Private Equity Job Searches and the Importance of Mindset

July 19, 2010

We recently caught up with Pam Lassiter, Author of The New Job Security and Principal of Lassiter Consulting. Pam has provided sage career advice for over 30 years and has seen many up and down job markets. Her comments are both insightful and practical advice for someone looking for private equity jobs. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

Job Search Digest: From a job seeker standpoint or somebody who may be in a position but thinking about making a change, how important is mindset during times like these?

Pam Lassiter: That’s a great question, because mindset controls everything.  Let me give you an example.  If we don’t feel like we are of value on top of our game, we can project that really easily.

I was talking to a president once of a company that was complaining about somebody that took four handshakes to get into him, and finally got to him on a phone call, spent five minutes talking about himself, the job seeker did, and five minutes, you know, that’s a long time, especially on a phone call, and then ended up with saying, “Our mutual connections said you’d have some ideas for a guy like me.”  Really irritated the president incredibly.

“Like me” is a reflection of a mindset of somebody that doesn’t know what they’re doing and doesn’t really care; it’s waiting for other people to take care of them, and that doesn’t present well.

So mindset and focus tied together with strategy is an important part of distinguishing who you are.

Job Search Digest: So the lesson learned there is when networking with people, what point of view are you taking?  If you’re taking ‘the world revolves around me’ point of view it’s probably not going to help you in your networking process.  Is that right?

Pam Lassiter: Very insightful comment.  In fact, I had three points I was going to leave your members with, and that was one of the three — it’s not about “me.”  Finding the right work is not about you.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but the more you think about you, the less the market is interested in you.  The market is interested in themselves.  You’re talking to a partner at a private equity firm or a venture capital firm about how what you’re looking for in a job and how you are interested in doing these sorts of things, you know, that’s a vague interest.

But the primary interest is how they are going to make exits.  How are we going to get out of the deals we are in successfully in a down market?  And if you start talking about that side and the areas that you have helped work on that have made that happen, they’re going to pay a lot better attention.  The mindset there is that it’s not about you, it’s about them, and it’s talking in their frame.

New Job Security Book Cover
In The New Job Security I talk about market for mutual benefit, and that has to do with your resume’ and your elevator story and all your communications.  If you’re talking about their best interests and their buzzwords, which you can pick up in the job listing that you’ve got on your board.  You can pick up the right vocabulary right there.  And if you start feeding that back to them with profitability, that puts you in a very different position, in a very different light from the point of view of the partner that’s making the decisions.

Job Search Digest: We’ve said that time and time again in our communications with our members.  Firms are going to hire to fill a gap, and those gaps —  they’re not static.  Because with every new portfolio company, every new financing challenge, every new sales challenge, those are all opportunities that then create something where the right person at the right time with the right skill set, somebody that they can plug in right then and there, hit the ground running and solve their problem, they’re going to hire that person.  It’s not going to be – and it may be a situation before they’ve even though about the position or a job description.  What they know is they have a problem now that needs to be fixed.

Pam Lassiter: You’re on to something.  It’s a gap concept.  Let me broaden that a little bit to the concept of pain.

So looking for the pain within a company and a gap may imply a job that’s coming. If you go a little bit earlier upstream, and where are they feeling the pain, and they are around some of the areas you’re talking about, the financing the deals.

If you look at regulatory too, there are going to be lots of pain points that are coming down the pike that are going to create jobs.  And if you start thinking about where is the pain, especially with keeping up in front of some of these regulatory requirements that are coming through Congress right now, and if you can be the expert or have some ideas – nobody’s even going to have any experience.

There are going to be jobs created around these and enforcing them in compliance as well.  So it’s looking at how the marketplace is shifting and focusing on some areas of expertise that you can offer.

The rule of thumb that I’m passing on to my clients now is Jack of all trades, master of two.  And which two are people going to think about you when they’re facing that type of pain or problem to be solved?  And that’s where work gets created before it often even gets to job openings.  So you’re right about the timing and getting the conversations going.

Job Search Digest: You make such a great point about understanding what’s happening in the industry.  In private equity, hedge funds, investment banking there has been more change in the last 12 months than we saw in years and years prior to that.

And your example of new regulations is a great one.  You know, somebody who understands what’s happening in hedge fund regulation, for instance, is on top of that and really diving in and translating, you know, how is this new regulation going to change how hedge funds are able to market their funds is a significant knowledge base that every hedge fund has to deal with now.

Pam Lassiter: Exactly.  And you don’t even have to be an expert yet.  The first person that said, “I understand Sarbanes-Oxley” got work, and that person became an expert.  You have to be ten minutes in front of the next expert.

People are becoming experts all the time, and it’s impossible to be an expert constantly, because things change so quickly.  So that becomes our challenge as a professional, to stay in front of what the changes are, and to at least claim ownership, to say, “I have experience.”  Even having read the regulations coming through Congress will put you ahead of 95% of the pack right now.  And then interviewing people, talking to people about them will give you a body of opinions and expertise that you can leverage early on, before it turns into job listings.

That’s just an example.  You can hit any other place of pain too.  It’s not just government regulations, but there are a lot of things around accounting and compliance and funding and tax that will be hitting across the board on all three of your markets.

Job Search Digest: Well, and the importance, of course, if you’re going to be a player in your market, you’re going to have to stay on top of what’s happening.  But in addition to that, we see this in the jobs that are getting posted on our site, you can start to see shifts by the keywords that are included in job descriptions.  Have you seen that?

Pam Lassiter: Yes… I thought you’d been reading my book.  I write about that.  When my clients are developing resumes I take a little bit different cut than everybody else, I use product marketing.  And so you’ll hear that vocabulary coming across.

I have them start with identifying who are the target markets.  Now let’s say venture capital firms are a target market, for example.  Then you can start looking at your job listings and start getting recurring terms out of the job listings.

I don’t care what city it’s in. I don’t even care if it’s a year old, because the needs aren’t going to change too quickly and they’re going to be very similar regardless of geography, and start analyzing what’s popping up in these ten job listings that I like.  If somebody gives me ten job listings they like I can tell them what their resume’ ought to say without being an expert in their field.

And that’s something that your members can do too; analyze.  Take apart what they’re saying on your private equity job board and start analyzing the recurring terms and slap it back on their resume’ tied with profitability.  You’ll see some formats in the new job security.

So when people are skimming they will see bold-faced their words reflected back to them, tied with the profitability you have hopefully brought to your firms and in your job experience or in your education on research projects that would be of value to them, so they can skim it quickly, five seconds, ‘How’s this person going to make me money?’

Job Search Digest: We offer that same advise in the cover letter as well.  It makes perfect sense that if the cover letter is on top of the resume’ that’s the first thing that’s going to get skimmed.  And we always say, don’t plan on anybody reading your letter and your resume’ word-for-word.  And that’s the importance of those key concepts, the bolding, the formatting, because you’re trying to draw the eye to say, ‘Yeah, this person seems to be a good fit for what we have.’

Pam Lassiter: Exactly.

About Pam Lassiter

In addition to authoring The New Job Security, Pam Lassiter is the founder of Lassiter Consulting, a firm that offers career management services such as employee retention, career coaching, outplacement and more to companies and individuals worldwide.

Want to learn more? You can listen to the entire Pam Lassiter Interview (to download, right click and “save as”)

You can also pre-order the latest version on The New Job Security

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