Building a career in M&A? How to get started

Fancy a career in mergers and acquisitions? Qualifying as an accountant at a top advisory firm, can be a good way in.

“The benefit of accounting is that you understand what’s going on in companies,” says Katharine.

Katharine Byrne, Partner and Head of the BDO Corporate Finance team is a law graduate who qualified as a chartered accountant in BDO’s business assurance and advisory department.

Each year BDO actively recruits graduates as part of what is known as the university “milk round”. About three quarters of the recruits who come into BDO this way have business degrees. However, increasingly graduates in areas such as engineering and science are sought too, and particularly IT, as long as they can demonstrate an interest in business and in developing deals.

Regardless of your primary degree, what is also required for a good M&A specialist are soft skills such as a strong ability to work with people, good communications, analytical abilities and problem-solving skills.

Of the 50 graduates BDO takes in each year as part of the milk round, only six or seven will get to specialise in mergers and acquisitions, while others concentrate on audit and tax.

It typically takes 3½ years to achieve their professional qualification. After that, some will stay and work in its M&A advisory team while some will move out into industry and work as part of an in-house M&A team. Those with M&A advisory experience are also much sought after as chief financial officers.

With only 10-15% of graduate programme recruits making it into the M&A stream, it’s a highly competitive process, so any achievements outside of your academic abilities will stand to you. If the team sees a good fit in other ways, you don’t have to have a first-class honours degree behind you, points out Byrne. “You do need to be quite academic for the study element of the programme but you also have to be able to think on your feet,” she explains.

To really boost your chances, try to get on one of the work placements professional services firms like BDO offers college students, or their summer holiday work experience programmes.

“It’s a great way to get a taster of what working in M&A is like,” she says.

If you would like to find out more about our Graduate Programme, click here.


Content adapted from The Irish Times.