Charles joined Blackstone in 2012 as a private equity analyst. Before that he was an intern at a Bulge Bracket bank.
Nicolas: Let’s start with informal interviews. What are your best tactics to get the most out of them?
Charles: The first one is to stop asking boring questions. Sometimes I get a phone call and the guy starts asking about how much assets under management we have. I always think “why do you care? “ and then my second thought is “just look it up on our website”. For every single question you ask the interviewer you must be able to understand how this is useful for you.
Nicolas: Yes and there’s no way to do that with questions like the amount of AUM…you’re not going to apply to Blackstone because they have $1B more than you thought!
Charles: Exactly it’s useless and it’s wasting the time of your contact. Sometimes it’s not obvious why you are asking a question. For instance if you ask, “do you invest in Emerging markets?” That sounds like a not so good question at first but if you grew up in Africa and 50% of your personal portfolio is invested in emerging stocks…then that’s interesting. So provide context whenever you can to show why the question is important to you.
Nicolas: That’s a great point. If the interviewer, can’t tell where this is going, just don’t ask the question. Anything else on what sets people apart during those informal interviews?
Charles: Do a very deep dive on the industry before you start informal interviews. Read books, articles and learn everything you can. This way you don’t waste 30 minutes of someone’s time so they can explain you how private equity works. Instead you can use the 30 minutes to deep dive on 1 or 2 deals and you’ll learn a lot more “insider knowledge”. As a bonus they’ll also remember you as a smarter guy!
Nicolas: So let’s say I follow your advice when I prepare for my informal interviews and it goes great. What is the next step to get a real interview?
Charles: Something very few people do is put themselves in the shoes of the contact. I work for a very good firm so I get a lot of people asking for referrals. If I recommend great candidates then it shows I know where to find talent and I’ll also get a referral bonus. If I recommend people and they get butchered during their interviews then people will think I don’t really understand the culture of the firm and what type of candidates we are looking for.
Nicolas: Do you mean there’s more to lose than to win when you are referring a candidate?
Charles: Exactly. That’s why I don’t refer candidates who just cold emailed me because I don’t know them well enough. On the other hand if a friend of mine calls me and says “this guy is solid, you should talk to him” then I’ll refer him if he’s good.
Nicolas: I saw that dynamic happening first hand with many clients. It takes more than just one phone call to have someone recommend you especially in small firms where your boss might be interviewing the candidate you refer. What do you recommend to make it less risky for contacts to refer you .
Charles: You have two types of referral. One is the standard “passing along the resume to Human Resources” and the other is to refer a candidate directly to the recruiting contact in the group, often a vice president or an associate. Getting referred to the recruiting contact within the group is more effective but also harder to pull off. That’s why if you see your contact is reluctant to refer you to the VP in charge of recruiting, ask for a referral to HR.
Nicolas: Any thoughts about the seniority level, which works best when networking?
Charles: Well that depends on the person of course but usually VP’s and above are too busy to answer random calls or random emails. So unless you have a connection with them like the same school or if someone else refers you don’t bother. Just target analysts and associates.
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June 18, 2015