Headhunters are not your friends.
That is the simple message that one former Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst tells every junior banker he mentors.
“They may seem like it — they may try to convince you that they’re your friends — but they’re not,” he said. “They are there to place quality candidates, keep the relationship, and make money by placing you.”
The former analyst, who scored interviews with some of the top hedge funds in the country, said he was able to do so by remembering that single piece of advice.
When the buy-side recruiting process kicked off during his first year at the bank, he was unsure whether he wanted to go to a hedge fund or a private-equity firm after Bank of America. Many of the second-year analysts he knew told him to have a chat early on with the headhunters, who usually begin to reach out to analysts a few months into their time at the banks.
“They’re really cool,” the second-year analysts told him.
He didn’t do that.
Instead of launching into the typical recruiting frenzy and meeting headhunters as early as October or November — only a couple of months into his time at Bank of America — the former analyst waited until March of his first year to do so.
That’s well after the January and February rush when mega funds and many middle-market funds generally extend their offers.
But he waited because he didn’t want to be pushed into just any job. He didn’t want to fill a blank space on a headhunter’s checklist.
Knowing what you want
By March, the former analyst had figured out exactly what he wanted to do. That, he said, gave him a lot of leverage.
“I went in, I said, ‘Hi, here’s my résumé, here’s my stock pitch, here’s the size fund and the strategy that I’m targeting, here are names of people I’ve already reached out to and spoken with on my own — let’s set up some informational calls.'”
By that point, he had a well-researched, well-thought-out, seven-page stock pitch to go along with his meetings. And no headhunter could tempt him with some other gig he wasn’t interested in.
The former analyst even managed to use the headhunters to his advantage.
Specifically, he found his own way into talks with Steve Cohen’s family office, Point72, and waited until those talks got serious before telling the headhunters about it.
“And then, boom, it was like an avalanche of emails coming my way, you know, ‘We want you to talk to Citadel, we want you to talk to this fund’ — they get that urgency and they can see the dollar signs,” he said.
One other thing to keep in mind: Buy-side headhunters talk to one another.
“If you interview with BAML and you bomb, the HR person from BAML doesn’t call JPMorgan and say, ‘Hey, this person sucks.’ But if a headhunter sets a meeting with KKR and you bomb, that headhunter is not going to set you up with TPG,” he said.