To all Consultants considering PE
WSO has been a tremendous help to me throughout the years and so now that I've had a fair bit of early career "success" it feels like the right time to give back.
A bit about me: I went to a semi-target where I did well and was able to secure a spot at . After two years at MBB I left for a UMM PE firm where I have been an Associate for the last two years. About 6 weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to stay on as a Senior Associate, with a very clear one-year path to VP and beyond. After a lot of thought I've decided to turn it down and head back to my MBB. Here's why:
1. PE is incredibly stressful.
In Consulting you're staffed on one project with one team and one main goal. Your Manager has complete visibility into everything on your plate and can lay out a workplan with reasonable expectations. In PE its very different. In PE you're staffed on maybe three separate deals, you have a PortCo you own, and you may also have to spend time sourcing if your firm requires it.
Frequently I was asked to build a detailed model for one deal, update the monthly financial reporting pack for my PortCo, and do some early stage outside-in research for another deal – all due EOD tomorrow. Each deal wants 50% of your time, and then somehow you have to find time for the PortCo and sourcing as well. The result is a feeling where you're constantly treading water, juggling many balls at once just trying to get things done in time. Over time the stress of that really takes it toll.
2. Your weekends are not yours.
In Consulting you can essentially unplug from 6pm on Friday to 8am on Monday no problem. You're not going to get any emails unless it's a REAL emergency, which only happened to me once in my two years at MBB. In PE, weekends are treated more as quasi-work days. I would regularly have meetings with my VP at 4pm on a Friday where they'd outline 10 hours of work and say, "If you can get this to me by Saturday night so I can review Sunday morning, that would be great."
All of a sudden your Friday night / Saturday plans are shot. And if that didn't happen you'd still have to be monitoring your email in case your VP woke up Saturday morning and felt like giving you work to turn by Monday. As a result, you could never really unplug during the weekend, which means you go into the following week already on edge. These weekend dynamics also made it hard to plan with friends / family / SO, which was tough.
3. The concept of 80/20 doesn't exist.
In consulting there were a lot of times where "good enough" truly is good enough because you just need a directional answer and it's not worth the time investment to get to "perfect". In PE this concept doesn't exist. When you're writing $500M checks the thinking is you have to be damn sure about every assumption you're making, and as a result you spend a TON of time building incredibly detailed models that spit out the same answer as your 4-hour .
It's true building out all the bells and whistles is helpful in thinking through the levers of a business, but I found the level of detail in this aspect of the job to be incredibly tedious and unnecessary, especially because the only thing you can guarantee about your model is that it's wrong.
4. The culture is a lot less collegial / fun.
When you sum up points 1-3 you have a bunch of overworked, stressed junior and mid-level folks running down every detail trying to cram as much work in as possible Monday – Friday so they have some semblance of a weekend to look forward to. As a result, people don't really waste time on shooting the shit. I liked this at first because I felt more efficient at work, but then I realized after 2 years I barely knew some of my colleagues. The demand of the job requires your work relationships to be much more transactional in nature, and that left me feeling uninspired a lot during my second year.
5. It doesn't get better for a LONG time.
It's true if you're an MD sitting on the investment committee reviewing polished materials and collecting your fat carry checks PE is a pretty incredible place to be, but it is a GRIND to get there. All my VPs and Principals regularly worked close midnight and then a fair amount on the weekends. I'd say their jobs are even more stressful than mine because ultimately they own the investment decision and if our diligence is wrong it's on their shoulders (and mine too but most Associates won't be around to see a deal they worked on turn south). When you're writing $500M checks I imagine that stress is insane.
All that said, I don't think PE is all bad. You get paid incredibly well to do fairly interesting work with brilliant people who for my money were the "best of the best" of their respective Consulting / IB classes.
However, if you're a Consultant considering PE I just wanted to lay out the reasons it's materially more difficult than Consulting. If you're willing to make the trade of hours / stress for money then the financial upside can be tremendous – but I just am not willing to make that trade and I would have appreciated someone candidly laying out all of the above to me before I took the plunge.
So I'm giving up the "golden path" coveted by so many on this site. Instead, I'm going back to MBB where my weekends are protected, the work is less stressful and honestly more interesting, and the culture promotes fun / WLB. I won't be buying a yacht or a 3rd home, but I have a pretty good shot at Partner where I'll clear $1M a year which is way more than enough for me and I won't have to trade off everything else in my life that matters to me to get there.
Also for any bankers reading this, for what it's worth my Associate class was a mix of former consultants and former bankers; those that were former consultants all found it really difficult whereas the former bankers actually thought it was a bit better than banking. In general I think that just speaks to how good consulting is / how shitty finance is, which is what I've come to realize over the past two years and why I'm heading back to consulting.
There's a lot more I could say but I'll cut it off there for now. Happy to answer any questions in the comments!