My (successful) experience with on-cycle this year
Hey everyone, slow night here so I thought I’d take the time to share a fairly detailed account of my experience with on-cycle PE recruiting a few weeks ago, during which I was fortunate to secure a seat at one of my target funds as a 2025 associate. Hopefully this can serve as a helpful narrative for people considering on-cycle next year. After running through my story of on-cycle, I’ll share some key takeaways.
As background, I went to a decent but total non-target school. I had to completely work my ass off with networking and studying technicals for IB recruiting, and successfully got a few offers for IB SA roles, ultimately going with a mid-tier ( , , , , , etc.). I received a return offer, and have just begun my first year as an analyst.
I’ve been pretty focused on recruiting for PE for awhile, and began preparing for on-cycle in earnest back in February/March (not the most fun senior Spring). I spent an excessive amount of modeling, as well as refining my behaviorals, studying the broader technicals, preparing deal walkthroughs, etc. A few former analysts from my bank who went through on-cycle previously served as my main coaches, providing me with most of the resources I used. Preparing for on-cycle consumed most of my Spring and Summer, which was painful and required a lot of sacrifices, for which I have some regret (I should’ve traveled while I had the chance!). Ultimately it worked out for me and I think it was the right choice to focus on it so extensively, but I’d be remiss to not mention the very real . I’m not sure it’s worth it for everyone, and some of you might be wise to defer a year if the process continues happening this insanely early.
Fast forward to this Summer and how things played out. Headhunters began reaching out between July ~15-20th, with 15-30 minute intro chats happening Tuesday-Thursday of that week. I spoke with about 5 of the main headhunters. The conversations were pretty brief, mostly focused on what types of opportunities I was interested in. A few asked about my past experiences, and one gave a verbal case study discussing an investment in a company. The most important thing was having very clear answers for what I was looking for (PE roles with an emphasis on late-stage buyout investing) and being able to talk through factors like what verticals I’d enjoy, geographical preference, fund size, etc. Having done my research beforehand, I was able to give each headhunter a specific list of the firms they covered that interest me, and a well-tailored explanation of my criteria.
On Wednesday, a few headhunters scheduled coffee chats with me at some of the firms I expressed interest in, so I started having some casual chats with associates and VPs at those firms. These are “meant to be casual”, and on the face of it they largely were, since it was mostly just time for me to ask them questions about their firms and experiences. Some of the interviews I later got invited to were for those firms, so clearly the chats do matter.
Friday comes around, and bam, on-cycle kicks off with a bang. It's 4pm, and I get an invite to come interview at a great MM shop, so I schedule it for 7pm. Three minutes later I get another email inviting me to go interview at a megafund. I tell them I have an interview at 7pm, so they told me to go there right away. I throw on my suit and Uber there, arriving around 5pm. Keep in mind this is about a week now after the headhunter activity really picked up, and just 2-3 days after having the headhunter chats.
I made it through a few rounds at the mf, ultimately not passing the third case study. The interviewer and I just didn't click, and I fumbled the case study enough that it was not a surprise.
I run out the door to the next shop, diving right into their interview process. I interview there from 7pm to around 1am, making it through the final round and being one of the last two people to leave. It seemed like a total success, having nailed the personal fit interviews and done quite well on the cases (no model test), so it was an awful surprise to receive a rejection email around 2:30am. No feedback.
Headhunters are emailing and texting during this time about other interviews, but by the time I respond around 1:30am, things are winding up for the night. I accept an offer for a 9am interview the next morning.
Saturday morning begins, and I go in for the modeling test and case study at a megafund, but don’t get an interview after that. I thought I did extremely well, successfully modeling a dividend recap and building a nice model, in addition to having what I thought were some good thoughts for the case study, but they gave no feedback. Discouraging and perplexing, but I moved on.
Sunday morning at 9am I head to my final shop. I interview for over 8 hours. The day starts off with a one hour modeling test, followed by a CIM based case study and debrief. After that, I went through maybe a dozen interviews ranging from technical questions to behavioral, fit, background, etc. I received the offer at the end of the day, and sign on the spot since it exploded that night.
That’s the story of how things unfolded. Now, here are some takeaways
- It took me several months to adequately prepare. Some people with prior LBO skills and some actual experience on the desk claim to do it in a few weekends, but for me, it took more than that.
- Speak with headhunters as soon as possible. When they send out calendar slots, book the first one ASAP. The process moved so fast this year, that if you didn’t select the first day or two (and most calendar’s listed like 5 days out), you didn’t get interviews, since you didn’t get to talk with the headhunters in time. Completely absurd and unfairly disqualifying ~50% of candidates, but that's how it went.
- My main focuses of prep were
- finance / accounting / PE technicals
- behaviorals / experience /
- preparing to talk about the deals from my internship (know the companies in depth)
- doing the initial research to figure out what firms I found interesting and build my target list
- It is vital to have well-informed mentors to coach you through the process. I would have been completely hopeless without the 3-4 analysts who guided me. Get input from mentors on your prep approach.
- The weekend is completely crazy, and you need to accept interviews knowing there is a huge opportunity cost of missing other invites while you are there. As a result, you need to know what firms you’d accept an offer from before the process starts, and what your priorities are, so that as invites come in, you can instantly respond accordingly. This process has no room for uncertainty or gaps in knowledge/prep given how rapid and unforgiving it is
- This year was a brutal process. Anecdotally, during the Sunday I was at the firm I got an offer from, I saw maybe two dozen candidates cycle in and out while I was there for 8 hours. Only two of us got offers that day. Most firms that participated in on-cycle gave out less offers than they have historically, and are saving more seats for off-cycle. So, the process is brutal, but off-cycle will have plenty of seats for the bright and hardworking analysts who haven't secured a spot yet. Stay hopeful.
I could go on for hours and I’m sure I missed a lot, but hopefully there was something helpful here. If you have questions or want clarity, please drop that below so everyone can see it and benefit. A few people have recently approached me asking for more in-depth tutoring with recruiting prep, so feel free to comment if you're looking for tutoring help and I can PM.
Edit: For some reason, WSO added the "France" geographic region to this post and it will not go away. I have been horribly mislabeled as a Frenchman, and assure you this is not the case. It will not let me change it, but please look past this.