Q&A: Buyside women

In light that a lot of women found my March 5th post on the "WOMEN IN PE - Easier Recruiting?" thread useful I took someone's offer to start an AMA. I can't link because this is a new account. I will try to check and answer questions as my schedule permits. Currently there's a bit less going on at work so I thought I'd take advantage of it.

You can read the original post in the link above that will give you a lot more background but just to reiterate I'm about a year out of my H/S/W MBA, work on the buyside at a well known investor (let's keep it at that), I'm several years married, almost 30, expecting a child. Happy to talk about MBA recruiting, career options, how to diligence a fund before you sign, private life and dating in general, negotiating as a woman, pregnancy and anything else you are thinking about but are afraid to ask your female colleagues.   

Note to mod: please feel free to move it to the forum that is most appropriate.

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Comments (70)

Most Helpful
Apr 29, 2021 - 4:17pm

It really depends on what you're looking to do. Here are some general observations and TBH I'm not sure to what extent covid has changed it.

First-year recruiting for internships for people looking to work on the buyside investing or really any structured path (e.g. banking / consulting / corporate) is really intense. You get a ton of open events, sign-up events through clubs and private requests for meetings through the resume book and if you want to interview, I'd say you must show up and act educated and interested. This is in addition to general networking, interview prep (esp. for consulting and public markets, to some extent PE), clubs, social stuff and academic work. Depending on your goals it can literally consume your life. People who were specific in their priorities (e.g. midsize midwestern PE funds, hedge funds in Hong Kong or consulting firms in US) and truly dedicated were often the ones who ended up with their first/second choice and some options to spare at the end of the recruiting process. I'd also add that the competition for interviews can be pretty intense. For some of the jobs, I'm not exaggerating, like 1/6 of the class had applied to interview, but they only had spots for 5-10 people so you really must work to get the interview in the first place. In many cases I saw, interviews were just a formal process and the firm had met the candidates so many times that the only thing they can do to sway the decision is to screw up in that final hurdle. There are still people who end up getting jobs after the big structured recruiting process, but if I 'd estimate, my guess would be it's less than half and mostly people interested in startups/niche industries that don't come on campus etc.

Second-year recruiting is a lot less structured and there tend to be two waves. One at the beginning of the year where firms seem more opportunistic and basically either fill their programs for the year (consulting, big corporates etc.) and/or pick up the top candidates which for some reason slipped through the cracks (top candidates with changing priorities, ones who previously turned down offers or never applied in first place). The second wave is basically at the end of second semester when jobs that need to be filled within the next 3 months start surfacing. In between there is a lot of whitespace during which people end up doing networked searches and ultimately find their role. This is a surprisingly large number of people. I'd say at least half if not more didn't end up working for their summer employer. I'd say very few (aside from international consultants and some PE) end up working for their pre-MBA employer.

Qualified women and black candidates are highly sought after for the buyside roles especially when it comes to internships. This is perhaps less true for full-time roles where taking a chance on a "non-traditional" hire can turn out to be more costly, but still - I wouldn't underestimate the application advantage to these jobs. I once was copied on an e-mail from HR that I should've never seen that broke down the stats for applicants of a certain job (also open to the outside) I had applied to. It was hundreds of people, like 1% black and maybe 4-6% female. Given that there's a push for say 30% female representation it should give you an idea of the edge that being URM can give you in recruiting.

Recruiting for the creme de la creme firms happens pretty much exclusively through resume books. If you believe you're gonna land an interview at one of the very highly coveted HF or PE MF that seem to recruit at your school regularly on the basis of linkedin searches just by the virtue of being at HSW you're SOL. Most of these jobs were never posted on the online application portal and you either got invited to chat/apply, were introduced by somebody or you heard somebody else was. 

Apr 29, 2021 - 5:16pm

This is great. Thank you for sharing your time and perspective.

There have been a couple other threads I have enjoyed seeing and learning from (the "Women Of WSO, When Did You Decide To Have Children And Why, If At All?" comes to mind), but not many.

1) Evaluating a firm for a partner-track role, what are the things you look for that indicate it is or may be somewhere you're comfortable as a woman?

2) What are the best benefits or perks someone could offer that would show the firm's leadership was thoughtful about how to support parents who also work? I say parents rather than just women because it's always irked me that someone would by default assume me to be a less involved parent or someone who does or should work more than my future wife or partner. Paid embryo-banking? Childcare stipend? A protected (firmly, not in name) hour during the day for school drop-off or pick-up? A lactation room?

3) Do you have any kind of formal or informal peer networking or support group of women in the industry? I recently learned about Synergist Network.

I appreciate your generosity here.

I am permanently behind on PMs, it's not personal.

  • 2
  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Apr 29, 2021 - 9:09pm

#3 - You should check out Chief. It's something similar to a structured women's executive network except the branding is very hip rather than generic business blah feeling.

Apr 29, 2021 - 9:45pm

Thanks for the comment. I'm familiar with Chief, I saw the deck for their seed in 2018.

I am permanently behind on PMs, it's not personal.

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Apr 29, 2021 - 10:41pm

Good questions!

