How to Research Firms and Differentiate Your Outreach
One of the most effective ways to differentiate yourself when networking and reaching out is by thoroughly researching the firm you are applying to.
It’s extremely obvious when a candidate has put in the time and effort to study your firm. Researching a company for even 30 minutes is one of the highest ROI activities you can do to improve your interviews. You don’t have to research every single firm you reach out to, but if you’re finding that your outreach or coffee chats aren’t converting well, then this is an obvious area to work on.
And if you're interested in working on your technical skills, you should check out our Valuation and Finance Starter Kit.
There are three key benefits associated with researching a company.
Research prepares you for the qualitative component of interviews
In order to successfully answer the common question of “Why this firm?”, you’ll need to research the firm.
By conducting research beforehand, you can ask more thoughtful questions to the interviewer when it’s your turn to ask questions.
Research allows you to specifically tailor your outreach
By studying a firm, you can pepper in a few key details in the outreach e-mail that you send to different professionals. Mentioning a recent deal, relevant portfolio company, or the firm’s investment strategy is going to improve the conversions on your e-mails dramatically.
Research helps you benchmark and more easily compare different firms
By researching more firms, you’ll start developing a mental model of how firms differ and better understand what it is that you want in a job. This research process will make it much easier for you to evaluate which firm you want to work for.
While researching, I think it can be helpful to catalogue all your notes into a single document or note-taking system. I like to use Notion, which is a free cross-platform solution.
What to Research
I like to bucket my research into three main categories when researching firms: 1) the firm’s opinion of itself, 2) the industry’s opinion, and 3) the Internet’s opinion.
1) Firm Opinion
Scroll through the firm website for 5-10 minutes.
Go through LinkedIn and check a handful of profiles of people who are in the position you are applying for.
Try to have 2 coffee chats with people at the firm before interviewing.
A firm is going to have a particular identity and will try to brand itself to LPs and competitors in a specific way. You can easily determine this by going on the firm’s website and reading its mission statement, business model, and checking its investments or recent deals. Your first goal is to learn how the company makes money, its key business segments, and what kind of initiatives it focuses on.
For example, checking Apollo’s ‘About’ section reveals that they invest in multiple asset classes and use a value-oriented investing philosophy.
You can then check their press releases and media to see the recent deals they’ve done. Asking about recent acquisitions during coffee chats is a really good way to appear engaged and interested in the firm.
On LinkedIn, I would try to get a sense for how the headcount is distributed across offices as well as the firms they typically hire from. It doesn’t take long to quickly scroll through 10 or so profiles to develop a sense for what their ideal candidate and typical career progression is like. I would also keep an eye out for attrition – how long are people staying at these firms? More attrition tends to signal tougher culture.
During your coffee chats, you should try to ask the professionals their favorite part of working at the firm or why they chose that firm. You can then take their answer and repurpose it into your own when interviewing.
2) Industry Opinion
Read 3 news articles that cover the firm.
Check a few databases like Crunchbase, H1B Data, CalPERS (or CapIQ / Bloomberg if you have access).
The next category of opinions to research is what the industry says and how the overall performance of the firm has been. You can do this by simply Googling the firm’s name and reading a few recent articles. This can help uncover if there have been any landmark deals by the firm, if they’ve made any big recent hires, or if there happens to be some controversy.
I would try to quickly skim 3 or so articles so you get a high-level sense for what the overall reputation of the firm is.
I would follow this up by quickly checking their performance on a few databases. Some good free ones include:
Crunchbase, which can tell you recent funding amounts and portfolio companies,
H1B Data, which can tell you salary, and
CalPERS, which can tell you fund performance.
Checking these databases and recent articles can let you know if the firm is on the uptrend or not. Have they been raising more money in each successive fund? Is the fund doing well? Are they hiring more senior talent vs. losing? Do they have any news scandals?
If you see online that a lot of a senior talent has recently left the firm or if the founder is stepping away from the day-to-day operations, it might be a red flag.
3) Internet Opinion
The third opinion to think about and research is what is generally available on the Internet. I will say that this is probably the flimsiest opinion to rely on because there’s less accountability and much of the opinions are offered anonymously. I still think it’s worthwhile to check the big message boards like r/FinancialCareers, Blind, and Fishbowl, but I would take things there with a grain of salt.
These sources can be more dubious because the information is offered anonymously and many of the posters are college students who offer second-hand information. Another reason why individual opinions can be tough to trust is because people’s experiences at firms can vary wildly. People in different offices, working for different MDs, on different projects will have extremely different work experiences. There is such a wide diversity of work / life balance at individual firms that one anonymous opinion might not mean that much.
However, it’s still prudent to check through the message boards and even meme accounts on Instagram. You can tease out what ex-employees think and what competitors perceive them to be like.
I generally think the most accurate people to talk to are people who recently left that firm.
These people will be less biased than current employees and are also likely to candidly talk about their experiences.
Research is a very important and occasionally overlooked step of the recruiting process. All good candidates are going to put in the time and effort to thoroughly research a firm before they even set foot into the interview room. Take the 30 or so minutes to research a firm and take notes while doing so.