My Life - How I got into PE

This is my story of how I got into PE. Just want to point out that there are some non-standard paths out there. I thought I would share it if it can inspire some kids on the website.

Below is the full story, but from all those past years, these are some of the major things that I learned:
1. Be nice to everybody, you never know who is who, and it is a f*cking small world.
2. There are no shortcuts - stuff always catches up with you someday, somehow.
3. Take risks early in life so that you can fail early (small consequences) rather than late (big consequences).
4. Learn to do small talk and network with older people early.
5. NEVER trust headhunters with your career.
6. Actively date foreign chicks.
7. Constantly push yourself to learn and fill every knowledge gap you have in your job.

Here is the story:

I was one of those well-below average students in high school in some European country. By some miracle somehow, I managed to get my high school degree (barely passed - I hated school with a vengeance). But with my crap grades, no uni would accept me in this entire country.

So the only alternative to some post office job was to go overseas. Its a long story, but I eventually ended up going to some bottom third-tier university in some far-away third-tier English-speaking country on some kind of scholarship (my family is poor). It was no joke though, I can tell you. My English was really crap, and I could not understand anything at all during the lectures (it was a business course). Anyway it sucked big time, and by the end of the first year I was just passing the classes, and failed a couple. Having a poor English also meant that I was not able to get decent internships. My first internship was a blue-collar internship processing ham in a cold storage factory!!

But not speaking English ended up having some major positives:
- I started to take a lot of finance, maths, programming classes in my second and third year, because that only involves numbers. I was hungry and studied hard and actually became quite good at the stuff and somehow managed to graduate in the top 10% (but remember, this is a shitty school, so it was quite easy with some hard work).
- I dated the "foreign" chicks that also had poor English :) I dated some Asian chicks and took some language courses and after some time I became fluent in a major Asian language, which I always used to differentiate myself

So after graduation I end up working at the meat factory in some random admin job.

- - This is where the real shit really starts - -

>>> 6 months into the meat factory job, lucky star strikes. I was living in a "luxury" flat (because we were 7 people sharing a 2 bedroom, hippie style) and there was a expat-banker living in the same building from my home country. He used to live in the Asian country that I knew the language of, and we kind of connected and I managed to get some banking back office job through him.

>>> 6 months into the shitty back office job, I realise that I want to work in the thing people call "front office" that seems to be the promised land. I start to work my butt off and made a strong impression on the boss building some kick-ass VBA excel macros to spot mistakes (thanks programming classes) and working my ass off and reading lots of technical shit. I then asked him to recommend me to some graduate programme somewhere, so that I can work in the front office. Failed. Then I call that expat-banker that I met before - he has now moved and is working in a major European financial centers. I get my boss to call him and tell him how good I am and then he managed to get me a spot in the graduate programme for some corporate banking job (relationship banking)

>>> 1 year into the corporate banking job, I realise that M&A is where its at. My boss always tells me there are two kings in banking: traders and M&A bankers. Luckily its the peak year for M&A and I managed to get an analyst spot in a shitty boutique (shitty seems to be the trend) !! Headhunters would not see me, HR would throw away my CV, so it took a lot of networking (and rejections) to get there and get my "story" right.

>>> 1 year into the M&A job (closing 0 deals and churning stupid pitchbooks), I realise that bulge brackets are where its at. But no way I can get there with my shitty degree, from a shitty boutique, I want the shortcut - the MBA! Work my ass off on my GMAT and essays from 1am to 4am every day, spin a nice story, use the language angle, international angle, how I moved from BO to FO, etc. talk to all alumn that want to listen to me - i'm in the hardcore mode. LBS...in. Insead...in. Columbia...in. MIT...in. HSW...in!!!!!!! (one of those three schools)

>>> 1 year into the HSW MBA, I can't believe how out of place I am amongst those students from Goldman and McKinsey. But I now understand that PE is where it's at - seems that every other guy is going for PE. After some reading, PE sounds really cool, I'm shooting for PE too man. I get the Apax interview, the BX interview, the Warburg Pincus, you name it. And I fail them all. Why? I can't put a model together. I never got the deal flow or experience in the shitty boutique. And I am not "like them", you know, I don't have the pedigree. Whatever, I decide to shoot for a banking job with a big name to "clean" the CV and learn some modelling. I land a job at a bulge bracket.