1) You know this is very tough to say, because so few people actually make it from VP/Senior Associate to partner because of the pyramid structure of investment firms. I'm also at the bottom of the proverbial ladder so take what I say with a grain of salt. With that said I had to make a decision and I actually decided to pull the plug from my summer employer, where I did not feel comfortable as a woman despite everything they told me of how supportive they were. 

For me it was a process of ruling out negative factors mostly. In most cases, there were just tons of red flags, which told me that this is not the right place and most of the time these things are pretty damn out in the open. Look at the website, how much of their investment staff are women? I know it's a chicken and an egg problem, but if a a 10+ person investment staff fund doesn't have a single woman it's likely a symptom of a bigger problem - probably there's something inherently wrong with culture and/or recruiting process. Then take the interactions at a face value and you'll often see senior men being openly misogynistic after a few drinks or women who you would not want to be like in your forties/fifties. Would I want to be around them 12+ hours a day? Would they even respect me and my opinion? Hearing how some of these men spoke about their wives told you everything you needed to know. You ask people about their hobbies, do they even have any? What about families? Also, women talk and especially in business school you hear a lot of horrifying stories about certain funds and their cultures. Beyond that you could try to get the hands on mat leave policy etc. and see how much leave people actually take. To be fair, in most cases you don't even get to that stage.

In the case of my summer employer, these things did not come out during recruiting and my key contact person is just a fantastic guy that made me assume that everybody must be like that :). When I actually spent the summer, I had multiple very senior men openly trying to discuss my private life and theirs (in a NOT good way) rather than my investment views or whatever the intended topic of the discussion was. It was clear to me that I wouldn't be taken seriously at a professional capacity. The women that I saw working for the fund were either single or had house-spouses and always looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown that summer too and I felt warned enough after those few months.

In another fund, I passed rounds and rounds of highly technical interviews to get a job on the investment side, and in the end I spoke with some hotshot ex-banker dude who does fundraising for them and he asked me if I'd like to be his protege salesperson. I am almost certain that this wouldn't have been the case if I was a guy or frankly a highly unattractive woman.

2) This will probably vary from person to person, but the most obvious is a generous leave policy that doesn't impair your comp (incl. bonus) or career progression and senior people actually take it too. Others I can immediately think of are childcare credit that is actually significant, discounts on domestic services (e.g. weekly cleaners) or anything else that saves time. Flex work hours are probably also pretty important and my own manager is actually pretty good with taking time out in the day (and being vocal about it) for his kids. I thankfully didn't need to take advantage of any fertility-related services, but I've heard they're generally already pretty well covered by insurance. This will be a bit controversial perhaps, but I think what would really help retain employees and especially women would be the "permission" to have children earlier in life. I feel especially in the US there is this premise that you ought to have kids in this odd window between not too junior and not too senior. I think the best time to have kids from a business standpoint is actually while employees are junior, because it's easier and cheaper to replace an analyst/associate than replacing a director. Anyways, my 2c.

3) My female friends in business school have been very helpful and we stay in touch, although there are not that many women in investing and they're often the lone ranger type of personalities. Also there are women at my workplace. I don't seek out formal mentorship, but there are quite a few women (both junior and senior to me) I catch up with frequently and I think they are all super impressive. The alumni groups and also the women's group at work sometimes put up interesting events that I attend but I am not very actively involved with either.

  • Senior VP in HF - Other
Apr 29, 2021 - 8:21pm

Congrats on your soon to be child. What is your maternity policy? I've heard a few pretty crazy stories of it being extremely limited (or at least more of a wink wink get back asap if not a formal thing) - of course I'm sure this varies wildly by firm. Are you taking time off and how much are you allowed. Do you think it will impact you at the firm? I guess while we are on the topic, what have you seen on the paternity side at your fund - I'd imagine that is even worse but that's a guess. 

Apr 29, 2021 - 10:49pm

Thanks! Most women take between 4-6 months and the first four are fully paid. I think there's an option to take longer, but that's unpaid. Some people do that. Granted, I have not been here for too long, but my read is that you'd probably be judged if you didn't take the first four.

I believe paternity leave is 8 weeks, but I'm not too sure. You can also take longer, but it's unpaid. I haven't witnessed anyone taking it so far, but I don't know of anyone who is expecting on the male side. On a side note, I'm basically forcing my husband's hand to take his. He works for a different fund and they recently updated their policy to reflect the current standard and he's having cold feet at being among the first men to do it. He's maybe two grades above me or so, and I keep telling him that he's gotta take it for the team and start normalizing it. He's on board! 

  • Senior VP in HF - Other
Apr 30, 2021 - 1:14am

Thats great - my friends are at the wrong funds, ha. No joke, I've had friends at top tier funds basically take a week for paternity. I agree, make your husband take more. Its an antiquated policy to not allow men to take more and its likely rooted in old school mentality of the wife is home...but as you have proven that's not the case these days. 

Apr 29, 2021 - 9:04pm

Bump, interesting to see OP's or any other Woman's response. Women that I've met from MBA programs are so different than typical women you'd meet. Easy to see that they're stuck in the I want a high paying/stress career and also be a mom that raises their kids/wants a family and they're always stressing dealing with that dichotomy. I've met one who actually didn't care what her husband did but she's been with him for over 9 years since they were undergrads in college.

