Advice for New Analysts Seeking PE Exits

I received a number of PMs asking for advice for analysts as to how to successfully position themselves for PE interviews. Instead of PMing responses, I figured I'd just make a post. So, here it is:

The best way to position yourself for PE recruiting will be to develop strong relationships with the senior bankers, particularly the MDs. During PE recruiting, if your MD is not the one who sets up the interview, they will still most certainly be called as a reference. In the PE world, your reference is extremely important. A "luke-warm" reference is instant grounds for dismissal, even if you've successfully navigated the entire interview process.

How do you make the MD like you? The most important thing is attitude. NEVER, EVER complain about the work or how much sleep you didn't get the night before. It will not reduce your workload, it will destroy your mental well-being / efficiency, and no one will like you. Plenty of other analysts will bitch late at night, but its important that you keep a low profile and just agree with everyone. The other analysts don't like the "happy-go-lucky-all-the-time" analyst, so keep this in mind as well.

In addition to maintaining a positive attitude, there is obviously not substitution for high-quality work. Everyone finds their own style, but every successful analyst is well-organized. Try to always have every detail at your fingertips and maintain a well-organized workspace. This gives the impression that you're on top of things and have your shit together. It makes a difference. Oh and -- ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WORK. If the experienced analysts don't tell this to you every day of training, they are doing your a disservice. You will find mistakes almost every time. Even if they are silly spelling mistakes or poor formatting, these mistakes will give the impression of sloppy work. People will ignore the content, even if its great, simply because of misspellings and formatting. Sounds dumb, but that's the way it goes.

Lastly, make sure you know what you're doing and why you're doing it. It is so easy to be so deep in the weeds that you fail to see the big picture. When work piles up, you turn into a processing machine and ignore everything else. When it comes time to interview at PE firms, you'll be scrambling to remember all the details of the deal, even if you spent hundreds of hours working on them. While I don't have BB modeling experience, I know a lot of MM analysts fall victim to templates. For example, if you're using a template to do an accretion / dilution analysis, that's fine, but take the time to understand what it is your analyzing. Knowing that the deal is Accretive in year 1 is great, but you'll be expected to know what is driving the accretion. Is it a low cost of capital, the substantial use of cash on the balance sheet to fund the acquisition, or something else? This is the difference between a good analyst and a great analyst. The good analyst produces accurate work, the great analyst can interpret it.

There are obviously dozens of other minor factors that play a role in your job hunt, but I've found these to be the most influential. You can't change your resume once you start work, so you have to rely on relationships and experience to seperate you from your peers at that point.

Mod Note (Andy): #TBT Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted on 12/26/09. To see all of our top content from the past, click here.

Very useful post, thanks a lot.

I have 2 questions: 1. Are your MDs generally discouraging you from moving to PE if they really like you and want you to stay in the team? given that, how would they give the PE / headhunter positive feedback on the person? I just don't quite understand how this works with the MDs.

  1. I am a bit scared about that "complaint" point. I think I very very seldom mentioned the hours I worked, but I can recall once or twice I mentioned I worked till 6am last night but it's ok not bad blah blah (when they asked me what time did you leave yesterday etc) still a bit concerned whether I have already left them an impression of "weak mentality". any advice?


1 - Good question. It really is going to depend on the professionals. The bank I worked at openly encouraged moving to PE, so I had a very different experience. However, when I was given my 3rd year offer, they were very open with me. I was told: "We'd love to have you stay around for a 3rd year, but we don't want to encourage it if you're not mutually interested."

Essentially, if you tell your MD that you would like to do PE, he may attempt to convince you otherwise, but he isn't going to throw you under the bus just to keep you around. That said, I'm sure there are MDs out there who care about nothing but their own agenda, but I think this is rarer than you might imagine. If they really do like you, they are going to want to help you out.

