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Non-bankers now beat bankers in battle to break into private equity

A limited number of vacancies and high recruitment standards are thwarting the ambitions of bankers who want a career in Hong Kong private equity. Non-banking candidates from sought-after industries, however, have a better shot of landing a PE role.

Although firms such as Pacific Alliance are “picking up a few people” and new start-ups continue to emerge, job volumes are low, says a Hong Kong headhunter, who asked not to be named.

“Firms are not expanding at same rate as 06/07 so they don’t automatically hire two to three junior people a year from investment banking as they once did,” says Andrew Oliver, managing director, Profile Search and Selection.

PE houses are typically poaching from each other because they want people who already have transaction experience and strong relationships with entrepreneurs. “All firms are more discerning and more selective. They only hire if there is a real track record,” says Rafael Brana, associate, Bo Le Associates.


PE gets (even more) picky

Chinese expertise is becoming a key selection criteria as firms focus on mainland investments, says Brana. The ideal mid-level PE candidate is a PRC national with the following CV: 1) undergraduate degree from top Chinese university; 2) international consultancy firm; 3) MBA from leading Western business school; 4) large investment bank; 5) global PE firm.

Eunice Ng, director, Avanza Consulting, adds: “These days, native Mandarin-speaking candidates from top business schoosl and with China networks are in demand. If you just want to ‘check out’ private equity in your career, you can’t. I’ve seen a lot of candidates but not many of them are considered.”

And although junior investment bankers are sometimes an option for analyst and associate PE roles, VPs are unlikely to be considered. “More specific PE deal experience is expected of you at VP level, but without prior PE experience you might not be able to deliver to their expectations,” says Oliver.


Commerce candidates beat bankers

PE equity firms are considering people with commercial backgrounds, especially if they are CFAs with excellent communication and analytical skills, says Ng. “They often stand a better chance than most i-bankers because they know the industry so well and are therefore very credible with clients.”

People with at least eight years’ experience in a sector such as new media or energy are in demand. “But that’s a very narrow pool,” adds Ng.

Hubert Tam, managing partner, Sirius Partners, says mainland PE firms are also recruiting from industry, especially candidates with health care and technology experience. “There’s a shortage of these specialists so firms are willing to pay a premium, and up US$300k in basic salary, to get them. Every PE firm is looking to find the next Google in China and they are competing for the best talent in the market.”

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  1. PE wants PE experience – makes sense

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