I personally think that women can't have their cake and eat it to in this instance. Most men in my opinion that work very "prestigious" jobs are terrible fathers and husbands in my opinion. To them work comes first and family second, it takes a strong kind of woman to deal with a man like that, ngl.

Apr 30, 2021 - 1:55pm

Sorry I missed your post.

I think you're right this dichotomy is extremely prevalent among women who are single at the MBA and looking to date. Rightfully so, because I think you have to plan years in advance, vet the jobs and the men carefully and with all that take calculated risk to make it all work together. It's a lot to keep in mind and requires some balls to execute, but ultimately there are women who do and are successful - it's just that there aren't that many in numbers.

Your observations about men in 'prestigious' jobs are broadly in line with my own, except that there are always exceptions. A lot of men I met and became friends with during my MBA were actually outwardly neutral or at least feminist, but once you dug a little deeper you realized they held these deeply antiquated views. Someone who I became very good friends with quite openly said he was looking for someone ambitious and well educated, but she must be willing to give up that ambition to raise kids. There were other men, unsurprisingly most from finance/PE or military backgrounds who were just flat-out openly misogynistic but I'd say they were the minority. I didn't need to date any of those men to notice major red flags that would exclude me from ever being romantically interested, and if a woman spends far more time with the man than I ever did and never saw the red flags she's either blind, dumb or ignoring the issue on purpose. You'd be surprised how much I see this behavior among otherwise smart and successful women - they either never ask any questions or just get dazzled and let a man who told you exactly who he was upfront get away with murder. 

I also think a lot of women just assume that they "must" leave finance or give up on their careers once they have kids so they make the decisions in anticipation of it. Instead of asking, what would it take to make both of these areas functional, they just assume it's impossible and act accordingly. There are probably a lot of reasons why this happens, but I don't think the assumption is necessarily true. A senior woman with kids once told me that she thinks of herself as a triathlete, so she doesn't spend time comparing herself to the sprinters or swimmers. I think if you adopt that mindset, combining kids, family and life outside the two becomes a lot more mentally manageable.

Apr 29, 2021 - 11:37pm

I honestly really enjoyed dating and saw it as a game that you can master. I've found that most men are pretty simple creatures and they frankly have zero interest whether you went to an Ivy league school, how much you make or who you know in the industry. Are you cute and fun to be around, do you take care of yourself, do you make him feel attractive and put a smile on his face? It's a totally different domain with a totally different skillset and one that is in many ways more interesting than the professional world. While I was in a few serious relationships before I met my husband, the times that I just spent in between dating a bunch of different people were always my favorite. Romantic relationships teach you a lot about yourself and people in general, if you're open-minded and pay attention and learn from your experiences. 

I met my husband in my early-mid twenties a few years before business school and he's a bit older than me. At the time I was not doing investing professionally but had an otherwise very interesting and demanding job. When we met he earned a multiple of what I did, but now it's more like a percentage difference. Let's just say I contribute significantly to our joint household income. In a few years, I'll probably outearn him because I'm arguably in a more lucrative market niche and probably from a pure credentials view in the long run it looks like he will have "married up". You could call him a growth investor I suppose ;)

From a philosophical standpoint, I don't really care how much my husband makes as long as together we make enough and I feel like the lifestyle is working for both of us. I don't think he's the type to stay at home, but if at some point he raised his hand, I don't think I'd mind. I know women who fall on both sides of the spectrum of this debate and salivate over their new date's resume, and others who are pretty happy to date architects, corporate types or teachers. That is to say, don't jump to early conclusions and if you find someone more credentialed than you attractive make a move. You miss 100% of shots you don't take!

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 29, 2021 - 9:59pm

It was hundreds of [applicants], like 1% black and maybe 4-6% female. Given that there's a push for say 30% female representation it should give you an idea of the edge that being URM can give you in recruiting.

Does your firm engage in this insulting hiring practice? How many reputable firms are out there that don't do this?

Edit: Sorry about the crude comment folks. Should've kept this to myself, but I'll leave it up for reference. Thank you OP for taking the time to do this Q&A, and sorry again if I messed up the thread.

  • Investment Analyst in HF - Event
May 1, 2021 - 12:11pm

Prospect in IB-M&A

It was hundreds of [applicants], like 1% black and maybe 4-6% female. Given that there's a push for say 30% female representation it should give you an idea of the edge that being URM can give you in recruiting.

Does your firm engage in this insulting hiring practice? How many reputable firms are out there that don't do this?

Edit: Sorry about the crude comment folks. Should've kept this to myself, but I'll leave it up for reference. Thank you OP for taking the time to do this Q&A, and sorry again if I messed up the thread.

I don't think you asked an out of line question at all. I am a male immigrant from one of the "wrong" minority backgrounds, and find this practice that mainly benefit already advantaged white women and black men grotesque.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - CB
May 4, 2021 - 5:32pm

"Already advantaged white women and black men" ah yes that explains why everyone from those demographics has some horror story about racism/sexism/etc... because they're so advantaged.

May 18, 2021 - 12:53pm

I have seen resume books with this similar stats - it depends on the firm if they are ultimately able to hire for the representation that they want. Generally all firms will stay consistent with their hiring standards, so what this means is that the top tier women and POC candidates end up at top tier firms, and then the rest of the firms are unable to meet their representation goals and end up with a non-diverse team.

