The Start-Up Boom

by Rebecca Liebel - PER 23. November 2015 12:44

Top ranked banking and consulting juniors are more mobile and in demand than ever. While Private Equity remains a very desirable exit point, we are seeing increased competition in Germany from the start-up world.

Junior candidates are more networked, informed and international than ever before. Well removed from any economic crisis in their lifetime, it may be a false sense of security or belief that seductively high salaries are here to stay. But driven by a greater need for self-fulfilment and social purpose in their work they often leave their homes at top tier banks or strategy consultancies to pursue a start-up. It is almost becoming a rite of passage for ambitious and entrepreneurial high potentials to found their own company or join a start-up.

The start-up culture caters to Generation Y in many respects; it affords them greater responsibility and authority from an early stage, working with cutting edge ideas or technologies, and often with products that have a higher social or moral purpose.

The market factors nurturing the start-up boom in Germany are numerous – investors seeking alternatives due to low interest rates, Government support to build Berlin into the start-up centre of Europe and the lower cost of living in Berlin attractive to first time founders living on a shoe string.

The success of Rocket Internet (now a household name) has further improved the status of the start-up sector in Germany (and abroad), and their ability to attract high calibre recruits. Rocket attracts a notably high number of McKinsey alumni to their start-ups throughout Asia, for example.

What does this mean for PE funds?

While this start-up experience may delay the initial availability of many strong candidates, we don’t regard it as a permanent hindrance. We are witnessing many wishing to return to a more established and stable work environment after just 1-2 years, where they can put their operational and commercial learnings to good use.

They bring with them a strong understanding of e-commerce and digitalisation strategies, first-hand operational exposure as well as a keen entrepreneurial spirit. This represents a great opportunity for Private Equity funds willing to harness and benefit from these candidates.

A number of PE funds have already discovered these Start-up graduates. In the spirit of “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, the learnings are still recognised even where the start-up business has not been continued. For Private Equity firms it is however imperative that the candidates have a formal base training with a top tier bank or consulting firm before entering the start-up world. That said, many may need to adjust or flex their traditional hiring profiles if they wish to capture the best candidates in today’s workplace.

It is clear to all that the market is at a high which will have to slow down in the near future. So it remains to be seen how the start-up world will react when an economic crisis hits, and in turn how this will affect candidate behaviour. Will they become more risk adverse, choosing the security of a bank or consulting firm over start-up. Or is this a sign of the new generation that is here to stay?

Helping Your Recruitment Partner to Help You

by Rupert Bell - PER 16. December 2014 11:59

We work with a wide range of private equity and venture capital clients and have a privileged opportunity to see how different firms approach recruitment. Each firm has its own way of running a process with varying degrees of effectiveness. Our checklist of best practice ideas is a synthesis of what we have seen work well in identifying the best candidate through a process where time and people are scarce internal resources.

  • Plan well in advance - A typical process lasts at least three months and can take much longer than this, especially at more senior levels. If it is important for certain people to interview candidates, block out specific dates for this in their calendar. Deals can always get busy at unexpected times but where possible avoid interview dates clashing with major conferences and exhibitions in your city or peak holiday periods which may affect availability of both candidates and interviewers and also the cost of candidate flights and hotels.

  • Be as specific as you can about your search - Ideally draw up a detailed job description to define both the tasks to be performed and the preferred candidate background. In particular, the better you can articulate your own firm’s culture and personality, the more effective the process will be, since ultimately technical and commercial skills will get good candidates the interview but ‘fit’ will get the right person the job. More...

Maintaining Momentum With Star Candidates

by Charlie Hunt - PER 18. February 2014 08:30

Charlie HuntIs the key to recruiting the best candidates a question of keeping up momentum and managing expectations? We’re often asked for advice on the best ways to run the recruitment process as many of our clients don’t recruit that often.  We’ll take most of the strain on their behalf so all that many of our clients have to worry about is turning up at the right time for the interview, and remembering to take the candidate’s cv along with them.

However, once a star candidate has been identified, the recruiter needs to understand that they are not the only one doing the ‘buying’ and they will need to ‘sell’ the fund. There’s no doubt that there’s a huge amount of talent looking for work now and it’s a great time to be hiring. The difficulty funds are still finding is that the strongest candidates are often the people that everyone wants to employ. It’s not uncommon that the person a fund wants to make an offer to will be lining up two or three other offers at the same time. Arguably, the best way of maximising the chances of landing the strongest candidate is to keep up the momentum during the interview process and to manage expectations along the way. Whilst it sounds obvious, it’s surprising how many funds let time drift for weeks at a time without arranging further interviews or making an offer.

Recruitment is understandably often pushed down the fund’s list of priorities. However, by setting a timeline for the recruitment process and making sure that the candidate is clear about the process along the way, then the candidate will remain enthused about the opportunity and start to feel like part of the team. The strongest candidates will take into account how clear the messages coming out of the fund are, and how the fund organises itself in respect of the interviews. Interviews that are continually cancelled, rushed, or lack focus rarely create a good impression. First mover advantage is also important when making an offer as candidates will start to imagine themselves in the role and have a warm disposition to who gets there first. If a fund makes an offer first then it can also keep in contact with the candidate whilst they consider their options and make them feel wanted.

