I went straight from university into a job in private equity. This makes me one of the lucky ones: most private equity funds don't have the resources to train you, so they like to hire people who've been trained by investment banks or big consulting firms. Some funds do have their own graduate training programs now (Eg. Blackstone), but getting in still isn't easy. Personally, I probably contacted around 2,000 people before I got this job.
If you want to join a private equity fund, you're probably going to need to know how to build financial models already. This means you need to be super-motivated: you need to study and you need to teach yourself modelling. As a student, it's tricky to fit everything in.
There have been claims here recently that jobs in private equity are worse than jobs in investment banks for working hours. I haven't worked in bank, but I can vouch for the fact that I work hard here. That said, I think I worse less hard than my friends in banking and I think my work is more varied and interesting.
Your experience in private equity will depend upon the kind of fund you join. When you're at a bigger fund like me, most of your time is still spent modelling and producing Powerpoint presentations, but it still feels more like you're working with your boss than for your boss. - Even as a junior you're out there meeting CEOs and finance directors. When you're at a small fund, there are fewer people so you'll have to do everything from due diligence to modelling to legal, to deal financing. Because of this, it's usually impossible to get into a small fund without previous experience in a bank.
Whichever kind of fund you want to work for, you'll need to cold call to get in. If you can't get on an established graduate program, you probably want to forget the big funds like Blackstone. These guys literally get hundreds of emails a day and will simply forward you on to HR, who will give you a generic rejection email. Target smaller firms with no defined recruitment process/platform. You might hit gold. It’s a numbers game. Remember: all it takes is for one person to say yes.
Before you get anywhere near a private equity interview, you need to spend a lot of time learning how to build a financial model - particularly an LBO (leveraged buyout) model. Most students, even at top universities, don't have a clue about modelling. I spent a year preparing myself, and even then it was tough.
Most importantly, you need a back-up plan. If you want to get into private equity straight from university you will need to be exceptional. Your chances are miniscule, and you will be coming up against people much older than you with far, far more experience. If you struggle to land internships or graduate roles in consultancy or banking, you will find the PE recruitment process impossible.
The good news is that once you're in, you may not leave. Unlike investment banks, where the churn rate is very high, the churn rate in private equity is negligible. This is because carried interest (“carry”) is where the real money is at. Carry is basically a direct cut of the profits that is paid to investment professionals in PE. It doesn’t really accrue/get paid to you until you principal level, but can be several times higher than your base salary. At junior levels of private equity, total compensation is actually less than in IBD. It only starts to pull away dramatically when you start earning carry.
The earlier you break into PE, the more deals you work on and the higher your carry will be....
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