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“How I moved to private equity while holding down my 100-hour IBD job”

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Getting through the private equity recruitment process is time-consuming, high-pressure and painful. But when you’re working 80-100 hours every week in IBD, there’s the additional headache of actually getting out for the interview. Doing it without a) anyone suspecting what’s going or b) your work suffering is about as likely as getting a ‘thank you’ from your managing director these days.

The problem is threefold. You need to find the time to apply for jobs, you need to get out for interviews and you need to do all this without either your peers or superiors getting wind of it.

The first bit is easy. The advantage of working in IBD is that after about a year headhunters will start hounding you. Calls at your desk, emails, LinkedIn messages…following you home. You’ll get a steady stream of opportunities handed to you on a plate. All you need to do is update your CV, hand it over to a recruiter, and off you go.

My advice – pick one or two reputable recruiters and work with them exclusively. All of them will tell you they have “exclusive relationships” with whatever name they think you want to hear, so dig a little deeper to separate the cowboys from the real deal. Oh, and don’t apply for absolutely everything, managing five simultaneous processes is about as easy as managing five different girlfriends (or boyfriends).

The interview process is where the fun begins. While slipping in to an empty meeting room for a quick first round phone interview might be easy, getting to a 4-hour modelling test isn’t, especially if you need to spend an hour going across town and back in the middle of the day just to get there. On top of that, if you get through the modelling test, PE employers will then want to run you through their 4, 5 or 6-stage process in the matter of a week or two.

There are two basic approaches you could take. Honesty or lies.

While Honesty might sound a bit mad (because in my opinion, it is), I have heard of people do it. If you’re trying to move from IBD to buy-side, deep down no one is really going to blame you. If it doesn’t impact anyone’s workload and you’re BFFs with your boss, you might just get away with it. But personally I’d say you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

So, lies it is. Remember, if your employer figures out you’re interviewing and then you don’t get the job, which is the most likely outcome when you’re going for a PE job, then you’re going to have to stick around in a potentially very unfriendly atmosphere.

Now there are the usual ‘standard’ excuses that will probably get you through the first couple of rounds but there are only so many doctor appointments and broken boilers you can throw out there. People seem to use “family emergencies” a lot but it’s best not to tempt fate and again, how many family emergencies can you really have?

The best option is to come up with your “cornerstone” excuse ahead of time and start laying the groundwork early. You need to have something that gives you enough flexibility to have repeated absences in a short period that doesn’t come as a surprise to people because you’ve mentioned it a week or two ahead of the actual interviews.

My personal favourites are the good old sports injury, requiring trips to various doctors and physios for an array of scans and consultations. Or ‘Uncle Pete’ who is in some financial difficulties and needs help with meetings with the taxman, accountants, etc. But my best one yet has to be witnessing a crime and helping the Police with their ongoing investigations. Whatever you chose, you should have a few readily available excuses, which you can then pepper with the more regular excuses like a dentist appointment, which now won’t stand out quite so much.

Oh, and another thing, if you’re trying not to arouse suspicion, don’t go broadcasting that you’re interviewing. So your friend in another team might be able to give you advice, but what happens if they get drunk and tell one of their friends, who tells their VP, and so on and so on. My advice? Tell no one.

Johnny Cheeseman has just left the IBD division of an investment bank in the City and is now starting his new private equity job. 

Photo: Getty Images

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