Landing Your Dream Job – The Best of Ivan Kerbel (The Sequel)


When should I start looking into an MBA program?

“…Newly-admitted MBAs have on average about ~5 years of work experience, post-undergrad.

In practical terms, this means that at year(s) 2-3, you will begin to think about and to research schools, to begin to prepare for the GMAT, to scope out potential recommendations, and to make a decision about whether to stay at your current employer (a good idea, especially if you are about to be promoted) or to take on a new position/assignment and have time enough to achieve something substantial in that role before departing for graduate school.

In year ~4, post undergrad, I would try to prepare all of the materials you need to apply, and proceed from there. Of course, there are a lot of other circumstances that will influence your choice of timing, including what projects/experiences are on your horizon if you continue to work (that you might not want to miss out on), and, not least, the likely state of the economy and MBA hiring at the time that you graduate, insofar as that can be estimated.

Of course, the “five years of pre-MBA work experience” is only a general average, and you will find…that some schools skew towards slightly less, or slightly more, years of experience…and that, in each class, there are students straight our of undergrad, as well as those with 7, 8, 10, or more years of work experience…I would think of the timing of you MBA applications as something that is inextricably tied with what you would like to explore, experience, and achieve in the next phase of your career, and if business school can facilitate that (and especially if business school seems like the only way to get there), then that is a good time to apply.”

How can I use my MBA to break into private equity?

I think your question is among the hardest to tackle, in part because the answer is usually not the one aspiring MBAs want to hear, but I hope the following will help…

First, here’s an important example for why one should assume a very conservative, even pessimistic view with regard to the extent to which PE firms recruit MBAs (true even for those students who are coming from investment banking / buy-side work, and equally true for middle market firms, which may have even fewer resources and bandwidth than the large, marquee PE firms to actively recruit MBAs)…

At Harvard Business School (where, historically, a high number of graduates pursue post-MBA PE work), 10% of the class of 2013 accepted full-time, post MBA work at PE / LBO / VC firms (that figure for both the classes of 2012 and 2011 was 16%, according to HBS employment statistics). However, these high percentages are mitigated by the fact that HBS also accepts a disproportionately high number of students who worked in the industry prior to business school … the HBS class of 2016 pre-MBA profile by industry (let’s assume that figure is roughly representative of earlier classes as well) shows 17% of students coming from PE / VC backgrounds.

And, though students coming form PE vs. those going to PE are not a 1:1 match (some leave, while others enter, the industry), experience indicates that ‘entering’ is the minority exception. Thus, unless you’re from a PE background, you should heavily discount the robust hiring numbers you may find at a range of great schools.

As for other ways to think about your chances for entering the space, here’s what else counts positively (separately from whether you’re going to business school or not): working for a PE portfolio company, having principal investment experience, having a deep knowledge base in a sector of interest to financial sponsors, working on deals (as a banker) with PE firms / having them as a client, and, perhaps the most arbitrary one, “knowing someone” (preferably by marriage or close kinship ties) who is willing to help you get in the door.

Let’s say you have some combination of these positives, and you’re going on to assess your choice of school as well as the MBA recruiting landscape. Though business schools have outstanding courses in the funding and management of private equity and venture capital, the marketplace does not view academic work as sufficient reason to hire (unless you studied these topics as an undergrad and have additional investment banking experience). And, on the recruiting side, hiring by these firms is most often limited, sporadic, and unpredictable. Even the biggest firms may have only one or two post-MBA positions, and may not hire any summer associates.

At the end of the day, it’s accurate for schools to list a range of financial sponsors among their recruiting partners, and for those firms to say they recruit at schools X, Y, and Z. But, for any one individual student, lots of stars must become aligned for that position, and that offer, to materialize … not least, as noted above, one must prove oneself to be a better candidate for any one of the tiny number of positions than the hundreds of MBAs at leading schools who’ve already worked in PE, and for whom going to business school is merely an interruption (some have said a “social networking punch card”) in their otherwise linear leveraged buyout careers. This holds true even if you’re seeking employment with a niche investment category, middle market, or regional champion.

That was a very long wind-up to the following bit of advice: try to break into PE/LBO work before you attend business school.”


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