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 MBB. 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 LBO.

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.

Conclusion

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!

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Comments (85)

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 11:06am

Also consultant to UMM PE here. Great write-up. It takes a lot of honesty with oneself to go back to MBB. Thanks for sharing.

Jun 7, 2021 - 11:18am

Great post! I'm not in consulting or PE, but this is still a very helpful write-up.

1. Are you returning to the same team you worked with prior to PE? If so, were they cool with welcoming you back?

2. Do you think you'll consider business school?

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 11:27am

Glad it was helpful!

1. Same company, different office. They were happy to have me back because I was a strong performer so the office switch wasn't an issue. 

2. I'm thinking about it. If I go it'll be because I want a 2 year break and my MBB will pay for it, but the window for that is kind of closing as I get older / more experienced so if I do decide to go it will have to be this year or next.

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Jun 9, 2021 - 2:00pm

Obviously not OP, but I did a similar path. MBB to a name brand Growth Equity fund. Agree with everything OP said about the environment.

If you're not specifically aiming to do M&A or be a CFO, I think consulting gives you a better general management toolkit. Our senior VPs and MDs who sat on boards had really good insight, but at the associate level, you never get in to the operational mechanics of the companies.

Most Helpful
  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 9, 2021 - 2:47pm

Given the SBs I'll try to go deep on this response.

At a high level, Consulting will do a better job of teaching you communication, teamwork, and "getting alignment" skills. In Consulting I learned a lot about how to build a compelling narrative, how to work hand-in-hand with clients who may have different goals, and how to get everyone on board in order to keep the project progressing forward. One of the most important things I learned in that regard was the B+ answer that your client understands and can execute against is better than the A+ answer that's too complex to understand or implement. 

On the flip side, I think PE actually did a better job at teaching me business strategy because we spend all our time thinking about the different levers you can pull in a business to create value. Being an investor has made me much quicker / better at identifying the key business levers that matter and thinking through how to optimize them (because that's ultimately what drives returns, which is my whole job). 

Applied to your question, I think PE is on the margin better experience for becoming an entrepreneur just because as an owner / board observer you have purview into the entire business whereas in Consulting you might do one project focused on supply chain efficiency while never once thinking about the broader business strategy. In PE you're also juggling many things at once more often, which is better training for starting a business. However, if you want to one day be in the C-Suite of a F500 Consulting is a much better path. The "getting alignment", communication, and leadership skills consulting teaches over PE will have much more value in larger organizations.

TLDR: Each prepare you to work for the size companies you work with. In Consulting that's F500, in PE that's usually smaller companies. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - Growth
Jun 7, 2021 - 11:52am

Glad you were able to make a decision. I am surprised about your comment on weekends in consulting being yours though. I have a lot of friends at MBB and also regularly hire consultants on commercial DD, and they are definitely working weekends at least to some extent on the regular. Maybe it is just the private equity groups at these firms. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 1:20pm

Nothing about finance or consulting for that matter is THAT intellectually challenging. At the end of the day the most complex math we're doing is basic addition/subtraction/multiplication/division and then the concepts of business are pretty intuitive imo. There was some accounting I had to learn, but that's mostly just rules and not wrack-your-brain kind of thinking. The challenge is just getting the volume of work done thoughtfully on the required timeline. 

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 1:41pm

I wouldn't be so quick to write off PE as a whole, but this is very consistent with the overall experience of UMM/MF PE.  Much of it is driven by the sweaty culture of IB, which remains the primary pipeline to PE.  I would caution all who are considering the PE path to really think about what it is you want out of the experience, whether it be establishing a career in private investing or just getting the best name on your resume / b-school placement. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 8:48pm

Yeah lifestyle is definitely better. That said, it's not obvious to me why one would want to work in the operating team at a PE fund vs. a consulting firm. You basically do the same job at both except at MBB you're the revenue producer and on the PE ops team you're more of a second class citizen. 

  • Associate 2 in Consulting
Jun 8, 2021 - 2:38am

thanks. not at MBB in my case but at one of the top3 RX firms doing RX work. Assumed PE Ops would provide more operational type work opportunities, less business development / research wheel spinning and maybe even less travel depending on fund / office investment mandate. Plus a good segway into a senior PE PortCo position.

Jun 7, 2021 - 8:51pm

Funny that you posted this when you did - I'm currently considering a jump from consulting to PE (offer in hand) and am ambivalent about leaving for a career path in which I know most fizzle out. 

Few questions for you that would be helpful - 

1) Would you do it again if you could, knowing you lost on 2 years of tenure at your consulting firm? 

2) If yes to the above, why?

3) What was the conversation like with respect to going back to your consulting firm? Easy conversation with respect to returning, or was there a burden of proof / interview process that you had to surmount? 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 9:29pm

If you're ambivalent about leaving I would say don't do it. In my experience on those who are really excited about PE have a shot at surviving, and even then it's tough.

