Inside the private-equity recruiting tornado that just hit — and why it may be turning some young bankers away from a career on the buyside

  • Private-equity recruiting for 2025 roles officially kicked off Friday, including at Apollo and TPG.
  • The frenzied, pressure-filled cycle started earlier than ever, catching some bankers unprepared.
  • “I’m not doing private equity anymore. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth my life,” one analyst said.

The annual private-equity recruitment process known as “on-cycle” officially began for junior investment bankers earlier than ever before over the weekend — and the frenzy has left some bankers disillusioned with the entire industry.

Late last week, rumors circulated that on-cycle — the annual rapid-fire interview process used by buyout firms to find top junior banking talent — could begin at any time. Many of those bankers had only recently begun their current investment-banking jobs, and others were still in training.

According to Insider, analysts were “freaking out,” and many were skipping work training, offsite events, and social plans to haphazardly prepare for the buyout industry’s annual hiring frenzy.

According to bankers and others involved in the process, first-year bankers began receiving emails and phone calls from headhunters by Friday afternoon, requesting official interviews as soon as possible.

According to these sources, Apax, Apollo, Carlyle, CD&R, General Atlantic New York, KKR, Permira, TPG, and Warburg Pincus were among the firms that conducted interviews over the weekend. As usual, the firms were looking for first-year investment banking analysts for positions that won’t begin until 2025. (While Apax, Warburg Pincus, and TPG declined to comment, the other firms did not respond immediately to Insider’s request for comment.)

The majority of the chaos had subsided by Sunday, just in time for work the next day, according to the people.

Private-equity recruiting is always frenetic, chaotic, and mysterious — at least from the recruits’ point of view, who are frequently kept in the dark about the interviews they are expected to attend until the very last second. However, it began earlier than usual this year, causing some disillusionment among young bankers, many of whom were unprepared or turned off by the industry’s pressure-cooker tactics.

Insider spoke with a half-dozen participants in the process, including junior bankers, to provide readers with an overview of what happened, which firms participated, and where things went wrong. Because they were not authorized to speak on the record, they requested anonymity to protect their current and future jobs.

Pressure tactics

According to these sources, Friday interviews lasted late into the night and into the early morning and afternoon hours of Saturday. Midnight interviews and “exploding offers,” which require candidates to make a decision before leaving the interview room to prevent them from shopping around, are common in private-equity recruiting.

This year, there was additional anxiety surrounding the process because so many of the analysts targeted for interviews are still in training for their investment-banking jobs — or have not yet begun. It can be difficult to advance in an industry that revolves around corporate dealmaking without deal experience.

One in-training investment-banking analyst declined to participate because they did not feel prepared for the interviews, which typically include technical and financial modeling questions. According to this person, the pressure tactics used to get this banker and others to join the frenzy were so intense that they are no longer interested in a job in private equity.

“It was kind of like an epiphany for me,” the young banker explained. “I haven’t even begun my banking job yet.” I’ve never worked in private equity. But that’s how insane it is. This is a very early, but strong, indication of how the culture works at private equity firms. Because they allow this behavior to continue. They don’t enable it; this is their behavior.”

As an example, they cited messages from headhunters stating that classes at top firms were quickly filling up. Looking back, the analyst believes it was a scare tactic, and that seats are still available.

“Honestly, it’s made me think that private equity, in particular, is just such an abusive industry,” they said. “Their expectation is that you shut up your mouth, give up all of your free time, have no personal life, no relationship time, no family time, and get barely any sleep — all because they just shoved $350,000 down your throat.”

$300,000 offers

On-cycle recruiting has crept up on candidates earlier and earlier over the years. As previously reported by Insider, it began the week before Labor Day last year, making it the earliest ever. However, 2023 blew that record out of the water, increasing it by nearly a month.

Earlier this year, the private-equity industry experienced a second round of recruiting, which was widely assumed to be the result of 2022’s early on-cycle start — candidates weren’t ready, firms didn’t fill their classes, and there were more open seats. As a result, industry experts predicted that firms would avoid repeating the cycle this year. That, however, was not the case.

As a result, there is a pool of candidates who are eager for the jobs but are caught off guard and unprepared.

A private-equity employee who frequently mentors junior bankers told Insider that they were working with 10 candidates this year, and only two were offered positions.

According to this source, the two juniors were well-prepared for modeling exams and received offers totaling more than $300,000 all-in, whereas the other eight mentees felt unprepared and did not receive offers.

Another banker, who went through on-cycle last year and accepted an offer from a megafund, described the process as “ridiculous,” adding that the first-years at their firm were “upset.”

“PE firms need to make a pact to stop this or else they’re going to screw themselves — not just with lower quality candidates necessarily, but with people who aren’t even sure what they want to do,” said this person.

On Thursday night, headhunters warned the more than 700 bankers on the call about the risks of participating in a “Educational Zoom” webinar hosted by headhunting firm CPI.

“If I had a child who had to choose between on and off cycle,” the firm’s founder, Brian O’Callaghan, said in the call, according to a transcript of a recording reviewed by Insider.

“I would caution you against going ‘wave one’ because you might embarrass yourself.” And if you embarrass yourself, the only downside is that we’ll have seen you not perform well. We’ll get it, and that company will say, ‘eh, they weren’t prepared, they weren’t good enough.’ So I’d be cautious about that.”

O’Callaghan also told the bankers on the call that the off-cycle recruiting process would result in more placements than the on-cycle process, which he said would continue for the next 24 months.

“I don’t think anyone will try to fill their class, and I believe firms are hesitant to talk to people who haven’t done deals yet,” he said. “There will be more off-cycle placements than on-cycle placements.” Last year, most of our clients hired less than half of their analyst class in wave one.”

O’Callaghan did not respond immediately to Insider’s request for comment.

After witnessing the buyout industry’s chaos, the investment-banking analyst who is still in training for their job has decided to explore careers in other areas of finance.

“I’m not doing private equity anymore,” this individual stated. “It isn’t worth it.” My life isn’t worth it.”

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