Making It Big on Wall Street

There's no doubt that America is enthralled with Wall Street's big hitters.

Many of them lead lives that seem more befitting of rock stars than those of MBAs. Making millions is just one benefit of a career that includes rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. Making it big on Wall Street is something that many ambitious professionals set their sights on, especially when they're fresh out of college.


How To Make It Big On Wall Street

But don't expect to find the Wall Street job of your dreams in Sunday's classified section of your local paper.

The most glamorous positions usually go unadvertised and require more hustle than a resume, and more moxie than a diploma. These positions aren't always handed out to the boss's nephew, either, but instead, to those willing to fight tooth-and-nail for a shot.

If you're up for the challenge, here are four of Wall Street's most glamorous jobs and what it takes to land them.

Key Takeaways

  • Succeeding in the world of finance means big bucks, a glamorous lifestyle, and the ability to rub shoulders with elites.
  • Being a hot-shot investment banker is the aspiration of many seeking Wall Street glory, but there are also other routes.
  • Advising celebrities, managing billion-dollar portfolios, selling financial savvy, and doling out market predictions are some other ways to rise to the top.
  • Typically, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in a business or math-related major to work on Wall Street.
  • Generally speaking, the most sought-after skills on Wall Street today focus on data science, technology, and risk management.

Investment Banking: Classic Wall Street Glamour

Investment banking is still one of the most tried-and-true routes to Wall Street riches. Those who have hit the big time can expect to be in the middle of the action when it comes to IPOs, mergers, acquisitions, corporate lending, institutional trading, and other big-ticket Wall Street transactions.

Entry-level investment banking associates do pretty well for themselves, often receiving salaries of $100,000 or more in their first year. Within four to five years, seasoned investment bankers rising through the ranks can easily earn $150,000 to $250,000.

If you've got what it takes to stick around and land a key role in a huge deal, you could easily walk away with a multimillion-dollar paycheck.

Sound like the right career for you? If so, then prepare to pay your dues. After getting the mandatory MBA from a top-tier business school, you can plan on moving to New York and working 80 to 100 hours per week as an analyst for the first couple of years. Make sure to brush up on your accounting and networking skills, too because both are crucial for differentiating yourself from your competition and climbing through the ranks.

Stockbroker to the Stars: Rubbing Elbows With America's Richest

Only in America does an NBA all-star's entourage include his stockbroker. While that may seem a little extreme, there may be few people more important to an up-and-coming celebrity than an investment advisor and accountant. Because these celebrities receive large but intermittent paychecks and no guarantees of future employment, it's key for them to manage their windfalls wisely. 

Is the paycheck worth tolerating the paparazzi? You bet it is. On average, investment advisors to high net worth individuals earn about 1% per year on the assets under their care. So, a broker who manages $5 million for 10 up-and-coming talents could easily earn $500,000 per year. Those numbers just keep increasing as your client list grows.

Before you set your sights on becoming the next Jerry Maguire of celebrity investing, you need to come to terms with one fact: you'll probably get yelled at—a lot. Athletes, actors, and aristocrats tend to be high-performance people who are used to getting their way. If you're not living up to expectations, especially when they compare notes with their wealthy peers, you can bet you'll hear about it.

While a four-year college degree is more than sufficient to get you in the door at many local branches of large Wall Street firms, be prepared to duke it out with every other ambitious broker trying to make a name for themselves. If you plan on being the one to land the big-ticket clients, you'll have to learn how to network your way through the system of talent managers, lawyers, and accountants. Because most celebrities have no interest in showing up at a Saturday morning investment workshop at your local brokerage branch, they rely heavily on referrals from their trusted circle of advisors.

Mutual Fund Manager: Masters of the Trading Universe

For some people, the glory doesn't come from closing the big deal or hob-nobbing with the elite, it comes from being the best and from outperforming the pack. For that kind of glamour junky, there's no higher mountain to climb than managing billions of dollars in mutual fund assets. It's the Olympics of the investing world, where the winners receive high ratings for their funds instead of gold medals.