Alternately, at a lot of places there is lip service to representation, but the hiring manager doesn't really care. You would think that these policies would mean that if you have two close candidates that the firm will go with the woman in the end, but usually the final decision rests with someone who doesn't really care about the firm's representation goals. So you'll have a male and female candidate in final rounds and then "like me" bias takes over and the firm hires the dude. 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Apr 29, 2021 - 11:12pm

Just want to say thank you for doing this. Great responses so far and looking forward to following this thread. You seem like a great person to work with and good role model for other women in the industry.

  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Comm
May 2, 2021 - 8:45am

19-45
you cast a wide basket my friend....

(why is he getting MS? it's clearly ironic...)

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Apr 30, 2021 - 2:19pm

Thank you so so much for doing this! You are an inspiration! Just curious what are some of the best ways to seek out and stay in touch with mentors? What are some of the best pieces of career advice you have received so far?

May 1, 2021 - 10:48am

IME the people for whom mentorship really helps with their career progression are the cases where somebody takes them under their wing as an apprentice. I've been in a professional setup like it a long time ago, but it's not always easy to replicate in my experience. Typically you'd work for them directly as an employee and they'd be very invested in your career success. The best way I've seen someone do this is by basically following a fast-rising manager around as they change areas of focus or even funds. Think, Pete Peterson & Steve Schwarzman. Often that initial manager assignment is sheer luck, but I think you could possibly try to engineer it. My impression is that there's always some factor that makes you just so much better and more trustworthy than anyone else they get to work with and you have little control over your competition, especially if you choose to go to a big org.

To be honest, I am personally not very good with generating or maximizing that setup. I've been in a setup like this once, with someone who was already C-level, but I got there by the sheerest and most unbelievable dumb luck. While I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot, I was ultimately looking to exit the said industry pretty much shortly thereafter to move into investing, again through a good dose of luck. 

I'm way better at utilizing networks than I am at schmoozing with the right people, but it's more just finding and leveraging the right (human) resources not mentorship. Most of the things you learn that way is tactics that you can use to accomplish a specific goal or maximize the likelihood of a certain outcome. I'd also add that while I might seek advice from someone in a certain domain where they're accomplished, I won't necessarily think highly of them as authority figures beyond that domain. There are a lot of people that have helped me at certain times, that I respect but wouldn't necessarily be friends with. Hope that makes sense.

I think the best career advice that I've gotten has almost always been observed, rather than given to me because people talk whatever makes them feel good, but what do they really do and what were the things that drove their success? There are a couple of things I've learnt that have stayed with me and helped me get the "macro" pieces right.

Choose your manager, not your job. Make sure he likes you, you at least respect him and perhaps often overlooked, but that also his/her manager likes him/her too. Working for someone not well-liked can stall your career even if they're otherwise great and talented. 

Choose geography, industry, niche, people you work with, and only then job  - go where you see the most compelling opportunity set given your present and projected future needs. Be honest about your needs to yourself and it will put you on a path towards personal fulfillment - so many people are not and are still trying to impress their parents, friends and strangers. 

If you're looking for stability go to a place that offers it - jurisdictions with a good labor law, benefits, healthcare etc., stable employer and then choose the best people you can work with.

If you're looking for growth and career success, go to an industry/niche/fund that's growing fast. Rising tide lifts all boats. Going to a fast-growing fund and sticking it out till the end is literally the most common way I've seen people rise to the top. 

If you're at a phase of your life where you're looking to maximize your net worth, move to a place with high incomes and most importantly low taxes. At one place I worked the people in HK earned twice the net salary than people in London. If you're pulling 7+ figs, it's a massive difference and your costs typically don't grow nearly as fast as net salary in low tax jurisdictions.. If maximizing net worth was my objective I knew where I'd want to work.

Life is a very iterative process and little happens overnight. Some things you'll work very hard for and will be multi-year or perhaps decade-long projects until you get the pieces right, others will fall into your lap seemingly out of nowhere. The former prepares you for taking advantage of the latter so you can't really skip the work, but you can absolutely minimize it by not going the extra mile on things that no longer matter and focusing most of your energy on achieving your personal objectives. 

Also contrary to what people say, you absolutely have to manage the appearances and care greatly about them. Investing business is about judgment and you have to *project* good judgment in every aspect of your life. I've seen people not promoted or even fired because they demonstrated poor judgment in some non-work-related domain of their life.

  • Anonymous Monkey's picture
  • Anonymous Monkey
  • Rank: Chimp
Apr 30, 2021 - 5:29pm

Hey just posting here to express my support for you. Good for you for working hard and adding value in an industry that may not have always been as friendly to women as it should have been. Thanks for the doing the Q&A. Wishing all the best to you at work, at home, with your husband and hoping that everything with your pregnancy goes well

Apr 30, 2021 - 6:58pm

im a guy but WOW that is insanely impressive

you know I'm just curious u said ur almost 30 and have been married for several years. How did you manage to have a relationship and stay married when you were in PE and B school. Did u guys always make sure u saw each other on weekends or something like that. Also, LOL curious if you think ur gonna find it tough managing the AM job with the soon to be newborn baby or is your husband or potential nanny gonna be there for the baby ~ sorry if this is insensitive, just find it so cool that u already accomplished so much at such a young age

also sorry for the bombardment of questions but what do you think got you to be accepted at H/S/W. Was that your PE firm was a feeder firm to those schools or you had pretty good stats from undergrad and work experience for those schools. 

alright I'm done, but ur background is pretty dope with everything u accomplished 

May 1, 2021 - 11:46am

Managing personal relationships is always harder than managing a single career, especially with two career-minded people. At least half of the time we've been in a long-distance relationship and it's very tough, because the point of a relationship is, well, to be together. I very much tailored my business school experience to sustain my relationship. We'd see each other every other weekend and then all of the holidays. You could say it cut into my b-school experience, but frankly, I have no regrets because I see that time as an investment into the most important relationship I have with another person in my life.

