With hiring freezes still stymieing expansion at international banks in China, the fledgling private equity (PE) sector is providing a much-needed boost to recruitment in financial services. Most PE firms have at least one or two new openings, but landing a job isn’t easy and the hiring process is arduous.
Measured by market value, 2012 is shaping up as the best ever year for buyouts in China. Mainland companies are becoming more open to PE as they face difficulties raising money on the stock market and recognise the benefits that extra managerial experience can bring in a stuttering economy.
PE firms can only offer companies such expertise if they have the right employees on board, but a small talent pool means they can’t rely on poaching from competitors. For origination jobs, which demand knowledge of and contacts within a specific sector, they are open to taking on people from the industry itself, says Vivian Ng, managing director, Morgan McKinley. A clean-tech professional, for example, might be hired to do PE deals in that field.
Both Chinese and international PE firms in the mainland are focused on domestic investments, so they naturally prefer local candidates. “They will even search for people from an area in China who can get along with, and speak the same dialect as, industry leaders in that region – mining bosses in southern China, for example,” says Ng.
Mandarin skills are not enough. “PE partners want staff who can really penetrate the Chinese market. They prefer Chinese citizens to Mandarin speakers from other Asian countries like Singapore.”
Be prepared for a long haul
PE interviews are often “long, painful and tedious”, involving case studies, presentations, modelling tests, and meetings with each partner, says Ng. Recruiters must prepare candidates for this, especially those from outside financial services. “They aren’t used to 10 interview rounds with 20 people. They often ask: ‘at my level, do I really have to go through all this?’”
PE headcount is project driven: openings arise when a firm is planning an investment in a certain sector. Recruitment starts in advance, so the new person is on board when the deal is signed or confirmed. But if the project falls through during the hiring process, the role is likely to be cut unless the PE firm is already active in same industry.