1) I would probably do it again because it's something I was curious about and really interested in at the time so if I didn't test it out I think I always would have wondered "what if"?

3) Really easy. I was a strong performer at my MBB so I just called up my staffer and inquired about coming back. They were excited to have me back and produced an offer relatively quickly. No interview or anything like that. 

Jun 7, 2021 - 9:41pm

Really appreciate the fast response to not only me but all others on this thread - very valuable. 

As much as I hate to say it, I'll likely try it out to get rid of that "what if" that you speak of. I've been thinking about this role for a long time. But really great to know that MBB is still potentially a viable option on the other end of this! Like you, I have enjoyed my time in MBB for the most part and am considered an asset by my office. 

I'm unable to DM you, but please feel free to message me if you'd be interested in connecting beyond this thread. Seems like you might be a few years ahead of me on a similar path, so could be cool to stay in touch!

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 7, 2021 - 11:18pm

Yeah I think generally the earlier stage you go the lifestyle improves. The thing you want to watch out for is in VC/Growth you do A LOT of sourcing. Cold calling, cold emailing, attending industry conferences, etc. If you have the personality to enjoy this, VC may be a great path. If not you likely won't have a good time despite better hours. 

Personally I could see myself doing VC in many years, but I'd want to get some experience actually operating a business first. At a lot of VCs you can't make GP unless you were a founder or an early employee at Uber/AirBnb, etc. so that's another thing to watch out for.

Jun 24, 2021 - 3:17am

I would be cautious in assuming all VC and Growth firms have better comp, prestige/ power etc. than MBB. A lot of these firms are very small, produce poor returns, and are littered with professionals who didn't make the cut elsewhere.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 8, 2021 - 3:59am

To each their own I guess, but also coming from MBB I think it's actually much more inspiring and would highly recommend it for SOME people. I couldn't imagine going back to MBB and if anything iI'd go for the entrepreneurial / early stage start-up route

To me, the big difference is that there's less micromanagement and your opinion is actually worth something -- rather than getting steamrolled by some inane client (the corporates want 35 scenarios of which 34 are dumb, the PEs make you do want they want anyway). I found it very demoralizing to just churn out work based on someone else's thoughts and opinion only in the end - sure you have some flavor of input but it's relatively minimal in reality, and if the client doesn't agree it won't fly. On working styles, and it's personal and fund specfic, but I find it very liberating to suddenly not be told to the nth degree what to do, by when, and exactly how with multiple daily check-ins. I was a top-performer too at MBB and still got that treatment, maybe it was my office which was very hierarchical, but I found it extremely tedious and boring

Clearly, on the flipside, if shit his the fan, it's your to deal with. We write the same size checks as your fund and it means you better be right, like you said. I basically just view Friday evening to Sunday morning as protected when not on a deal, and fully expect someone to come in on Sunday - and if it doesn't that's upside. Then again, I think I'm lucky with the fund I'm at, and a friend of mine at another fund is getting screwed upside-down on a daily basis. I probably would've thought of quitting in his shoes as he has no life at all, and there's a limit to everything.

In conclusion, it'll be very fund dependent but if you find the right fund and value autonomy / impact over predictability / WLB I think it's a great gig (so far).

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 8, 2021 - 2:11pm

This is really wild to read: your consulting experience sounds like my PE experience and my consulting experience sounds like your PE experience

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Jun 8, 2021 - 8:29am

Starting at an EB in a month or so and the more I read about consulting the more I think MBB would have been a better fit for me. 

How often did you see people moving from IB to to MBB after a couple of years? Is this a difficult move to make / do MBB firms value banking experience? 

I do want to get a grounding in corporate finance but I am increasingly attracted to a consulting career in the medium term. Many thanks for taking the time to answer so many questions in this thread. 

Jun 8, 2021 - 12:40pm

Ehh... YMMV but a caveat I'll add here is that MBB starts to flip after you become a manager/senior manager level. 

Higher likelihood of weekend work, more running on multiple things at once (multiple teams, proposals, leading internal intiatives, working with partners on building the solution/product practices, etc.) and 80/20 is becoming worth less and less by day.

Now that you are becoming more senior, think you may have overly biased too much in your experience as a junior resource in MBB

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jun 8, 2021 - 2:20pm

Pains me to write this but this is pretty spot on as a current MBB EM/PL/SM. You go from being the 'team' to being the 'manager'. No one really protects you and the team looks to you to protect them. 

