How to break into private equity

So you want to work in private equity (PE)? And why wouldn’t you? You’ll be working with some of the brightest minds in finance, help troubled businesses become more profitable, and earn a pretty penny for your efforts!

However, unlike in other prestigious sectors such as investment banking, few PE firms hire fresh graduates. Instead, most people land their first role after working in finance for two to three years.

Another route into PE is to work for a company on a firm’s portfolio, gain experience running a specific line of business, and then move over to the operations side. But if neither of those routes appeals, here are CityJob’s top graduate tips for breaking into the exciting world of private equity.

1. Enroll on an external training course

The main reason most PE firms avoid hiring graduates is because they don’t have the scope to train in-house. So if you don’t want to work in the banking sector, you’ll need to learn the required financial modelling skills yourself, in your own time. Do your research and enroll on an external training course, and make sure you opt for one that’s specifically angled towards the PE recruitment process.

How to break into private equity

Image: iStock

2. Pick up the phone and ask for an internship

As with any competitive field, firing off a load of emails and CVs won’t get you very far – if anywhere. And while most of the larger PE firms will have specific recruitment processes, smaller firms can be more flexible and might consider offering an internship. When reaching out to firms, make sure you focus on what you can offer them rather than the other way around.

3. Know why you want to work in the industry…

Izzy Hemington works as an associate at 3i, one of the UK’s leading PE firms. She says graduates must be clear about why they want to work in the industry and should ask themselves which aspects of the role attract them.

“PE involves originating and executing new investments as well as working closely with portfolio companies, and a role may include a range of these aspects. I wanted to work with businesses right through their life as investments and at 3i I spend time on each of these,” she says.

How to break into private equity

Image: iStock

… and which companies you want to work with

Izzy recommends graduates think about which kind of companies they’re interested in.

“Each private equity firm will have their own investment mandate and support their portfolio companies in different ways. At 3i we invest in mid-market businesses that we can help to grow internationally – and this focus really appealed to me.”

4. Work on your communication skills and quantitative ability

Izzy points to a need for excellent communication skills as well as strong quantitative ability, and says that while it’s important to demonstrate these, there isn’t one specific background that’s required to succeed.

“In our team at 3i, we have a wide range of different backgrounds and experiences, which is great as everyone brings a different point of view and can challenge things in a different way.”

View all the latest jobs in private equity in London.

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