>>> 1 year into the bulge bracket, I get my ass badly kicked but I can do lbo models now. I start to shoot my CVs around, fail about 8 PE interviews, but finally get my PE offer from a mid market fund, $1bn AUM. Got all the interviews through pure networking (headhunters still don't want to see me), and prepared for interviews through casual networking, lots of reading, and preparing with analysts / associates also wanting to make the move.

Comments (45)

 
Jan 2, 2012 - 6:24pm

Good post, glad to see im not the only one who hates head hunters or recruiters..they are worthless scum sucking pieces of shit. fuck them

alpha currency trader wanna-be
 
Jan 2, 2012 - 6:50pm

Crazy story. Congrats.

Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys to men. From men into gladiators. And from gladiators into SWANSONS.
 
Jan 2, 2012 - 8:22pm

rastarocket:

7. Constantly push yourself to learn and fill every knowledge gap you have in your job

^^Critical! This and networking will help your career a lot.

Cool post.

Man made money, money never made the man
 
Jan 2, 2012 - 11:40pm

Thats a great story, thank you for sharing

XX
 
Jan 3, 2012 - 3:18am

thanks all for the positive comments...it has been a wild ride

On the headhunters front, really be careful of those guys, they can do stuff like:
- advising you to go in the wrong jobs because it wso/">suits the mandates they are working on. When you are a naive kid like I was, it it dangerous to your career
- saying that they have sent the CV to the PE firm but got negative feedback when they actually did NOT send the CV (again to push you into other jobs)
- sending your CV to places you have told them not to send to (i.e. competitors, clients)
- Tell you to give up / you're not good enough / you don't have the right profile, etc.

 
Jan 3, 2012 - 11:20am

And also to give you an idea of how lost/dumb/naive I was in my early career, a few genuine interview highlights of mine:

Interviewer (for a banking job): So, what is your dream job?
Me: I have always had this dream of being a fighter pilot
Interviewer: [blank stare] hmmm, ok, you are aware this is a banking interview right?
Ding.

Interviewer (for a back office job): so, what do you think about this job?
Me: Well, even though its a back office job, you sold it pretty well. So I'm quite interested, it would be a good first step into banking
Still got the offer but HR mentioned how rude this was afterwards

Interviewer (M&A job): What do you know about our firm?
Me: Not much, I had never heard of your firm before, but I'm quite impressed by the people I'm seeing so far I must say.
Ding

Interviewer (PE Interview): We do invest in both venture capital and LBO deals
Me: Really? Is that a good strategy you think? I mean. those are quite different investment styles
Interviewer: Warburg Pincus is a multi billion $ fund. I think we got our strategy right, thank you.
Ding

Interviewer (PE interview - megafund): Can you give us a good idea for investment in the consumer sector?
Me (totally unprepared for the question): hmmm, can I choose another sector?
Interviewer : no
Me: does it have to be in Europe?
Interviewer: yes, of course
Me: hmmm (1 min later). Well, there is a bra manufacturer in Netherlands that I think would be a good investment [had read the ad in the magazine in the lobby]
Interviewer: [long serious stare] so, what's so special about those bras?
Me: Well, they have high end ones [getting really stressed now]..all colours and sizes...
Interviewer [still with a very serious look]: why do you think its a good business?
Me: well, the company is targeting China and there is a big potential in this market. Woman in China on average only own 1 or 2 bras, compared to over 5 in Europe, and the premium market is untapped. And its something woman have to buy. [totally made that up]
Interviewer: Interesting. Its a really low margin business though. But let's move on.
Got dinged

 
Jan 3, 2012 - 7:08am

@Rastarocket: Good call on the bra firm. British women have the largest busts in Europe, but they are still ugly. Haha.

CNBC sucks

"This financial crisis is worse than a divorce. I've lost all my money, but the wife is still here." - Client after getting blown up

  • 1
 
Jan 3, 2012 - 9:54am

I feel like this story could make a decent HBO mini series.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
  • 2
 
Jan 3, 2012 - 10:24am

rastarocket:
The good thing about london is that chicks are ugly, the weather is bad, and life is really expensive.

Helps you stay focused on work


This should be printed on every pound note from now until forever.
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
 
Jan 3, 2012 - 11:11am

Lmao. This is great.

Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys to men. From men into gladiators. And from gladiators into SWANSONS.
 
