup as an MD in January. Take Guy Marks, the ex-J.P. Morgan Cazenove executive director who became a managing director at Canaccord when he joined last June.

How can you emulate Bailey, Bordia and Marks?

With difficulty. “It’s much harder than it used to be to swap jobs and move into an MD role,” says Jeanne Branthover at Boyden Executive Search in New York. “Salaries are so high that banks are being very selective and slow to make offers at a senior level. There’s a lot more due diligence that goes into recruiting. How capable is this person really?”

Needless to say, the easiest way to change jobs and get promoted is to move from a top tier firm to a third tier firm. “If you trade down calibre of firm, you can trade up in title,” says one ex-M&A banker who’s now a headhunter. “If you’re going down a tier or two, a promotion is a lot easier to achieve,” says another.

Bordia-stye promotions, in which candidates move from one top firm to another and get promoted in the process, are hardest to pull off. This only happens when everything goes right. “You’ll need to exceptional,” says one headhunter. “You’ll need to be able to bring in revenue and you’ll need to be in a sector with a tailwind – healthcare rather than metals and mining.”

You’ll also need an internal sponsor. Bordia, for example, is working under Stephen Trauber, Citi’s global head of energy investment banking. Coincidentally (or not), Trauber previously worked for Morgan Stanley – suggesting the two men may have been acquainted already.

May Busch, a former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe who’s now an investment banking careers coach, says senior bankers shouldn’t be afraid of swapping jobs – even if they’re not moving for an immediate promotion. “You need to look at the risks of moving and the risks of staying. You won’t always be better off moving – you’ll have to recreate your network, but if you’re moving and you have a strong sponsor at the new firm they will want you to be successful.”

On Wall Street, Branthover says some mid-ranking bankers are so frustrated at their inability to progress in their current firms that they’re actually moving for demotions. “We’re seeing MDs at second tier firms who are going into top tier firms as directors,” she says.

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