Steps to Take Before Starting a Career in M&A

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is a growth strategy corporations, and private equity firms, use to generate cost savings, revenue synergies, and other economic objectives. Buying companies is not simple and requires many skills and business acumen, and it's also a very lucrative and highly specialized industry. For people who are determined to go down this path, here’s how to start a career in mergers and acquisitions. 

How hard is it to get into Mergers and Acquisitions? Is it right for me?

It depends on the current experience, skills, and education. 

It's crucial to understand that M&A involves a series of legal and financial matters that require a high level of expertise and business acumen. It's safe to say that it is not for everyone. 

The fastest way to get a job in M&A is through an analyst role in private equity,, corporate development, or investment banking. Read more about how to become an analyst here:

But even then, an analyst role requires a high skill level in business, math, financial accounting, and a basic understanding of legal documents and terminologies. 

With the right skills, you can start a career in M&A but expect a lot of travel and long stressful days at the office filled with tight deadlines. On the flip side, it is lucrative, and the job involves working alongside shareholders and influential clients on stimulating deals that enable professional development.

A sudden career shift to M&A may seem impossible for those not right out of school. It's important to realize upfront that M&A isn't for amateurs. Even for graduate-level professionals, many strong skills are needed, making M&A a challenging industry to break into. Not to mention the learning curve that comes with the industry.

What are the demands of a career in M&A?

M&A can be highly complex and demands time, focus, and commitment. A single transaction can make or break a company, and it needs total dedication from its participants.

This is especially true for a banker advising clients to sell their business. For most people, selling their business is a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal.

A typical day in an M&A career is lengthy and hectic, especially if involved in an active transaction. Deals have rigorous timelines and must be completed quickly.

Moreover, no two deals are alike; each transaction requires a unique approach, and losing sight of the targeted goals could lead to failure. Collaboration with team members is a must.

Lastly, deals often involve traveling and could potentially take a toll on people who have families. If the target company is in another state or overseas, expect a lot of back and forth.  

What qualifications and skills are M&A recruiters looking for?

The following are the fundamental skills and qualifications expected of M&A candidates.

Soft Skills

  1. Attention to Detail

A detail-oriented M&A candidate stands a better chance of getting into the industry. There is a ton of paperwork and data to comb through during a deal. Anyone in M&A must know how to do data gathering, data analysis, and accurate reporting. 

Analysts can't afford to make mistakes when making pitchbooks and financial models. Doing so would complicate deals and lengthen the deal's timeline, which might be inconvenient for all parties involved. 

Mistakes in marketing materials may also result in a deal's termination; therefore, it's crucial to perform a thorough job and consistently deliver complete, relevant, accurate, and timely reports.

  1. Willingness to work long hours

Be prepared to work long hours in a highly stressful work environment. Managing directors and clients will want immediate results and reports on transactions. There are many deadlines to meet in the lengthy M&A process. If you want more information on the entire process, read here: M&A Process

  1. Communication and Interpersonal Skills

M&A requires communication between internal and external teams. Reporting and collaborating are the primary responsibilities of an M&A practitioner, whether written or verbal. 

The role also includes approaching prospective clients. The better the communication skills, the better the chance of executing the deal.  

Hard Skills

  1. Proficient in Modern Tech Stacks

In this digital age, computer skills are essential for anyone, and M&A is no different. Most companies use MS word, MS excel, or PowerPoint to create presentations for senior management. Also, more companies are shifting towards CRM and pipeline management systems like Dealroom

  1. Basic Knowledge of Corporate Law

Deals involve many contracts and legal documents. Understanding legal implications and regulatory goals are crucial for anyone involved.

  1. Financial Modeling

When entering as an analyst, financial modeling skills are required. An M&A model involves assessing the value of the combined business of two companies after the merger, the client, and the prospective target. 

Who Wins Interviews and Offers?

First and foremost, just like any other job, nailing the initial interview is vital. Companies will assess skills and character based on first impressions, and they want to hire someone that will fit in their current environment. 

Typically, companies select applicants with the most amount of experience. A smaller firm might hire aspiring analysts without it, but having experience increases salaries and is a requirement in larger companies.

Certifications & Education

Formal education is non-negotiable. A bachelor's degree in business, accounting, finance, economics, or other related fields is essential to perform the job at the highest level. Other companies even require candidates with master's degrees in business management or finance. 

Even though it's not a requirement, certifications are a great way to boost credibility on a resume, and it proves dedication and advanced skills in areas critical to the industry.

If you are looking to boost your M&A practice, check out our list of 10 Best M&A Training Courses!

M&A Roles: Requirements and responsibilities

Below is a detailed progression of possible M&A positions with varying requirements and responsibilities. Whether in private equity, corporate development, or investment banking, the career path is relatively the same. 