Also on a somewhat related note, as an alumnus of the analyst program, you become a spokesman for your old group. If the MD really likes you, odds are you're doing a good job and not struggling through your analyst years. If he sends you off to a PE shop, he now has a very good spokesman for his group working in house at a potential repeat client. Believe it or not, you serve as a great marketing tool for the MD, and they know this.

2 - Sounds like you did the right thing here, I wouldn't be concerned at all. If someone asks you straight up how late you stayed, you can give them an honest answer. A lot of it has to do with your tone. If they ask and you say: "I stayed up til 6am cause the stupid printer was busted and I had to email the file to Johnny to print for me and then X happened, etc." -- that's not good. They know that you're staying extremely late to get the job done, and they expect it. Heck, they don't even expect you to like it. What is expected is that you won't go around telling everyone how hard your life is, cause quite honestly, everyone at the entire bank works hard (or at least has convinced themselves that they do).

If you're really looking to blow off steam, I'd suggest you complain to your other banking friends, your parents (if they don't have a mental breakdown when you tell them what your life is like), siblings, or even your girlfriend. I wouldn't make too much of a habit of it -- they'll eventually get sick of it, but I can be a nice way to maintain your sanity without hurting your career.

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Okay, if you mean aggressively hiring 1st / 2nd year analysts as laterals, then I understand your question. Personally, I would never attempt to use this as leverage. First of all, unless you have an offer in hand, you're just a name on a long list of candidates that could potentially lateral. I don' t think you really have much / any leverage in this situation. That said, certainly keep this as a back-pocket option in the rare event that you have a falling out with your group/bank, but still want to continue in investment banking.

Overall, I'd advise against lateralling. For the most part, the analyst experience is the same regardless of which bank you work at (within the different categories -- BB / MM / Smallcap Boutique). Also, the pay is generally the same within the bands as well. However, if you do choose to lateral, you end up losing out on a lot of the goodwill that you've built up. By not completing your two years, you'll very likely be burning bridges with your prior group, especially if you head off to another ibanking role. Also, you'll need to re-establish your reputation at the new bank, and all those long hours you put in to please your prior MD will mean nothing. When it comes time for outplacement, you'll be at a disadvantage to your peers, as you'll need to explain why you jumped ship for the same job. In addition, your current group will very likely not have enough time to get to know you and evaluate your work, and as a result, your references will suffer greatly. For those of you who think everyone will understand because you jumped from "UBS" to "GS," senior professionals in the industry certainly don't think that way, and you'll find yourself in quite a tough position.

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CB, question for you. What do you find yourself spending a majority of your time doing? If there's not a heavy emphasis on modeling, and the fund you're at is not based on a "sourcing" model, what do you do?

I won't go into too much detail, but the majority of my time is spent evaluating new deal opportunities (60%), and portfolio company management (25%). The remainder is internal initiatives whether it be recruiting, fundraising, quarterly reporting, etc. I also sometimes do meetings with bankers or other professionals that come through our office looking to offer their services. I'll give you an overview of evaluating new deals, as that should answer your question.

New Deal Opportunities: The majority of new deals that come in house come through investment banks in the form of a nice, lengthy, overly-repetitive offering memorandum ("OM"). For every new deal that I'm assigned, I need to read the OM. At some point before initial indications are due, our team will get together and discuss the opportunity to decide if its worth pursuing. If we decide its worth pursuing, we will do additional research, run a basic LBO with very high level assumptions, pull together materials into a presentation to the rest of the organization, and sometimes get on the phone with the bankers to answer any clarifying questions. After enough of these, this becomes a fairly quick process. However, I usually have a number of new deals on my plate at any given time (I once had 3-4 OMs dropped on my desk in a single day). This is generally pretty fun though as you get to learn about a new company and industry without putting in much effort (the banker has compiled the whole thing nicely). If there is no banker in the process, you're doing your research from ground zero, and this generally takes much more time and produces less cohesive results, but it's more or less the same.

