As you know, the recruiting process for top Private Equity positions differs between London (Europe) and New York (USA). While most part of the Associate/Sr Associate recruiting in the US market is done through on-campus recruiting and MBA programs, in Europe most part of the recruiting flow is channeled through headhunters. This is why a correct interaction with the headhunter is so critical to get a job in a London-based PE position. This article provides some useful pieces of advice to help you interact with headhunters.
First of all, remember the headhunter has his or her own agenda. They get paid by the recruiter (not the candidate), and through a success fee and/or a retainer fee. Therefore, their interests are normally aligned with those of the employer, and they are incentivized to (i) present candidates with diverse backgrounds (to avoid presenting a panel of identical candidates), (ii) bring forward those candidates that have the highest probability of being hired.
The headhunter is an extension of the recruiting process. You need to keep in mind at all times that any conversation with the headhunter is equivalent to a conversation with the company. You should not disclose any information to them that you wouldn’t disclose to the company itself (and viceversa). For the same reason, you need to prepare very well the meetings with the headhunter, as he or she will be also interviewing you and assessing your probability of success in the process. They will be testing your skills, your motivation for the role, and your background.
Ask for tips before the interview. The headhunter always has some flexibility to give candidates some information about the interview or the interviewer. Sometimes they forget to give you that information or they decide to give it only to some of the candidates, so always remember to call the day before of the interview and ask the headhunter for tips or guidance. That can sometimes make the difference, as you will be directed towards the areas that you need to prepare the night before.
Persistence is key. If you are actively looking for a job (vs passively being contacted by a headhunter), remember to have regular interactions with the headhunters. The larger firms are exposed to a significant flow of mandates/opportunities, and they need to have you in their radar at the time the right opportunity comes along. If you contact them in January but the right role comes in April, they might have forgotten about you! So remember to keep track of all your interactions (an excel table can be very useful) and make regular touchpoints with the headhunters. Also, you need to maintain a constant script and remember what you told to each headhunter.
Always ask for feedback. Remember to ask the headhunter for constructive feedback every time you complete an interview following his or her recommendation, regardless of the outcome of the interview (whether you move forward to the next stage or whether you are declined). Headhunters see you as a potential client that can be working with them for the following months, or even as someone that can make other career changes in the future with their help (i.e., bringing future fees for them). Therefore, it is in their best interest to help you improve and to give you useful feedback so that you can learn from your mistakes and perform better in future interviews. They interact with hundreds of candidates, so they can provide you with very useful and actionable feedback. Never complete an interview without asking for feedback!
Finally, I wanted to finish this piece with a useful list of the top headhunting firms operating in the London PE market and who are their recurrent clients in the industry.
- Kea Consultants: They are today one of the strongest firms in the industry, having worked with pretty much all the largecap firms. Probably the firm with the best dealflow of mandates. They normally work with: Cinven, Permira, KKR, Apax
- Blackwood: TA Associates, etc.
- Dartmouth Partners: Nordic Capital, etc.
- Private Equity Recruiting (PER): They have some recurrent clients and are strong in certain geographies (e.g., Middle East) or asset classes (e.g., infrastructure). They work with ADIA, for example.
- Nordbridge Group: They work with CVC, Providence, etc.
- Walker Hamill: They work with Hellman & Friedman.
- Top firms: The top multinational firms always get attractive mandates in Private Equity. However, they are focused in senior roles (Principal/VP and above).
- Russell Reynolds, Korn Ferry, Egon Zhender, Spencer Stuart
Obviously, the list is not comprehensive as this is a very fragmented and relationship-based market. Also, keep in mind that firms tend to work with different headhunters all the time, as this allows them to access a wider database of candidates. Note that, by definition, a headhunter with a very high market share in a specific space (e.g., France) is normally conflicted as he cannot recruit candidates sourced from his/her former clients, and are therefore not an optimal source of candidates for companies.
Finally, if you are interested in positions for local teams (e.g., France, Germany, Italy, Spain), you will have to find the right headhunters in each market. The local markets are normally very small and recruiting is controlled by 3-4 individual headhunters, which are normally independent or working for local firms.
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