2014 Mid-Year Reader Q&A: Accelerated Recruiting, Private Equity Recruiting, Story Makeovers, VP-Level Recruiting, and More

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Reader Q&A: Accelerated Recruiting, Private Equity, and VP-Level RecruitingThe last time we did a Q&A, Bitcoin was worth… actually, about what it’s worth right now.

Surprise, surprise.

Since we’re back to that level, it seems like a great time for another round of questions and answers!

Among other topics, we zip through:

  • How to position yourself for full-time recruiting, coming from a lackluster internship.
  • The merits of quitting a new job within the first week (hint: there are none).
  • Story makeovers at all levels – undergrad, MBA, and post-MBA.
  • How to position yourself for IB/PE roles if you’ve had 10+ years of experience in corporate finance.
  • PE recruiting and case studies, because everyone always wants to break in even if there’s a zombie apocalypse.
  • And my usual responses to snarky comments, criticism, and requests for things I don’t want to do.

Let’s go:

Climbing the Ladder: Accelerated Recruiting and Accelerated Quitting

Sometimes you take my constant Game of Thrones references too seriously.

Just look at the number of questions that involve “climbing the ladder”…

Q: I won 3 bulge bracket superdays last year, but no internship offers. So I’m completing an internship at a boutique bank this summer.

Unfortunately, I do a lot of research and only a bit of Excel / valuation work. How can I make sure I get interviews at the large banks for full-time recruiting?

A: Start EARLY and aim to participate in every single bank’s accelerated recruiting process. This usually happens as return offers are being decided and internships are wrapping up.

Reach out to your contacts and former interviewers by the end of July and ask directly about it; also make sure you don’t focus 100% on the biggest banks because you never know what will happen.

Be careful about spinning your internship experience – many interns “go too far” and write unrealistic descriptions.

Mention the valuation work, but don’t try to spin it into sounding like it was all deal-related.

Q: I accepted a full-time offer from one bank, and then I quit within my first week to join a bank with a slightly better reputation. Everyone was angry.

Now I have the opportunity to move to a group with better exit opps – do you think it’s fine to leave within the first week once again?

A: Why wait a week? At this rate, you might as well just quit on the first or second day. I’m sure there will be no long-term harm to your reputation.

In all seriousness, you should never do anything like this because finance is a small world and your reputation follows you everywhere.

Yes, you might get slightly better opportunities elsewhere, but is it really worth being known as “that guy” (or girl)?

What if you run into your former co-workers at your next interview after they’ve switched jobs?

Think before you leap…

Story Makeovers: A New Reality TV Show?

Because you always need to tell your story, but you rarely do it well on your first try.

Q: Can you critique my story? Here’s my outline:

  • The Beginning: I started out at College X in a different major.
  • Spark: I met a mentor who made me interested in finance, and then I transferred to the business school there.
  • Growing Interest: I did a middle office internship at a bank, learned more about financial analysis and modeling, interned at a Big 4 firm working in valuations, and became more and more interested in deals after working on X’s acquisition of Y, which made me interested in Industry Z.
  • Your Future / Why You’re Here Today: I enjoyed my time there, but my end product was used mostly for reporting purposes – I want to play a more active role in deals and influence outcomes, and your group and bank are the best way to get there.

A: This was decent for a first attempt. I would say:

  • More Specific Spark: Who was this mentor? Where did he/she work? What did he/she say, exactly?
  • Better Transitions: Why did you move from the middle office to the Big 4 firm? What did you do to learn more about finance after the Big 4 experience?
  • Vision: Beyond playing a more active role in deals, what do you want to do and how does this group fit in with that? Can you point to an industry or deal focus?

Q: What about my story? I just finished my MBA a few years ago:

  • The Beginning: Initially, I went to College X as a pre-med and planned to become a doctor.
  • Spark: But then I took an economics class that sparked my interest in finance, so I changed to a double major in finance and economics.
  • Growing Interest: And then I completed an IB internship at Bank X, and joined their energy group full-time. I enjoyed it, but wanted more of an international perspective, so I got my MBA at a leading business school in Europe and then spent several years working in energy investing in London. Then I joined Energy Company Y and have been working in their corporate finance team ever since.
  • Your Future / Why You’re Here Today: I’m interviewing at [Bank Name] because I want to go back to my original passion of valuing companies, and leverage my language skills and knowledge of different cultures to work on cross-border deals – and your bank has a great reputation for that.

