Private Equity Associate Regretting Decision

Sorry for the job title - I haven't used this account in a while to post, but am desperately seeking advice for the situation below.

Here's my story and generally keeping things vague.

I did my analyst stint at a top BB and was extremely excited to move to the buyside for the obvious reasons: improved hours, solid compensation, greater visibility / predictability in work/life balance, more intellectually stimulating, etc. I joined a mid market ($1.5bn latest fund) and my experience couldn't be further from enjoyable for this reasons below.

I am constantly stressed and find myself thinking about the job significantly more than when I was in banking. The hours have not improved much, if at all. Typically working until 10-12am with frequent nights well past the midnight mark. The job is WAY more exhausting considering that I really don't have much down time during the day, whether it is on calls, putting slides together, or building models. On top of all that, I really don't enjoy the work and am suffering massively from impostor syndrome.

Everything else in my life is in check - I do find time to workout / go on runs, have even stopped drinking for a while / eat very healthy blah blah.. But, I am utterly miserable. It has only been about a half of a year and am already seemingly burnt out. I don't think I can / want to make it past the two years here.

While this isn't true for all PE jobs, I guess I have some specific questions. When is too early to express a desire to recruiters for lateral opportunities? If not a lateral, what are options to get out into a job with a better balance this early on in an associate stint? Any advice / shared experiences would be helpful. I feel pretty uncomfortable opening up about this topic to mentors and my peers, so I greatly appreciate any insight.

Background on me as a person if helpful: I am generally sensitive to anxiety and have suffered from depression, two things I have always been aware might interfere with my success in this industry. On the other hand, I could probably care less for earning $1mm+ in annual compensation a year. I like nice things / earning a good sum, but am by no means wedded to a path that puts me on the trajectory of getting "rich" one day.

Comments (16)

Jun 3, 2020 - 10:45am

If you could reverse your decision and stay in banking would you?

I'm currently going through the thought process of making the jump to PE or stay in banking. Where I'm at there's the opportunity to build a career vs. the PE shop I interviewed with is a 2-year stint (which I know is the norm). Just given everything that has happened in the last few months, I'm much more hesitant to make the jump.

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 11:04am

I would not have stayed in banking. I was very excited to leave and found the job pretty unpleasant (for a lot of the same reasons I am unhappy with my current gig).

I always found the best way to determine whether or not gunning for career progression is worth it is to look up at the people above you and think "do I want to be in there shoes one day / would their life make me happy"; that certainly was not the case at my IB.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Jun 4, 2020 - 12:18am

I'm facing a similar dilemma. I signed on-cycle to work at a PE fund next summer but I really like my IB group. Thinking of reneging maybe to stay in banking but idk. Feel too young to not try something new

Jun 3, 2020 - 11:47am

Do you like the people you're working with? How's the firm's culture? etc?

In general culture on the PE side of the world (excluding mega funds) should be much better.

People usually think we're all part of the same team, economics are tied, so everyone tends to be helpful/friendlier.

“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power. ” - James Allen
  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 1:32pm

There are a few people that get to me and certainly treat asso's similarly to how analysts are treated in banking I would say. I wouldn't say that, overall, the culture is by any means friendly.

  • Principal in PE - LBOs
Jun 3, 2020 - 12:20pm

Don't take this the wrong way but how are you working those hours at a 1.5bn fund? Like what are you doing? Small team? Seems insane unless it's like micro PE and you're working on 10 deals constantly.

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Jun 3, 2020 - 1:31pm

It might just be the nature of how in depth our DD process is from an early stage / the amount of work that goes into memos early on in the deal process. I'm not sure what else I have to benchmark it too. I think it's just kinda the norm too that you're expected to be busy until 9/10pm every week night, on a live deal or not.

Most Helpful
Jun 4, 2020 - 1:40am

9-10pm every week night standard, regardless of current deal work, seems a bit rough for a fund of your size. If you're not working on something that is "live", what exactly is occupying your time all day/evening? If I had to generalize my experience with hours in PE, I would say they have been better overall in comparison to my days as an analyst at a bank. That being said, when we are sprinting hard on something or near a critical point of a deal the hours can be just as bad as banking and frankly a lot more tolling mentally. Where things are better is if deal work is slow, you'll naturally have more downtime since there is less busy work/BS staffings.

