How to Walk Through Your Resume in Buy-Side Interviews
What’s the most common mistake in any interview?
Not being able to explain why you are interviewing at the company.
There’s an obsession with technical questions, but a near-universal ignorance of how to answer the first question in any interview: “Tell me about yourself.”
Even though I’m prone to killing people and eating their bodies when they can’t explain themselves, I sort of understand this mistake.
If you’re a university student, for example, you might be “experimenting” with different industries, and you might not have specific reasons for wanting to work anywhere.
But once you’re IN investment banking and you start recruiting for buy-side roles, the experiment’s over.
So you need a crisp, well-structured pitch.
If you don’t present your story coherently, you’ll never even make it past interviews with headhunters, let alone PMs or Partners:
Deal Experience? What Deal Experience?
When you recruit for these roles, you cannot rely on your investment banking experience to “sell” yourself.
There are four main reasons why this won’t work:
- PE Recruiting Starts Insanely Early – If you’re at a large bank, recruiters will start contacting you within months of your start date. How much deal experience will you have by then?
- You Won’t Sound Convincing If Your Interest Developed So Recently – So you worked on a deal three months ago that made you interested in private equity. What happens if you change your mind again in another three months?
- You Need a Progression of Internships to Win IB Roles – And in all likelihood, at least one of these internships was buy-side-related. In pretty much all our networking success stories, the reader interned at a small PE/VC/HF firm along the way.
- “Deal” Experience Won’t Necessarily Help for HF/AM Roles, and IB Isn’t Even a Strict Requirement – M&A and LBO experience won’t help that much for public markets roles, and you don’t even need banking experience to get in; you could go the CFA route and work your way up through internships.
“It Was My Plan All Along”
So you need to tell a story where investment banking was just a step in the path – a part of your plan all along to work full-time as an investor.
“All along” doesn’t mean since the day you were born, but it does mean “at least a few years in advance.”
You did banking to gain broader deal and industry exposure, and to improve your valuation, modeling, and deal analysis skills.
But you had always planned to work as an investor afterward.
Even if this is not true, you still need to spin this type of story.
And if you don’t have supporting evidence yet, keep reading.
The Buy-Side Story Structure
We now recommend the following points for all stories:
- Outline Length: 150 words maximum
- Story Length: 300 words maximum (about 2 minutes at normal speaking speed)
- Structure: 1) Beginning, 2) Spark, 3) Growing Interest, and 4) Why You’re Here Today and Your Future
- Customization: Your story should be highly customized to the firm you’re speaking with – especially the last part!
Here’s what you might say for each part:
- The Beginning: Summarize your school and internships, and mention an early interest in investing. Bonus points if you can insert your “interesting fact” here so that you sound like a human.
- Spark: A work or academic situation that made you interested in a specific type of investing, such as finding undervalued banks or misunderstood technology companies, or betting against overvalued, over-leveraged energy companies.
Example events/experiences could include a university-sponsored competition, working for the university endowment fund, or your personal investing/trading.
If you’re interviewing for private equity or venture capital roles, you could also make the Spark more “operational” and talk about how you improved or helped turn around a business.
- Growing Interest: You developed your interest with a buy-side internship, more personal investing, a student investment club, and other tactics.
But you wanted the broadest possible deal experience and industry exposure, as well as more refined modeling and valuation skills, so you decided to do investment banking first.
You gained those skills, but you want to get back to your original interest and think more critically about companies and deals. Your time in IB confirmed that you want to work with entire companies (for PE-type roles) or that you prefer minority-stake investing (for HF/AM roles).
- The Future and Why You’re Here Today: So you’re here today because you want to combine the skills you gained in IB with your original interest in investing; this firm uses a strategy or focuses on an industry or deal type you like, and it has a great track record in that area.
Ideally, you will be able to name specific portfolio companies, deals, or positions in the last point because you should customize your story for each firm.
It’s also helpful to explain why you prefer this type of firm to others.
With growth equity, for example, you could say there’s more hands-on work and analysis than at most VC firms, but it’s not number crunching all the time as it would be at larger PE firms.
Resume Walkthrough Outlines Based on This Template
You should outline a short, 30-second version of your story, and then a longer, 1-2-minute version.
Here’s one example of the standard IB to PE move, based on a client who worked in the Leveraged Finance team at a bank.
Names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent:
- Beginning: Grew up in Valencia, Spain, and played a lot of basketball growing up; moved to London and attended UCL for undergrad, completing a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
- Spark: Started investing in Spanish banks and learning more about the sector; many firms were distressed at the time, and he thought there were overlooked opportunities and undervalued companies.
- Growing Interest: Did an internship at JRJ Group, a boutique financial services-focused PE firm, but wanted broader deal exposure and more deal execution, so he joined JP Morgan’s Leveraged Finance team in London. Gained more financial and deal analysis skills, but also wanted to return to his original interest in investing.
