Private equity jobs are scarce; you know it, and I know it. But having seen hundreds of applicants, and their resumes, I don’t think the problem lies so much in finding the jobs; it’s more the preparation. Nonetheless, part of that preparation involves knowing the roles on offer, so in this post I’ll outline the places to find jobs in private equity and how to best position yourself to land them. Everything from the importance of your school, to the importance of your background, and how to make none of that even matter.
Private Equity Job Search Websites
We’re a generation of homebodies. Even the most outgoing of us tend to prefer searching the web and emailing. Of course, this is a sure fire way to reduce your chances in finding a job in private equity. It doesn’t hurt to start on the web, especially to scout for positions, research companies, and get a feel for the market, but tell yourself early that success is directly proportional to the hours of time you spend on the phone.
Private Equity Firm Websites
It’s rare that a private equity firm will publish openings for jobs on their own website. They tend to like to be discreet and leave the filtering process to an agency. But this is why it’s a great avenue to explore, because firms make it difficult enough to know that if someone is persistent and again the grain, then they’re probably worth a look.
If you can’t find an HR contact on a PE firm’s website, look for someone who appears operational. And if that doesn’t work, go for the lucky-dip and choose one of the friendlier looking partners. Of course this strategy is hit and miss, but you’ll find that the more creative private equity partners tend to be those willing to bend the rules (or at least the usual hiring process).
Keep you email brief. You don’t want to give too much away at this point. Think of something enlightening to say, something which conveys your value to the firm as a potential employee, but not enough to give cause for rejection. You want that call. You want the face-to-face interview. Once you have that, you can work towards the preparation for securing your first private equity job.
There’s an even better way.
Getting A Job In Private Equity
Most people hate cold calls. They catch you off guard when your mind’s on something else, and the person on the other end typically tries to pressure you into something you don’t want to do. But! Private equity, especially at the mid-market level, is all about cold calls (that is, if the firm values themselves as masters of proprietary deals). So I strongly advocate cold calls to private equity firms in order to scout for jobs.
The difference between an email and a cold call is that you’re put on the spot. But that’s part of the value of the cold call. If you think you have the chops for private equity, then you shouldn’t be worried (or at least too worried) about putting those chops on the line. Sure, you could blow the opportunity of ever working with that company in a matter of seconds, but the opposite applies to; your charm could also land you an interview (and maybe a job in private equity) in seconds. That said, if you’re not confident in you abilities to charm on the spot, a well-worded email before the call can soften the grounds.
There’s one case when you’ll probably want to go through a headhunting firm instead of making a cold call to a firm. Actually, there’s two cases.
- If the private equity firm has a structured recruitment process outsourced to a Headhunter
- If you have more qualifications than experience
Of course, if there’s a private equity job advertised, it makes sense to go through the usual channels. This is usually true of larger firms at the upper middle-market to mega fund level. If you cold call the firm directly, you’re more than likely just going to piss them off from not following procedure. The cold call technique is best reserved to surprise someone and catch their attention, at least enough to create a job for you.
But if there are no jobs advertised (as far as you know), the other reason to go through a recruitment firm to find a job in private equity is if you lack experience, but have the qualifications. Recruitment firms are impressed by letters after your name, you know, of the MBA or PhD variety and that you’ve worked at so and so investment bank / consulting firm. They don’t have much time (or character) to be charmed; they just exist as objective filtration systems.
“MBA? Yes? Okay, the good pile. MBA? No? Okay, the bad pile.”
Sure they’re not that robotic, but let’s not give them too much credit either. To land a private equity job through a recruitment firm, you need to tick off enough boxes to qualify for an interview with someone from the firm. That’s the holy grail. So if you’re one of these misguided souls that spent way to much time in business school with some deluded sense of accomplishment, then it’s potentially easier to land a private equity job through a recruiter.
Why? Because they’ll be in awe of your ‘letters’ and it gives you time to prepare for the big interview with the firm. You’ll get a feel for the process and what the firm is looking for from the recruiter, plus the experience always helps.
People love to talk about warm leads, as if they’re warm apple pie or something. You know, warm leads are good for those who can get them, but for the rest of us (from the hood or wherever), our uncle’s friend’s brother doesn’t typically run a multi-billion dollar private equity firm. That said, if you can get a warm lead, it’s definitely worth chasing up if you plan to land a job in private equity, even if the lead comes early while you’re in school or lates when you’re already in a job.
Like I mentioned, landing a job in private equity is more about the preparation. You need to master the art of knocking socks off. You need to have an answer for every question, be able to respond with class to the questions you don’t know, but more than anything, you need to show that you’re one of them. Not a private equiteer, but someone who gets things done, someone who thinks laterally, someone who can show they know how to make a dollar off their own ideas, and someone who deserves a job in one of the fiercest and most admired areas of finance.