A: There are more serious issues with this one:

  • More Specific Spark: A class is “OK” for your spark, but can you point to the professor or a more specific topic that made you interested?
  • Better Transitions: Why did you move from IB to the buy-side to corporate finance? You might say that you wanted to understand everyone involved in the deal process – sellers, buyers, and investors.
  • Synthesis: Your closing could use improvement because you’re pointing to one specific skill you learned rather than explaining how you want to use all your experience to go back to working at a bank.

Explain how your experience at an energy company and on the buy-side gives you insight that other bankers won’t have, and how it lets you understand potential buyers and institutional investors in more depth, ultimately helping to close more deals.

Q: I’m a current MBA student looking to move into hedge funds – can you critique my story?

  • The Beginning: I was born and raised in the Middle East, and my family worked in PWM [Insert anecdote about family growing up]. I decided to attend College X and major in math.
  • Spark: I got interested in investing after reading books like Margin of Safety and The Intelligent Investor, and I started trading stocks in my spare time.
  • Growing Interest: I started out in Bank X’s rotational program, initially working as a credit analyst; I liked the work, but wanted more interaction with management, so I moved into a relationship management role, and then a structuring role where I got to interact with company treasurers and assist with hedging. Then I took a business development role at another bank to help build their hedge fund relationship management team, which made me interested in pursuing hedge funds as a career – so I decided to attend Business School Y.
  • Your Future / Why You’re Here Today: I’m here today because I want to professionalize my investing hobby and combine it with my hedge fund experience, and get the opportunity to apply my skills to larger-scale investments.

A: And there are even more issues:

  • Too Much Setup: You’re spending too much time on your previous experience, and not enough on why you want to work at a HF and which strategies you want to pursue. Cut the anecdote as well.
  • Too Many “Hops”: Simplify your roles at that first bank and reduce it to working in the rotational program and then getting the HF experience.
  • Logical Transitions: You need to re-frame your experience and say that ever since university you wanted to become a professional investor – so each step along the way has brought you closer to that goal by…
  • Vision: Which strategies are you interested in? Which companies would you invest in? How is this firm the right cultural and strategic fit for you?

Senior-Level Recruiting

Because it’s just more fun to break in with 10+ years of full-time experience.

Q: I’m a seasoned CFO that just got the opportunity to interview at a bank.

I’ve worked in the US and Asia at 5 different companies, spent some time doing consulting, and have worked on several turnaround and restructuring efforts recently.

How can I present my story, and what else should I tell them?

A: The biggest question is what level you’ll come in at – my guess is they will try to “discount” your experience and bring you in as a VP or Director because you haven’t “officially” worked in investment banking before.

So if it doesn’t make sense or it’s too much of a pay cut, decline or push for better terms.

I would use something like this for your story:

  • You’ve had experience as a CFO across different industries, geographies, and companies, including [Mention names].
  • Over time, you’ve gotten more and more interested in transactions and taking an active role in spin-offs, turnarounds, and restructuring scenarios that banks often advise on.
  • In one case, you [Describe one of the recent deals you worked on and how you contributed to a solid outcome and exit for the investors].
  • You enjoyed that experience and did quite well at it, but your involvement was limited since you only worked with that one company – but you have ideas for efforts like that across other industries. Getting to win clients and execute those plans via advisory assignments for companies is what excites you about IB.
  • You’re here today because [Firm Name] has an excellent reputation for these types of deals, and a long history in the sector – so you view this bank and this team as the best place for you to contribute.

And yes, as always, leave out consulting: sorry, but you still can’t buy bottles with Starwood points.

Q: Help! I’m a senior associate at a boutique, and I’ve had no luck applying to bulge bracket banks. What should I do?

A: It sounds like you’re stuck in “no man’s land” because you’re too experienced for associate-level roles, but not experienced enough for VP roles.

Looking at your CV (note: he sent it), you’re describing both associate-level tasks (financial analysis, due diligence, pitch books) and VP-level tasks (project management, client relationships, etc.).

Change your CV and pitch to focus on only one of those, and then go for only the corresponding roles.

