PE Recruiting For Non-Targets

With the PE recruiting process ramping up for IB analysts, I was curious to know some people's experiences with going through the process coming from a non-target undergrad. I managed to earn a solid GPA at a top 60 undergrad state school (think Penn State / Ohio State) and currently work FT in a BB bank.

I know there are a lot of sarcastic comments on here about "Ivy league or bust" but how much of a role does where you went to undergrad actually come into play for PE recruiting?

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Comments (59)

Nov 28, 2017 - 9:57am

2nd year Associate at a MF here and from a very non-target school. I'd say group/bank matter more than school, but will still be a bit of an uphill battle since people see HYPS as lower risk hires. The biggest thing is to prove to the headhunters that you're polished and a top performer in your group. The strong GPA will help you get looks, too.

Once you're in the door, though, people care a lot less about what school you went to. Just be sure that you're on the recruiters' radar and on their good side.

Lastly, just wanted to point out that most of the Associates in my office are also non-HYPS.

Nov 29, 2017 - 10:26pm

Unfortunately, as a general rule PE firms are even more prestige-focused than banks. This obviously depends on the firm.

Some very successful firms have senior partners with non-traditional backgrounds - and that open-mindedness to different backgrounds can trickle down throughout the hiring process.

Many other firms tend to hire exclusively ex-Ivy league kids and send them all to Harvard / Stanford / Wharton.

Like all things, it's a range.

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Nov 30, 2017 - 1:34am

It's very interesting but if you look through the team pages of 50+ funds like i have you'll realize that MOST associates arent Ivy League (there are some funds that are the exception and seem to really focus on school). Having said that, complete non target aren't super common and if you see someone from one they almost ALWAYS graduated Magna/Summa cum laude.

"I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

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Dec 1, 2017 - 4:56pm

I'm a second year analyst (non-target - large state school) and am starting to have conversations with the PE head hunters. I'm at a MM bank (M&A group) and am a bit worried that I will not get looks at solid MM PE firms (I have no inclination to do a MF).

Will keep everyone posted and would love to do a AMA if I successfully recruit.

Apr 30, 2018 - 3:32pm

Wrapping up my 2nd year at MBB and landed at a MM PE fund in SF. Definitely came from a very different background than most - extreme non target and worked for a year in risk at a BB before making the jump to MBB.

What I found is that educational prestige gets thrown out the window pretty quickly - I never once felt like it was a hindrance. If anything, I felt like it was a net positive as it gave me a more interesting story than most. Once the headhunters see that you're competent and you do well in interviews, they'll start feeding you more and more interviews. I ended up getting a ton more looks than I thought I would.

Apr 30, 2018 - 3:48pm

I don't think there is a general rule of thumb... when I went through recruiting 4 years ago it was hell. Some say schools matter some say it doesn't matter but from my personal experience, I'd say non-target was a pretty big disadvantage for me in terms of getting looks. It also didn't help that I was in a group with 20 other analysts - and we were all VERY GOOD analysts so it made it even harder.

I agree though once you are in the door, it matters less but still does matter.

Apr 30, 2018 - 9:11pm

Network your butt off and hopefully you have a great personality + rock solid technically

May 1, 2018 - 5:44pm

Non-target + good MM/BB banking group and you are a prime candidate for MM PE / growth equity roles.

"If you want to succeed in this life, you need to understand that duty comes before rights and that responsibility precedes opportunity."
May 2, 2018 - 11:04am

My 2 cents, I was at a mid-tier BB at a decent coverage group and from a semi-target ugrad. When I was interviewing for PE roles it was a huge disadvantage at megafunds (could only get 1 to interview me). Most of my interviews were at solid MM funds and in terms of offers it was super easy to get the growth equity type gigs.

Best Response
May 2, 2018 - 9:34pm

This is not going to be a perfect answer. Generally speaking, megafunds are going to fill their associate classes primarily with the 3.8+ Ivy kids.

It's a simple and unkind fact that people rely on processes that have been reinforced over time. In this case, private equity firms have been using headhunters for decades. Those headhunter firms are almost invariably founded by good-looking, well-educated women from socially connected families.

That's a fancy way of saying 'woman who was born into non-trivial economic means, enjoyed elite private school and college education, worked at some firm with a prominent name that didn't require her to kill herself, and is from the same social set as the guys who founded or run the firms that need the candidates'.

Today a lot of the top headhunter firms have younger employees that are women who did a banking analyst stint out of school. That means that there's a non-trivial chance that some analysts going through recruiting are socially proximate to that junior headhunter through siblings, sports teams, country clubs, summer vacation spots, and the like.

What I'm saying is that there's a whole host of qualitative, non-quantifiable elements that put the banking analyst from a non-target at a disadvantage. Yes, there will be some who find that they don't have too much trouble getting interviews. Anecdotally (this is thinking through over 100 guys from my summer or analyst class at the banks I worked at), the non-target ones who did well tended to be guys who most closely hewed to that sort of profile. Meaning they were tall, good-looking guys with strong social skills who come across well in an informal chat. They looked the part, even if they weren't born into the part.

Whether that's fair or not isn't the focus. I'm stating what I observed.

