In an ideal world, we all have weeks to prep when we get the news that our top choice firm has invited us for a first round interview. Unfortunately though, it usually doesn’t work that way. In fact, it actually GENERALLY ends up working the opposite way! The “top-tier” and most competitive funds signal the start of Buyside recruiting season by being the first to extend interview invitations.
So what do you do if it’s your first interview process, you’re not feeling as crisp as you’d like to be feeling, and you’ve been given a few days to prep for your dream role?
Focus Prep on Deal Experience
More often than not, if you are recruiting for Buyside jobs you have had experience in some sort of transaction oriented industry. This generally means that the interviewer already has confidence that you can handle the basic technical aspects of the job (modeling, finance / accounting, valuation work), and will likely want to focus the interview on learning more about your commercial knowledge. The best way to do fully grasp your investor acumen is to speak through your previous deal experience – which is exactly why interviewers will generally take this approach in the first round. Any deal on your resume is fair game, but generally the interviewer will either pick the top deal on your resume, or let you pick which one to walk through.So how do you prep for this? My approach is to create a high-level 3-minute “walk-through” for each deal on your resume. This outline should consist of a basic overview of the transaction, the rationale driving the deal, some high level numbers (company revenue, EBITDA, margins, CAGRs), what actually happened (who purchased the business, at what multiple, what return), and then end with your primary role on the transaction. Best is to stop here and allow the interviewer to take over, but be prepared for further questions around your thoughts on the investment thesis, high-level modeling questions, and your understanding of the major risks and mitigants.When developing an outline for the investment thesis, make sure to incorporate high-level market insights, an analysis of the competitive dynamics and business positioning, as well as company-specific reasoning. Think from the perspective of a private equity player (even if your deal was not a PE deal), and implement important facets such as cash flow generation, ability to add leverage, growth levers, a strong management team, and a business that operates in an attractive, large, and growth industry.
Brush Up on Behavioral Questions
The next area of focus should be the behavioral / motivational part of the interview. Candidates often brush this off, thinking it will be easy to answer on the spot – but this is a huge mistake. Make sure you have your story down cold! It’s often times the first question you will be asked, and will lay down the tone for the interview. Next, have concrete reasons as to why private equity – which ideally naturally stem from your story. Lastly, have a few reasons as to why this firm and this strategy / segment / geography specifically. To answer this, it helps to have conducted informational interviews and to do some research on previous deals and fund performance.
Technicals are Important – But Thought Process is More Important than the Final Answer
Of course there are basic questions that you just can’t get wrong – these are outlined in all of the prep guides and you have hopefully already gone through them a few times already. When it comes to more complicated technical questions, don’t allocate precious time to over-prepping. Instead, focus on making sure you understand the question and that you have practiced walking through your thought process out-loud. Often times, interviewers will not expect you to get every brainteaser or technical right. They will, however, expect you to be able to think in a clear and cohesive manner, be able to stay calm, and be able to effectively communicate your assumptions and thought process.
If you feel really uncomfortable with technical questions, focus your efforts on paper LBOs and try to understand the rationale behind all of the inputs and different levers which impact returns.
Have Good Questions Ready!
I have had first round interviews which leave 15+ minutes for the interviewee to ask questions – so make sure you are prepared in case this happens to you! There is nothing that shows lack of interest more than not having questions ready. Your questions can be literally anything, but I tend to like to focus on the interviewer themselves and to use the time to learn more about their background, motivations, and favorite parts of the team and culture. Other good questions include asking about sourcing methodology, investment committee structure, level of post-execution portfolio management, or further detail around investment strategy.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Run through your story, deal experience, etc. as many times as you possibly can. Don’t memorize, but make sure you have rehearsed enough to speak clearly and concisely. The best way to do this is to actually by recording / videoing yourself – feels a bit awkward, but you will be surprised how much you’ll pick up on that you had not previously thought of! When we get nervous, we tend to use a lot of filler words – and often don’t even realize we are doing this. Listening to yourself speak is a fantastic way to catch onto your own “nervous tics”, to insure that you are proactively watching out for them while you practice, and to prevent them in the actual interview rounds.