- The Future and Why You’re Here Today: He wants to combine his LevFin, PE, and investing experience and work on transactions involving entire companies and add value over the long term, and this firm has a great reputation for that, especially in financial services.
30-Second Version: “I’m from Spain, went to UCL, and got very interested in investing in Spanish banks. I worked at JRJ and then at JP Morgan Leveraged Finance, and now I want to combine my LevFin and PE experience and work on financial services investments, which your firm specializes in.”
Here’s an example outline for a client who was interested in real estate, but who went into credit risk and investment banking first:
- Beginning: Born and raised in Hong Kong, where he got interested in real estate at a young age because his father was a real estate appraisal agent. Went to USC for undergrad and took several real estate classes there.
- Spark: Worked at a brokerage helping to renovate and sell properties, which made him interested in the investing and operational sides of real estate.
- Growing Interest: Joined the credit risk team at Morgan Stanley after graduation, since they did a lot of work in real estate, and he wanted to learn about debt. Later moved into the real estate IB group and worked on M&A deals, private placements, and minority acquisitions.
- The Future and Why You’re Here Today: Wants to combine the skills he gained at MS with his original interest in real estate investing and work at a fund that focuses on debt, and this firm has a top group for that.
30-Second Version: “I’m from Hong Kong originally, went to USC, and worked at a brokerage helping to renovate and sell properties there. I joined Morgan Stanley after graduation and worked in credit risk and real estate investment banking, and now I want to combine those skills with my original interest in real estate and focus on debt investments in the sector.”
Here’s another example for someone who moved from a private equity fund of funds role to a credit-focused hedge fund:
- Beginning: Grew up in Boston and attended WUSTL; worked at KPMG, Spotlight Partners, and Morgan Stanley, and developed an early interest in investing from the Spotlight PE internship.
- Spark: Worked on a leveraged buyout at Spotlight that made him interested in debt investors and the credit side of deals.
- Growing Interest: Joined Grove Street, a PE fund of funds, because they had just raised a new, larger fund and he wanted to gain broader deal and modeling experience. He became increasingly interested in co-investments and working more directly with debt, as he kept seeing deals and companies where the debt seemed to be mispriced.
- The Future and Why You’re Here Today: He wants to combine his prior investing experience with credit investing because it requires similar skills to stock investing/valuation but with more in-depth technical analysis; and this firm has a great reputation for distressed debt.
30-Second Version: “I’m from Boston, went to WUSTL, and did a private equity internship at Spotlight that first made me interested in credit and debt investing. I went to Grove Street after graduation to gain more deal and modeling experience, worked on co-investments there, and now I want to move into distressed debt investing to combine my previous experience with my interest in credit.”
Objections, Problems, and Special Cases
“That’s nice,” you say, “But all these examples were perfect. What if I don’t have experience that lines up exactly with my goals?”
So let’s look at a few common objections and problems:
What If You Have No Prior Buy-Side Internship Experience?
If you made it into investment banking without prior internships that are relevant to this role, cite something else to explain your interest:
- Investing or case competitions.
- Class projects related to investing.
- The student investment club.
- Investing in your personal account.
- CFA society participation and studying for the CFA exam.
- Turning around or improving a business.
- A family member who was in real estate or who owned a business.
And if you can’t think of anything, then you should probably give up.
What If Your Past Internship/Work Experience Makes No Sense?
If it’s not relevant, leave it out. Focus on the 2-3 experiences that help your case the most.
One common problem is having “scattered” internship experience in multiple fields, like wealth management, audit, and private equity.
You can simplify that by saying, “I did a few finance internships, including one in private equity where I… [Learned extremely relevant skills for this job].”
What If You Can’t Find Specific Information on the Firm?
This one should not be an issue for PE/VC roles because most firms have websites that explain their investment strategies and portfolio companies.
It may be an issue for hedge funds because they’re so secretive.
So if you can’t find anything beyond the high-level strategies (e.g., long/short equity), make your ending more generic and talk about the people you’ve met at the firm rather than the exact strategies they use.
Does My Story Have to Be Customized for Each Firm?
As much as possible, yes.
These firms are small and hire you largely based on “fit.”
It’s not like entry-level IB interviews where you can win by answering technical questions well and having decent responses for everything else.
If you don’t have time to create 25 versions of your story, you shouldn’t be applying to that many firms in the first place – or you should apply to more similar firms to save time.
What’s Your Story?
If anything, I’ve probably understated the importance of your story.
Every interaction in the job search IS an interview, and your story is the most critical part of that.
If you have poor reasons for applying to buy-side roles when you speak with headhunters, your search is over.
But if you tell them a structured story where you’ve had a longstanding interest in the field and have taken specific actions to get there, you gain a huge advantage.
And you might just turn the biggest interview mistake into the reason why you get the job.
Have you just started a new job and begun thinking about the recruiting frenzy in a few months?
Do you have no idea what you’ll say?
Or are you wondering if your story will be good enough?
Leave a comment below with a summary, and we will provide brief critiques.
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