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Breaking into I-Banking

TARGET YOUR SKILLS. So get to know the firms' reputations and cultures. "It goes beyond just having a good r?sum?," Worth says. "If, for instance, MBA candidates haven't talked to the alums from their school who are now working at the firm, then they aren't going to be taken seriously."

Rest assured, though, that even if investment banking doesn't work out, your concentration in the field won't have gone to waste. Zimmerman says the analytical and dealmaking skills you'll learn could be used at many companies in areas such as finance, mergers and acquisitions, corporate strategy, and business development.

Another path, Bernard suggests, might be to pitch your skills as ones that could be put to use in corporations that are struggling with the down economy. They might be useful to companies involved in valuation consulting, leveraged buyouts, or turnaround situations, he says. "You need to ask 'How are my MBA skills going to be used in a period of deflation?'" says Bernard.

"MORE AGRESSIVE." Other positions may not pay the big bucks typical in I-banking, says Worth. However, companies lately have realized the need to hike their salaries to better compete with the banks and consultancies that have managed to lure the best students in the past. "Although they may still lag a little behind, they have really been more aggressive with salaries and signing bonuses," says Worth.

The one other career that can perhaps match, if not exceed, the earnings potential of an I-banker is that of entrepreneur, says Zimmerman. In that case, of course, you'll have to possess a dynamite idea -- and ideally a chunk of change to commercialize your concept.

This brings us to your real reason for wanting to be an I-banker: This career is challenging work for ambitious, analytical-minded professionals who like making important decisions when the stakes are high. That's why the money and prestige are legendary. But remember that the job comes at a cost. "It's not a job that you leave when you go home at night, and there are times when you don't go home at night," says Zimmerman.

IMPOSSIBLE HOURS. You didn't elaborate on what's keeping you in St. Louis. Your reasons may include family or quality-of-life issues. Whatever the case, the fact that something is holding you there should prompt you at some point to assess how willing you are to embrace a high-stress job with impossible hours -- such as investment banking.

"The person who says 'I thrive on that type of environment' should go into investment banking," says Worth. "The person who only says 'I can deal with that' should probably do something else."

So, by all means explore the investment-banking jobs in St. Louis, since they may be more plentiful than you think. But be sure to figure out what kind of person you are before you actually take one.

Have a question about your career or workplace issues? E-mail us at, or write to Ask Careers, BusinessWeek Online, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, 46th Floor, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information. Only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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