Lessons from a PE Case Study

As some of you know, I recently quit my "career" at a Big 4 firm with no prospects, no money, and a growing family. If that sounds irresponsible to you, you're not alone. Some of my more traditional family members have been unable to hide their disapproval, and I have the distinct feeling that people don't buy my story; I say I quit to look for something more challenging, lucrative, and meaningful , and all they hear is that I couldn't handle my job so I came back home. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what others think, only what I do.

I had been interviewing all over the place, working as hard as I could, but nothing seemed to be working out. Then, one day I received a mass email from my alma mater's career center advertising an analyst opening at a respected local PE firm. I submitted my resume and was called back for an interview the next day. The interview went well, apparently, because I was pushed through to the next round immediately. The next round must have gone well too, because I was informed that the third round would be a case study. If I experienced fear after finding out that I didn't get the investment banking job I was so confident about that I quit my job, it was nothing compared to the feeling I had when facing a PE case study interview with zero experience.

I was under no illusion that my success in interviews so far was because of my technical brilliance. They liked me, and I'm sure some of the interviewers went to bat for me because of that alone. So facing the prospect of a case study interview in which ex-bankers would also be competing was terrifying. After all, bills were stacking up and my only prospect happened to be my dream job. No big deal.

I studied up on case studies, financial modeling, and assessing investments, but the preparation time was very limited. The day finally came, and I woke up early to an email attachment full of historical financial data on a private company. I was still full of fear, but I got to choose how I faced it. I obtained a CapIQ login, locked myself in a room and got to work. I turned my fear into focus and 22 hours later I emerged with financial models, a slide deck, and a recommendation to invest. For all my talk, I had never actually put together a financial model before, but that day I valued the company using trading comps, transaction comps, DCF and an LBO. "Focused" isn't often used to describe me, except when I'm working toward something I really want… like going from auditor to PE analyst. At the end of those 22 hours, I fell asleep for a few before heading to the company's offices to present. I presented, was grilled by two associates, a VP, and an MD, and it was clear I didn't have a pure finance background. But they must have liked something, because I wasn't even home yet when they called me and told me that the final round is Monday and I'm one of two remaining candidates.

I don't know what is going to happen. Obviously I hope for the best but even if I don't get the job I've learned some invaluable lessons about myself. I've learned that fear is not necessarily a negative emotion, as long as it leads to conquering the source of the fear. I've learned that there is nothing to fear at all as long as you are willing to put in the work. And I've learned that when you work in such a way that you have no regrets, success will find you. Thomas Jefferson once said, "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it". If I didn't feel that same way before, I do now.

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