If the banker accepts our initial indication, myself and my deal team then go to meet with management and typically tour the facility. We are then given access to the company's dataroom with all sorts of data on the company -- data ranging from corporate minutes to detailed financials to tax returns. I'll sift through the entire datasite and try to learn as much as I can. This includes things such as reading customer contracts, evaluating operational metrics (backlog, efficiency stats, whatever -- it depends on the type of company), and of course, modeling the financials. Overall, modeling the financials is just one little piece within the broader picture. Also, during this time, our lawyers are generally marking up the stock purchase agreement. In conjunction with my team, I'm reading the stock purchase agreement and giving my feedback to the lawyers (usually our team will get together and discuss our feedback internally so we don't have multiple people giving conflicting feedback to the lawyers). In addition to dealing with the lawyers, I'm also on the phone with lenders trying to get them excited about the deal. We'll share our internal materials with them and they will have access to the datasite. Frequently they will barrage us with questions which we will either answer, or turn to the management team to answer if we don't know. While all this is going on, I'm preparing documentation for our deal team to present to the investment committee to gain approval to submit a letter of intent ("LOI") to acquire the company. If all goes well and everything checks out, we'll submit the LOI.

If the LOI is accepted by the banker, at this point we'll enter into exclusivity (aka force them to cut off all negotiations with other parties and work exclusively with us) and work towards completing our due diligence. This involves continued digging into the data, but also hiring a large number of third parties to conduct diligence on our behalf. Diligence areas typically include tax and accounting, legal review, an industry study, background checks on key members of management, a review of the company's IT system, insurance, and, depending on the type of company, an environmental review. Each of these areas of due diligence are conducted by a separate vendor, so it takes a lot of management to make sure everyone is getting the information and access that they need. Generally myself and an individual 1 level senior to me will do 100% of the management of the 3rd parties, and between the two of us, we both act as the point person for the different groups. I spend a lot of time going through the materials they produce, and at this stage of the deal, spend a LOT of time onsite at the company conducting my own diligence, overseeing 3rd party diligence, and just spending the time with management. Also, all the while, we're continuing to talk to lenders and I am putting together a final presentation, catered towards the lenders, to enable them to have a day on site with management and hear the story first hand. If all of this diligence goes over well, there are additional responsibilities involved in the closing (preparing the funds flow documentation, reviewing lender term sheets and credit agreements, finalizing the stock purchase agreement, etc. etc. etc.).

Obviously this is just a quick and dirty overview of the deal evaluation process, but as you can see, modeling, while very crucial, is not a major aspect of my job. Given I work in an extremely small and flat organization, I am generally the #1 or #2 guy responsible for all of the activities above. A good deal of the time I'm the only one on the phone with the 3rd parties, the bankers, or the lenders, and I simply report out to the team afterwards. Note that I am on multiple deals at once, though most of them are not extremely active, otherwise I'd be working around the clock.

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Best Response
Do you prefer deals that come from banks or not? If it comes from a bank, I would assume that the process runs a lot smoother and it takes some of the work off your plate, but if there is no banker advising the target, then there is a good chance that you're not competing with any other buyers, right?

It's a trade off, and you've hit on the key areas. When a deal comes from a bank, the data is usually very organized and we have a lengthy document explaining the business. This is extremely helpful for a business that I'm not familiar with. You're right in that the process runs smoother, there are set deadlines and the communication and expectations are crisp and clear. However, there is also a very high likelihood that we don't win the auction due to the competitive nature of the process, which is a major turn off. Also, bankers (and we did this too when I was a banker) like to play games, so you need to sift through any BS they might be sending you. For example, if the CEO can't articulate the growth plan because he doesn't believe in it, but the bankers forced him to put various low probability growth opportunities in the OM, it creates the headache of determining what is real and what is created by the bankers. As a result, we pay far more attention to potential acquisitions that are proprietary than we do in processes.