Jan 3, 2012 - 12:45pm

This is a great story, thanks for sharing

Get busy living
 
Jan 4, 2012 - 12:50am

Screams fake. Story is so outlandish - from the background to the weird behavioral issues. I wanna see certified user status before I fully believe this one.

I just don't see how someone could be so naive in interviews yet be in a position to get them in the first place, not to mention bschool. Gotta be super polished for that.

Maybe I'm wrong but until I see that certification star, I'll maintain my doubts.

 
Jan 4, 2012 - 12:00pm

ke18sb:
Screams fake. Story is so outlandish - from the background to the weird behavioral issues.
I just don't see how someone could be so naive in interviews yet be in a position to get them in the first place, not to mention bschool. Gotta be super polished for that.

He sounds like a pretty regular guy to me, maybe not quite as much a perfectionist as your typical HWS candidate. I could easily believe all of this.

The key in all of this was his MBA, by the way. I mean yes, he's a hustler, but lots of people use an MBA to re-set their careers and snag BB interviews.

 
Jan 5, 2012 - 7:58pm

ke18sb:
Screams fake. Story is so outlandish - from the background to the weird behavioral issues. I wanna see certified user status before I fully believe this one.

I just don't see how someone could be so naive in interviews yet be in a position to get them in the first place, not to mention bschool. Gotta be super polished for that.

Maybe I'm wrong but until I see that certification star, I'll maintain my doubts.

Fake or not, the advice the OP has given is solid. Dont be a hater.

Man made money, money never made the man
 
Jan 4, 2012 - 4:30am

well I'm not going to out myself online if that's what you are suggesting. But I'll answer any question.

The story is outlandish which is why I got into B-school in the first place.
Don't forget I did graduate in the top of my class (while working part time, and in a non-native language), I spoke 4 languages fluently (the asian one, my native one, another one of my parents, and english), and had made a move from back office to M&A in a short period of time at the time of the application. And I managed to get a GMAT of 750 through pure hardcore practice.

That made for great essay stories.

And even If I wished that I got in thanks to my skills alone, there was definitely a big luck factor: I come for a country that is not well represented in US B-schools, I guess it helped a lot. Finally, I applied in 2007 during the boom years and there were not many bankers competing against me. And I had stellar recommendations including one from the expat banker.

For being naive in interviews - yes I was clueless but getting slapped in the face is how you learn best, just ask mom & dad. I didn't have friends in the industry, didn't have a career center, didnt have WSO to help me. But I did learn from my mistakes, that's why I mention the point about failing early. And you can definitely learn to be polished!!

 
Jan 4, 2012 - 6:01am

Incredible story OP. Very inspiring. Just what I needed to read. If you don't mind me asking, what do you feel the best approach to networking is? What worked best for you? Did you go with the cold email route or did you leverage friends of friends?

 
Jan 4, 2012 - 7:28am

I never used friends of friends - none of my friends had mates in PE or even banking at the time. I used the cold email route most of the time (mostly through linkedin).

My tips:

> Be brief and straight to the point. One paragraph max, 3 or 4 lines max. Long emails telling your life story are a turnoff. Introduce yourself emphasising some points that would make your relevant for the job, and tell them what you want.
> Be specific. I found out that just saying "I'm interested in PE" does not work, but "I'm really interested in mid-market funds such as yours, especially with your TMT focus" or something in those lines that is very specific works very well.
> Don't ask for a job, ask for advice. People will be much more receptive and willing to give advice as it flatters their ego. They're not dumb so no need to state the obvious anyway - they know that you want a job.
> Make their life easier and don't just ask if they have time to discuss - offer to call them when convenient and say it would be for a 5min chat.
> Try to meet in person if you can. So offer a 5 min coffee or phone chat. I found out that some guys in PE have lots of time on their hands. [ recession related I guess ]
> Don't target the junior guys (they dont give a shit, or see you as competitors) or the guys that are way too senior (they dont give a shit, dont have time, or they assistant will kill the email from their inbox). Go for VPs or Directors in banking or PE. You can try some MDs as well if there is an obvious connection.
> Dont give up. It takes a lot of time and you may only get 1 reply out of 50 emails. Keep trying. Its like buying a lot of out of the money options, you just need one black swan event to occur to hit he jackpot.
> Don't ignore the small funds or boutiques. Those guys may be more willing to meet you and may have valuable advice or connections.