Expectation management is also important because it means a fund avoids spending time interviewing people who are unlikely to accept a position. This will mean making the role and responsibility of the position clear, and being upfront about the likely package. There’s nothing quite like dampening the enthusiasm of a preferred candidate by offering 10% less than they were expecting. Managing the candidate’s expectations will ensure that the chances of securing their services is maximised. Candidates also bear responsibility here. They too must be open with you and advise you of where they are with others. It never ceases to amaze me when they announce at the 11th hour that they have another offer on the table. It’s a bad strategy by the candidate because it puts the fund on the back foot and doesn’t give the fund the opportunity to be creative about the role or package. We therefore encourage our clients to question the candidate about where they are with other interviews, and we too do our best to ensure both parties are kept up to date. 

It’s all part of your employer brand. Letting the process drift and offering below expectations is not a successful recruitment strategy. Maintaining momentum and managing expectations along the way will considerably enhance your chances of landing a star.

Intuition, Interrogation and Body Language: how you know if a candidate really wants to work for you?

by Oliver Gilkes - PER 11. May 2013 14:58

Most firms have experienced this at some point: the candidate looks great on paper, they interviewed well, had all the right skills and seemed to fit in well with the team. But a few months down the line, you realised their heart wasn’t really in it. So they leave, or lose motivation then leave or lose motivation and stay (which can be worse) – leaving you in the lurch for months before you find a replacement.

Oliver Gileks - PERIn this economic climate, search firms and employers need to be especially diligent in finding candidates with the right motivation for joining them. At the moment there are candidates who are more likely to want any job, rather than specifically the job with your firm. 

So how do you find a “Mr or Mrs Right” – how do you hire the right candidate who really wants to work for you (for the right reasons) and will stay with you?

There are a number of ways in which you can screen for the right candidate. 


If you are working with a search firm, it is massively helpful to allow the Consultant working on your role to meet with at least one member of your team. This enables the Consultant to find candidates

·          whose long term career goals or aims are approximately aligned with those of your firm

·          with a close fit in terms of the skills required to do the job

·          and with the desired personality traits which are likely to fit into your company culture. 

When you start interviewing candidates, there are a number of questions you can ask to ascertain whether candidates truly want to join you.

Example question 1: ask the candidate “If you were offered a role with company A, company B or company C, which would you choose and why?” Make sure that one of the companies is similar to yours. If the candidate states that the company they would prefer is the one that is most similar to your firm, then this is a positive sign. If the candidate hasn’t heard of company A, B or C, it’s an indicator that they may not be committed to private equity as a career. 

Example question 2: ask the candidate  “Which other firms have you applied to and which have you interviewed with?”  If they don’t want to disclose the names of the companies, ask them what other types of roles they are considering. If the candidate says that they are also considering a wide range of other roles (such as equity research, teaching, advertising), then dig deeper to understand their motivation behind each choice. They need to have good reasons behind their choice of private equity.

Example question 3: ask the candidate what they know about your firm and why they want to work for you. Ask them who your competitors are. How is your firm different or similar to others?  

A lack of detail when answering such questions can be a giveaway that the candidate has not done much research on your firm and the role, and hence is less interested in it/you. A slight caveat here is that if your firm publishes little or no information about who you are and what you do, and generally keeps a low profile, then a lack of detail in a candidate’s answer can be understood, to a degree. 

Example question 4: ask the candidate where they want to be in five years time.

If the answer is “I want to run my own business”, for example, then dig deeper, they are less likely to stay with your firm, and could potentially be distracted by other projects.

A note about body language: If you ask the candidate why he or she wants to work for your firm, it’s worth noting their body language. Look out for whether their body language is congruent with the words they are saying. For example, if a candidate says in an upbeat tone of voice “I would love to join your firm”, but is leaning back in their chair, slightly slumped, he or she might be tired or have a back problem, but it’s more likely they didn’t really mean it.  Bear in mind that when reading body language the context needs to be considered; just because someone scratches their mouth or touches their face after saying something, doesn’t necessarily mean they are lying – they could just have an itch. Natural introverts may not display enthusiasm in such an animated way when compared to someone more outgoing. Take the context into account. 

Look out for gestures that are incongruent with what the candidate says.
Specialist interrogators use a technique called “baselining” whereby they observe someone’s natural behaviour (ie ‘natural’ clusters of gestures displayed by a person in certain situations) and look for deviations from this.  Whilst we don’t recommend you go this far, you might, for example, observe how they react and the level of enthusiasm they display when talking about their personal interests and compare this with their reaction to questions about their motivation to work for you. Trust your intuition or gut instinct about whether a candidate truly wants to join your firm for the right reasons. You will unconsciously pick up signals when a candidate is being honest about his or her motivation and if they are right for your firm.


Use a Star to Catch a Star

by Gail McManus 3. March 2013 15:44

A couple of recent interviewing incidents reminded me about a comment in Jeff Grout's book  Recruiting Excellence. To paraphrase Jeff, he basically said there are many reasons why recruitment interviews fail to be effective: lack of preparation, lack of structure, instinctive decision making to name but a few – but all of these are outclassed by having the wrong person interview in the first place.