With that said, you do have more control over your time but Sunday nights are always work for me now. But - still much better than the PE experience laid out here

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 8, 2021 - 2:29pm

100%. Difference is it won't be Friday at 6pm when I get hit with building a model for review Sunday at 9am. Work planning for the week ahead is very common Sunday evening work and something I fully expect as I move up the ranks. For me it's the combo of lack of control and the deep in the weeds nature of PE I didn't love - both of which I'm confident are still materially better at MBB. MBB is not a panacea, but it's an easier lifestyle hands down vs. PE.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jun 8, 2021 - 4:15pm

Do you have an idea of how friendly MBB is of hiring PE professionals at the post MBA level with no prior consulting experience? Did two years in banking and one year in PE. Almost went into MBB and chased the money instead right out of college. Now regretting the path and realizing I want strategy consulting experience, plus all the startup roles I want are all for ex-consultants. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 8, 2021 - 5:32pm

With two years in banking and one year of PE I'd imagine you'd come in as a "Senior Analyst" with a one year path to the Post-MBA role assuming strong performance. Right now MBB is pretty actively looking for talent so if you're interested now is a good time to recruit. Strike while the iron is hot. 

Jun 8, 2021 - 8:42pm

From what you have seen, how much travel would you say there is in PE compared to consulting, particularly at the senior levels? Pre covid, how much did VPs/principals/partners at your fund have to travel?

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 8, 2021 - 10:09pm

The travel is different. In consulting you'd fly out on Monday, spend the week at the client site, and come back Thursday evening. In PE it's a lot more day trips or one night trips. Less time on the road in PE, but there could be times you're flying to multiple cities in the same week which doesn't happen at the junior level in consulting. As you get more senior in consulting, though, the travel starts to mirror PE (i.e. flying to multiple cities to meet with different clients in the same week).

Jun 9, 2021 - 11:39am

Great write-up, thanks. I just left my consulting gig after ~3 YOE, and starting at an UMM/MF PE fund in July. Pretty nervous for all the reasons you described here, but ultimately I would have always wondered "what if?" if I hadn't made the jump--and good to know from your experience I could always go back to consulting. 

Best of luck heading back to MBB and hope you get some time off. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 9, 2021 - 11:50am

I would definitely recommend taking the leap and trying it out yourself if you're eyes wide open about the above and still curious. There's lots of aspects of the job that are SUPER interesting, and for you that + comp may make up for the worse WLB. The fund you're joining may also offer a better WLB, so I think it's worth trying. Good luck!

Jun 10, 2021 - 12:15am

Awesome, awesome write up which I think a lot of young bankers even could gain a lot from, especially 1+4+5 (and especially those going to larger UMM/MF type of shops).

I made a similar decision to go back into a bank after MF PE albeit a much different, high level role making a higher comp than I was in PE (can PM me about it) and haven't looked back. Congratulations on the move back to your firm.

  • 1
Jun 11, 2021 - 1:26pm

Seems like I am in the minority but this post does not resonate at all. Consulting was a lot of detailed work that all ended up in an appendix somewhere. PE was a lot of detailed work that aimed to truly verify the viability of a potential course of action.
 

I also found consultants generally superficial and opportunistic, because at the end of the day they weren't responsible for execution. I decided to leave when I realised the partners were mostly just trying to sell Phase 2 of the project. 
 

And you can forget "protected weekend" from the moment you're Engagement Manager...

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 12, 2021 - 4:39am

Fully agreed

And the 'exposure' you get as a junior (up until Partner if not Senior Partner) in consulting is quite mediocare, effectively dealing with middle management only for 95% of your time

Jun 11, 2021 - 1:39pm

I'm former MBB (spent 3 years) and now in MM PE. This post is 100% accurate.

I'd sum it up this way - if you're not very interested in the work PE firms do - and ready to sell your soul - stay in consulting. Both are super interesting jobs, but I was happier in consulting and worked probably 65% of the hours I do in PE. The money isn't that different until you get to the very top anyways. PE gets you to $200K+ sooner, but most PE VPs and principals are around $350-$500k, which is what EMs and AP's make at McKinsey.

I think PE helps you learn "how" business works a lot more than consulting, but consulting gives you a lot wider exposure because you're not limited to working with companies that are LBO-friendly. 

Jun 14, 2021 - 11:10am

EMs aint making $350K at Mckinsey - unless you got designated late and then didnt get AP first time around but somehow got top bucket rating the entire time. I made like $250K my 2nd year as EM

Jun 11, 2021 - 7:12pm

Thanks for sharing! Have a question on the transition. Is the MBB -> B-School -> MF path rare or have you seen it happen frequently?

