Ask me anything - Non Traditional Background to MM PE to H/S/W

MPG's picture
MPG - Certified Professional
Rank: King Kong | banana points 1,609

So here I am, the prodigal son returning. I haven't been on this site in some time but wanted to write this post to generate some helpful content as a way of saying thank you to Patrick and the rest of the WSO team, as their site played a direct role in my breaking into PE. I am writing this post to (1) motivate people to realize you can improve your chances of putting yourself on the right track if you make a long term plan and (2) give any advice I can to those with any questions about breaking into PE. Please ask away and I will do my best to answer.

A little background on how I went from non-traditional background into PE:

Almost 10 years ago, I just showed up to my first military base after graduating college. I was enrolled in an MBA program at a local school (not even top 100) because I didn't think it mattered, and just wanted to study business, and I was sick of engineering (which I had earned a sub-3.0 GPA in at college)

One day when I was traveling I had met an investment banker during my layover at an airport drinking at the bar. He told me about the basic career track in M&A and I was intrigued. I knew nothing about finance, or the different career verticals of IB/PE/HF/IM etc. When I got home, I started to research it and also reached out to military vets in finance. They basically all said "banking is okay--but PE is where it's at, but it won't happen because you won't get any PE experience prior to business school." So there I was, early 20s, with a 480 GMAT,

This is when WSO really helped me the most. I talked to guys that worked in banking, worked in PE, got advice on business school applications, etc. I charted out my long term path to getting into the industry. I figured I needed to have a plan but also wanted be flexible if different opportunities came along. I figured my best shot was to kick ass at my current job and go get the best MBA I could, and then do banking with long term hopes of getting into PE at a more senior level at a more lower middle market shop.

To even get into a good MBA program, I had to do something to counter my low GPA and GMAT. I immediately dropped out of my local MBA program and just leveraged the fact that I had earned straight As in 4 basic primer courses in Accounting, Finance, Economics, and Management. I then enrolled into a Masters of Engineering program at a more reputable school in my region. I had a 2.9 undergrad GPA but went on to earn a 4.0 GPA in Mechanical Engineering in my master's program. That helped prove the story that I was capable--just not as motivated when I was an undergrad. This took me about 2 years to complete, but it was worth it.

The GMAT was another thing I needed to fix. I took it the first time not really studying for it. I bombed it with a sub-500 score. I studied like crazy after my Master's Degree was completed, and scored mid 600s--not good enough. I took it a 3rd time 30 days later, literally the day before I was leaving for a 1-year deployment to Iraq, and scored >700. Sometimes, you just need to relax and clear your head. It is a study-able exam and the range of scores I got proves that.
I still needed a story for business school essays. I wasn't going to do that in my current role as an engineer. My job was Bor-ing and had little room for leadership. I wanted to do something exciting and different, and needed some sort of an adventure. My family was pissed at me, but I volunteered for a deployment in the middle east. It was there I got to do some really exciting stuff, things that were worth writing about and gave me some actual exposure to being in a leadership role. It was here that I applied to 8 business schools. I was ultimately accepted into two M7 MBA programs. I was ecstatic. I ended up deferring my admission for a year due to military deployment reasons.
During the year between getting in and starting school, I didn't just stand still. I polished up my modeling skills, networked like crazy on LinkedIn, and was on WSO every night. I had interviewed for pre-MBA gigs at Mck/Bain/BCG, but was not successful. It was good experience though with the case interviews I had to do. I also sought out pre-MBA banking gigs as well, but that didn't work out either. Then it happened. Through WSO of all places, I met a person who knew a headhunter that was tasked with finding a recently separated military officer interested in working in PE. DISCLAIMER: this was a one-in-a-million situation, and is not repeatable, so I would not bank on this ever happening to you. I won't go into details of why they wanted a military person, but I can guarantee you that is isn't commonplace and probably won't happen again.
So there I was, 5 years after I set the goal of breaking into PE and never letting go of that dream. In that time I earned a masters, rocked the GMAT, had a year-long adventure on another side of the world, and was admitted to two top MBA program but opted to join a PE firm. Now it is 3 years later after that, and will be leaving PE to start at my MBA (a considerably better school than I was going to attend previously), with a focus on going back into PE after school.
So here is my advice for breaking into PE:

Have a plan:
Eisenhower said it best: "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." You should always have a goal in mind and a plan on how to pursue it. It is always fine to change the plan itself, and change the course of your vector, but you shouldn't ever do something without a reason for doing it. For example, a lot of people thought I was crazy that I was getting an engineering degree with an end goal of getting into PE/Finance. They didn't understand, I was early in my plan and knew that before I could get into a top MBA I had to fix my academic history. I also knew that if my plans changed, having a masters in engineering would always look good on a resume.