Sure, interviewing skills can be taught. But making sure you put the right person in front of the candidate is a crucial strategic decision.  From the candidate’s perspective, the interviewer is the organisation.  And the interview process is a reflection of the organisational abilities of the firm. If the interviewer is unprepared, disinterested or uncommunicative or the interview process is badly managed with long delays in giving feedback, then the star candidates will not be attracted to the firm. 

So what could have gone better this week: a client who thinks that being aggressive in an interview is a great way to attract the best people; a hasty 20 minute discussion down the pub; the role being filled without us or the candidate knowing so they go to great lengths to slip out of work only to be told there is no job to interview for; a two hour wait in reception; a meeting scheduled one afternoon for the next morning only to be cancelled with one hour’s notice and endless interviews where we’re still chasing feedback to give the candidate.

But just to redress the balance, we also had: a star candidate who totally changed their perspective of the firm once he met the people; a candidate who got a second shot at a case study because he had been travelling non-stop for work and was too tired to do his best (he was offered the job and said yes without hesitation); several candidates who said the team they met was inspirational; a client who created a new role to play to the candidate’s strengths and numerous candidates who came out of interview and said ‘that would be a great place to work’.

I think private equity firms generally get it right in terms of creating the right impression. So, if you can match the qualities you are looking for in your candidates with your choice of interviewer – use a star to catch a star – and then make sure you give us some feedback on the interview as quickly as possible, you’ll attract the right candidates and leave a fantastic impression in the market place about your firm, your process and most importantly, your people.

Out For Lunch

by Gail McManus 20. January 2013 08:37

As you may have noticed, times have changed.  Today’s private equity market has evolved into a very different creature from what it was. But has your team evolved in the same way?

You might be one of those managers who is looking at your team, thinking you don’t have the right people, and as such is ready to introduce new people at the expense of others.  But these measures may not be the right way forward.

In all likelihood you have the right people for the job right there in front of you.  It’s just that some roles need to be changed.  In the words of Eric Morecambe, you’re playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. 

Now’s the time to take stock of what you have in house, to identify the talent you have available and to match it with the competencies you need to succeed.  You’re probably already focusing more on portfolio management, investor relations or business development and you may need to shuffle your pack a little.  Assessment and redeployment is a useful exercise and will leave your business better equipped to tackle today’s tough market.

Many firms use techniques such as psychometric profiling, which is a useful tool in identifying people’s behavioural strengths and weaknesses.  But it’s no substitute for speaking to your people and finding out what makes them tick.

Dialogue is an essential part of the audit process.  I recommend taking each person out to lunch!  In a more informal environment you can ask them about their hopes and ambitions, their concerns and motivations, as well as find out where they think their strengths lie.  You might be surprised at what you learn, and you might learn you already have the right people in the team.

Now’s a great time to roll the dice.  A shake-up of the talent you have can invigorate the team and help people develop new skills that will benefit the firm tomorrow.  So don’t be afraid to speak to your people and find out what role they think they can play going forward.  Check your diary and get those lunches booked.

Private Equity Mid Market Compensation Review 2012

by Gail McManus 8. November 2012 10:00

In the first video in our autumn series, Gail discusses the latest trends in private equity mid market compensation over the last 12 months and the two key changes that she's noticed.

If you would like to watch the video and you are reading this through RSS feed or e-mail, please click this link.

Competency vs. Cost – Do you get what you pay for?

by Gail McManus 9. August 2012 16:44

I saw a fascinating graph this week comparing competencies to compensation in a candidate shortlist, so I tried out the technique myself in the graph below and it reminded me of a common dilemma that we often face in recruiting. The people who can do everything detailed in the job spec are usually the best rewarded and if our client doesn’t want to pay this top market rate, even though we have advised them this is the price for the job, then they have to be prepared to compromise on something.  So as a recruiter we are often torn between including top performers on our shortlist who are paid more than the budget or leaving them out and focusing on those people who match the compensation parameters but may not have all the experience ideally required for the role.   

So when we are putting together our shortlist, our internal conversation around this dilemma usually goes something like this.Competency Vs Cost – Do you get what you pay for? - Private Equity Recruitment Blog

“If we include the top performer then our client can really see what a super person in this role looks like and might be prepared to move on comp.”  (This just creates false hopes in the recruiter's mind – it won’t happen)

But if we put them forward and they are outside the compensation parameters then we are not meeting the brief.” (Correct)

“And if they interview the top performer then it makes our job even harder because our client will want someone as skilled as them but at half the price which we might never find.” (This will almost certainly be the case). More...

Welcome to PER Insights

Gail McManus, PER Blog

PER Insights contains my observations on the world of private equity and its people.  Every day I meet and speak with people from across private equity giving me a broad view of the challenges and issues that they face in managing their businesses and their careers.  And it allows me to understand and help resolve some of the human issues that affect the sector.  

I hope you enjoy PER Insights and that you’re able to take away one or two tips for getting the best out of yourself and the people around you. Let me know what you think, I look forward to your comments and feedback. 

Gail McManus

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