Sr Asso / VP Unemployment Check-in

Hey team. Figured I'd run a check-in on anyone else who's in a similar position - recruiting for a sr asso / VP title role after 3 years in PE / GE and 3 years in banking. Last firm decided not to promote (tough market / fit / whatever else you wanna attribute) and haven't been able to convert from the various interview processes I've landed. Gone pretty far with a few firms but they either decide to take someone else or freeze the process.


Getting to be pretty tough mentally and wanted to see / talk to others who are in a similar position. Also starting to wonder whether it's time to start recruiting into corp dev / strategy / banking roles and try again for an investing seat in a year or two once market recovers. Thoughts?

 

Hey man - I'm coming up to a pretty similar position actually. On my 3rd year in PE, did 3 years at MBB beforehand. My tenure basically ends this summer as I was told in the fall that promotion is "unlikely" for me. Have been recruiting but most processes are moving super slow. Think that worst case, I'm going to pursue a startup with my friend - try to raise some cash / operate it. Will apply to b school as well. If the startup fails (good chance), I can say I explored operations for a year before going to b school. 

 

At an UMM flagship buyout fund. Historically had a reputation of promoting from within, but given the tough market attrition has been low, so our 3rd year associate class is pretty bloated. 
 

I could’ve hustled harder to make VP honestly - done more internal networking and built a sponsorship spine, but didn’t realize the process of lateraling would be this insane. People had previously landed some pretty good gigs.  

 

Not be annoying / rude but genuinely as a data point wondering what type of firm you were at before in terms of MF/UMM/MM/LMM 

 

I’m in one of the Asia financial hubs. I took a stupid career move at the height of the market in 2022 and got f*cked for that.

All the recruiters I’ve spoken told me that most funds (MFs, MMs) in my region are not even hiring, or hiring only at associate / analysts. Even then, these can come with requirements for specific language capabilities.

I don’t care. I don’t have a mortgage or any other liabilities. I have savings that will last me years. I don’t think I’ve applied for jobs except one I found particularly interesting, but recruiters are still reaching out for LMM ish roles.

 

It’s quite specific so I don’t want to say more than the below cuz I don’t want to giveaway my identity.

At my 2nd to last shop, I got stellar performance reviews and worked my ass off for more than a year, MD straight up told me that everyone liked me and that I was unproblematic.

However, they had significantly lowballed / cut me when I joined because they knew I was fleeing a really bad situation. MD and Principal admitted as much to me, said they would “consider” but refused to promise / confirm to true me up to my level, despite more than one VP vouching for me. Note that they were unable to hire another candidate for a similar position for over a year, because both were insistent on “getting another bargain like [[me]]” - their words, not mine. 

So I recruited out. Had other, way better offers (financially + stability + brand name) than the one I eventually took. All offers for the same level of seniority. Old shop’s MD immediately promised to true me up + more when I handed in my resignation.

The firm whose offer I took looked really good from a growth angle. They’d grown really, really fast and I did my checks where I could but there was nothing bad. MD promised fast progression, cited multiple examples of early joiners who benefited from amazingly fast progression etc, incl. someone who apparently joined as a SnASO and netted ~15m after a portco dividend refi (not his team / office tho).

Nearly 2 years later, I’ve seen multiple new datapoints shitting on the firm, industry wise and on WSO too. My team’s SnAso / Aso pool has been decimated by multiple departures (incl. replacement hires who noped out after only a few months), the remaining good colleagues want to leave so badly (but are stuck because of visa / other issues), the MD got so nasty on some people who left that I had to help ex colleagues get legal advice.

I don’t regret leaving, obviously, but I sure as hell regret joining - that seems to be the consensus amongst ex colleagues who are left or remained

 

Checking in; worst hiring market in our field since potentially ‘08 and it has not been easy. 
 

Caveat is that a lot of people get this & a lot of people are experiencing the same thing. 

 
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Was let go in Dec 2022 from a MM PE fund ($1-2B fund size) after 3.5 years there.  I've been aiming for a similar sized MM PE fund / slightly larger.

2023 I got three interviews with two progressing to final round.  One went to a candidate who had an inside track (he was one of the MDs analyst back in their banking days).  The other just never hired anyone.

This year has been very tough.  Even when I have a referral from someone, I'm either not getting a first round or not getting past the first round interview.  I've had two PE interviews so far this year without progressing past the first round.

I've been keeping myself afloat as a "field PE operative" consultant for a private investment fund with one of their portcos.  The money has been good (in-line with prior pay though who knows how long it'll last); the work life balance better.  The nature of the work is a lot less interesting.

Still trying to pound the pavement but seriously thinking on trying other things now

 

Hi, would you mind sharing how many years of experience you had before becoming a “PE Field operative” as well as what you do?

I guarantee you that I’m in a completely different market (not US / EU) so won’t be competing with you, but am thinking of doing this to pass time if I get bored / for similar reasons.

Thanks!

