Donald graduated from an Ivy League University and joined Bank of America as an Investment Banking analyst. He then did his M.B.A at a top 7 schools and worked for Morgan Stanley in the Private Equity group.
Nicolas : Donald, I’m very excited to speak with you today because you have taken the typical ‘path to greatness’.
Donald : I guess I did, yes. Investment Banking, then MBA and then PE is pretty much by the book.
Nicolas : Ok, so today, I’d like to focus on job search techniques at the MBA level when times are difficult. 2010 was pretty tough, right ?
Donald : Oh yes ! It was the worst time to get a job in PE in the last 15 years. There were a lot more qualified candidates than jobs available.
Nicolas : So, what was your strategy ?
Donald : I tried to get a head start by launching my networking efforts in October, just one month after school started. I wanted to land a job in the Chicago area, so I looked for every single PE firm around Chicago and cross checked that list with the alumni database.
Nicolas : That sounds tedious.
Donald : Very tedious. Then, I sent an e-mail to all of the alumni working for those PE shops with very little customization, because I wanted to reach a lot of firms.
Nicolas : Ok, and what was your response rate ?
Donald : I got a 25% response rate, more or less. This was pretty low compared to the standard for a prestigious school, but all of the students were doing exactly what I did, so people at PE firms were a bit overwhelmed.
Nicolas : 25% is still a really good rate but I usually like to target fewer people and customize each e-mail a lot more. What was your reasoning when you went with the ‘mass e-mail’ strategy ?
Donald : At that time, 99% of Private Equity firms were on a ‘hiring freeze’ until they had more visibility on the market. So, if I had only sent 50 very customized e-mails, maybe I wouldn’t even have reached one firm which was in recruiting mode.
Nicolas : It makes sense to go for quantity, then. But, even if you reach a firm which might be interested, if the guy sees that you sent a ‘canned’ e-mail, your response rate is going to be very low.
Donald: I did some customization by looking at the company website, most recent investments, etc. But I never spent more than five minutes on a single e-mail.
Nicolas : Ok, and, apart from those e-mails that you sent to everyone, what other strategies did you use ?
Donald : I also used headhunters. They were helpful, because a lot of the firms are outsourcing their process to them, but…
Nicolas : There’s always a but when it comes to headhunters…
Donald : Yes. But, since their goal is to present as many candidates as possible to the firm they are recruiting for, they advertised their positions to everyone at my school and other schools. So, in the end, it was not a very effective strategy.
Nicolas : I see. When you were competing with so many candidates for each job, how did you go about distinguishing yourself from the others?
Donald : It’s really hard to tell people what makes you different when you all went to the same school and did Investment Banking and then Private Equity . So, when you are competing against 300 other candidates with similar backgrounds, your chances of landing the job are very slim. What I did was narrow down the playing field.
Nicolas : Interesting; tell me more about that.
Donald : I learned from someone in the first year at my MBA that Morgan Stanley PE group was recruiting. The position wasn’t advertised anywhere, which meant I was competing with 10 candidates instead of 300. I had a coffee with one of the MDs and we had a great connection. I think I was the kind of person he was willing to work with at 3am and he became my ‘champion’ and sold me to the entire team.
Nicolas : Having one strong supporter is great and goes a long way to landing the job. It’s actually a lot better than having five people with a slightly positive opinion of you.
So, what got you a job in the end was a position which wasn’t advertised. By definition, those are not advertised; so how can people find them ?
Donald : It’s really hard to come by those ‘proprietary’ jobs, and I thought being at a top MBA could help. But, actually, people who worked or interned at KKR, for instance, didn’t want to tell you about jobs there because they wanted to be the ones getting them. People are so protective about their old firms that, for me, the information came from a First Year.
Nicolas : Thanks a lot for the honest opinion, Donald.
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June 18, 2015