Because of our long-distance period, we've really prioritized living together above all else. We've both turned down attractive job offers that would require us to move to a place where the other person's career would likely take a hit. Ultimately, our current situation is a joint sacrifice that we've agreed to be for the next few years that combine a few of our individual and joint goals, but likely won't be long-term optimal. We negotiated to arrive at this setup for over a year and then it took another year to execute.

I'm not going to lie, sometimes it gets very hard and I know from friends' anecdotes marriage is no easy arrangement for most people. With that said, it gets better over time as you learn to negotiate better with each other and learn about each other's needs and dreams. We've also worked with personal and couple's therapists to help address some problems that we've had, but unlike most people I see it as a positive sign - both of us are committed to addressing our problems rather than sweep them under the rug. 

We are definitely going to hire full-time help for the baby from early on to reduce stress in our relationship and given our unpredictable hours, we will also have a full-time+ nanny for when both of us are back to work. My husband will take a significant time off to help and even be the primary caregiver for some time before I go back to work. He wants to be an involved dad (his wasn't) and I think it's really important that if/when I need to travel he can assume the primary responsibility for the child. I am extremely lucky, because he wants to be a parent and I think will make a fantastic dad.

As for the H/S/W question, I think I just fell into a bunch of buckets of what they were looking for/missing in the class they were forming and I hit the medians on most of the stats they report. I also had a pretty interesting story, but I know people of superior intelligence and accompishment with more interesting stories who never applied. To be absolutely honest with you, most of the people at these schools are not some divine creatures, but maybe above average successful young professionals. There are some but still very few truly interesting/impressive persons with unbelievable life stories in those schools. The majority are still people in finance, consulting, and corporates who followed the rules maybe marginally better than the rest of the applicants from their demographic pools. 

  • Analyst 3+ in IB - Ind
Apr 30, 2021 - 7:11pm

What's dating like at the MBA level? I've had trouble finding the time to do it while working in banking (COVID did not help). My next job will probably be equally sweaty in PE. Worried that I missed out in college on finding a person from the right background and have had generally poor success with apps in terms of finding a person who has similar career ambitions/interests.

In a prior comment, you mentioned you had an SO pre-MBA so interested in hearing your observations from what you've seen of your peers, etc.

May 1, 2021 - 12:04pm

It's worse than I thought! I'd say maybe 30-40% of my class was single, 30% in relationships (and there were many, many engagements over the course of 2 years), 30% married or engaged. I was obviously not very plugged into the dating scene, but from what I heard from my single friends it's not an easy one to crack. Men complained of lack of options (the good ones already taken, not pretty/smart/interesting enough, too career-oriented, not the right values, wrong goals etc.), women complained about men not being serious to commit or being misogynistic in their expectations.

From what I heard there was lots of hooking up going on especially during trips, but I frankly never really saw it and rarely heard the specifics. Also, surprisingly from my own experience and those of other friends', men and women were pretty shameless about hitting on married/committed people, so you have to be prepared that MBA can challenge your existing relationship especially in a long-distance situation. 

In terms of numbers/stats, I'd say almost everyone single was looking, but only about 10% of all class found their S.O. at school. If you do the math, it's about 1/3 or 1/4 of the people looking and that excludes people who exited their LTRs during MBA or were hmmm.. let's say "opportunistic" behind their S.O.'s at home back. Whether that's good or bad is up to you to judge, but I personally wouldn't bank on MBA as the place to find a S.O. if I am totally honest. 

P.S. I met my husband on an app, and I don't think either of us were looking to get married, but here we are. 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
May 1, 2021 - 12:28pm

Thank you for taking the time to do this. Some questions:

1. Apologies if I missed but did you return to the same fund post-MBA? If you did, what do you think helped you secure the return offer or what helped others who did?

2. Do you have any advice for women entering the buyside, specifically on strong performance, balancing personal life in those early years, anything else you found helpful?

3. With the heightened focus on hiring women have you noticed an uptick in opportunities you're presented with and more investment in you as a professional by your current firm to retain you?

May 2, 2021 - 3:35pm

1. I changed the type of investing that I did and it was very well understood that I won't be coming back. From what I know most people who came back were sponsored i.e. their employer very much expressed interest in them coming back to work for them and in fact paid for their MBA. If I wanted to come back, I'd discuss your MBA plans and ask if they'd consider paying for (part of) it.

