So you want to get into private equity business development…
Authored by Dyana Baurley
Everyone who knows me knows that I’m constantly gushing about my job (because it’s the coolest job in the world). But unfortunately, private equity business development (BD) is a niche role that isn’t highly adopted. I do my best to drive excitement for this INCREDIBLE career path among young professionals by sharing my experience and time with anyone interested in learning more!
Let’s be clear – not every fund has a BD team; honestly, in reality, some funds don’t even have one BD professional. The biggest issues? First is the adoption of the role at the fund level. Second, there isn’t a natural talent pool to pull from when a fund is looking to bring on a BD professional. The investment teams have the investment banking industry and MBA programs as key talent pools. Contrastingly, business development recruitment pipelines are full of those in investment banking who apply to BD with the aim of landing a role on the investment team. (Hey, I recognize the hustle… sometimes you gotta be scrappy to get the role you want!).
BD is insanely exciting and rewarding, but if you’re here based on the blog title, I probably don’t have to sell you on it…
The Power of the Informational Interview
One of my favorite things about my career is how resourceful and supportive the lower-middle market BD community is. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without my BD counterparts (Philly funds, I am looking at you!). We’re all busy, but we are also relationship driven and understand the benefits of playing the long game. So, I encourage you to ask for our time! Most of us are totally open to lending 30 minutes to chat about careers, industries, and strategies.
And if you’re nervous to reach out… remember that people LOVE to talk about themselves! You’re asking me to talk about my job and how I got into the industry I love? I am in! Informational interviews take no prep for the interviewee, and I personally schedule these on drives since it’s such a casual conversation. These are a golden opportunity to learn about the industry, ask questions, and underwrite whether this career is for you. In BD, we all have our styles and strategies, and there’s little information out there on a “day in the life”– so ask the questions you can’t find the answers to!
All that said… an informational interview is not a “you convincing me to hire you” discussion!
Be a Dot Connector
While the BD community is here to help you understand the industry via informational interviews, these discussions are incredibly one-sided (don’t worry, we expect them to be). The best BD folks are professional dot connectors who specialize in building a network but are ROCKSTARS at maintaining it (which is the secret ingredient in excelling in the field).
My tactic is to approach every conversation by asking myself, “How can I be a resource?” rather than diving into what the other person can do for me. Yes, I absolutely send investment bankers a quick email with a company name and “Engaged?” but that only works if the resource door swings both ways. Supporting others and maintaining a strong network will help you grow 100% of the time, trust me.
Make Your Interest in BD Known
… and while you are being that dot connector, make it known where you aspire to drive your career. The hardest part of finding BD talent at the junior level is knowing who wants to get into BD. If you see the potential for a future in business development (or sponsor coverage in banking) – Make. It. Known.
Specialized recruiters can also be an incredible resource if you’re new to the industry and want to supplement your network. Get to know awesome people like Erin Carroll at BraddockMatthews, LLC. Erin has placed countless BD professionals (myself included) and has great insight into what firms are looking for in their future BD talent. These recruiting professionals have a great handle on the market, a pulse on all the growing BD teams, and endless advice for breaking into the industry.
Not all funds and BD roles are equal. It’s not about getting your butt in a seat and starting in the first BD role you land – but rather aligning yourself with a mentor and fund you believe in. This role has no handbook, no natural talent pool, and barely even a roadmap for different market conditions. Getting firsthand advice from someone who has weathered different markets allows you to learn about all the unexpected pitfalls you might face, the differences between funds, and what success in BD means to different people.
I’d also evaluate if a fund treats BD as a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have” and prioritize roles with funds that consider BD a necessity. How can you tell? Start with hard-hitting questions in an interview: Is BD partner track? Has there been a BD Partner historically? Is carry offered? What resources are currently allocated? What software does the fund subscribe to? Is there a CRM, and how highly is it adopted outside of the BD team?
The investment in technology and adoption of CRM is a bellwether of whether BD is a “nice to have” or a “need to have”. And you don’t have to wait for an interview to ask these questions (**insert in informational interview**).
Remember, BD professionals are outward-facing, physical representations of a fund in the market – so professionalism and approachability are key. Finding candidates that maintain these attributes and are capable of building trust in their network is harder than you might think. Regardless of where you are in your BD career journey – use informational interviews to your advantage, be a resource to others, and choose wisely. Happy Hunting!