 

I've had ~10 YOE before starting the consulting thing, which tbh landed on my lap cause I worked at a unique sector-focused PE firm.  If I were to estimate the TAM of other investment funds that would look for someone like me, I'd probably arrive at a figure less than $1-2M.

Right now I'm helping them out with a restructuring (both on the operating & financial side)

**Clarification** I only have that 3.5 years of experience in PE

 

Sadly your experience has been pretty typical for people with a similar background. While recruiting picked up in March, it is still far short of what it was two years ago and firms are still reluctant to extend offers even though they are out there interviewing people. I’m optimistic that the second half of 2024 will be better but I’m hypothesizing that until we start seeing interest rate cuts, hiring is going to be very sporadic.

For the benefit of the community, the competition is very fierce out there for Snr Asc / VP / Principal roles right now. I’m working with people who have gone to HBS / GSB / Wharton for their MBAs, worked at very reputable MM funds, had top undergraduate institutions and grades, and in some cases good closed deals. Even when they rock case studies and fly through interviews, firms find an excuse not to extend an offer at the finish line.

I don’t recommend people give up (it only takes one offer), but expectations should be set accordingly!

CompBanker’s Career Guidance Services: https://www.rossettiadvisors.com/
 

Keep going - it's an extremely tough market so you may have to reduce your preferences (strategy, location, etc.) but it's better to be in an investing role now and then jump in 1-3 years once the market improves.

 

Same boat. Spent 2 years in MM PE (analyst) then 4 years in MF PE to get counseled out in December due to market / lack of space. Was notified the prior summer and went through a slow grind of recruitment. Final rounds on several big name funds but no dice. Broaden my horizons to look at smaller funds and landed one last month after a ~9 month search that I am fairly excited about.

Advice is to stay positive (desperation / anxiety comes off poorly in interviews), cast a wide net, and know what your priorities are on your next role and what you are willing to compromise (eg title, location, comp, culture, and strategy in terms of sector/size). In this market, if you can hit 3/5 of those attributes in your favor, consider that a win.

Also most processes I went through took on average 3 months, some shorter some longer. So prepare for that in your timelines as it’s much different practically and mentally than associate recruitment.

 

I landed a VP role. This one (alongside 90% of my ~15-20 interview processes) were through the headhunters though I did go the mile on one or two larger firms through networking. At first I was solely looking for VP roles, but once I departed from my firm most firms will try to push you towards Senior Associate.

When I was still employed with my prior fund, I would suggest various reasons why I’d want to leave depending on the fund I was speaking to (eg distaste for my sector or strategy, seeking new geography, wanting something less bureaucratic) though ironically this made it most difficult for funds that were most similar to my prior where my experience was most translatable.

After I left, I kept a candid answer that there was not space due to market / org structure, though I would say maybe 50% of inbound opportunities would rule me out as a result, so I would think of a better answer that sounds reasonable (even if it’s disingenuous) as most firms would have suspicions anyways that you are being pushed out.

 

Same boat. Spent 2 years in MM PE (analyst) then 4 years in MF PE to get counseled out in December due to market / lack of space. Was notified the prior summer and went through a slow grind of recruitment. Final rounds on several big name funds but no dice. Broaden my horizons to look at smaller funds and landed one last month after a ~9 month search that I am fairly excited about.

Advice is to stay positive (desperation / anxiety comes off poorly in interviews), cast a wide net, and know what your priorities are on your next role and what you are willing to compromise (eg title, location, comp, culture, and strategy in terms of sector/size). In this market, if you can hit 3/5 of those attributes in your favor, consider that a win.

Also most processes I went through took on average 3 months, some shorter some longer. So prepare for that in your timelines as it’s much different practically and mentally than associate recruitment.

What was your strategy in networking directly with PE firms? Did you cold outreach or do so through mutual connections? I would imagine that's probably better if mutual connections rather than through HH 

 

Cold outreach in my opinion is a waste of time for laterals. Warm intros / strong connections do go far though.

I had networked with loose connections for those roles (1-2 touch points previously). It’s really a crapshoot of finding perfect timing when it comes to networking for roles, but do get in touch with former colleagues for drinks/coffee to catch up and see if they have any advice (could lead to uncovering those potential well-times opportunities)

 

6 years of experience all-in. Mckinsey for 3 years; PE for 3 years. At an UMM fund that's at the inflection point of becoming a MF, classic control buyouts
 

In a few processes but they've been dragging. Have also been booted from 1 other process for somewhat asinine reasons (my case study didn't have the comps they were looking for).

 

Would absolutely recommend you take them up on this offer; no one is safe in this market, and no one has advantage (except maybe the “elite” of the “elite”). After 1-1.5 years, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. 
 

