Anyone else struggling to adjust to being more senior?

Title. 

I feel like there's so much material out there to help guide the transition from college student to IB analyst, and likewise just as much has been written on going from IB analyst to PE associate.

If you went through that whole track and killed it, you might think you're set. I went from top BB to top MF and now at a UMM fund. The process teaches us you can be a stud if you know accounting, modeling, investment thesis formulation, how to run a DD process, etc. On top of that, if you can appear a nice charismatic person for the duration of 5-6 interviews, you're set. By that point, you might be under the illusion (like me) that all you need to get ahead in the job is be knowledgeable, be fast, think about investments well, model in your sleep, and be a nice guy.

Now I'm senior associate transitioning into principal and I feel like my job has begun to take on an entirely different scope. I find myself engaged in way more politics and people management shit than I ever cared for. I find myself focusing on not being a good investor, but on managing perception upwards. My old approach of just being the best at executing deals and being super knowledgeable about everything is starting to fail me. At the very least, it is proving to be a way less efficient way of rising up the ranks in terms of hours spent. In theory, my analyst and associate can basically run most of the day-to-day deal and analysis (with some oversight and step-ins from me), and my role has become more of how to manage upwards to give them latitude and capital to do their thing. I kind of miss being in their position, and the stuff leftover for me to do is complete bullshit. Maybe it's because I'm not a natural extrovert, and I hate selling (except selling myself in interviews - which is a skill I've trained). 

There's a LOT of content on this site, but how come not much talking about this? I honestly haven't been at such a loss in my career ever. I wasn't ready to become a middle manager, and I feel like 95% of the job is just communicating and managing perceptions rather than actually doing any analytical work. Is this just the natural course of things? 

Comments (7)

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  • VP in PE - LBOs
Apr 12, 2022 - 9:11am

It can be a rougher transition than people realize and I agree with you that it is not a totally linear skill progression. Compounding that is PE firms are generally bad at training, and the training we do have is focused on getting junior levels up to speed. There's not much direct training at the mid levels, at least at most places. I would go as far to say that many firms actively don't want to help VPs to succeed, they want everyone VP+ to "prove it". These places should be avoided, but that's a separate discussion.

I have a few suggestions.

Try to find a mentor, either at your firm or externally. Just someone you trust and respect enough to say "hey I'm trying to get better at x, any suggestions?"

Give it time / take some pressure off yourself. I'm sure you were a weak IB analyst and PE associate when you started, but you DID get up that curve. This is a different skillset and you will again.

Practice more - as you say yourself you actually got to the point where you enjoyed selling yourself in interviews despite not being extroverted. Know why? Because you prepped and then became confident. This is no different. You're not going to wow management teams by winging it at your experience level. You have to get those reps in and yes even prep on your own. Then once you get the confidence, things will turn around and you won't have to prep nearly as much.

The one thing that was a yellow flag to me in your note was not knowing what work to give your junior resources - you had those jobs before so you should be able to put yourself in their shoes to scope what analysis needs to be done and how to help them.

For the managing up piece - I'd suggest actively communicating more and raising your hand. Take a first shot at scoping out the work plan, give them frequent updates on how things are progressing, latest timelines, etc. Once you do that and all of the above things eventually you'll get enough reps in to have proven yourself a bit more, gain your confidence back, and people will start to trust you. Once you have that stature in the firm, I think many politics issues alleviate. Until you get back into the knife fight for principal :)

  • VP in PE - LBOs
Apr 12, 2022 - 12:56pm

I'm referring to a more general philosophy driven by greed / paranoia / bitterness from partners that basically amounts to "i hate that I have to pay these guys more than I received at that career stage when I don't know if they are any good or if they are really long term partner track and I'm the one who built all this and don't want any free riders on the carry. So if they want it, they need to figure it out and prove themselves every single day"

what you're describing is a political event that happens for any number of reasons (some fair and some unfair), and it happens in all sorts of jobs and not PE. I can't really opine more than that without the specifics.

  • VP in PE - LBOs
Apr 12, 2022 - 1:16pm

Practice more - as you say yourself you actually got to the point where you enjoyed selling yourself in interviews despite not being extroverted. Know why? Because you prepped and then became confident.

SB'd especially for this point. I felt the same way and couldn't articulate it at all. It's impossible to "wing it" while getting up a learning curve. Something that's helped me focus was idea-boarding. Had a portco with cash management issues and have been trying to focus on what "good" looks like. What's a good cash day, week, month, quarter look like for us? What are the components of that? Assume it's related to customer deposits. What metrics are you, CFO, tracking that will allow us the direct look? What leading indicators or first derivative metrics will give us a heads-up that things are heading the right/wrong direction?

Said differently, all meetings and communication with anyone internally or externally should have a pretty simple answer to the question "What am I trying to do here?" You're trying to get IC buy-in to run hard at a process, a lender to roll over on an issue in the credit docs, or a CFO to provide analysis that your team needs to make a decision. All of these people are evaluating you in a way that is not that different from an interviewer looking for the rockstar analyst/associate. Nothing ruins a meeting quite like the organizer not knowing what they want.

The purpose of idea boarding, freeform note taking, or even scripting part of what I want to say is to give me the confidence I am positioning myself to get a yes on my ask (as a midlevel I find myself asking for a lot of things...). Also recommend getting feedback from junior folks, but you would need to establish a great deal of trust for the feedback to be actually valuable and constructive.

Apr 13, 2022 - 11:18pm
IcedxTaro, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Following because it is something I want to aim at soon.  

I feel this does not just apply to this industry, but across all industries in nature.  I work closely with the head of Program Management at my company, and I like to ask questions.  One thing to really consider as you go on about your day to day, as these are the realizations:

1. Office politics is one of the core focal points of the role.

2. Analyze the information that you are presented, and formulate questions.

3. Figure out the key players - strengths and weaknesses - real out to others and build relationships.  

There are more, but these are good foundations to start off on.  Feel free to PM.

Apr 14, 2022 - 6:23pm
rabbit, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hey man, first off, congratulations. This is what I like to think are the REAL beginnings of a "high" finance career. This is the part where you're no longer creating slides, fucking around on Excel and the like and actually getting into the stride of being a dealmaker. Everything you've done till now is really a foundation to take the next step, which is moving from a support role as an analyst/associate to making shit happen. It's fucking exciting and I'm super pumped for you.

Once you get there, you will no longer be judged on the quality of your decks, the depth of your models and stupid shit of that sort, it will almost entirely be on your ability to deliver results. Period. Whether it's deploying $ or generating fees. .

It's not an easy move, and the transition does not come easy in any shape or form. You have to combine everything you've learnt/done with something you may have to "learn" to do - people and ego management. I like to think of it as a complement to the foundational stuff you learn in the early years. It is a skill you develop over time through repetition. It's "reading the person" and not the numbers, which makes it high stakes IMO, and that makes it fucking exciting. 

How do you develop this? Practice and dive into it, it's all confidence.. Just get into it. Really good color in the above posts about (a) setting goals for every interaction, (b) setting paths on how to get there. I spend an hour before every meeting thinking about this. That shit works man, everyone looks to the person with a plan or agenda.

Where do you go from here? I struggled with the "I have nothing to do" bit after assigning work to juniors. Give them latitude with work product, and use that free time to build your platform - read, form investment theses, go to conferences, grab drinks with lawyers/bankers/accountants and anyone else you can build a pipeline off. Literally anything that that helps get you to the point where how people evaluate you is based on the $ they can put down next to your name come bonus/carry/promo time.

All the best.

May 2, 2022 - 2:54pm
middlemgr, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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