Squeezing into private equity

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Want to work in private equity? So does everyone else.

With the not insignificant exception of the failed AU$11bn bid for Qantas, 2007 is proving a great year for Australia's private equity industry. A gigantic AU$12.3bn worth of transactions was declared in the first six months.

Does this mean the sector is awash with jobs? Unfortunately not. Private equity funds may do big deals, but compared to investment banks their hiring appetite remains miserably small. Victoria Biggs, a consultant with Jon Michel Executive Search, one of a handful of headhunters to place people in the sector, estimates Australian private equity funds employ a total of just 400 to 500 people. She puts job growth in the industry at 4% annually - that's fewer than 20 new roles each year.

How can you make sure you're one of those favoured few? An MBA will help, as will deal structuring experience. Anthony Ayers, principal consultant at headhunter Chandler Heath Executive Search, says investment bankers, management consultants and accountants are popular with private equity recruiters: "Financial modelling skills and the ability to analyse a balance sheet are all highly relevant."

On top of this, Biggs says it helps to wow private equity funds with a track record of entrepreneurial activity (when was the last time you ran a small company alongside your day job?) and a penchant for investing in the stock market à la Warren Buffet.

For successful candidates, however, rewards can be considerable. Biggs says base entry-level salaries are between AU$100k and AU$150k plus bonuses. For more senior staff there's also the promise of carried interest - a share in the profits of the fund.