How Non-Finance Professionals Can Break Into Private Equity

If you're a non-finance professional looking to break into the world of private equity, this article is for you.

Posted June 9, 2023

Table of Contents

Private equity is a lucrative and exciting industry that has gained increasing popularity in recent years. However, breaking into this field can be a daunting task, especially if you don't have a background in finance. In this article, we'll explore what private equity is, how it operates, the role of non-finance professionals in private equity, and the skills required to succeed in this industry. We'll also discuss how to make a successful career transition, networking strategies, building a strong resume, preparing for interviews, and the challenges you may face as a non-finance professional in the private equity industry. Finally, we'll explore the importance of mentors and networking for private equity professionals and strategies for gaining experience in this industry.

Defining Private Equity and Its Operations

Private equity is a type of investment in which firms and investors purchase shares in private companies with the intention of obtaining significant equity returns in the future. Private equity firms typically use a combination of debt and equity financing to purchase businesses and work closely with these companies to improve their financial performance and increase their value. The process involves identifying investment opportunities, due diligence, negotiating terms with the company and shareholders, and managing the investment over time. Private equity firms can exit their investments through a variety of options, including mergers, acquisitions, and public offering.

Private equity investments are often made in companies that are not publicly traded, which means that they are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as public companies. This allows private equity firms to have more control over the companies they invest in and to make changes more quickly. However, it also means that there is less transparency and information available to investors and the public.

Private equity has become an increasingly popular investment option for institutional investors, such as pension funds and endowments, as well as high net worth individuals. However, it is important to note that private equity investments are typically illiquid, meaning that they cannot be easily bought or sold. This can make it difficult for investors to access their funds when they need them.

The Role of Non-Finance Professionals in Private Equity

Although private equity firms often look for candidates with a finance background, non-finance professionals can also succeed in this industry. Non-finance professionals bring diversity of thought and experience to the table, which can be valuable in assessing investment opportunities and managing portfolio companies. Non-finance professionals in private equity roles can come from a variety of backgrounds, including operations, consulting and engineering, among others.

Furthermore, non-finance professionals can also bring a fresh perspective to the due diligence process. They may have a different approach to analyzing data and identifying potential risks and opportunities. This can lead to more comprehensive and well-rounded assessments of potential investments. Additionally, non-finance professionals can play a crucial role in post-acquisition integration, leveraging their expertise in areas such as operations or technology to help portfolio companies improve their performance and achieve their strategic goals.

How Private Equity Firms Operate and Their Business Model

Private equity firms operate similarly to other investment firms, but there are some key differences. Private equity firms typically use a "2 and 20" fee structure, meaning they charge 2 percent of the total assets under management (AUM) and take 20 percent of any profits above a certain benchmark return. This fee structure aligns the interests of the private equity firm with the investors and incentivizes the firm to maximize returns for their limited partners. Private equity firms also typically have a limited lifespan, with most funds lasting around 10 years.

Another important aspect of private equity firms is their focus on operational improvements in the companies they invest in. Unlike traditional investment firms, private equity firms take an active role in managing the companies they invest in, often bringing in their own management teams to implement changes and improve efficiency. This hands-on approach can lead to significant improvements in the performance of the companies, ultimately resulting in higher returns for the investors.

Skills Required to Succeed in Private Equity

Private equity is a highly competitive industry that requires strong analytical skills, business acumen, and communication skills. Key skills that are necessary to succeed in private equity include financial modeling, due diligence, valuation, deal structuring, and negotiation. Having experience in these areas can make you a strong candidate for a private equity role. However, it's also important to have a track record of success and experience building relationships with stakeholders.

Another important skill to have in private equity is the ability to identify and evaluate potential investment opportunities. This involves conducting market research, analyzing financial statements, and assessing the potential risks and returns of a particular investment. Additionally, having a deep understanding of the industry or sector in which the investment opportunity lies can give you an edge in identifying and evaluating potential deals. Being able to effectively communicate your findings and recommendations to your team and investors is also crucial in private equity.

How to Make a Career Transition to Private Equity

If you're interested in making a career transition to private equity, there are several steps you can take. First, you'll need to explore whether you have the necessary skills and experience to work in this industry. This may involve taking courses or obtaining certifications in areas like financial modeling, valuation, and deal structuring. You'll also need to network with professionals in the industry, attend industry events and conferences, and get involved in organizations that focus on private equity.

Another important step in making a career transition to private equity is to gain experience in related fields, such as investment banking, consulting, or corporate finance. This will help you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in private equity. Additionally, it's important to stay up-to-date on industry trends and news, as this will give you a better understanding of the market and the types of deals that are being made.

Finally, it's important to be persistent and patient in your job search. Private equity firms often have a rigorous hiring process, and it may take some time to find the right opportunity. However, with the right skills, experience, and network, you can make a successful transition to this exciting and rewarding industry.

Networking Strategies for Non-Finance Professionals

Networking is critical to breaking into the private equity industry, especially for non-finance professionals. To build a strong network, you'll need to attend industry events, join industry organizations, and connect with professionals on LinkedIn. You can also reach out to alumni from your school who work in private equity and ask for informational interviews to learn more about the industry.

Building a Strong Resume for a Private Equity Role

When applying for a private equity role, your resume should highlight your relevant skills and experience. Your resume should include information on your academic background, work experience, and any relevant certifications or training programs. You should also focus on your accomplishments and quantifiable results in previous roles, such as successful deals you've been a part of or initiatives you implemented that improved business performance.

Preparing for Interviews in the Private Equity Industry

When preparing for an interview in the private equity industry, it's important to research the firm and its portfolio companies thoroughly. You should also be prepared to discuss your relevant skills and experience, your understanding of the industry, and your interest in the firm. Be sure to prepare answers to common interview questions and practice with friends or a professional coach to help you feel confident on the day of the interview.

Challenges You May Face as a Non-Finance Professional in Private Equity

As a non-finance professional, you may face some challenges when breaking into the private equity industry. For example, you may need to work harder to develop the necessary financial skills and experience to succeed in this industry. You may also face bias from hiring managers who prefer candidates with finance backgrounds. However, if you're a strong candidate with relevant skills and experience, you can overcome these challenges and succeed in private equity.

The Importance of Mentors and Networking in Private Equity

Mentors and networking are critical to success in the private equity industry. Mentors can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career, help you develop new skills, and introduce you to new opportunities. Networking can help you build relationships with professionals in the industry and learn about new investment opportunities. To build a strong network and find mentors in the industry, you may want to join industry organizations, attend conferences and events, and connect with alumni from your school who work in private equity.

Strategies for Gaining Experience and Building Your Reputation in the Industry

One of the best ways to gain experience in the private equity industry and build your reputation is by finding an internship or entry-level role in a private equity firm. You can also look for opportunities to work with private equity firms as a consultant, investment banker, or accountant. Additionally, building your personal brand by writing about industry trends, speaking at conferences, or participating in industry organizations can help you build your reputation and make connections in the industry.


Breaking into the private equity industry can seem intimidating, but with the right skills, experience, and networking, non-finance professionals can succeed in this exciting field. By understanding the key aspects of private equity, building your skills and experience, and connecting with professionals in the industry, you can make a successful career transition to private equity and thrive in this lucrative field.

Browse hundreds of expert coaches

Leland coaches have helped thousands of people achieve their goals. A dedicated mentor can make all the difference.

Browse Related Articles