Looking for a job in private equity? Good luck: for every available role, just 10% of the on average 300 applications make the shortlist. And you have to make an impression with your resume quickly – private equity recruiters say that firms spend just 10 seconds reviewing each CV.
“A CV will get you an interview, it won’t get you a job",” says Gail McManus, managing director of Private Equity Recruitment. “It needs to be brief, it needs to be data-focused, but it needs to contain all the information to allow you to stand out from the competition.”
So, what makes the perfect resume for impressing private equity recruiters?
Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. A private equity resume must be one-page only
A two-page CV is the norm elsewhere in financial services, but in private equity it’s necessary to present all the information on a single page, says McManus.
“Think of your audience – private equity professionals are used to sifting through huge financial reports for the nugget of information to make an investment decision” she says. “They want to be able to scan through the CV and see hard information to put you into the yes or no pile. Edit incredibly selectively and when you think you’ve got it right, cut another 50%.”
However, if you’re not coming from investment banking, you can be a little more expansionary, says Edmund Thomson Jones, a private equity recruiter at Kea Consultants. “If you’re moving from strategy consultant where your private equity exposure may be a little less deal-oriented, it’s acceptable to stretch over one page in order to outline your experience. Even here, keep it concise and detail-focused."
2. No postal address and no personal statement
Personal statements are a waste of space, says McManus. If you must include one, don’t waffle about your characteristics; just include pertinent facts and make it no more than three bullet points. When it comes to contact information, just put an email address and phone number. “Private equity professionals can be snobbish about postcodes. Including an address is just likely to elicit some prejudices,” she says.
3. Make a big deal of your impeccable academics, and highlight top universities
Investment banks will glean out anyone who doesn’t have a 2.1 degree, usually from a top university. Private equity firms are less concerned about impeccable marks, but do place a lot of emphasis on Oxbridge and Ivy League universities.
That said, to become one of the hallowed 10% of successful applicants, having a big name and top marks is worth shouting about, says Victoria McLean, managing director of City CV.
“If you’ve been to a top university, are a straight-A student and have secured scholarships, it all makes a big difference,” she says. “You need to ensure your quality shines through – if you have scholarships, were top-of-class and such then highlight it. If you have been to Harvard or have a 1st from Oxford then mention it in your introductory profile, unless it was a long time ago.”
4. Remain modest
Private equity firms are focus a lot on candidates who ‘fit’ into the organisation. Blackstone, for instance, subjects new recruits to 12 interviews, so they meet most people on the team.
Despite the focus on hiring elite candidates, Thomson Jones says it’s wise to let the facts speak for themselves: “Use objective, evidence-based language and let your achievements shine through. Don’t dress them up in self-promotional language – private equity is a modest industry and it can rub people up the wrong way.”
5. Use bullet points to highlight your experience, but not too many
Your relevant experience should include a list of achievements within your current role, with a focus on transactions. “If you’ve done deals, highlight your specific involvement on them – this could be within private equity, but also if you’ve been involved with projects as a consultant or have been in banking for a couple of years and worked on some large M&A deals. It all needs to be quantified and, again, brevity is everything,” says McManus.
“Ideally a maximum of six bullet points for any role – any more than that and it just becomes a list,” says McLean. “The bullets should highlight key achievements and transactions and draw the reader’s eye to this. Too many and they lose their impact."
6. The deal list red herring
Because of the need for brevity on your CV, it’s tempting to list every deal you’ve ever been involved in within the supplementary deal list. The key is also to be selective here; only highlight the deals where you have had very specific involvement rather than every transaction you’ve touched.
“The deal list can be a point of conversation for the interviewer,” says Thomson Jones. “Every detail will be picked apart. If you’ve not had a huge amount of involvement, there can be some awkward conversations.”
7. Provide three examples of being a ‘winner’
Demonstrating your superiority over fellow human beings in a blatant manner may seem like something out of an Ayn Rand novel, but private equity firms want to see evidence that they’re hiring the best. This means, scattered throughout your CV, there must be (at least) three examples of how you have exhibited dominance over your peers.
"Private equity is highly competitive and they want to employ winners,” says McManus. “You could have been top of your analyst class or university, been a top-ranked musician or, more likely, practised sport at an elite level. A rule of thumb is at least three examples of this.”
“It pays to stand out from the crowd,” says Thomson Jones. “We’ve had yoga teachers and champion horse-back riders, both of whom attracted the attention of recruiters.”
8. Demonstrate evidence of being able to pass the ‘beer test’
As a private equity professional you will spend many hours on a plane travelling with colleagues, so they want to know that you have a personality they can get along with. Interviews will probe into whether candidates have the personality to pass the ‘beer’ or ‘plane’ test – namely whether they can hold a conversation for an extended period of time. However, show evidence of your personality on your CV.
“Once your grad days are behind you, the focus on your CV is normally on your professional achievements and knowledge, not on extra-curricular activities,” says McLean. “However, it can be valuable on a PE CV to demonstrate an active, interesting life (and that you have a life) outside of work – plus it shows some spark.”
9. Ensure any gaps are explained
Any period of unemployment must be accounted for, says McManus. If you attempt the fudge the dates – by, say, including the year but not the month – the private equity recruiter will make their own assumptions. “PE guys will try to work out what you’re not telling them and will assume the worst if you’re not accurate with your dates,” she says. “It may be that you left your job in December 2013 and started a new one in January, but if you don’t state this, they’ll assume you were unemployed for 12 months. Be honest, and explain any gaps in your experience.”
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