How have you been able to get comfortable with what customer contracts should look like and what specific operational metrics (backlog, efficiency stats...) are important? Is that something that you learned a lot about in banking or have learned on the job once you started in PE? I have been in banking for 2+ years (a generalist as far as industries go) and don't know that I'm that knowledgeable in those areas.

I'd say that this is a difficult area for a generalist, as operational metrics and customer contracts look very, very different depending on the company/service/industry etc. While I had exposure in banking, I'd still say I am relatively new in this area and rely on my seniors for guidance. Sometimes even the senior guys don't know if certain metrics are good or not for the industry. As to which are important, I'd say that once I started looking at opportunities through the lens of an investor, it's enhanced my ability to evaluate opportunities subjectively and ascertain which metrics are important without relying on management (for the most part). I wouldn't be worried if you haven't gained that exposure or that level of expertise yet.

I will note that once you have responsibilities for portfolio companies, it becomes a lot more worthwhile to familiarize yourself with things such as contract structure and operational metrics. It's nice to know that I'll be working with the same companies throughout my years as a PE associate and therefore it is very worth my time to internalize and master material relating to them. In these cases, you would be expected to be an expert regarding customer contracts, backlog, metrics, etc. (depending on the PE shops views towards associate involvement with portfolio companies).

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Great thread.

Regarding getting pigeon holed in restructuring, I think it has a lot to do with the types of deal/engagements you're working on and how you sell yourself. With a little bit of luck landing on sexy deals, you can easily make a case for why your experience at XYZ Restructuring was far more valuable an experience than if you had been doing M&A. A quick recap of what I've told people in the past: Restructuring vs. M&A: - typically boutique/MM more so than BB, which means you don't have an industry group stepping in and carrying the ball on industry/company/market intel, which correlates to better exposure - much more comfortable with credit and capital structure than your typical M&A analyst - I've always thought restructuring is VERY analogous to PE investing... a sponsor enters an investment, restructures the operations/BS, exits the investment. In restructuring, the company enters bankruptcy, you restructure the operations/BS, company exits bankruptcy - what restructuring lacks is the deal perspective, thats something that can be had with the right experience - you become very accustomed to the legal/negotiations side of deals, i.e. reading credit agreements, merger agreements, reading the fine print and understand what it allows/disallows you to do, etc...

However, all of the above are very dependent on the type of experience you get. Obviously, being from a restructuring background, I'm probably biased. But these are some of the ways you could sell yourself if you're feeling a bit self-conscious about a restructuring background.

Great posts CB and lullaby0001. Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions. Since you mentioned lateral hire, I was wondering if you could comment on latering from MM to BB. Obviously the analyst experience will be very similar within the same categories (MM/BB), as you suggested, but BB brand name certainly helps in terms of having large deal experience and getting into a bigger fund. I know a few friends have done it, but is it common to lateral from a decent MM to a BB? What is the process people typically go through?

Thanks a lot.

I actually went through a serious process of networking and getting as much info as possible about lateraling from a MM to a BB after my Y1. Assuming a decent network and with many banks understaffed at the junior analyst levels, it is definitely possible. However, it seemed that a lot of banks would want a MM lateral to sacrifice a year, i.e. start as a Y1, which is a definite negative. Also, as CB has mentioned, you'd be locking yourself into an extra year in IB -- you wouldn't be able to get a rec from anyone at the MM bank, and you'd have missed most recruiting at the megafunds. Plus, you'd have to re-establish yourself, gain the trust of your superiors, and hope they would help you in the process the following recruiting season.

The biggest turn-off for me in pursuing this? Being a monkey for an extra year. Two years will be MORE than enough for me.

Hey Jim, thanks a lot for the insight. I might be missing something here, but I do not see anything particularly negative about latering to a BB

As you suggested the downsides are:

  1. start over as a 1st yr analyst. Losing a year is def bad, considering you will be a bitch for an extra year. yet it doesn't seem to alter the career path and will give you a leg up in the future as the brand name is bigger on the resume..