2. The most important thing (and that applies to all careers) is to go to a place where people are committed to your success and learning, and treat you fairly. You don't want to go to a place where they positively or negatively discriminate against you, because it will mess with your self-image and impair your learning. Also early on it's extremely important that you go to a place which gives you optionality and exposure. I never had the chance to do them, but I think some rotational programs are absolutely great, because you could walk into an industry, asset class or function that you want to keep building on. It took me a few iterations to figure out what my real interests are, what hours were too much or too little, and what kind of culture I do best in. If you know already what you want to do, to the extent you can make your numbers work ignore the comp and go work for people who can and will teach you the ropes of the business line you are interested in. 

I also think it's OK to set aside your personal life to develop your professional for some time if you have too many things to juggle, but have a timeline for when you will address those priorities. When it comes to your job and relationships, I've learnt that above all else the most important thing is to take care of yourself. I've seen people neglect their physical and mental well-being and that leads to a host of issues down the line and frankly is not always that easy to recover from. It's best not to get to a terrible point in the first place.

I'm not suggesting you become self-obsessed, but taking care of yourself will help with your self-esteem, career success and relationships, especially as a woman. Nobody likes to date/work with unhappy, unattractive people, so do your best to keep fit, eat healthy, watch your weight, take care of your skin and hair, and wear pieces that are flattering and look professional yet personable. Don't think you need to spend exorbitant amounts of money for any of this, but you need to invest some time & money, ideally early in life to experiment with what works for you because you'll have limited amounts of time to do it when you're on the job. 

If you're on the job, don't feel bratty for investing in a few personal training sessions to figure out a program, subscribe to a healthy meal delivery service to kill the take-out temptation, or get a session with a make up artist and/or a hairdresser to figure out a 10-15min morning routine that will save you tons of time in the mornings and will likely look better than your self-discovered efforts. One of the best investments I ever made was to get myself a laser skin removal all over, because it's solved that problem for years if not life and it's a one-off cost ($100 bikini waxes every 3 weeks, anyone?). When it comes to clothes, if you have the money by all means go all out, but don't feel like you have to. I personally still don't own a single purse or pair of shoes for more than a few hundred dollars and have managed to snag a good number of really nice new dresses from ebay at sometimes just 10-20% of retail price. I've never worked with a personal stylist, but if I was feeling lost I totally would do it to figure out what cuts and colours work best on me. 

3. Yes and no. From what I've seen at mine and husband's firms mid-seniority women tend to get more stretch assignments/promotions, but I'm below that paygrade. If anything, I'd be cautious about such setup because an assignment you're not well-positioned to succeed in can tank your career and I've seen it happen before. At my level, I haven't really felt any privileged treatment, if anything often times I feel like I'm given the less glamorous, less straightforward work but I also suspect it might have something to do with my prior experience and possibly some politics. I personally don't mind so far, because I feel it increases my value to the firm and makes me harder to replace, but if it went on for years I might feel less happy about it.

I suspect that when I was negotiating the terms of my employment, and it was not straightforward negotiation by any means, the fact that I am a highly qualified candidate AND a woman might have played a role. My firms' policy is more or less to wait to hire the right woman, but to never lower the standard. 

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
May 1, 2021 - 1:52pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this - two questions:

How did you navigate the MBA application process with your pre-MBA employer? The process is intense for everyone, but personally I've found it difficult to ask for time/space to prepare adequately without feeling like I'm compromising my work performance (I'd seriously contemplate my current firm for post-MBA and there is a clear path to promotion) vs. that of my male colleagues. 

In addition to the PE thread, I've also seen several threads discussing admission stats for top MBA programs, namely that "traditional" backgrounds like buyside investing are increasingly disadvantaged. What's your take on this given your thoughts on diversity in admissions and how did you see that shake out in your own MBA process?

May 2, 2021 - 4:04pm

I just told my recommenders and asked to keep it private. I had actually done the standardized testing in my late senior year, so that was out of the way. I also applied only to 2-3 schools and was open to re-applying next year if it didn't work out, which cut down the number of recommendations and essays I needed to write at that given moment. I spread it over weekends and took some days off when the workload was lighter. It definitely took time and was pretty stressful, but I think the biggest time-saver was just cutting down on the number of schools.

It also depends how badly you need to go next year, right? You can spread out the application prep over a few months and streamline the recs. I just had 2 or 3 recommenders and they pretty much sent the same thing to every school. I know for others they literally asked to do it yourself and they'll sign whatever needs to be signed. It's obviously a big no-no and I didn't do it, but I knew plenty of people at the school who told me that that's what they did.

If you need to study a lot for the tests to bring up the scores it can be a significant time sink. As far as I recall, I took a few mock tests that diagnosed my problem areas. I revised that material on google, retook another mock test and then went ahead with the real thing. It was stressful because I felt like I didn't study enough, but the score was actually totally fine. YMMV. 

As for the diversity admissions, honestly, if you're a black female at a respectable fund you're golden. In finance/consulting I generally felt that white and over-represented minority men had it the hardest, because no matter how much of a unique snowflake they think they are there are just so many others with that same cookie-cutter profile and the same life struggles. This forum literally caters to them uniformly navigating their way through that segment of the job market. If you're a white dude who worked for an NGO in Latin America that built power generators in underserved favelas your chances are probably higher than the 100th woman in fashion/FMCG/consulting or ORM/White male from MM PE fund.