Don't plan on going to KKR:
The fact is, unless you are the top bucket analyst at Goldman/Morgan with a 4.0 from Harvard/Princeton (you get the idea), you aren't going to a megafund pre-MBA, and would have to pull off some sort of miracle to get there post MBA. That said, there are 3000+ middle market and lower middle market PE funds all over the US. These sorts of firms are very attainable if you have the right background. Which leads me to my next point:

Get on the right track rather than trying to skip it:
Rather than trying to break into PE from a non-traditional role, invest the time (meaning years in some cases) to enter the PE career track at the entry point most attainable. What do I mean by this? Almost everyone on this site probably knows that it works like this: Undergrad - -> Pre MBA Banking/Consulting - -> Pre MBA PE - -> MBA - -> Post MBA PE. Don't think that you are going to jump from your marketing job into PE. Ain't gonna happen. But, could you use your network to possibly get an interview at a lesser known, but reputable regional investment bank? Absolutely. Everyone knows Goldman, but how many people know BlackArch, Harris Williams, Lincoln, Houlihan, Lazard Middle Market, Blair, Baird, Coker Capital, Triple Tree, etc.--the list goes on and on. If you can land a pre-MBA banking gig at a place like this, you could be 1 year away from recruiting at lower middle market PE firms for pre-MBA positions. Then you are on track.
It gets trickier the older you get. Already in business school with no experience? You are at a big disadvantage, but you could do banking/consulting post-MBA and then recruit like crazy for anything you can get on the buy side. Another opportunity you can pursue is looking abroad in developing marketing such as South America, Africa, etc. They have lower entry barriers given those with PE experience probably want to do PE in more established economies like the US and UK.
Bottom line: always do your best to enter at the pre-MBA level if possible. Here you have the most opportunity. After that, there is still a chance, but it isn't going to the under-achiever. These are guys at HBS/Stanford/Wharton with a solid PE summer internship and a really good networking ability.

Thanks guys, I welcome any questions specific to your situation.

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Comments (62)

Nov 11, 2014

The biggest two takeaways I have from your remarkable story is have a plan and effort. It took you 5 years but you did it. Congrats man, and enjoy bschool!

Robert Clayton Dean: What is happening?
Brill: I blew up the building.
Robert Clayton Dean: Why?
Brill: Because you made a phone call.

Nov 11, 2014

Great story. Best of luck with all of your future endeavors. And thanks for serving, and on Veteran's Day.

Nov 11, 2014

Great story - that provided some much-needed midweek motivation. Best of luck and happy Veteran's Day.

Nov 11, 2014

Great story. Great insight. It is inspiring to hear about someone breaking into PE in a "non-traditional" way. Thank for sharing and thanks for serving.

Nov 11, 2014

First, thanks for your service! Second, this is an amazing story of hard work, savvy, hustle, and of course luck. I'm a 2nd year at a M7 mba program and have lately been quite disillusioned with b-school and whether it's worth it. Reading this definitely injected me with some inspiration.

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9 LBO Modeling Tests, 10+ hours of PE Cases and 2,447+ interview insights across 203 private equity funds. The WSO Private Equity Interview Prep Course has everything you'll ever need to break into the competitive PE industry. Learn more.

Nov 12, 2014
mbavsmfin:

First, thanks for your service! Second, this is an amazing story of hard work, savvy, hustle, and of course luck. I'm a 2nd year at a M7 mba program and have lately been quite disillusioned with b-school and whether it's worth it. Reading this definitely injected me with some inspiration.

But... Wharton! Any luck in recruiting?

Nov 11, 2014

Congratulations. Happy Veteran's Day.

Nov 11, 2014

damn man, thanks for putting the effort into this, great read and an awesome story. Also, thank you for your service. tossed an Sb because 'merica.

Nov 12, 2014

Thank you for your service and for sharing your story with us. Best of luck at school and on the job!

Nov 12, 2014

MPG,

Thanks for this write up and your service. I am also a veteran interested in PE and B-school so I find your success in achieving your goals to be especially encouraging.

Other than leadership experience, what military specific qualities were you best able to translate to PE? How did you position that experience while interviewing and networking?

