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Private Equity Interview Prep

Private Equity Interview PrepPrivate equity job interviews are notoriously challenging.  While I haven’t heard any questions that are as mind-boggling as Google’s interview exercises, private equity firms certainly put prospective employees through their paces and try to get a sense of how an applicant thinks, processes information and reacts to changing circumstances.  In one of our Private Equity Radio interviews, a private equity professional described the process as highly rigorous and warned applicants to be prepared for a lengthy interview and a strong applicant pool with which you will compete.

The following are some general tips for preparing for the private equity interview so you can feel more comfortable in the interview and impress your interviewer:

  • Know your Record:  You need to know your record and accomplishments very well.  It’s easy to think that you already know everything you’ve accomplished in your professional career because you’re the one who did it.  But you need to be able to clearly and concisely answer questions about your professional history–it’s tougher than you’d think.  Focus on your most impressive and relevant accomplishments and what exactly you contributed in your last position.  Center your answers on real numbers and tangible results rather than intangible accomplishments like “I improved client relations and helped the firm raise additional funds from those clients through consistent communication and attention to the their needs.”  Compare that to “I boosted my clients’ capital commitments to the firm’s investments by 20% over my three year tenure.”  The latter is specific and shows exactly what you did and suggests what you will be able to do for your future employer.
  • Do Your Homework: You also need to do your homework on your potential employer.  Few applicants really become familiar with the firm they are interviewing with, and I think that’s a lost opportunity to show your abilities.  If you have clearly studied your potential employer, it will become evident in the interview and you will likely gain an edge on other applicants.  At my firm, we always look for applicants to have done at least some background on the business.  As a third party marketing firm in the alternative investments space, I can’t tell you how many applicants with strong resumes have disappointed us in the interview by lacking any understanding of our business and even our industry.  You should already know the generalities of your potential employer’s business by the interview and with so many private equity firms embracing websites and greater transparency, you should really be able to know what sectors they invest in, the bios of the management team and other facts that will impress an employer and inform you on the business.
  • Practice: Private equity positions are very sought after and therefore often have a very rigorous interview process.  Many professionals just assume that all interviews are the same and do little to prepare for the interview.  I recommend that you spend many hours practicing for the interview–as many as it takes for you to feel comfortable and confidant.Your practice can be simply reviewing your answers and rehearsing by yourself, or you can enlist a friend, professor, family member or roommate to act as the interviewer.  Be sure to make the practice as realistic as possible so you don’t form bad habits that will carry over to the interview.
  • Do A Lot of Interviews:  Sure, you may have your sights set on one particular private equity firm, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply to others.  If for no other reason than that it’s great practice so you are confidant for your primary job interview.  You can even call up various private equity firms and request an informational interview just to get comfortable talking with buyout firms.
  • Ask a Lot of Questions: Many professionals in our training program ask us for common interview questions in order to prepare for their next private equity interview.  It is important to be prepared but no one outside of the interviewer honestly can say what will be asked in the interview.   The focus is so often on preparing for questions you may never encounter when I believe your time might be better spent thinking of the questions you know will be asked in the interview: those that you ask your employer.  It is an often overlooked aspect, but asking relevant, thoughtful questions of an employer is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and professional curiosity while letting you guide the interview to topics that you feel comfortable addressing.  Do not try to take over the interview, but when the employer inevitably asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” you should be ready with a few of your own.


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About Richard Wilson