I want to address something in your original post. You mentioned you think about the job "significantly more" and that it is "more exhausting". This is no surprise to me at all. My analyst stint in banking was a sweatshop experience through and through. My years as a PE associate were easily far more stressful. Sure, I had a lot less all-nighters or weeks where I was regularly clocking out at 2 or 3AM, but when things were at max capacity and pedal to the metal mode, there is a lot more mentally challenging than what I experienced as an IB analyst. You have a lot more responsibilities (especially depending on how lean of a deal team you have/how many "hats" you wear in a process) and things feel a lot more "real" than when you were cranking out pitch books, advising a client on a potential acquisition or assisting in managing a sales process. I am guessing you've had a lot of days where pretty much all day you're on calls, taking notes, fielding emails, etc. 5-6-7pm comes around and then you realize you essentially have an entire second "shift" of work where you need to start doing the excel model work, deck drafting, etc.

I am bringing this up because you are asking about the possibility of a lateral move. As you are thinking about that, you should ask yourself what do you expect to get from a lateral move to another PE firm? Are you looking to move to a bigger fund that has more resources and works on larger deals? A fund that focuses on different sectors that might interest you more? Maybe anything that at least offers the appearance of better culture? Think about what you're aiming to accomplish, and if another PE job can actually sooth some of the pain points you're currently experiencing. Based on my understanding of some of your points in your initial post and my thoughts above, I'd be a little concerned that maybe another PE job isn't going to solve some of those underlying issues.

To answer your question, I would probably wait closer to the one year mark before actively reaching out to your recruiter contacts about lateral opportunities within PE. Call me short sighted, but I feel like trying to jump ship before the one year mark just raises bigger questions about your candidacy unless there are some warranted circumstances (need to move geographically, fund is winding down, etc.). Once you start reaching out to recruiters, make sure you're very clear with them about what you're looking for. If you're trying to stay in PE only, be sure to highlight the positive experiences from your current job.

  • Analyst 2 in Consulting
Jun 4, 2020 - 5:52am

Consider if PE is right for you. Even if you reduce the hours, sounds like you're not particularly enjoying the job. Far too many people get into this role because they follow the crowd, and naturally some people will love it more than others. There's a lot more to do in life besides banking and PE, trust me.

Jun 4, 2020 - 7:59am

Maybe I can help on that one. I find a lot of myself in your post – after 2 years in IB, I joined the local office of a foreign investment fund ($10bn+ AUM) when it started an ascending trend in the market I focus on. The core team was mostly top-heavy, had been there forever and had gotten used to a pretty sweet lifestyle (e.g. 9/5 with gym breaks, no work on weekends or holidays unless absolutely necessary, down to the pub several times a week, decent pay although no upside for juniors and mid-level guys). The first years, the team expanded a little and we managed to close a couple of deals. Juniors had mixed backgrounds and for some were quite laid back – kind of a "create the job you want" environment, so seemingly the dream. I enjoyed the job very much, ended up working on most of those transactions and gained a lot of experience.

But after a couple more years, the frustrations piled up: I was doing a good job and I was keen so I ended up being staffed on more assets and more deals, while the other juniors continued to enjoy the lifestyle and sweet talk partners at the pub. I would end up literally being the only one in the office past 7pm, day after day, on weekends, for months. At the same time, pay stayed the same across the junior pool.

So I decided to leave, leveraged the experience to join a new mid-market fund, with a similar lifestyle as the one you describe. Work is really tough, but at least there is more upside for giving your all and you truly feel like you are part of a team – people are transparent, share information, there's no place for bs and I hope it will end up being more fair than the environment at my previous role. Only time will tell…

From my experience, it looks like it's not possible to get the best of both world – the intellectual stimulation, the reward of tasks well done, the great work/life balance, the good comp and progression – simply because there will always been free-riders willing to take advantage of loopholes in the organisation and more skilled at politics than you. Someone will always have to do the work.

However I did notice something once I had made the decision to leave my first stint in PE: once you stop caring so much about some aspects of the job and set firm boundaries ("I'm not available at that time", "I'm on leave at the moment, will look at that when I return" - full stop), people actually start taking you more seriously. A number of people told me before I resigned that they could clearly see how much I had matured since I had started behaving like this. Perhaps something to explore on your end if you feel you have earned their trust and can push back on some tasks that you feel are low-value?

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Jun 4, 2020 - 10:05am

Thanks for the post. That's certainly a very helpful insight and perspective on setting personal boundaries with the team. I guess it's a little bit difficult to do so at a lean fund where everyone on the junior and mid level team seems to work the same hours. I feel as though if I push back, I'll be a bit uncomfortable setting a higher expectation of personal boundaries than the mid level IP's and more tenured associates set for themselves.

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