Thanks!

Nov 16, 2014

In my case I was an engineer, so I just spoke to my strong quant skills. Really, if you get the interview for PE they are going to be more interested in your passion for investing and how you would analyze the risks/merits of a deal.

Nov 12, 2014

Former chess champ Emmanuel Lasker said 'a bad plan is better than no plan.' Had you told some entitled douche your plan 10 yrs ago, he would probably have laughed in your face. And you, sir, just shitted on him.

Nov 17, 2014

I believe it's shat

Nov 12, 2014

I'm about to graduate with a master of accounting and I would like some feedback on how to break into P/E. I have three potential opportunities and I would like to hear your opinion these in relation to the transition to P/E. The first is as an a auditor of private equity clients at a big four firm, the second is business valuation at a public accounting firm that does work for middle market firms, the third is a finance rotation program at a credit card company.

Thanks!

Nov 14, 2014

The finance rotation at a credit card company will be not be helpful for getting into PE. The auditor role at a big four firms is probably the best. If possible try to audit middle market companies vs Fortune 500 companies, as most PE funds play in the middle market. After three or four years moving into a transaction advisory services role if possible (due diligence services). The business valuation is helpful as well as PE firms internally have to value their investments on a quarterly basis for financial reporting to limited partners, but this may lead to a more internal role initially, but you never know how you may break in, you could do financial reporting internally and assist in deal origination as well. If you not in a major market, business valuation may be considered as part of the consulting group and you could gain valuable experience in other roles within consulting.

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Nov 14, 2014
Hawkeye 79:

The finance rotation at a credit card company will be not be helpful for getting into PE. The auditor role at a big four firms is probably the best. If possible try to audit middle market companies vs Fortune 500 companies, as most PE funds play in the middle market. After three or four years moving into a transaction advisory services role if possible (due diligence services). The business valuation is helpful as well as PE firms internally have to value their investments on a quarterly basis for financial reporting to limited partners, but this may lead to a more internal role initially, but you never know how you may break in, you could do financial reporting internally and assist in deal origination as well. If you not in a major market, business valuation may be considered as part of the consulting group and you could gain valuable experience in other roles within consulting.

I will second this advice. I just broke into a buy side role after doing 3 yrs of PE audit. I recommend this path, then leverage the experience and TAS contacts you meet when testing the portfolio valuations and their underlying assumptions.

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Nov 16, 2014

All three are not optimal for PE. I recommend you try to network your way into a MM investment bank within the first year. But 2nd on the valuation job.

Nov 12, 2014

This is a great post on many levels, but it shows the power of a long term game plan and incremental improvement. Also injects some reality into the situation.

Great post!

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Nov 13, 2014

From your perspective, how heavy is volunteer work on the scale during recruiting? Is it better for megafunds or for middle-market funds?

Nov 16, 2014

I don't think it matters. They care about getting wicked smart kids who can make it rain. Not Mother Theresa.

Nov 13, 2014

Bookmarked and SB'd. Thanks so much!

mbavsmfin:

I don't wear watches bro. Because it's always MBA BALLER time!

Nov 13, 2014

Thank you for sharing your story. I am also from a non-traditional background (at a top college studying social science undergrad) and would like to work in PE. Good luck for the rest of your career.

Suitdreams or monetary nightmares

Nov 13, 2014

Thank you sir fascinating story.

Nov 14, 2014

Awesome post, really motivating to hear that! I've got a question regarding networking on Linkedin, I've never really gone too deep into it (preferred going to outings with coworkers/after hours drinks, and meeting people there in person). Any tips on how to best leverage Linkedin in your networking process?

obscurity is forever, and so is interest

Nov 16, 2014

Yes, use the search function in Linkedin to find people who have something in common with you (e.g. school alumni, military, previous employer) and use it as a starting point to introduce yourself. The bigger your network the more people you can contact. I use Linkedin all the time to make connections at firms I want to recruit at. It is all about being clear, concise, and persistent.

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

Yes. You definitely described lots of how I could feel as someone without decent business school background. I am in LSA statistics and computer science(minor). I think you definitely know how frustrated a guy without financial background is while hunting a job in that area. What I am asking is about networking or even just landing first job in Greater New York Area. How could you working on the networking to seize the interview? then get into /

Nov 14, 2014

The ocutple post... Never thought I'd get to see one. Hats off.

Dec 23, 2014

brings a tear to my eye

Nov 16, 2014

Um, what?