  1. Analyst

An M&A analyst is the typical entry position in M&A. Analysts do most of the preliminary research and play a vital role in the early phases of deal execution. Their primary responsibility is to analyze financial records, business operations, and other fundamental information regarding a company. 

  1. Associate

After three years of experience as an analyst, the next progression is an M&A associate. Their primary role is to oversee the analyst team. They also handle communications and interact with prospective businesses from the beginning to the end of a deal. 

  1. Vice President

A vice president ensures the company makes valuable acquisitions. Part of their job is predicting how the deal will impact the company, determining the financial implications of an acquisition, and developing and executing the acquisition strategy.

This role requires three years of experience as an associate and is responsible for seeking out prospective companies to acquire. 

  1. Director

An M&A director has the authority to lead and manage the deal process from start to finish. Analysts and associates are supervised and mentored by M&A directors. Throughout the transaction, directors strengthen current ties and forge new ones with acquisition targets and advisors. They also lead client meetings, negotiate deal terms, and provide strategic advice and proposals. They ensure that active projects are appropriately managed, with responsibilities distributed and evaluated as needed.

  1. Managing Director

A management director is the highest possible rank in M&A. They oversee everything related to acquisitions and work directly with the CEO, CFO, and COO.

Depending on the size of the firm, directors and managing directors can be responsible for sourcing deals.

To get an in-depth understanding of these M&A roles, head on to our Mergers and Acquisitions Career Path blog.

What Does the Recruiting Process of Getting into Mergers and Acquisitions Look like?

Investment banks recruit each year, and they prioritize specific colleges around the world. The bigger the investment bank, the higher the standards. It helps to have a high GPA to be recruited into full-time programs. Here are the top 10 target schools most investment bankers come from based on a recent report

  1. University of Penn. (Wharton)
  2. NYU (Stern)
  3. University of Michigan (Ross)
  4. Harvard University
  5. Georgetown University
  6. Cornell University
  7. Yale University
  8. Columbia University
  9. University of Notre Dame
  10. Princeton University

However, internships can also be a good stepping stone. If given an opportunity, take it and do everything to convert it into a full-time role. Even if that does not materialize, the internship will still add significant value to your resume. 

To apply, start with small to medium firms if lacking experience. Check for actively recruiting private equity companies, hedge funds, corporate development teams, consulting firms, and investment banks

It's also important to note that M&A roles are highly competitive, and any advantage will be beneficial in landing the job. After submission, use these M&A interview tips to land a role.

The Interview Process in Mergers and Acquisitions: What to Expect

Due to the highly specialized nature of M&A, the interview process is a little different than other jobs. Aside from the regular "get-to-know-you" process, there will be a skills assessment test. Evaluating a business is imperative to the role; thus, the take-home test. 

The degree of difficulty will vary depending on the size of the company. The more prestigious it is, the more complex the test. Sometimes, companies will ask applicants to build a case study and evaluate an existing business within a 10-day deadline. 


The deadline is intentional to make applicants work over the weekends to assess their willingness to work long hours. Preparation is key to preforming well in an M&A interview. 

4 Essential Tips for Getting a Job in Mergers and Acquisitions

How to get a job in M&A? Here are essential things to prepare:

  1. Highlight Academics, Internships, Courses, & Certifications

A solid academic background will serve as a passport to mergers and acquisitions. There are hundreds of qualified M&A hopefuls; stand-out application documents and college transcripts will win against the rest. Having M&A internships, courses, and certifications also help. Here are the Best M&A Training Courses & Certifications to enroll in.

  1. Networking is key

Networking is key. Friends, school alums, professors, and others who have experience in M&A, are vessels to getting into the industry. They are the most accessible sources to learn more about M&A from. Connecting with them can further lead to connecting to other professionals in the industry.

  1. Prepare for Interviews

Interviews are designed to be challenging, so prepare and persevere. The questions may differ depending on the position., but the goal is to determine the right individual who can take a deal to completion and success. They are also looking for cultural fit, so be yourself and show your skills. 

  1. Continuously Improve your M&A knowledge.

Acquiring companies is an art. Never stop learning new best practices as the world of work evolves. Head on to and optimize your M&A practice.  


M&A is a fascinating industry but hard to get into, and it requires a lot of skills and education, which makes it elusive. However, with proper skills and motivation, it is a gratifying career that will keep you on your toes. If you want to learn more about M&A career paths, read more about it here:


Career Development in M&A

Traditionally, corporate development professionals come from banking roles. And while nothing is wrong with that, it is always fascinating to hear other ways that professionals start M&A careers. Sharing his career development in M&A is Caleb Shafer, Corporate Development Associate at RS Group plc.

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