The Unconventional path to IB/PE (Q&A)
While taking the time to clean and organize my desk after a hectic 4-6 weeks engaged in a deal, I came across my old WSO IB interview materials I used in the past. Seeing these old packets of paper made me realize how grateful I should be instead of being annoyed about how I put in hours of work on a deal that ultimately fell through the cracks. Fueled by my reminiscing, I wanted to take this time to share my story and open the floor for any Q&A.
I am currently a PE analyst at a fairly well-known industry-specific buyout shop and here is my story…
I attended a fairly well known private high school where most of the students ended up in ivy universities. However, due to my own undoing, I ended up at a non-target university in a remote part of the country. There I set myself up to go to med school. But like most students who start off with the dream of being a doctor, I realized that it wasn't my cup of tea. I eventually switched gears and decided to go with a liberal arts degree. Fortunately, the new major I ended up with had a significant quant focus, which helped tremendously in getting me to where I am now. But more importantly, my first full-time summer job was what really change my life.
First full time job:
My first full time job during the summer was nowhere near as glamorous as one might expect from an Ivy League student. My first job was in the pits of a restaurant. I dealt with the grimiest and nastiest things you could ever imagine at a crappy restaurant. Despite being paid minimum wage for working past midnight and smelling like garbage after work, I learned more about myself than I would elsewhere. I realized how much I loved money. Coming from a lower-income family, I never really had the luxury of having nice things. So when I got my tiny paychecks every two weeks, it was the best feeling ever. I also learned that I never wanted to end up working with my hands doing manual labor ever. I wanted to sit in a nice air conditioned room and work an office job. While I didn't realize this then, these two realizations about my own self would propel me into the situation I am in now.
Returning to school after my time at the restaurant, I made it a priority to find an internship in an office. Luckily, I was able to spin off my quant knowledge from my classes to a consulting internship. This was not your MBB but rather a small start up that assisted clients in developing marketing strategies based on data driven science. While the work there was most similar to what I did in school, I realized that real-life application wasn't all that exciting. I was putting together decks to recommend X, Y and Z but the client would never execute it without having a financial or strategic reason to do so. This is where I discovered the career path of finance. Most decisions are never made without a financial reason. So I set off to try and break into some finance role in the hopes to drive the decision making processes at a firm. This was fairly daunting since I was not in the business school at my university and not one of my relatives could provide insight (the closest to finance would be an uncle who is a public accountant).
Heading back to school this time around, I tried to put together a strategy on how to get a finance internship. Whenever I tried to apply through my school's careers page or online job sites, I couldn't even apply since most finance internships required that you have a major in a business-related study. Luckily, I was able to close this gap by saying that I was "going to" get a second major in economics (close enough!). I took a few econ classes to back up my claim of grabbing an econ major and started to apply. While most firms rejected me outright, one F500 company hired me on as an intern in their capital planning group. At that point I was so excited that I finally broke in.
Enter the first day of my finance internship. I rode my way up to the top floor of the building where all the finance people worked. I felt like a king going to the top floor. Doors open and what I saw wasn't that glamorous. The office floor was lit by a dim soft yellow fluorescent light and it was so quiet that you could almost hear the guy at the furthest cubicle chew his gum. Not to mention the tall cube walls. To keep thing short, it was fun at first but soon got boring. I wanted something with a faster pace with more interaction between folks.
Networking to PE:
So I networked my way trying to find the job that fit my wants. Enter private equity. I met a guy who worked as a portfolio company manager who worked for a PE shop. He gave me the quick n dirty 30 minute run down of what PE was. Most of what he said blew over my head but when I went back home, I research the shit out of it to get a general understanding of what it was about. After keeping in touch with this guy, I eventually landed an interview with the PE shop in their investment team group. I got the spot along with someone from an M7 B-school. The experience was great. Got to build models from scratch, read CIMS, see how investment professionals screen investments, put together memos and do their diligence. In the end I didn't get a full time offer. Neither did the B-school kid. I was now a senior without a full time job lined up. I panicked. I had to go back out and find a job.
Delayed graduation / Networking:
But with three solid internships on my resume it became fairly easy to land interviews for back/middle-office finance roles. But I wanted something more exciting. So after I got a full time offer at a firm and job I settle for, I went ahead and delayed my graduation my senior year. This way, my expected graduation date would suggest that I was still a junior. With a robust resume in hand, I started to network with all the bankers I interacted with during my PE internship. I'd say 80% responded but it only took one guy at a BB to go out of his way to pull me in the loop. He got my interviews. Since we've worked on a deal together at that point, he just asked me the generic why iBanking questions and after 2-3 phone calls with VPs and Directors, I made it to my superday late December my senior year. After acing the interviews, I was on my way to the coveted summer analyst gig later that summer. At that point, I called HR at the firm I signed a full time gig with and reneged. I then delayed graduation by a semester to make it official (didn't sign up for any classes so didn't have to pay extra in tuition).
Summer Analyst experience:
The summer analyst opportunity was fantastic. I met a bunch of people who I could relate with. Ambitious young folks who just wanted to do their best to be the best. Many of whom I'd consider good friends were met there. We stayed up late, stayed out late, and held our breath together when the day came for full time offers to be handed out. Having had more experience and direct working experience with the IB team from my previous PE internship, I had it a little easier. The work was a bit easier and I caught on quicker but that's really because I had an extra year of practice. I ultimately got the full time offer and was wined and dined by the associates and VPs to get me to sign ASAP. After negotiating an earlier start date, I was ready to sign.
Back to PE...
The day I was ready to sign the paper, I got a call from the PE firm I interned for. They essentially wanted me back as a full time analyst. They knew I had an offer with the BB (they supported me and even pulled a few strings). What was a straight forward answer of "do I want to do IB full time" became more complicated… "IB or PE?" I ultimately chose PE for a variety of reasons – 1) more intellectually challenging, 2) better pay, 3) better work-life balance and 4) personal reasons. So here I am as an analyst at a private equity firm looking back at what got me to where I am now. While I worked hard, thoughtfully planned things out and hustled, many have helped me get to where I am now. So that being said, I am open to answering any questions you fellow monkeys have for me. I'll try to respond as best as I can.