3 Biggest Private Equity Interview Mistakes

November 6, 2020
Josh Forman
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We all get the pre-interview jitters; it’s what makes us human. However, what separates the haves from the have-nots is interview performance and coming off likable, competent, and respectful in high-stress situations. There is a method to the madness, this post will not focus on how to interview properly, instead, we will talk about the 3 biggest private equity interview mistakes candidates make – as told by a private equity/venture capital recruiter.

Speaking in generalizations

Private equity professionals are meticulously thought out. They do not want to hear off-topic ramblings. They are experts at financial modeling. They want to ensure that you have the knowledge to do the work, but also the competency to explain the situation logically and without generalizations. In the apt words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Private Equity and Venture Capital are not industries where you can “fake it ’til you make it,” you must prepare and always keep learning and improving (and definitely learn how to use excel modeling).

Recommending the wrong investments

If you are interviewing for a late-stage tech fund or a venture-debt firm that focuses on fintech investments, odds are they do not want to see early-stage oil & gas deals. Understanding the fund’s target market is just as important as understanding the type of investments the fund offers. You would not want to pitch a seed-stage investment to a firm that traditionally works with later-stage companies. Know who you are interviewing with, and know what type of companies they invest in.

Being too aggressive in the offer stage

So, you have made it to the end, you’ve completed the case study, navigated a half dozen zoom calls with executives around the world, and now you wait for your offer. This is the final act of the play. The culmination of all the hard work you’ve done. At this stage, it’s important to take a deep breath and pause, especially if you have other outstanding offers.

For most funds, it’s not as simple as “we like Bob, here is an offer.” Sometimes, there are dozens of people who need to sign off or people who’ve had no involvement in the process up to that point. Be courteous, explain that you have outstanding offers you would like to decline, and give the fund an honest timeline. If they are interested in your profile, they will not let the timeline of another offer get in the way. You must be upfront and honest about this the entire time. As you will see, the offer stage is a dance on both ends. It is a give-and-pull situation that when approached correctly, can yield incredible results!