It’s harder than ever to complete hiring for private equity jobs at the moment. As if the combined uncertainty of inflation, high interest rates, war and a tough fundraising environment weren’t enough, we are finding that behaviour patterns with both employers and candidates are presenting new challenges.

Rupert's profile
Our window on the market as the leading search and recruiter for investment firms gives us insights across strategies, seniorities and fund sizes. There are obviously nuances in each grouping but one trend that seems common across all is that a fund thinking about putting an offer out is being that little bit more cautious than we would expect. Demand for talent is still there and hiring processes are definitely happening, but when you get to very late stages and decision makers are ready to pull the trigger, they want to be quite certain they have found the perfect choice. This is as it should be, of course, but our perception is that in many cases the bar gets just a little higher at the end than it was at the start of the search.

What has surprised us a little is a matching wariness in the candidate pool. Again, the stated desire is still there – I do want to move to the buyside; I am looking to change firms etc. – but a significant proportion of people seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to actually engaging. We see this right through the cycle; not just when it comes to accepting an offer, but in the speed and scheduling of interview rounds and even at the beginning when it comes to just sharing a CV.

What’s behind this? Of course, a few are genuinely busy on deals and unwilling to engage until they are able to prepare properly; and we must also remember that excellent candidates are often holding multiple offers and need time to compare and decide – good for them.

By contrast, we think some candidates may have become used to being in demand and having the luxury of being chased; they may have got complacent. Some are wowed by retention bonuses and promises of progression and not (yet) willing to leave their current employer behind. For others, this is a view on market risk – should I leave a safe haven for the upside of a new career, but with the associated risk of failing a probation period? Ironically, at associate level where people are often coming out of investment banks, that ‘safe haven’ is probably less safe than it may have appeared until recently, so maybe there is an element of denial at work as well.

Our role as recruiters will sometimes include providing a reality check to such people, giving them a giddy up at the critical moment behind the scenes.

Not every search is affected by this but it is worth anticipating that outreach and engagement might take longer the next time you hire; and it may pay to start earlier than originally planned. As we have noted elsewhere, shortlists are shorter than they used to be and employers might have to work around the timeline of the preferred candidate a bit to get best results. As well as running a rigorous selection process and presenting yourself as the employer of choice, patience and luck remain important watchwords.