  2. No recs from former MM bank. Why is this a negative? Would you just want recs from your bosses at the BB anyway?

  3. I still don't see why you'd have missed the recruiting at megafunds. You work as a 1st yr analyst for another year and then start looking for opportunities in PE. All you sacrifice is that additional year. Am I missing anything here?

On the other hand, the upside is huge. More modeling experience, larger deal team and deal size, more products exposure, bigger platform and ultimately a brand name. It is similar to transferring from a mediocre liberal arts college to a top Ivy target school IMO.......

would much appreciate any comment

As you can tell from my above post about my work in PE, you can see that associates in MM PE care far less about modeling and more about your ability to understand the deal process and companies. In this way, the modeling exposure gained at the BBs actually hinders you rather than helps you. However, you're right, the megafunds (and there aren't that many of them), need model monkeys. As a result, analysts coming from MM IB are at an extreme disadvantage compared to BB IB analysts given their lack of exposure to modeling. They are simply two entirely different skill sets. As such, don't expect an analyst who laterals to a BB after having spent a year at an MM to have the same productivity level of a 2nd year at a BB, and vice versa is also true (yes -- it's true, we had someone from a BB lateral to my MM).

In terms of lateraling, you're absolutely right that there is significant upside to restarting at a BB after a year at an MM (the majority of my downsides were if you lateraled during your first year and didn't reset). However, DO NOT underestimate the impact of starting over as a first year. Working 100 hours a week is absolutely and inexplicably painful, and every analyst I knew dreaded it and day dreamed about falling into a 1 year coma so they could wake up and it could all be over. By the end of my first year, I would have gladly forgone my bonus simply to fast forward through year two, it was so bad. Analysts who decided to stay on a 3rd year were ridiculed and laughed at endlessly, because they actually volunteered to stay on an extra year. Typically, very few people stayed on a third year, despite the large number of third year offers, and those who did were the ones who were unsuccessful in PE recruiting and didn't want to go unemployed in a terrible market (although some did choose unemployment).

How much thought have you really given to your list of upsides? Let's take a look at each.

1) Modeling Experience -- As mentioned earlier in this post, modeling experience is only useful if you're targeting megafunds, otherwise the MM skillset is actually going to help you get the job. 2) Larger Deal Team -- Not sure where you were going with this. Smaller deal teams generally mean more exposure to each aspect of the deal process and less likelihood that you become an expert at a single function. I know a guy who left Bear Stearns after a year because his job was to run accretion / dilution models, and that's the only thing he did for his entire year. Also, larger deal teams give you less exposure to senior folks as you're generally just another face in the crowd or name on the list. You also get limited or no exposure at all to senior management when working in large deal teams, as you're frequently the last on the list for a limited number of seats at the table. 3) Deal Size -- Again, not sure what your point is with this. Larger aggregate deal value doesn't qualify you for anything -- especially if you're only a single cog in the machine. I've never heard of anyone getting a PE job offer for having "the biggest deals." Can you clarify how bigger = better? (Serious question, this is a frequent claim, but I've never heard of good support for it.) 4) More Products -- Based on my limited understanding of the analyst role at a BB, you only get multiple product exposure if you're in an industry group. On the other hand, the product group guys don't. Also, a lot of the reputable MM shops do exclusively M&A, which is generally one of the few targeted groups by PE firms. 5) Bigger Platform -- Not sure how this benefits you. You can't work in more than one group or division at a time. I concede that it would make internal networking a lot easier and give you a larger alumni base. 6) Brand Name -- Okay, you win here. That said, I'd be willing to bet my old MM's brand name carries more weight in MM PE than the BBs, including GS. Outside of MM PE or internationally, the BBs easily trump me. Given my career objectives, this wso/">suits me well. For those with different career objectives, the BB brand name would certainly be preferable.

So, feel free to draw your own conclusions, these are simply my thoughts. Also, given the above, I'd say that your analogy of transfering from a liberal arts colleges to an Ivy league university isn't really a fair one.

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