I was very happy with my admissions outcomes and essentially got to go to my top choice (and it was a huge surprise!). I put my best foot forward, but it's a pretty involved process and you have no control over your competition. I've helped a few people apply before and been plenty surprised by the outcomes one way or the other, which tells me that I might have just gotten very lucky. I also know quite a few people who were waitlisted/rejected and reapplied and were accepted, so even if it doesn't pan out the way you want, you should read it as "not now" rather than "never".

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
May 3, 2021 - 1:19pm

Thank you very much for all the insights you've shared. I am starting at a large cap PE fund soon and considering MBA down the road. As a non-US citizen and non-green card holder in the US, I would say that visa sponsorship (green card in the future) has been the main consideration when it comes to evaluating job offers and career paths. Presume few people in MBA might share a similar profile but want to see if you have any perspective on how receptive buyside firms are to taking in MBA candidates with such background.

May 4, 2021 - 12:11pm

Frankly, I think your options will be limited and the firms that do have international offices will encourage you to consider those offices. I didn't have this issue personally but had friends with similar constraints. With all that said, there *are* funds that sponsor, just that they're typically of a certain size and your options would be limited to the top funds (that also happen to be the best opportunities everybody else wants!). So it's doable, it's just much harder than for citizens/green cardholders. Also be wary, because I've anecdotally heard that some firms tend to underpay, cut your bonus if they know that you're on the hook so to speak.

I'm not sure how set you are in your plans to stay in the US, do the PE route, but I know a few people who opted out of it, because they ultimately didn't see themselves becoming a partner at the MFs that would sponsor (as they're not well-networked, white and don't play golf) and concluded that the payoff not quite worth it in the end. Some of them stayed and pursued other careers and others chose to leave to typically other anglosphere countries with more lax immigration laws and have great careers. I totally understand that if you have a "non-competitive" passport, it can be a huge impediment to your life and career, but then I've seen people who moved to other jurisdictions pretty happy with their choice. I think a massive downside to US citizenship is also the global tax (likely growing and tightening), so you have to choose for yourself if the cost of this is worth the benefits for you and your (future) family. I'm not saying that it's a bad decision to stay as an international student, I'd just say that it's not as clear cut one as it was 20 years ago.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
May 4, 2021 - 3:38am

It's super refreshing to read about your experiences - thanks for doing this!

Has it been difficult to navigate your relationship through B-school and your buyside role (as it sounds like both you and your husband have demanding careers)? My boyfriend and I will be starting work full-time and we are both in banking. Generally, I don't anticipate any issues as we are both on the same page in life and understand the demands of our jobs. However, I would appreciate any advice you have for prioritizing relationships + work.

I am also really curious how you go about diligencing funds - especially when it comes to their culture & whether or not it is an environment that women can flourish in. I know looking at the number of women in senior roles is always telling. Is there anything else I should pay attention to? I find it difficult to really get a "feel" for a firm after only a handful of interactions with its employees.

Thank you again :) It is inspiring to read about a woman like you who is living out the life I hope to live in ~10 or so years. Congratulations on the baby on the way!

May 4, 2021 - 12:22pm

It has been difficult, but not impossible. It's very important that you trust each other and speak openly about your feelings and experiences. Figure out activities you can do with each other (grabbing lunch, gym time) and if possible and appropriate also move in together. Spending time together and conversation are the two currencies of a relationship. You'll be tied up with work so you have to figure out how to maxmise the amount and quality of the time you spend with each other.

My advice is to try to get more than a handful of interactions. Speak with ex-employees, especially women and if possible figure out how to meet the team in a less formal setting. Stalk the team members on social media, do they have families? What does their spouse do? What does the google search turn up? See if you can find videos of speeches, panels etc. from conferences. How do they come across? It's no different than properly diligencing a company - you just really want to understand the types of personalities involved and how they think. Pay more attention to track record than their words. Most of the time people tell you exactly who they are if you pay attention. Trust your instincts - if something comes across as weird, creepy or just doesn't sit right, consider yourself warned. Sometimes you only have bad options - then go with the least bad one and start building an exit plan from day 1 or if possible keep looking/create more opportunities for yourself.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
May 4, 2021 - 11:00am

Thank you for doing this! Bookmarked several of your posts to refer to later on. All advice is much appreciated. 

  1. What ultimately convinced you to go to business school to begin with? What were your main pro / cons and considerations? (I'm fairly certain I'll end up staying in PE and see business school as a significant opportunity cost, particularly now that non-MBA promotions are more of a thing, but I'm very curious to hear your thoughts) 
  2. What do you wish you had done differently (if anything) when you started your first buyside role? What advice would you give to female PE associates as they start their careers at buyside funds, especially after working at a much larger consulting firm / major bank
  3. How common / easy is it to lateral to a different fund at a mid-level (senior associate, non-MBA VP)? I definitely chose my firm based on the people; they all seemed thoughtful, encouraging, considerate, and team-focused and I know that liking and respecting my bosses (and feeling like they respect me / are interested in my development) has always been a huge driver for me. However, I could see myself eventually moving into a more niche space that's more tech/ consumer focused and I'm wondering if that would be difficult or lateraling frowned upon after a few years of generalist (but heavily healthcare and technology) buyout investing 
May 4, 2021 - 11:52am

1. I wanted a structured way to try out and potentially lateral into another branch of investing, was ideally looking to switch my geography and frankly to pad my resume a bit and give myself a business credential (my background was quite technical). The academic piece was a bit of a "meh..", you're probably better off studying for the CFA, but I hit my objectives in every other way. My exit ops out of business school and ability to negotiate my comp/benefits was by some margin better than if I had just tried to do it by lateraling into another fund. Not to say you can't do it on your own, it might just take a bit more time and possibly stress.

