Here’s How to Become an M&A Expert

Movies like Wall Street infuse the mergers and acquisitions field — typically known simply as M&A — with a certain amount of glamor. What lay viewers don’t see, though, is the long, thankless hours put in by the people who work under big shots like Gordon Gekko. (And, in reality, there are very few people like Gordon Gekko.)


That’s not to say that M&A isn’t rewarding. It is. It’s also a tough, highly competitive field without a huge margin for error. So if you want to become an M&A expert, whether that’s in law or finance, you’ll need a more realistic set of expectations. Here’s a quick rundown.


Do you have the basic skills?


Like all professional vocations, M&A attracts candidates who excel in specific disciplines and competencies, regardless of prior educational attainment. People who do well in M&A typically have:


  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Outgoing, “Type A’” personalities
  • Strong negotiation skills
  • Fluency with advanced mathematical concepts and preferably an innate “head for numbers”
  • Detail-oriented approach to work
  • Keen judgment and the ability to learn from mistakes


Typical degree levels and types


With those basic skills in hand, M&A candidates need to pursue certain financial education requirements. At minimum, the M&A field typically requires a bachelor’s degree in economics, finance, mathematics, accounting or a related, quantitative field. Many elite firms prefer candidates with graduate degrees in economics, accounting or business (MBAs). Smaller or nontraditional firms may accept candidates with less education, under the assumption that motivated, intelligent candidates can be trained on the job.


Licensing requirements


Once you’ve completed your financial education requirements, it’s on to the elephant in the room: licensure. There’s no beating around the bush on this point — obtaining a financial license is tough, requiring months of study in most cases and a significant financial investment (for study materials, tutelage and the test itself) as well. To become an M&A expert, you’ll need to pass the Series 79 exam, a roughly five-hour test composed of 175 questions.


An important point: You need to be sponsored by an individual or institution to be granted a spot at a Series 79 exam. You can’t just walk in off the street, plop down the test fee and expect to play ball.


Additional skills and other job requirements


Once you’ve completed your finance education requirements, you can take a breath — for the moment. Like many other competitive fields, the M&A space is constantly evolving. Regardless of your particular niche, your employer will almost certainly require you to participate in ongoing training and continuing education courses, especially regarding finance and business law (even if you already have a law degree). You’ll also need to keep up with any technological changes that could affect how you do your job, such as new types of market analysis software and trading platforms.


Still think you have what it takes to become an M&A expert? Then maybe we’ll cross paths down the road.


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