I was unfortunate enough to be in the midst of private equity recruiting when COVID first hit in early 2020. I distinctly remember my distress when all of my processes were put on hold, as firms were too worried about the uncertainty brought forth by the virus to make any final hiring decisions. Even worse, I remember making it all the way to final round numerous times, just to be told that all hiring had had been frozen indefinitely.
Now, almost 2 years later – we are still facing a “new normal”. While a lot has improved, the pandemic has still resulted in significant and likely long-lasting changes in the recruiting environment. Some of these changes are harder to manage than others, but for all of these changes you can prepare in advance and even figure out how to leverage best to your advantage. Keep reading to learn how to best position yourself for recruiting in a post-pandemic world.
Using Zoom Interviews to Your Advantage
There’s a lot of benefit to interviewing on Zoom – aside from the fact that you can be in your favorite pair of sweatpants. One of the best advantages to virtual interviews is that you don’t necessarily have to go into the interview completely blind. As long as you don’t overdo it, you can generally have a word document open on half of your screen with some high-level bullets or notes. Utilize this space effectively, potentially jotting down deal outlines or highlights like that EBITDA margin you keep getting wrong. It goes without saying that you should not be literally reading off of these notes. I find that just knowing they are there usually does more to calm my nerves than anything, but it can also help to have a quick reference point at-hand in case you do hit a blank.Another benefit of Zoom is that a number of interviewers are now allowing the use of Excel for technical questions or paper LBOs. Always make sure to ask before assuming this is ok – as some interviewers will want to test your math skills and will therefore expect you to use pen and paper instead. If you are allowed to use Excel, it’s helpful to have a pre-made template ready for paper LBOs. Keep it simple so you can adjust as necessary, but make sure to include inputs for common assumptions such as entry and exit multiples, capital structure, revenue growth rates / EBITDA margin expansion, and levered free cash flow inputs.
Networking becomes a lot easier in a post pandemic world, since you can efficiently speak to numerous people all around the country (or around the world!) in the same day. I would take this one step further and argue that networking is becoming more of an expectation these days as well – simply because of the newfound ease associated with setting up informational interviews. Take advantage of this benefit and make sure to prioritize having as many informal conversations as possible at all stages of your recruiting process.
Start networking as early as possible, and get comfortable with getting uncomfortable – networking is here to stay both in terms of recruiting and as an important element of business interaction for the remainder of your professional career. What is also important is to remember to stay organized. I recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet with a tab for each year to keep track of your contacts, your dates of interaction, and some brief notes and “follow-ups” from your calls. This will become monumentally useful to you over the next few years.
The Flipside of Zoom
Interviewing virtually also means you now need to start taking facets into consideration that you might not normally have thought about. These can include elements such as lighting, screen positioning, and volume. Make sure you test these all in advance. You don’t want to login to an interview and only realize then that the lamp on the other end of your bedroom creates an awkwardly bright glare. Try to use warm lighting near your computer, aimed near the screen but not necessarily on it. Remember to either blur your background or to use an appropriate professional setting. Lastly, test and adjust your volume controls and headphone (ideally with a friend on the other end) to insure that you are speaking clearly without coming off as too soft or too loud.
More so than the obvious technical points – one of the greatest downsides to Zoom is that it is hard to get a true sense of a firm’s culture. There’s something to be said about the experience of seeing an office in person, experiencing other people’s body language, and having a face-to-face human conversation. If you can manage to go in and meet the team post-offer, try your best to make this happen. It really is the best way to assess whether you can see yourself working there for the long-term. If you can’t, a good tip is to ask for a series of 15 to 30-minute chats with as many team members as you can schedule with – especially those at your level who you may not have gotten the chance to interview with. I would definitely suggest doing this post-offer, but you can even start setting up some of these informational chats in later rounds of the interview process as well.
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