While the days of a single investment guru managing a fund seem to be on the decline, an entry-level position on a mutual fund management team can easily earn $200,000 to $400,000 per year before bonuses. Climb the ladder to become a senior team member or join one of the most prestigious mutual fund families, and pay can easily exceed $1 million dollars per year. Be sure to tuck that money away though—one major mistake or bad investment call and there's a good chance you'll never manage another fund again.

If you feel like you're ready to get behind the wheel of a few billion dollars of other people's nest eggs, you may need to start in the mailroom of your favorite mutual fund. It's not uncommon to see newly minted chartered financial analysts (CFAs) fetching coffee for the big guns, in between researching a couple of hundred potential companies per week, of course. Mutual funds promote heavily from within their own ranks, most often favoring people who have proven they can work as part of a closely-knit team.

Chartered Financial Analyst

If you want to work on Wall Street, consider obtaining the CFA charter, which is the gold standard for the investment industry. According to the CFA Institute, the average annual salary of CFA charter holders is roughly $180,000.

Media Personality: Becoming a Household Name

If there's a brass ring for those seeking Wall Street glamour, it's the household recognition of becoming a media personality. These are the folks who are giving market commentaries on the financial channels at the end of the day. They're the ones with the absurdly lucrative TV, radio, and book deals. They are the go-to people for millions of investors and get paid astronomical amounts for simply sharing their opinions.

Considering that folks like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer can earn $10 million to $20 million in a bad year, it's not hard to see why Wall Street has become the new Hollywood for people craving the attention of a home viewing audience. But just like all true celebrities, fame comes with a price. The more visible the person, the more the public is interested in your personal life and unforgiving of your mistakes. 

If you think you're ready for your close-up, you've got two main options for getting your foot in the door: First, you can get your journalism degree and work on finding an entry-level position behind the scenes at one of the major media networks. Like many other Wall Street jobs, the best positions are given to insiders who have paid their dues. You can plan on spending three to five years carrying cords and verifying sources before you get that first shot at some airtime. 

Another option is to become a local expert, parlaying your Wall Street wisdom into recurring guest spots on local TV or radio channels. Many of the biggest names were once hometown favorites who eventually grabbed the attention of one of the national morning shows.

Working on Wall Street FAQs

What Should I Study to Work on Wall Street?

Studying things related to finance, business, economics, mathematics, data science, and computer programming are all useful when it comes to working on Wall Street.

What Degrees Can Get You a Job on Wall Street?

Typically, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in a business or math-related major to work on Wall Street. Such majors include finance, business management, economics, accounting, statistics, mathematics, or even computer science.

What Are the Most Sought-After Job Skills on Wall Street?

It depends on the specific role. But generally speaking, the most sought-after skills on Wall Street today focus on data science and technology. Things like predictive analytics, cloud computing, and machine learning are becoming increasingly important.

Of course, skills such as risk management, process improvement, and interpersonal client building are always in demand on Wall Street.

How Stressful Is It Working on Wall Street?

Wall Street is infamous for its high-stress work environments.

For instance, according to a 2021 internal survey by Goldman Sachs, its first-year investment banking analysts reported that workplace stress had been detrimental to both their mental and physical health.

What Are Alternatives to Working on Wall Street?

There are many financial and investment-related careers you can choose from without having to work on Wall Street. In fact, most financial careers have a "Main Street" alternative. They include:

  • An accountant or auditor
  • Personal financial planner or advisor
  • Credit analyst
  • Corporate finance analyst
  • Risk management specialist
  • Actuary
  • Financial writer

The Bottom Line

Wall Street is still the greatest bastion of individual capitalism in the world and a place where determined individuals can work their way from answering the phones to calling the shots in just a matter of years. But the reward doesn't come easy, free, or fairly.

You won't find Wall Street glamour simply by working on Wall Street. It also can't be attained through sheer luck, unless you choose to make your own.

As the famous Roman philosopher, Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

If Wall Street glamour is what you seek, never stop preparing for that moment of opportunity, when you can step in and prove you've got what it takes.

Article Sources
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  1. CFA Institute. "CFA charter vs MBA vs CPA vs CFP."

  2. Goldman Sachs. "Working Conditions Survey."

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