With all that said, I'm a firm believer that the best people don't go to business school because the opportunity cost is too high. We had some majorly successful people in our cohort who had accomplished a lot, but due to unforeseen circumstances or because they simply wanted to, they needed regrouping and rethinking what's next. Without those circumstances business school would be a waste of time in their case. Outside of this, the main reasons why people go are industry/function/geography change, street cred, social aspect & dating, socially acceptable holiday and in some cases academic. If you are not interested in any of those, save yourself the time and money, and don't feel like you missed out on anything.

2. Hard to give any specific advice besides going to the right place where people are invested in your success and you see a good runway. Apart from that, I think it's very circumstantial but happy to share my own experience. In my first role I was a bit over my head, and was arguably hired for a more senior position than I was ready for. Add to that the fact that in most professional jobs junior staff are given directions, but once you are hired for a certain level you drive the process yourself and sometimes even manage and negotiate the resources to do it.

While I was arguably an excellent performer, I think I made a lot of tactical mistakes early that made myself to be perceived less seriously. I was not very politically savvy, but this position definitely required a lot of tact and ability to manage people and relationships. It didn't help that I was by far the youngest investment staff there, so it made some of the things I did (like board involvement, presenting to the investment committee, dealing with other investors etc.) far more challenging from the get-go. While some of it was unavoidable (and an absolutely great learning experience!), I wish I had spent a bit more time observing how things are done and how to come across as more mature at least internally before I started working on my objectives. Appearances matter a great deal in this business.

3. My personal anecdotal impression is that it gets a lot harder the longer you wait. I'd say I saw a decent amount of opportunity when recruiting at my level, but for example at the principal level and beyond a new role seems to take years rather than months to find. For one there are just far fewer positions and second people become less maleable and replaceable the further they are in their careers. I'd say in your case, you'd be better off speaking to a recruiter who sees these transitions happen and will know how people went about executing them and what's the most optimal way to do it.

May 4, 2021 - 5:02pm

Hello, greeting from Paris. I have 5y experience in data analysis including 2y as Data Manager. I recently move to the 2nd largest investment bank in France in sales and trading department. I work in data strategy and gouvernance in order to improve the data quality for our financial market services. I'm really interested in PE and VC, and I heard that a top MBA such as Wharton/Booth/Columbia/London BS can really open the possibilities. However, it does require pre-MBA IBD experience. In my case, I'm working in the Back Office in my IBD. Does it really take account? I'm already have TOEFL 110 and GRE 334. Just preparing for the application. Thank you so much.

May 5, 2021 - 2:59pm

Without knowing too much about your specific situation I can only say that currently being in the back office is a tough sell to both b-schools and PEVC funds, because it carries a lot of stigma and is considered a pretty uncompetitive, low-level job. For the sake of your applications I'd suggest you try to make a move into investing role or perhaps move to an interesting startup in the interim to maximise your chances of a good outcome. With that said, I think you have two interesting angles, which may not necessarily land you in the principal investment role but might get you to an interesting career nevertheless. A lot of funds these days seem to be setting up a data science function and your qualifications might be attractive for them, but you probably don't need an MBA to land a job like this. Another angle could be industry knowledge/network of bank back-office operations and how companies could land contracts in the said space. Overall, I wouldn't say it's an impossible switch, but it is likely a multi-step process and I think you need to be very strategic on how you're going to position yourself.

May 5, 2021 - 2:24pm

I'm not sure I'm very qualified to answer either of those questions, so I'll keep my answers short.

The idea of a checklist is probably as old as history of writing, but I have not personally seen anyone employ it as some sort of standard operating procedure across the entire fund. What you're referring to might be an internal list that people use to put together a memo highlighting the key risks and opportunities and to make sure that nothing obvious is missed. The sections will probably be the same as you see at any memo. 

I never did banking and was not hired for my financial engineering skills, so I never really worked on teams that did some wildly creative stuff in terms of structures or considered deal structure their ultimate edge. For the most part, deal structure is a function of the opportunity in front of you, stakeholder risk profile & needs. When it comes to the structure for each deal it is always driven by the circumstances - i.e. how can we capture the most upside, minimize the amount of risk we are taking while still winning the deal. As a result, it will also really depend on your market niche and company stage, earlier stages you'll probably see more of e.g. convertible debt, mezzanine (is that even creative?), all kinds of protective terms e.g. ratchets, distressed will typically restructure the debt with some equity-like upside, at later stages you'll see PIPEs, carve-outs etc. With all that said, there is some fashion component to it, e.g. nowadays as I'm sure you're aware you see a lot of SPAC deals - to a point where I no longer consider it particularly novel or creative. If you are studying for interviews, I'd really suggest to study your niche/industry and speak to people about what's commonly seen, what are the common risks and what deal structures minimize them. 

If I'm missing anything, please others more knowledgeable feel free to chime in.

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