College seniors, take heart! There are jobs to be had at PE portfolio companies

Private equity firms generally hire very few recent college grads, but there’s one area of PE often missed by candidates: portfolio companies.

In January, Catalyst Investors polled its companies and found that there is hope for the well-informed sheepskin bearer. There are indeed jobs out there – philosophy majors included – if you know where to look.

Our portfolio companies increased their ranks by 22 percent in 2013. More importantly, recent college grads were more than half of the total jobs added, growing fully 79 percent versus 2012. Admittedly, our sample set is a microcosm of total U.S. employment with just 2,777 jobs, and it is self-selected since we are growth equity investors. Still, the point remains – if an ambitious graduate knows where and how to look, he or she can find a job.

So when should college seniors start looking? While they’re still in school. They should focus on companies that are growing and hiring the fastest. These are often smaller organizations with limited, if any, on-campus recruiting. Students and soon-to-be-grads must be proactive in looking for them.

Liberal Arts majors should understand the term “availability heuristic.” This means the universe of potential companies you can work for is not limited to those recruiting on campus or places your friends (or their parents) work.

The easiest first step is to look within the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy like technology, healthcare and energy. Searches shouldn’t be limited to household names like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Purely based on numbers, the chances of securing jobs there are slim at best. There are thousands of interesting businesses that aren’t interviewing on campus – you cannot rely on a college Career Services Center!

Students are drawn to earlier stage venture capital companies, but such jobs are problematic. These firms don’t have the infrastructure, like training or HR, set up for recent grads. Bigger companies are slower growing or more staid, and most recruit on campus. Growth companies, like Catalyst portfolio companies, offer a great work environment with lots of upside.

But remember that the successful candidate needs to do significant homework, research and preparation to get the job. I recently encountered a recent grad (Ivy League, no less) that was job-hunting in the fast-growing digital marketing space.

“Can you tell me three players in the space?” I asked.

“Uh, no,” was the reply.

“What is the name of the CEO of the company you’re interviewing with?” I asked.

“I don’t know that either,” he said.

Obviously this person was not a promising conversation, but it could have easily been remedied with some due diligence. Sure, parents, friends and your network are helpful, but they can only do so much. To quote Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you.”

Here’s how:

  • Choose an industry that is growing faster than 10 percent.
  • Make or find a “market map” within that industry. Don’t know what that is? Here are some examples.
  • Proactively reach out to HR at several, if not most, of the companies on your market map. Be targeted and definite in what you can bring them.
  • Once you get the interview, make sure you do your research. Do not show up without really understanding the company and what job it is that you’re interviewing for.

Growth-stage companies – like the college graduates with strong work ethics – are going places, and operating like growth equity investors reveals the diamonds in the rough. I can’t guarantee a job but if you follow this advice, I assure a dramatic increase in the chances of a successful job hunt and more importantly, starting your career in the right direction.

Author bio: Brian Rich is managing partner and co-founder of Catalyst Investors, a New York-based growth equity venture capital firm investing in technology-enabled businesses. He can be reached at

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