 

Same happened to me - strat+ops/chief of staff was where I landed. For what it's worth, the role is very fun and personalities have been far more pleasant to deal with (I loathed the people I worked for before - now I am actually happy to grab a drink or dinner with any of my peers). Not sure about odds of getting back in or if I'd even want to (probably not great though I feel I would be 10x better at my old job now) - what I'll say is that a) the biggest shift mentally has been that I had viewed myself as an investor for a long time and that has been a tough adjustment for me (especially as I still interact with my old fund - not that fun to have a career setback staring you in the face at every board meeting you attend) b) cadence of operating has been far far faster, which is really nice, less of a slog c) long-term comp is a real concern - basically I'd need to be a COO or CEO or work for myself (or elite salesperson, but that'd basically be a total career reset) - there's a path to making money, it's just not completely clear in the same way as it is in PE or banking/consulting. I'd also add that the work I'm doing feels far more intellectually satisfying, but will pause there.

 

Thanks man - that's awesome. I have a few follow-up questions if you don't mind: 

  1. What was the context behind the move? Did your fund say hey no VP promote, but you can do a portco. op role? Did other folks in your class get promoted?
  2. How long have you been in this current role?
  3. Do you think it's viable to do this for 1-2 year then go back into PE? Thinking of developing a narrative somewhat along the lines of "Hey I liked PE a lot, but felt like my skillset was missing in terms of being able to add value to my portfolio companies and getting deep understanding on the nuts and bolts of how a business is run. So, decided to do essentially a secondment program at X port co..  Even though my current fund didn't have room for a VP level promote, they were highly supportive of this move and keeping me "in the family""
 

Seems there is a fair amount of interest in people doing PE consulting work while they look for a job or try to wait out the bad market. I have something that might help:

A friend of mine reached out a few days ago and he is looking for a junior or mid-level PE professional who can provide support with deals and portfolio company work (generally associate level work — analysis, modeling, etc.). The fund is a European family office but the portfolio company and support work is for the US. The idea would be to do a minimum of three months of work with the potential to extend beyond that. Remote is fine but proximity to NYC / Boston is preferred. I imagine this would be a really good option for someone with LMM / MM PE experience who is currently looking for an associate lateral, senior associate / VP role, or a business school student. For anyone interested, shoot me an email (email can be found at my website; I’m avoiding posting directly to minimize email scraping spam): www.RossettiAdvisors.com

CompBanker’s Career Guidance Services: https://www.rossettiadvisors.com/
 

Been recruiting for about a year, it’s definitely been a tough slog. Have gotten much more traction for roles in my sector (I was a generalist for a couple of years before moving to a sector-focused-fund). Most of my opportunities have from networking, HH channel has been fairly dry. Been tough striking a balance between settling for something and waiting for the right long term fit. Even in a good market I know mid-level roles can sometimes have very drawn out processes, guess that’s a reminder to be patient…

 

Yes still in market. 2 yr program ends in July and very stressed that the market is so dry. I have mentally accepted that I may be unemployed for a period of time after my associate stint given I won’t be going to business school. Anyone else in a similar position?

 

Hey, I was in your position about a year ago just around when the market when to shit and it crushed my mentality and self confidence.

My two cents - when I hit bottom after being unemployed for 6 months (searching for ~18 mo) I leaned hard into other areas of my life to take my mind off things - I liked sports, got really into following the EPL and joined a rec league; seriously worked on my relationship with my gf (no issues but expedited how serious things were...now soon to be fiance).  It really fking sucks when your 2 prospects ghost you and you're staring a nothing in the pipeline with noting on the horizon.  Just keep reminding yourself it is a numbers game (and it is) at this point and (as dumb and corny as this sounds) remind yourself to be grateful for the experience you've had so far.

I broadened my scope outside of traditional PE with the mindset that I'll find something temporary to weather the market and recruit again.  My criteria was 1) narrative needs to make sense -- i wasn't desperate for just anything and wanted new/relevant experience; 2) M&A or transactions related role; 3) geography - for personal reasons, i was stuck looking in a non-PE/finance hub; 4) base level comp expectations (anticipating a paycut to PE obviously).  Eventually I landed something pretty compelling in a niche sector role up.  Keeps me busy and pays the bills but super boring compared to PE.  Just dipping my toes back into the market now...sounds like it is still pretty soft but at least I feel I am searching from a position of strength.

 

awful job market in general, worse for finance / tech, and even worse for PE.  Shops overhired post covid, now fundraising is slowing, rates higher, slower deal activity.   

 

I’m thinking about taking a private credit role since I’m not getting any deal reps at my fund (UMM PE) - would that take me out of PE forever? 

 

I'm a 3rd year assoc at an UMM fund where we have to spend ~10% of our time on private credit deals. I would just say these are not nearly equivalent to PE deal reps. You don't do the work of developing a real thesis (sponsor does it for you), you don't develop a really discerning investor mindset (do all deals possible as you want to maintain "relationships"), and you typically only go to committee once or twice for 15 min increments where you get asked some softball questions. 

I think it's been good training when you're brand new as the modeling is basic, there's a very structured format, and there a minimal stakeholders - plus you get the opportunity to step up a bit more and get a speaking role. That said, if a sr. Assoc in private credit was looking to lateral into my fund - I would probably not consider him. You;re honestly better off bullshitting how much live deal exposure you've gotten honestly