Thank you WSO Community! Q&A/My Story: Target --> State School --> Non-MBA Masters --> MM IB --> Lower MM PE
In short, I recently accepted an offer to join a lower middle market PE firm after a little less than 2 years in IB and, as a longtime reader of WSO, I figured I would share my story in hopes of giving back in some small way to the community that has been critical in my journey over the last few years.
Education / Internships:
I started at a target before transferring after my freshman year to a large state school. I have had to answer countless questions regarding this decision and believe that developing a strong story around all of the considerations and outcomes was critical for recruiting. At both schools, I was a division 1 athlete (major reason for transferring) but unfortunately due to health issues was unable to attain my athletic goals. Further, I was an economics major and had a 3.2 GPA in undergrad.
After my freshman year, I started an athletic summer camp for elementary school age kids and continued this after my sophomore year. After my junior year, I was able to network my way into a internship at a major HR consulting firm in NYC. This was a great experience as it made me realize some of the things that I did not want in a FT role. Also, I was able to read a lot during this time as my internship was more of a 9-5 and became increasingly intrigued by the IB/PE path.
Non-MBA Business Master (1-year)
Early in my senior year, I realized that given my careers goals and lack of effort put forth in undergrad, it was critical for me to look at 1-year master programs that would give me a chance to bolster my GPA, add some internships to my resume, allow for another shot at recruiting, and provide me with some extra time just to figure out what I wanted to do after college. Long-story short, I definitely have a mixed opinion of the program but it was well worth it as I achieved my goal of graduating with FT offer in IB at a MM bank.
Internship (grad school)
Before the program began, I worked remotely over the summer for an entrepreneur that had worked in IB and technically ran his own firm doing mostly research on a potential venture that he was looking into. I believe getting another internship especially something "finance"-related on my resume was the first domino that would eventually lead to a FT offer. During winter break, I interned for a boutique IB firm in NYC for ~6 weeks. Again, I feel strongly that adding this experience to my resume and the network this helped me to develop were crucial to the FT offer that I received in the spring.
FT Experience (IB Analyst at MM Bank)
After training, my entire class started as generalist and this allowed me to gain experience working with different senior bankers across a range of industries. Eventually, we were put into industry groups and I was lucky to get on a few interesting live deals. I mostly worked on deals in the C&R, Industrials and Business Services verticals doing 90% sell-side M&A with some other advisory work sprinkled in.
Although I tried my best to give the IB career path a chance, I realized pretty quickly that I would make the jump as soon as the right opportunity presented itself. That being said, I was not going to jump at the first opportunity especially as the work/ life balance improved during my second year and the routine became a little more bearable as my staffing sheet filled up with live deals instead of last minute pitches.
private equity recruiting
The Bank I worked at did not have a long history sending analysts to the buyside roles and provided little to no connectivity to headhunters so getting interviews during on-cycle recruiting was a long-shot at best. However, things started to pick up a little during the start of my second year (I am sure this was nothing to compare what analysts get at BB, EBs and top MM banks) and I became more proactive as I realized that I wanted to avoid staying another year in IB. However, I was still fairly selective in terms of the opportunities to which I applied as I started to form a view of the type of roles I was most interested in pursing. When I received a call from the firm that I eventually received the offer, a lightbulb went off and I knew that I needed to do whatever I could to get that offer.
The key takeaways from the process in which I received the offer are the following:
1) Be willing to go above and beyond for the right role (and getting lucky doesn't hurt).
I knew very quickly that this was the role I had been waiting for and I made sure to articulate that in all of my interview. I did my homework so I was able to state specifically all of the reasons I wanted to work at the firm, including: culture fit, deal size, industry, location, etc. Also, I was able to get multiple in-person interviews by offering this as an option. This was a huge advantage for me as it showed I was willing to go out of my way to be there for the interview and I think I make a better impression in person than on the phone.
2) Be prepared for anything but don't forget the basics.
I used the WSO private equity guide and made sure I knew how to do the modeling test and answer the technicals but ultimately the interview came down to fit, talking about the deals I had worked on in detail, and being able to tell a cohesive story about my background and why I wanted to work at the firm.
3) I found that some of the smaller funds really focus on fit.
My new firm really wanted to make sure they could stand being around whoever they hired for long periods of time and that they could trust that person to be a positive representation of the fund. This is not a two-and-out program so they were looking for someone that could be successful at the analyst level and with potential to grow with the fund.
I am sure I left out a lot of details but I am happy to answer any questions regarding my journey in the comments.
Thank you WSO for all of your help along the way and I am sure I will continue to rely on the wisdom provided by all of you on these forums in the future. Further, in terms of preparing for both IB and PE interview the WSO IB Interview Prep Course and WSO PE Prep Packs were both crucial PE interview and would recommended the investment to anyone just starting either process.