Top tips for building your career in private equity or venture capital, by Gail McManus

15 November 2019 | Gail McManus, Managing Director

At PER we’re committed to supporting investors and investor relations professionals taking their first steps into the world of private equity and venture capital. Part of this commitment includes sponsoring the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association’s (BVCA) Next Generation events in London and Manchester. We’ve met so many fantastic people and it’s been inspiring to see the energy and talent that are coming through into the industry.

Next Generation

These events are a lot of fun and they are valuable forums for sharing experiences. During my conversations, I’ve identified some common questions, so I’ve summarised my top tips in answer to them. If they spark more thoughts in your mind, why not get in touch with PER and see if we can help? Even if you’re not looking to move, our expert consultants can help you benchmark your progress so far and track your career progression going forward.

How can I ensure my manager gives me regular feedback on my performance?

When you’re finding your feet, it can be frustrating to have to wait for your next review to hear how you’re getting on. Here’s how to aim for continuous feedback from your line managers and the people around you.    

It is important to recognise that your manager is busy and will find it difficult to respond to an out of the blue request for feedback. So, before you expect them to have feedback at their fingertips, you need to prepare. Ask for a few minutes to review a recent project and make sure that you self-analyse your performance first. Your line manager can then respond to your self-analysis and give their views.  

These conversation prompts are important to help your busy boss focus on the matters that are important to you. For example, you might say something like, “I really enjoyed dealing with the banking matters for the first time on this transaction. I think I picked up the main points pretty quickly, however I would love to have built up a stronger relationship so that they came to me first with their queries. How did my performance look from your perspective and what do you think I could I do better next time?” In this way you will focus your line manager’s mind on the things that are important to you and help the conversation flow.

Initiating these discussions is also a useful way to present your achievements and suggest ways to move your development forward with focused training or involvement in projects that will round out your experience.

What do I need to do to get promoted?

It’s vital to take responsibility for your own career progression, so set yourself some milestones and test them out on your manager. It isn’t your manager’s job to give you a list of tasks and then promote you if you do them well. Promotion is linked to adding value, taking initiative and being visible. It’s no good hiding all your good work and expecting other people to unearth it.

How can I present my achievements effectively?

No one else is going to highlight your successes; it’s down to you to make sure those in charge know how your efforts are bringing them strong returns.

There are a number of things you can do to get your work noticed. Firstly, make a list at the end of each week thinking about the value you have added as well as the tasks you have completed. I like to aim for a rule of five: what five things did you do this week that made a difference? It is important to think about instances where you added value rather than just did your job!

Secondly, you need to find ways to ensure others recognise the achievements you’re recording. For example, make sure you speak up in weekly meetings. Have a view, be prepared to listen to the responses of others and build on the conversation.  

It can be very useful to become ‘known’ for something. For example, make sure you always comment on an aspect of an investment you excel in, e.g. banking, cashflow or a particular sector or geography. Become the ‘go to’ person for your specialist area.  

Thirdly, at company events, always work out who you should talk to ensure you are visible in the organisation. The best way to promote your achievements in these conversations is to understand what is important to the person you approach and add some value to their life. Often this means having some insight into a deal they are working on or a problem they are grappling with, so you need to do some research.

How do I get the most out of my network?

It isn’t just the top of the hierarchy that matters in building a career; also make sure that you take notice of the efforts that other people around you make on your behalf and give them credit. For example, the finance or administration team.  Their attitude towards you can make a massive difference to your upward career trajectory.

Externally, it’s no bad thing for the advisory network to put in a good word for you. Think about how you can you add value to the process in a productive and collaborative way that enables them to be a supporter of yours when talking to the partners.

Also, remember that your peers in the industry will become helpful to you as you all develop your careers. The person you have a beer with at the next BVCA event might well become your best market ally in finding and delivering the deal that will make your career.

About the author

Gail is the Managing Director and founder of PER, setting up the business in the late 1990s after a career in private equity at 3i.

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