I see a lot of high school/college kids providing advice and "insight" into how firms place, how people should think about exit opps, what groups are best, etc. This has resulted in a lot of really stupid commentary on this forum, and I hope to remedy this. A few points:
1. Your group doesn't really matter at a certain point.
If you're at aor elite boutique (pretty much any office of any or EB) then you will have access to top exits. For those of you at MMs/lower MMs/regional boutiques...sorry, I don't have anything encouraging to say to you. But lower bulge bracket bankers get hit up by headhunters about , , etc. The reason they don't seem to place into those firms? They don't do well in interviews. At the end of the day, super smart and polished analysts do not go to or , they or . That drives exits more than the brand on the door.
2. Pretty similar to the above point - boutiques place just as well as BBs, if not better.
Yes, this includes Centerview, which somehow has a reputation for placing poorly. And I would be very, very surprised if PJT analysts placed poorly even though they're a "new firm." Buyside firms want to hire smart, cool people. Do you really think that headhunters are going to say to themselves "meh, I know the kids at PJT are smart but it's a new firm so I'm just going to ignore them"? Or "oh yeah, Centerview is retention focused so that 21 year old kid chose the firm definitely with the intention of making partner. I might as well not even try."??? CVP has placed analysts into plenty of top firms, and PJT will do the same. Best way to judge a firm's exits is to look at the people they hire. Are they smart? Then they will place fine.
3. Your school and your GPA still matter a lot.
Even if you go to GS.
4. Deal flow matters.
If you have some cool deals to talk about, you will go much further than a kid who doesn't have anything to say. Having said that, MF recruiting is so ridiculously early these days that you may be able to get away with having almost no deals (or only confidential ones) on your resume, but make sure you have things to talk about (analyses you've done, how you've thought about things, etc.)
5. Geography really matters.
It's very difficult to go from SF/LA to NY. Trust me, I've tried. I think it's easier to go the other way, but you will get looks primarily from regional firms (GS SF tends to place into SF offices, etc.) Everybody knows this to some extent but I'm just reinforcing that it's super important.
So a bit of advice based on the above.
1. Don't be stupid and go for exits over culture.
Culture is INCREDIBLY important. You don't have to give up your life for two years in order to get a good exit. Say you get two offers - one fromLA, and LA. You love the people at BAML, you hate the people at MoCo. You'd be stupid to take BAML right? is amazing right? Don't be a moron - just take BAML. It's not one or the other - if you do well at BAML and prep well enough for interviews, you will place fine. And you will be a much happier person at the end of the line.
Seriously. Some top candidates are complete morons across the table when they're talking about their experience., honestly, require the intellect of a mentally challenged housefly. Just memorize deal metrics, practice your modeling, and be cool (don't spaz out). You'll do fine.
Know what you want, and target those opportunities.
4. Pick an industry group you care about.
Unfortunately, for reasons I still can't understand, the industry group you get placed into right out of undergrad has tremendous influence on the group you'll get placed into after your analyst years. I get the intuition and rationale behind HC PE firms wanting to hire HC bankers, but honestly two years of analyst experience builds up very little expertise or specialization. Regardless, if you hate technology, don't try to go into a technology group just because they tend to place well.
5. Don't close yourself to the notion of staying in banking.
Take your first few months as a trial to see whether or not you can see yourself going on until you make MD. Do it with the understanding that 1) analyst/associate years eventually end, 2) the money in banking is as good as (if not better than) the vast majority of career track exits, especially on a risk-adjusted basis, and 3) you can find plenty of exits as an associate or higher, although they tend to be corporate roles until you can start adding value with relationships as a more senior banker.
I'm sure angry high schoolers will want to say I'm wrong about all of the above, but whatever I'm over it.
Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #25 for the past year