Nov 14, 2014

What a phenomenal story. If given the opportunity (back then) of getting into a good bank (as an Analyst) or a regional PE shop (Pre-MBA Associate), which would you take? Is it easier to break into PE when you have PE experience (even if its at a no-name firm) or would it be easier to break into PE from a recognized bank? Also curious to hear if you think Growth Equity can be a route to getting into PE (even though they're both really similar)?

Nov 15, 2014
westcoastmonkey8:

What a phenomenal story. If given the opportunity (back then) of getting into a good bank (as an Analyst) or a regional PE shop (Pre-MBA Associate), which would you take? Is it easier to break into PE when you have PE experience (even if its at a no-name firm) or would it be easier to break into PE from a recognized bank? Also curious to hear if you think Growth Equity can be a route to getting into PE (even though they're both really similar)?

Curious about this as well... at a MM firm now - is the better 'next step' to upgrade banks for go for the lower MM PE gig?

Nov 16, 2014

It has taken a while, but it has finally dawned on me that mega-fund PE is not the place to be. Being at a decent lifestyle middle market PE firm with a path to partner is where it's at--and even better if it isn't in NY/SF where making 300K a year means you have a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment. Given this, I would say get into PE early, especially if they promote without the MBA and you think you can just stay there as the firm grows.

Nov 14, 2014

It is a really inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it!

Nov 15, 2014

Very inspiring story MPG - thanks for sharing!

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Nov 15, 2014

Very inspiring story MPG - thanks for sharing!

Nov 15, 2014

Great post MPG. Did you have any help from WSO members along the way? =P

Let me know where you end up FT.

Nov 15, 2014

Helllo together, my name is Pete and I am seeking your advice. I am currently working as an Analyst2 at a BB in London and I am applying to PE firms at the moment. What do you think are the best Mid-Cap Funds in Europe and which criteria would you use to rank them? I realise that there is a huge number of Mid-Cap Funds out there and it's quite hard to get a good overview on the space. Do you also know which firms require their Associates to leave for an MBA after 2-3 years to move further up?

Many thanks for your comments!

Pete

Pete

Nov 16, 2014

Sorry bro--I have no idea about Europe. I hope others can chime in.

Nov 22, 2014

Thanks! I entered PE two years ago in my mid-40's through the most non-traditional of means and I'm having a blast, this is where I should have been all along.

Nov 21, 2014

You are the man! gotta love the content on this site.

Nov 13, 2014

I may get monkey shit for this, but does he plan on answering any questions as part of his "AMA"?

Nov 16, 2014

Yes, sorry for the delay here--my bad. I have been super busy between MBA program, wife, kid, part time job, club sports, getting the fucking airbag recall taken care of on my car, etc. etc.

I am answering all the questions now.

Dec 13, 2014

Awesome. Pure fucking awesome.

Dec 13, 2014

Awesome. Pure fucking awesome.

Dec 16, 2014

It's been a few weeks, but if you're still answering questions, how old were you when you applied to your current MBA program? It sounds like you were into your 30's as you said you are now 10 years removed from graduating college. I understand that it's an advantage to have more work experience when applying to MBA, but at what point do MBA programs start looking at you as "too old" and feeling you are better suited for an EMBA?

Fantastic story!

Nov 16, 2014

Every situation is different. I am 30. The first time I applied I was 26-27, which is right in the 5 years of work experience sweet spot that many people go to school at. I would say that 3-8 years captures most full-timers, but I would be weary about getting an EMBA. There are only a handful of top-branded programs, and even if you do it, the biggest benefit--the tight-nit community, is being excluded from the experience. Doing FT vs exec is more about your goals. If you are staying with your employer and not looking to switch (ever), and they are requiring an MBA, then do executive. Outside of that, I would recommend FT because the network and branding is irreplaceable.

Nov 16, 2014

Deleting duplicate post

Dec 18, 2014

Thanks for the post, as a recent HSW admit military veteran I was particularly interested in your comments regarding those who try to break in after b-school. Thanks again for sharing!

Dec 18, 2014

DELETED duplicate post.

Dec 22, 2014

Thanks a lot for sharing. In your second last paragraph, you mentioned about getting right on the track rather than skipping it. I was wondering what is your opinion of starting out with MM PE instead of the other MM IB firms.

Nov 16, 2014

If you can get directly into PE--then more power to you. That is what I did--but it is EXTREMELY rare.

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