There are nearly no circumstances in which you will not need to work yourself to death in M&A

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A question in our Answers area has caused some consternation this week. The questioner, a 1st year M&A associate at a bulge bracket house who's already working 6-70 hours a week, wanted to know if progression up the M&A ladder is compatible with starting a family (and seeing your offspring).

The answer, loosely, was no: if you work in M&A, expect to spend most days and evenings in the office- unless you work in a boutique. By extension, children are fine, as long as someone else takes almost entire responsibility for them.

Don't bet on 'boutiques' being an easy ride

However, the myth of an easier lifestyle away from the bulge bracket may not be all it seems. So too may be the notion that the hours in M&A get easier the more senior you become.

"We deliver the same products that the big houses do and we do it with smaller teams," says a managing director at one independent house. "We like to think that what we lack in terms of headcount, we make up for in terms of fewer politics, but there's no magic dust - if you work in M&A you're going to be doing considerably more than the average working week."

The sad reality is that some of the longest hours in M&A are not in the bulge bracket, but at the boutique/independent banks trying to compete with them. One recruiter alleges that Evercore has a reputation for burning people out. Expect lots of pitchbooks too at the likes of Perella Weinberg, Moelis and Greenhill.

"If you're working on large cap transactions at a smaller place with fewer staff, you'll have to come into the office at all hours of the day and night," says one junior M&A recruiter.

"The ideal is a small, mid-market client-focused house, but you will need to make some compromises, possibly on pay," says Logan Naidu at recruitment firm The Cornell Partnership.

Don't suppose seniority will suppress your hours

Senior M&A bankers also caution that hours don't improve with tenure. Just because they're not in the office, don't assume they're not working.

"Hours sitting at the desk go down as you get more senior," says the MD. "But the extent to which you have to be available at all hours of the day and night increases.

"As international cross border deals have become more common, working hours in M&A have increased dramatically," he sighs (tiredly). "If you're working across international time zones, you have to be available whenever the client needs you."

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