I am about 3 weeks removed from receiving three PE offers (from MFs and top MM firms), both elated and relieved to be done with such a crazy process. I saw that another user commented saying he'd do a write-up about his experience going through the recruiting process and figured I'd wait to write up mine until after, but I haven't seen his so figured I'll just go ahead with my post. This community was absolutely instrumental in helping secure the offers, so I think it'd be incredibly selfish to not give back and write about my experience.
To give you a little bit of background about me: 1st year analyst working at a mid-level BB in a mid-level coverage group. Top-25 (non-Ivy) school, solid GPA, didn't summer in banking and recruited full-time.
I think this post is best served in 4 distinct parts:
1) initial headhunter meetings
2) preparation for the process,
3) coffee chats, dinners and the actual interview process, and
1) Initial Headhunter Meetings
Plain and simple, everything starts with the headhunters. They are the gatekeepers to basically every interview process and are incredibly important. If you work at a BB or an elite boutique, the headhunters will begin reaching out to you in October / November. You do not need to email them before you start working or anything like that - it'll serve you no benefit and will only hurt you in the process. They'll reach out to you. With that said, I have a funky email address that includes my middle initial, so when all of my peers received the messages from Dynamics/CPI/Amity/Glocap/etc., I did not. This sucks, but just have one of your coworkers forward you the email they received. It is perfectly fine if they haven't emailed you, and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to speak with you if you email them introducing yourself and asking to meet in person.
There are a few important points to note with these headhunter interviews. First and foremost, you only get one shot at meeting/impressing them and proving that you'll be capable of going through PE/HF recruiting and being in front of their clients. Treat these initial interviews as you would any other important interview. I see people on here saying "ah yeah the headhunter meetings don't matter much" - this is the wrong attitude. Unless you're at BX/other top groups, you absolutely have to come off polished when you meet with them. I prepped for these meetings like I was prepping for a 1st round interview. They'll ask you to walk them through your resume, what you're looking for, why PE or why HF, where do you want to work, what kind of funds are you targeting, what are some names you're targeting, things like that. One of the ways I think you can differentiate yourself here is knowing EXACTLY what you're looking for. If you can name specific funds and why (e.g. is it their specific strategy? Is it because you worked on a deal with them? Do you know somebody there? Did somebody from your group go there? Is their head of C&R/Healthcare/Tech investing really well known? etc.), it'll help you immensely. I think I got interviews at a few places because I specifically listed those firms as firms offering what I could consider a dream opportunity.
If you have a deal on your resume, expect for some of the headhunters that are former bankers (e.g. CPI, Glocap, HSP) to ask you to walk through the deal. I had kids in my group not prepare for these meetings and get sort of grilled (CPI did this) and not receive any interviews from that respective headhunter, while I received multiple interviews because I came prepared. You can't come off wishy-washy here - you need to know that you're either doing HF or PE, what size fund (i.e. middle market/large cap/MF/lower middle market/growth equity), where, and why. You can tell different recruiters different things (i.e. tell one you want PE, another you want HF), but unless you're at a top group that consistently sends people to MFs/top HFs, then you need to know what you want.
Another thing I'd like to note is that, while the headhunters are the middle men in the process, you also play an important role and it is in their best interest to meet as many candidates as possible to try to place as many people as possible. That's how they get paid. They understand that you're a banker and there are a lot of demands on your time/life, so it is perfectly reasonable to wait to respond to their introductory emails several weeks (or months) later to make sure you're ready. I waited until December to meet with the headhunters and I was fine. If you need to cancel and reschedule, that's fine too so long as you do it professionally. If you know one week you're going to be getting crushed and you have a headhunter meeting scheduled for 8:00am that Wednesday, email them and ask to reschedule; they understand. Just don't do this several times.
Lastly, not all headhunters are created equally. Some of them, for whatever reason, just won't click with you, which sucks but it is what it is. Some of them are just dicks and aren't worth your time. I had a particularly awful meeting with one of the recruiters at SearchOne where the person essentially told me I was an idiot and I didn't understand the size distinctions between PE firms. Jokes on them, I got 3 offers in PE despite "not knowing what it is".
2) Preparation for the Process
It's true that the interviewing process is grueling and seems to pop up out of nowhere every year. It catches people off-guard and I know quite a few people in my group felt underprepared for everything. Each year the process gets earlier and earlier, so it's absolutely crucial that you're ready for the process. This means prepping in your down time at work at any chance you get. That said, you have to be discreet about it. You don't want to give off the impression that you're only there to work for 6 months, get a PE/HF offer, then cruise for the next 18 months. Make a pitchbook with a generic cover and put a guide in it so it "looks" like you're working, when in reality you're studying. Read websites/articles about your deal and take notes. Read initiating coverage reports on the two companies involved in one of your deals, read comprehensive research reports on the sub industry that the companies are from, understand everything there is to know about the business models. Do practice lbo models in your free time. Even if you have a Saturday off, if you're just gonna be lying in bed hungover, go into work and practice.
The Wall Street Oasis Private Equity Interview Course I think was probably the most important part of my prep process, but on its own, I'd say it's incomplete. I think it's the best one out there and 150% worth the investment (seriously, $300 price tag for a $200k+ job? Sign me up), but you need to supplement your preparation with other things as well. People on this site love to stress the importance of modeling, and I always see kids on here saying "oh that group doesn't model, it's not a good group" but that couldn't be more misguided. I come from one of the groups that, according to people here, apparently "doesn't model" (news to me lol). Every group models, and every group will have practice LBOs for you to get your feet wet with (...I hope). Sure, maybe some of the product groups get a more "technical" modeling experience but it's not that important. In reality, the models in my PE interviews were not very difficult. One of the megafunds I interviewed with had a template-based cash sweep model and it was a joke. Another firm just had us do a debt paydown from scratch and it wasn't very hard either.
