Headhunters are the gatekeepers to many buyside jobs (hence the picture of the fortress), including those in private equity, growth equity, and hedge funds. More recently, they also run a number of processes for sought after corporate development and startup roles. If you’re interested in any of these careers, it is important to understand how the recruiting system works in order to best position yourself to get interviews and successfully convert job offers.
You only have one shot to make a good impression with a headhunter.
Let’s mention that again –
You only have one shot to make a good impression with a headhunter. So don’t mess it up.
They will write you off after your first meeting if you underperform due to the sheer number of other bankers out there. It is important to be specific with what you want to make their lives easier.
Here are five common questions headhunters will ask on an introductory call with an investment banking analyst.
1. Walk me through your resume / tell me about yourself
Before starting any headhunter outreach, you’ll want to have your resume perfected and your story locked down. If you’re a current investment banking analyst, you should already have most of your story well-rehearsed from your banking interviews. You will most likely need to add a segment on why a buyside role makes more sense than you staying in investment banking. Your story should have a logical and compelling narrative for why it’s obvious you should be on the buyside. Stories use specific anecdotes to demonstrate certain traits desired in PE Associates (e.g. hard working, quantitative, personable, intellectually curious, independent, etc.). The key is to “show” and not “tell” that you possess these qualities through your anecdotes. We recommend typing up your story and rehearsing it in front of a mirror or webcam and seeing if you come off the way you intend. After you’re comfortable, we recommend telling your story to close friends and family members to see if it genuinely captures you.
Finally, when you’re ready, tell your story in a more professional mock interview setting with your peers or a coach. OfficeHours can help you with this.
2. Why buyside / investing?
Remember, headhunters only get paid if you get the job and accept the offer.
Therefore, they need to make sure you are both qualified and genuinely interested/committed to the job(s) for which you are interviewing. Be prepared to answer why investment banking isn’t right for you. Common reasons include that you’d rather be a stakeholder in the outcomes of your deals instead of an advisor with no skin in the game (bankers get paid for deals to happen, whether they end up good or bad), or that you’d like to spend time both executing new investments and working closely with portfolio company operating teams. Enjoying thesis-driven work, having a long-term focus, and building a successful platform are all good reasons as well.
3. Why private equity or hedge funds?
After you’ve made the case for why you prefer an investing role on the buyside to an advisory role on the sell-side, you will need to be more specific about the strategy. Private equity and hedge funds are totally different jobs that are suitable for different personalities. In private equity, you work on deals similar to the ones you do in investment banking – however, you’re on the other side of the transaction. This project-based work means you might be working on a handful of deals over a long period of time. Hedge funds are more active day-to-day, with a live scoreboard of how your trades are performing during market hours. If you’re interested in PE, be prepared to answer why not hedge funds. Common answers include you prefer project-based, longer-term work to the subjectivity of daily market volatility. Common reasons for hedge funds over PE include you like having a live look at the scoreboard at any given moment, and you appreciate being able to act on an investment idea via entering a public position vs. waiting for a private company to come to market.
Be prepared to give a thoughtful answer on why exactly you’re aiming for the job you want.
4. Tell me about a deal you worked on
This question inevitably comes up during private equity interviews and is an important way to demonstrate what you understand about M&A processes and working on all the different workstreams (e.g. bake-offs, creating management presentations, lender presentations, valuation analysis, industry studies, and market sizing, etc.). Headhunters ask this question often. Even though they might not be familiar with the industry you work in or the transaction dynamics at play, they are really just screening for your ability to articulate your experience in a compelling manner. Practice makes perfect here, and we’ve found successful candidates have made outlines with key deal merits and considerations, as well as the specific role they played.
Whenever possible, go through a mock interview with someone already in PE to get feedback. OfficeHours can help you with this.
5. Tell me more about the type of fund you are interested in (fund size, industry, geography, strategy, etc.)
After you’ve covered why you are interested in an investing role and why you are specifically targeting private equity or hedge funds, headhunters may ask you to be more specific about the fund strategy.
Don’t worry if you’re not up to speed on this yet. In our experience, most analysts tend to say they are only looking for megafund job offers. You have to remember these firms only hire a handful of candidates every year and represent the minority of PE jobs. With more PE dry powder than ever (over $1 trillion), there is a long tail of investment funds looking for associates, especially after megafunds finish up their recruiting processes. Once this happens, it will be more important to be specific with what you are targeting. Doing more research on different funds, strategies, and culture will help you take a targeted approach and signal to headhunters that you know what you’re looking for and won’t waste their time casting a wide net.
Ready for more practice and expertly conducted mock interviews? OfficeHours has a roster of coaches from 100+ private equity and other buyside firms who can help you land a job. We have placed numerous candidates into private equity from non-traditional banking backgrounds (even during quarantine). We are eager to meet you!