Many young professionals in investment banking, consulting, or related fields often wing a few interviews in private equity or other buyside roles to “see how it goes” before they get serious about landing an offer. On the surface, their reasoning makes sense; it seems like a great way to get a sense of what interviews are like is to actually go through the interviews themselves, particularly with firms that you may not be as interested in working at. While it can be tempting for people to take this route to gauge their preparedness, there are a few reasons why you might want to pause before winging PE interviews just for practice. Instead, use a coach or mentor with a service like OfficeHours to hone your skills before jumping into PE interviews and maximize your chances of securing an offer from your dream firm.
First off, the world of private equity, buyside roles, and finance in general is small. It’s very likely that you interview with someone at a firm you’re not as interested in, but they have connections at the firms you are interested in. If you’re winging an interview and are not prepared for the questions asked, the interviewer will likely not have a great perception of you as a candidate in the market. People talk – if for some reason, your name comes up in discussions between friends or colleagues at different firms and someone does not have a positive view of your preparedness and overall commitment to the recruiting process, it has the potential to reflect negatively on your candidacy. You can avoid this by being prepared and therefore always being on your A game, whether you’re interviewing at a firm you love or one you’re not as passionate about.
Another reason why going into PE interviews without much preparation isn’t advisable is that you want to keep up your confidence throughout this process in order to achieve the best outcome. It’s a common psychological phenomenon that if you believe you can achieve something, it’s more likely to come to fruition. A lot of students or young professionals who are struggling in the buyside recruiting process are simply lacking the confidence to land a role at their ideal firm. After establishing that confidence, preparation comes easier. If you are winging PE interviews without much prep and find yourself unable to answer their questions or failing a modeling test, your ego will be knocked down a peg, no matter how confident you may have been walking into the interview. Doing that prep with a coach beforehand allows you to make mistakes and learn from them. Once you learn from those mistakes and determine how best to navigate behavioral and technical interviews, you can at least walk away from those interviews feeling confident that you put your best foot forward.
Furthermore, winging a PE interview does yourself a disservice when it comes to determining what you actually want out of a future role. A lot of people start the PE recruiting process with an amorphous idea of what they want, whether that is related to the type of firm, investment strategy, location, and a myriad of other factors. If you go through multiple interview processes with no real direction or commitment in mind, not only does that come across to interviewers, but you also don’t allow yourself to fully evaluate the firm you are interviewing at. Therefore, if you do end up liking a firm you didn’t intend to interview seriously with, you won’t have absorbed the necessary information to fairly evaluate that opportunity for yourself. That all being said, it’s fine to be open to roles at various funds with different strategies; you just have to get clear on whether that is what you want or not. For example, if you come from TMT banking and want to make a move to consumer private equity, you will have to think about what story or angle you can share to show your interviewer that you are the right fit. If you’re winging interviews like this, it will be much harder to convince them without the necessary preparation. So, don’t do yourself a disservice; do the necessary research before your interview on the firm and position you’re applying to so that you can leave a lasting impression on the interviewer but also come away from the conversation with a sense of whether that firm is right for you or not.
Another valuable item to consider is your time. For those of us who work in finance or consulting, our time is extremely limited. One common misconception out there is that preparation for PE interviews will actually consume more time than just winging interviews and learning on the fly. However, I’d argue the opposite is the case. If you’re jumping from interview to interview trying to learn the ropes on the fly, you learn a lot less than a dedicated session with a coach or mentor or study time you’ve set aside for yourself. In that way, you get a lot more value per minute out of preparing before PE interviews rather than jumping into them blindly. Many people are sometimes discouraged by the upfront cost of getting a coach or mentor, but a better way to think about it is the long-term return on investment. Your time is worth more than wasting it on practice interviews or navigating this process while being lost or confused about what steps to take next.
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of the various reasons why winging PE interviews might not be the best course of action for an aspiring PE professional, what can you do about it? Get a coach/mentor who can guide you through the process in a comprehensive and efficient manner before you start interviewing. Don’t waste your time, don’t do yourself a disservice by being underprepared, and definitely don’t make a name for yourself as a candidate who people see negatively. Do prepare as much as possible, reach out for help, and remember that preparation will boost your confidence and propel you toward securing your dream offer as soon as possible.
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