Array
  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 11, 2021 - 8:33pm

This really only happens if you're a diversity candidate (not knocking it, just being honest). I saw a woman go BCG -> HBS -> Bain Capital, but outside of that very rare. MF PE funds have the luxury of choosing from many HBS/GSB grads with pre-MBA PE experience; the only reason they'd take a risk hiring someone without PE experience would be if they checked another box

  • Consultant in Consulting
Jun 12, 2021 - 12:46am

I'm heading to GSB next year after 3 years at MBB, but I don't have much background or knowledge about PE. Do you know how tough it would be for me to break into a decent fund? I'm an ORM male

Jun 13, 2021 - 6:00pm

I'm currently a VP at a MM PE fund. I was formerly a consultant, worked as an associate in MM PE, went to bschool, then went to PE at a different MM fund. 

The differences between consulting and PE are numerous. A lot of the posts above focus on working hours (higher in PE), compensation (higher in PE), and stress (usually higher in PE, but depends on the person and situation). In my opinion, those are just three considerations among many for determining what kind of job you want. I'd add that considerations like enjoyment and how interesting the work is could also go either way. I found consulting fairly repetitive and didn't particularly like generating reports that were often not implemented. In contrast, I like how I'm one of a handful of people determining how hundreds of millions of capital will be deployed on a deal or which strategy a company will actually pursue. I'm fairly independent-minded, and I like that in PE my opinion matters. I thought I'd outline a few differences when considering consulting vs. PE

First, PE is highly autonomous relative to consulting, especially the more senior you get. In consulting, slides get reviewed up the chain, directives come down the chain. In PE, you have to know how to do things on your own. This is one reason why PE can be difficult for consultants at the associate level; VPs and principals want associates to have the ability to put together a model, quickly understand a business model based on a CIM, think through whether the opportunity is worth pursuing, etc. Associates with banking backgrounds have a leg up in this area since many have been doing this or something closely related the past 2 years. 

Second, from an interpersonal standpoint, people who work in PE are on average older, less collegial, and more professional. I don't think this makes PE firms less fun than consulting firms, but I do think it means PE appeals to a different type of person. I think the point on PE firms on average being older isn't controversial since consulting hires so much direct from undergrad and bschool. Regarding the other two points, in my opinion this tends to be because PE employees more often have families to go home to and because MBB firms have large social budgets geared towards events for young professionals.

Third, PE teaches you to think a totally different way from consulting. Consulting firms think of themselves as hired brainpower, and much of what they do is completed over a short period of time without 1. A deep understanding of the business, or 2. Skin in the game regarding the outcome. I think of consulting as great for getting a lot of reps understanding business problems and strategic thinking. PE, in contrast, involves understanding a business and its economic model and creating a financial model to express the attractiveness of an investment - all of which are skills needed for good associates. The more senior folks spend a lot of time thinking about the levers to add value and the PE firm's edge in an auction. There's a strong interpersonal angle regarding the approach to talent as well. PE investors are very concerned about being wrong since there are big consequences to a losing investment, one of which is 5+ years of working with a company that you advocated an investment in yet which is performing poorly (and maybe making others resent your investment recommendation). My experience in consulting was the opposite - I worked on a team that recommended a company make a big expansion of its focus on oil & gas in 2013. The client paid the same whether we were right or wrong. 

A couple final points regarding a few comments above... On compensation, see the 2021 comp survey from Heidrick and Struggles regarding compensation. PE is higher than consulting, especially at senior levels. However, I don't work in PE just because of the money, and whether you're a partner at a PE firm or a consulting firm, you'll be doing very well for yourself and your family. On career trajectory, going from consulting to PE can be risky. When I started recruiting, there were only handful or so firms that had a track record of hiring consultants (Bain, Golden Gate, Audax, Lee Equity, Advent, HIG, maybe more). Today, lots will hire consultants, but many will have the same expectations in modeling from their consultants as they do from their bankers. I'd think this would be especially true of firms that recently started hiring consultants. Just something to be aware of when thinking about career risk and your potential to outperform the rest of the pack.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 14, 2021 - 3:44pm

First, PE is highly autonomous relative to consulting, especially the more senior you get. In consulting, slides get reviewed up the chain, directives come down the chain. In PE, you have to know how to do things on your own.

Important to couch for potential readers that YMMV, I had the exact opposite experience 

Jul 8, 2021 - 7:08pm

I agree with most of this but disagree with the 80/20 part. Though not as time-pressured as banking, you need to aggressively prioritize the diligence areas that make the biggest impact / portfolio company initiatives that generate the most value. This was a bit of an eye-opener (I came in thinking I needed to overcomplicate the models etc.) but it has been the opposite. Peers at several firms express a similar sentiment though YMMV.

Just don't want people to go in thinking there's only one kind of experience.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
Jul 10, 2021 - 12:54pm

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  • 1st Year Associate (285) $222
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (26) $159
  • 2nd Year Analyst (61) $135
  • 1st Year Analyst (185) $118
  • Intern/Summer Associate (20) $67
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (219) $59