Q: What do they ask you about in VP-level interviews?

I worked at the same bank for 6 years and I’m going in for my first VP-level interview at another firm tomorrow.

A: Deal experience, plus how well you can transition from “project management” to “winning new clients.”

So even if they ask you about a specific deal, make sure you insert hints that you are capable of sourcing deals and maintaining client relationships.

For each deal, make a list of ways that you might potentially go back to the client to win more business in the future – or how you might use that experience to win future deals in the industry.

Private Equity Recruiting, Case Studies, and More

Even if zombies invaded, people would still want to get into private equity; PE firms would also start investing in zombie-backed companies.

Q: Help! I have an in-person PE case study tomorrow. How detailed should my model and write-up be?

A: Not that detailed for an in-person case (usually these are 2-3 hours).

Don’t even build a full 3-statement model unless they ask you for it – simplify and create FCF projections so you can project debt repayments and calculate IRR at the end.

Focus more on the revenue and expense numbers, and make sure you can look at those under different scenarios for units sold, average selling price, etc. (use at most 2-3 key drivers or you will not finish on time).

The write-up should be no more than 1 page for the same reasons.

Q: What structure should I use?

A: “I would recommend / not recommend investing in [Company X] because it is likely / unlikely that we could achieve a 20% IRR by doing so, under the baseline assumptions for [revenue and expense drivers]. Even if these numbers are [higher / lower than expected], my recommendation still holds up because [Explain how the IRR is still reasonable].

The qualitative factors also support my recommendation, because [Explain how factors such as competition, positioning, management, and operations play in and make the company more / less appealing].

Risk factors include [Assume that each of the key drivers above is more negative than expected and explain the impact each would have]; but even if some or all of these come to pass, my recommendation still holds up because… The company could also mitigate some of these risks by…

Based on all those factors, I recommend doing the deal at a price of [X].”

Slightly more complex version here.

Q: I completed undergrad 5 years ago, and then I started several companies in my home country (one of the BRICS).

But nothing worked out, so I need to find a real job again.

Do you think I can get into private equity? Will PE firms find my operational experience attractive, even though I failed?

A: Normally, you wouldn’t stand a good chance of getting into PE with a background like this – but since you’re in an emerging market, anything could happen.

You should target growth equity and VC firms first since they care more about operational experience.

Get some experience there, and then use it to move to a more traditional PE firm (this wouldn’t work as well in a developed market).

And then you can pitch yourself as someone who can work with portfolio companies based on firsthand operational experience, and someone who understands finance and deal-making.

Q: It seems like it’s really hard to become a Partner in PE anyway – why does everyone want to do it? Is it actually any better than sell-side roles?

A: Yes, your chances of becoming a Partner are astronomically low. Many associates at the mega-funds actually move to smaller funds because it’s so difficult to get promoted there.

Still, there are many advantages over sell-side roles, even though it’s still a grind and a ton of work.

It comes down to whether you want to spend your time looking at a lot of opportunities but rarely doing deals (PE), or working with a few companies in-depth and getting deals done, even if there’s little critical analysis involved (IB).

Q: PE interview guide?! PE interview guide?! PE interview guide?!

A: Maybe? Talk to me after Massive New Modeling Course #1 is complete first

Responding to Critiques

Because “responding to ‘criticism’” sounds too harsh.

Q: All you’ve done lately is promote other products/services!!

Where is the new content??!!! WHERE?!!!!

A: Yup, sometimes I send out promotions… but there is also at least 1 new article each week, and over the past ~9 months there has been 1 new YouTube video almost every week.

Yes, we could publish 25 articles per week and make this a true multi-author site, but remember what happened last time I tried this? You hated it.

And if you’ve signed up for any of the BIWS courses you’ve seen a huge amount of new content in the past 6 months: certification quizzes for all the industry-specific courses, a brand new Oil & Gas course, new bonus case studies, and the first part of a brand new Fundamentals course.

Q: Why / how are you still running this site? It’s obvious you’re bored! 

A: I wouldn’t say I’m “bored” – though there are definitely topics I am bored of (GPA rounding, PLEASE DIE).

I agree that most “general purpose” topics such as resumes, interviews, and so on have been covered, so a lot of articles these days relate to more niche areas.