This next paragraph will go against the conventional wisdom of this site a bit, and it's my own personal opinion so take it with a grain of salt. I don't claim that it's the right view, but it's my belief and it's what I would do if I went through the recruiting process again:
The single most important part of your interviewing experience with PE firms will be your deal experience. I would say a solid 30% of every single interview I had was spent talking about my deal in depth. If you don't have an announced M&A deal on your resume, or you don't have an unannounced deal you feel comfortable talking about on a very granular level, I don't see what you would talk about in your interviews. I was incredibly fortunate to have a $1-2bn sell-side on my resume that got announced two months before everything started (conveniently, right when I met with the headhunters). I think it was the single most important factor in me landing the interviews (and ultimately the jobs) that I received. If I hadn't had an announced M&A deal on my resume, I likely would have waited until next year to go through the process. People here say it's a detriment to your chances, but I met quite a few people throughout the process from BAML/JPM/GS that were second years going through the interview process for the first time. Perhaps there is a stigma against them, I'm not sure and I don't know where they ended up, but there were a few second years at my interviews with 3 megafunds and 2 of the top MM firms. I understand the desire to get out of banking, and if your bank doesn't have a 3-year model like the aforementioned banks, then maybe that won't work for you, but my bank generally lets people stay on for a third year if you're on good terms, so I probably would've waited an extra year had I not felt prepared. After all, you only have one shot interviewing with each firm so you can't really screw it up.
In terms of preparation though, I don't want to get to in depth because I think you should have to figure that out on your own, but I will say that the three biggest areas to focus on are first and foremost, the deals on your resume, secondly understanding everything there is to know about an LBO (on a theoretical and conceptual level), and third, being able to walk through paper lbos/case studies. In some of my interviews, we got REALLY granular into my deal experience, and it was good that I had prepped so thoroughly, so you have to know everything about them. The case study part caught me off guard and I think it might be the one area that the WSO guide didn't exactly prepare me for, but a lot of my interviews had a case study where they wanted me to talk through how I would approach a potential PE investment so it was something I picked up throughout the process which was nice.
3) The Actual Interview Process
This is where things get really hectic. Everybody sort of knew interviews were coming towards the end of January. I had been contacted for coffee chats/dinners at several different firms in early January. These, I think, are mostly used to drum up interest and allow you to get a feel for some of the firms and the people that work there. While I think they're a good indication of whether you'll get an interview, I agree with the other poster who said that they're not the end-all, be-all of the process. There were a few firms that I got coffee with an associate/VP and I thought it went great, and I didn't hear back/get an interview. There were some firms where I thought the drinks went poorly and I received an interview. There were even more firms still that had dinners and coffee chats that I wasn't invited to, and I received interviews (and an offer!) from them.
Anyway, the process kicked off on a Friday or something this year. I got the gobuyside email saying "The following firms have started their interview process" and I hadn't heard a thing and I got nervous. But then, over the course of that weekend, I received probably 3 or 4 emails asking me if I would be available to interview with XYZ firm at 10am/1pm/5pm/etc. the following day. For some interviews, I would literally find out at 1 a.m. that they wanted to interview me at 9 a.m. the following morning. The good thing is that you can push back a little bit to see if there is any other availability (i.e. 12pm instead of 9a.m.), but know that things move REALLY quickly and it probably is in your best interest to accept the time they give you, if you're available.
On one day, I had interviews with 3 or 4 firms, and got called back to two of them for things in the afternoon. I am lucky in that my group is receptive to recruiting, so I was able to ask my associates to cover for me, but some people might not be as fortunate. I met a few kids who said that their group doesn't allow recruiting, and that they hadn't been in the office all day and were dreading the lecture they'd get when they show up 5 hours late to work.
While it does suck that things move quickly, the good news is that you know where you stand pretty quickly as well. For the three interviews that I eventually converted to offers, I found out I got a second round interview right before I was leaving their. In terms of offers, I received them probably within 3-4 hours of leaving their offices.
This section is pretty short, but for some reason I'm blanking on what to write here, but feel free to ask me any questions about the actual interviews and I'm happy to answer them.
There were a few ideas I held about the whole PE recruiting process that I had read here that ended up not being 100% true, so hopefully I can shine some light on those. One thing that stuck out to me, and that I continued to believe all the way up until I received the offers, is that I'd be handicapped by my group. I feel stupid saying this now, but I was sort of led to believe that unless I was at GS/BX/MS I wouldn't be getting looks from any of the top funds. This was wrong. All told, I interviewed with 3 megafunds and 4 top upper MM funds. I received three offers from those before I ended my process. Throughout that first week, I also received offers to interview at ~5 or so other really quality funds (think Welsh Carson, GTCR, Genstar, Vestar type firms) that I had to decline as I'd already accepted offers. Not to mention the 10+ interviews I got for some lower-MM funds. This is coming from a decent BB in a decent coverage group, not a top group.
People also try to make it out that it's impossible to recruit for west coast opportunities from NYC. While I will be staying in NYC for my PE gig. I received interviews at several top funds on the West Coast and had all of my interviews in NYC. A lot of the top west coast funds will fly out to New York City to do their process. I had two final rounds in NYC for west coast shops. I think the important thing is that you have ties to the west coast. I am from just outside of San Francisco, so it was easy for me to say why I want to move to SF or LA. If you don't have ties to the west coast, I wouldn't expect to have as easy a time getting interviews there.
This post is long enough as it is so I will end it here, but feel free to ask any questions here and I will do my best to answer them.
Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted March 2015. Also make sure to see Northsider's response to this post in the comments or by clicking here