People are lazy and tend to stick with (a) the thing that works and (b) the people that seem to deserve it the most. Since we all as humans suffer from biases, we tend to think the most worthy people are those who most closely resembles ourselves.

For megafunds, that's the kid that looks like the tried-and-true, well-proven archetype of high grades from an elite school. For middle market funds (especially in regional cities), it's probably a kid with top grades from a flagship state school ("public Ivy"). And so on and so forth down the line.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't cast your net far and wide. It's merely an explanation for why the sorting hat works the way it does.

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

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May 2, 2018 - 9:35pm

Do Non-targets ever make it to PE? (the ones that break into IB) (Originally Posted: 08/11/2012)

Seems like PE recruiting is a bit more cutthroat than IB and they will only filter by the top firms/groups and top schools. Anyone know if networking is the solution for non-targets trying to break into PE as well, or is there only so much it can do?

May 2, 2018 - 9:51pm

Non-Target Hoping to Break Into Boutique/MM PE Someday, Any Hope? (Originally Posted: 10/19/2012)

Hi all,

I am a recent grad from a non-target who has recently become interested in private equity and was wondering if I could get some advice on how I can potentially break in or if it's even feasible at this point. Basically, during my senior year, I was involved with my school's investment group, and while I really enjoyed financial modeling, I didn't like writing research reports about stocks (we basically do ER in that group), so this coupled with the fact that IB is very hard to break into from my school made me instead focus on corporate finance.

However, after working in corporate finance for a few months, I am realizing that it isn't as strategic as I thought it would be (mostly accounting) and, long story short, I want to get into PE, particularly in the MM space where they do perform more operational and strategic improvements.

Given my background, however, I am honestly wondering if it's even possible to break in at all. Right now, I'm working in corporate finance at a no-name company while not learning any relevant skills for PE, and I'm located very far away from NYC, which makes networking really difficult. This coupled with the fact that I'm a non-target with few alumni to contact makes me wonder if it's even possible to break in at some point.

I feel like I have a good resume (not BB IB or MBB Consulting good, however), but I'm really lost about how to go about doing this. The first logical step (based on what I read here) seems to be getting into IB, but recruiting is basically over at large banks and I'm not sure how to get in with smaller IB shops. I can provide more info if needed, but if anyone has any advice, I'd really appreciate it.


May 2, 2018 - 10:00pm

PE recruiting from "non-target" groups (Originally Posted: 06/21/2011)

Hi everyone,

I'm a first year analyst at a BB (think JPM/CS/Citi), but I'm not in an M&A or a Sponsors group. While it exports some modeling to M&A/LevFin, my group does most modeling in-house, so my modeling skills shoudn't be too bad. I know the analysts in M&A or Sponsors groups will definitely be contacted by head hunters, but how does it work for the other analysts in industry groups when trying to transition? Do head hunters also contact these analysts, or do they have to do more networking w/senior people and reaching out to alumni to transition into a PE shop? I'm not trying to do Megafund pre-MBA, but I would like to work at a solid MM PE firm.
Any insight would be great. Thanks guys!

May 2, 2018 - 10:02pm

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May 2, 2018 - 10:05pm

You will have headhunters contacting you but it will depend on which industry group you are in and also how strong the group is. It will be tough for you to get to a solid MM fund given the competition but it can be done. But just don't expect it like you would be when you are in M&A or sponsor groups.

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May 2, 2018 - 10:06pm

Thanks for the reply. What is your definition of "solid" in terms of AUM? Also, all else being equal (group strength) what industry groups have more / which ones have less contact?

May 2, 2018 - 10:09pm

solid as in anything over 1b is pretty solid. Do keep in mind I ignore the culture/compensation part of the equation but chances are if the fund can grow to 1b, it must have done something right..

Industrial / Consumer / TMT are the usual suspects due to the fact that majority of the buyside firms are focused on these industries.

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May 2, 2018 - 10:10pm

Just to confirm, are you a 1st year Analyst as in currently in training, or are you a 1st year Analyst as in getting your first bonus in the next few weeks?

If the latter, the PE recruiting cycle for next summer is more or less complete for megafunds and the large majority of MM funds. If the former, don't wait for recruiters to contact you, get names of the top 3-4 usual suspects (Oxbridge, CPI, etc.) and put yourself in front of them starting November/December with the expectation that they will begin to screen candidates in January/February and launch recruiting in March/April.

Just my advice...

May 2, 2018 - 10:12pm

In my experience, they're pretty receptive to meeting new Analysts. If anything, it's a volume game for them because they just want to show as many quality Analysts as possible to their clients knowing that they just need to fill a couple of spots.

Typically they'll ask you to submit a resume and fill out some information (fund size, geography, strategy, timing, etc.) and then, assuming you're at a decent shop w/ decent stats, they'll conduct a phone interview. The phone interview is interesting because most headhunters pretend to have a very casual conversation and often sound like they're out to help you, but in reality, they're taking notes on everything you say and their ultimate clients are PE funds, not Analysts. They'll then start matching you with potential openings based on your bank/group, stats, responses, etc.

So, having said all that, they'll be open to meeting you at first, but if you flub the phone interview, or if you're resume seems tough to place in a PE role (i.e. 2.6 GPA from a community college), then don't expect a lot of flow to come your way.

May 2, 2018 - 10:13pm

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