But I’m still personally interested in exploring these new industries and topics, so that’s why you’re reading this right now.

And even within investment banking, there are still topics that haven’t been explored after 7 years (see: communication skills).

Q: What’s next? Book? Podcast? New TV show? PE interview guide?

A: Book – no.

Podcast – yes, coming soon. I got a lot of great S&T-related questions for this one last week.

New TV show – just give it a few hours…

PE interview guide – didn’t you read my strong “Maybe” above?

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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21 Comments to “2014 Mid-Year Reader Q&A: Accelerated Recruiting, Private Equity Recruiting, Story Makeovers, VP-Level Recruiting, and More”

Comments

  1. G says

    Brian,
    This is pretty unrelated but can you touch on the merits of search fund internships? (What interns should try to get out of it; how to get the experience to be as relevant to ibanking as possible; etc.) I’m starting one in a couple weeks and I’m hoping it would be a good first step to an ibanking internship!
    Thanks.

  2. Tim says

    Hi Brian,

    I hope all is well.

    I just finished reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss.

    I saw that in the testimonials in the back of the book that you were featured and you gave a testimonial.

    I was wondering how is it possible for you to run a website like this and ONLY work the 5-15 hours a week that you state in your testimonial in the book?

    I always thought that it takes a lot of time and long hours to run a website like this. Especially given the number of articles that you have posted, and the number of products you have created, and the TV show you created and everything else associated with this site.

    From the outside, it seems like it would require you to work well over 40 hours a week to run a website like, especially given the amount of new content that is posted every month.

    Also, I was wondering, are you and Tim Ferriss close friends?

    • says

      The testimonial is misleading and I actually work more like 60-70 hours per week on average. The way it was edited made it sound too good to be true. I think what I actually said is that if I wanted to, I could work a lot less because of the systems and processes that are in place. So it is possible to “take a break” but I rarely do so because I get bored after more than 4-5 hours of not working.

      I don’t know Tim Ferriss at all in real life, but some friends and acquaintances do.

  3. Tim says

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the reply back.

    I was wondering, the sole reason why you created this website was because of the book: “The 4-Hour Workweek”?

    This is truly an incredible website and business that you have built over the last 7+ years.

    Also, I was wondering: how much of, to what degree do you still agree with the concepts and teachings and ideologies of the “The 4-Hour Workweek”?

    Do and would you recommend and advise other people to use the “The 4-Hour Workweek” as a template for others to create their own entrepreneurial endeavors?

      • Tim says

        Hi Brian,

        Thanks for the reply back.

        I am just wondering out of curiosity, what is your relationship with Tim Ferriss?

        Have you ever directly spoken to Tim Ferriss ever in your life?

        It seems like Tim Ferriss completely altered and changed your life forever, after you read his book: “The 4-Hour Workweek”.

        The website and business you created is truly amazing and this website and business you created is very inspiring for me and probably many others too.

        • says

          I have no relationship. I do not know him and have never even talked to or emailed him.

          I think you’re REALLY overestimating everything right now, including the book, this site, this business, me, etc. nothing is really that great or impressive at all.

          Try talking to someone who built a $100 billion company from nothing or cured a disease – those are impressive accomplishments.

          • Tim says

            Hi Brian,

            Thanks for the reply back.

            I was wondering: how did you give and post that testimonial in “The 4-Hour Workweek” if you never spoke to Tim Ferriss in your life?

            When exactly (date: month/year) did you give that testimonial in the book?

            The testimonial that you gave in the book is COMPLETELY OPPOSITE to what you are telling me right now.

            I guess “The 4 Hour Work-Week” book sounds almost too good to be true. I am not sure how factual and how applicable the book is to the REAL WORLD. It seems very difficult and very unlikely to build a tangible business/product/service if you are only spending 4-15 hours a week on it.

          • says

            I think it was submitted via email on his site…. maybe in December 2008 or January 2009? Something like that.

            You should be extremely skeptical of anyone who says you can do amazing things in only 4 hours per week, at least initially.

  4. Will says

    Brian,

    What do you know about Merchant Banking, especially at prestigious “boutique” firms?

    – Do skills transfer over to PE at a later time?
    – How does salary/bonus compare versus PE?
    – What is the work like at the Associate level?
    – How are the hours?