Most importantly, once you get that phone call or meeting, you need to deliver the goods:
> Have a real story and something to say. Practice and know how to introduce yourself.
> Do a LOT of background research on the company and the guy you are going to meet. Nothing worse than wasting your time on some clueless, unprepared dude.
> Ask them if they can refer you to some other people. I met a guy a Carlyle who went out of his way to introduce me to other people in PE funds. He was just a nice guy trying to help. Those people do exist.
> Don't forget your manners. Offer to pay for coffee even if you're meeting with the Goldman MD (a lot of MDs did let me pay for coffees, cheap bastards), send a thank you email.
> Importantly, build long term relationships!!!! Even after I got my job in banking or PE, I sent my new contact details to all the guys that I had met before and thanked them. Someday, it will pay off. And its the right thing to do.

Another random tip - if you are a good student, ask the finance teachers for recommendations / introductions to professionals, they always will know some people.

 
Jan 4, 2012 - 6:43pm

rastarocket:
I never used friends of friends - none of my friends had mates in PE or even banking at the time. I used the cold email route most of the time (mostly through linkedin).

My tips:

> Be brief and straight to the point. One paragraph max, 3 or 4 lines max. Long emails telling your life story are a turnoff. Introduce yourself emphasising some points that would make your relevant for the job, and tell them what you want.
> Be specific. I found out that just saying "I'm interested in PE" does not work, but "I'm really interested in mid-market funds such as yours, especially with your TMT focus" or something in those lines that is very specific works very well.
> Don't ask for a job, ask for advice. People will be much more receptive and willing to give advice as it flatters their ego. They're not dumb so no need to state the obvious anyway - they know that you want a job.
> Make their life easier and don't just ask if they have time to discuss - offer to call them when convenient and say it would be for a 5min chat.
> Try to meet in person if you can. So offer a 5 min coffee or phone chat. I found out that some guys in PE have lots of time on their hands. [ recession related I guess ]
> Don't target the junior guys (they dont give a shit, or see you as competitors) or the guys that are way too senior (they dont give a shit, dont have time, or they assistant will kill the email from their inbox). Go for VPs or Directors in banking or PE. You can try some MDs as well if there is an obvious connection.
> Dont give up. It takes a lot of time and you may only get 1 reply out of 50 emails. Keep trying. Its like buying a lot of out of the money options, you just need one black swan event to occur to hit he jackpot.
> Don't ignore the small funds or boutiques. Those guys may be more willing to meet you and may have valuable advice or connections.

Most importantly, once you get that phone call or meeting, you need to deliver the goods:
> Have a real story and something to say. Practice and know how to introduce yourself.
> Do a LOT of background research on the company and the guy you are going to meet. Nothing worse than wasting your time on some clueless, unprepared dude.
> Ask them if they can refer you to some other people. I met a guy a Carlyle who went out of his way to introduce me to other people in PE funds. He was just a nice guy trying to help. Those people do exist.
> Don't forget your manners. Offer to pay for coffee even if you're meeting with the Goldman MD (a lot of MDs did let me pay for coffees, cheap bastards), send a thank you email.
> Importantly, build long term relationships!!!! Even after I got my job in banking or PE, I sent my new contact details to all the guys that I had met before and thanked them. Someday, it will pay off. And its the right thing to do.

Another random tip - if you are a good student, ask the finance teachers for recommendations / introductions to professionals, they always will know some people.

Solid advice. I just purchased some WSO credits and as soon as they're cleared, I'll send you some SB's. I can't imagine what people did before LinkedIn. The people that really benefit from the website are non-target kids looking to get into the industry, not so much the IBD guys that expose themselves, lol. I definitely agree with your point about analysts and the younger crowd. They don't really care, unless you have a connection; Be it a frat, alumni, previous mutual employer, etc. Just wanted to add that. Your post should seriously be pinned on the IB forum. It would eliminate something like 30% of the topics on this forum.

 
Jan 4, 2012 - 3:07pm

normally I dont comment on such "rags to riches" stories but damn man your tale is just fucking awesome!!! kuddos to you for hanging in tough there. i made the cut into the M&A of a top 5 BB from a non-target and I thought i had to work hard for it, but nothing compared to yours.

Note: for all of you non-target people aspiring to get into IBD and whining on this forum about not being able to get access to recruiters or a strong alumni network, this should serve as a wake up call. you dont get shit unless you hustle. stop whining and get your act together. there's nothing called a free lunch!!

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