    I would also appreciate you shooting me an email to discuss more specifics to my situation as well. Thanks!

    • says

      Merchant banking is like a combination of PE and IB, so yes, the skills transfer over at least if you work on direct investments there.

      Salary/bonus I assume is similar to IB levels since it is still a bank.

      The work itself is a combination of both fields, so some pitch books and valuation and memo-writing, but also due diligence, sourcing, monitoring portfolio companies, and so on. I would assume hours are about the same as either one of those, maybe a bit better than IB has been traditionally but still at least 60-70 per week.

      Also see: http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/boutique-middle-market-bulge-bracket/

  5. John says

    Brian
    Love the site,I’ve been a fan for years.
    I ended up in different industry doing marketing but I believe everything I read here really helped me.
    Thanks a lot for everything and keep up the good work.

  6. Tyler says

    Hello,

    I am an accounting and finance major with experience in Big 4 and regional accounting firms. I had a couple of months in the summer for an internship so I took an unpaid (thankfully accounting firms pay interns really well!) internship at a very small “search fund” PE firm. I dont know how familiar you are with search funds but what they do is find 1 established company to buy and run with the objective of long term growth. it is a pretty interesting way compared to the regular PE firms, but I had 2 main problems with it.

    1) The 2 managing directors said that I should list my experience as an Associate instead of an Intern because of the work that I’ll be doing. Do you think it would look weird to other possible employers to see Associate listed for an undergrad and for only 2 months of time as one?

    2) Because it is so small, I havent had any quality meaningful work. I’ve completed one valuation just because the MDs wanted us to get some experience looking at them but it’s just been a lot of industry and company research. Any suggestions on what I could look to do that would be more useful for the firm and more meaningful for me?

    Thanks.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1) Not necessarily as long as you can back up your experience and talk about it eloquently
      2) What you’ve done is useful; I’d focus on valuing companies (i.e. building models) if you can

  7. John says

    hey guys I want to thank you for your great articles and all the information you provide for free!!!
    Moreover, I have a question and I would be grateful if you could answer it. After my first year at university I had a internship at boutique investmentbank in Public Finance – I choose PF over Corporate Finance and M&A for which I also had an offer because this bank has a great “deal flow” in PF, I was involved in various deals for example financing the buy back of mezzanine capital(the company was primarily owned by the government), the financing of one of the most modern cancer therapy centres and a small deal in infrastructure. Now I want to apply for a internship at a bugle bracket bank but I am not sure which IB group would fit me the best.
    I considered DCM or maybe a healthcare group, but since I was involved in the buy back of mezzanine capital i got interested in leveraged finance. But I am not sure if I would have a chance with my prevouis internship in PF?! PF itself is not an option because no bank offers PF internships in europe.

    I am really sorry for the long question but it would be grate if you could tell me which group would maximise my chances.

    All the best!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If PF in Europe isn’t available, I’d look for DCM roles in BB, or work for a large fund that trades muni bonds. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even worry about leveraging your previous experience and just apply for roles in IB. Since you got into public finance relatively early, you still have time to move to IB. And it is better to move now than later. http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/public-finance-careers/

  8. Robert says

    Hey guys,
    Really useful article as usual – you’ve definitely been among my top reading choices for a long time now. I do have a question though related to lackluster internships. I am a European first-year Econ undergrad at a “target” (Russel Group, not Oxbridge but close) uni from C.E.Europe, and this meant that compared to home students I took a bit longer to get interested in finance nor did I have the networking experience they did (we are talking about first-years so nothing fancy but still). Thus I didn’t participate in finance-related extracurriculars which are often eye-catchers for the bulge bracket spring weeks which are all the rave here in the UK before going to a proper internship. Instead, I am now doing a 6-week internship in workout/restructuring in my home country with a bit of area rotation thrown in.
    What do you recon, is that enough to supplant participation in a spring week come second year? Furthermore, I know it’s never too early to learn Excel and I honestly have no clue what comparative experience your average FinanceSoc lad/lass would have but I wonder how could one perfect their skills a bit in advance (without doing actual pitching at an actual workplace or stuff like that).
    Apologies if I’m being too tangential, but I’d really appreciate the advice – keep up the good work!

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