5 things you should know before applying for private equity firms in Hong Kong

By Robert Half 19 April 2018

Private equity firms in Hong Kong offer some of the world’s most sought-after careers in finance.

The region’s low and streamlined tax system, strong financial infrastructure, and efficient communications have contributed to fast growth of the sector in recent years, and many Hong-Kong private equity (PE) funds are now looking to expand their headcount.

This has also resulted in a shortage of qualified PE professionals in Hong Kong, leading to hot competition for talent among the region’s leading PE funds. With the right skills and experience, even entry-level analyst roles can attract high salary packages.

What do private equity firms in Hong Kong look for?

If you’re on the private equity career path – or working in a related discipline and looking to shift careers into PE – there are some key skills, traits and accomplishments that you’ll need to be able to bring to the job.

Here’s what you need to successfully apply for roles at private equity firms in Hong Kong.

1. Good academic credentials

Private equity firms generally prefer to hire people with at least a few years of industry experience, so that they can start producing results from day one. They also usually expect you to hold an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in accounting, business, finance, or economics. Degrees in fields such as mathematics, science and engineering can also be valuable as they demonstrate strong analytical ability. A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification is often considered an advantage as well.

The top PE funds can afford to be selective, and may prefer applicants who attended the most prestigious schools. Others may just want you to have achieved excellent grades at an internationally recognised institution. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree isn’t usually mandatory, but could give you an advantage if you’re applying for a more senior role, such as Senior Associate or Managing Director.

2. Financial/industry experience

Some of the bigger private equity firms have been known to hire candidates straight after completing an undergraduate degree, although this tends to be only after the candidate has already completed internships in banking, strategy or other private equity roles.

Most commonly, people hired by private equity firms will need to have at least two to five years’ experience in a relevant field. The most favored backgrounds include investment banking, accounting, structured or leveraged finance, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), corporate development/restructuring, and corporate consulting.

It can also be an advantage if you have direct experience in a specific industry that the PE firm commonly deals with, as this will allow you to bring valuable inside knowledge to the project. This can tend to be more important if you want to get on the partner track and make it to senior roles.

3. Analytical and financial modelling skills

Private equity tends to be a more long-term investment strategy than hedge funds, with returns typically not being realised until at least three to five years after a deal has been signed. This focus on long-term gains, along with the relatively low number of deals, means you’ll need to show an ability to perform deep analysis and evaluations of companies and markets.

The most critical skills sought by private equity firms in Hong Kong include:

• Proficiency in Excel, PowerPoint, and other financial modelling or presentation software;
• A good understanding of valuation methodologies;
• The ability to source new deals through industry research and screening of potential buyout candidates;
• Coordinating the due diligence and research tasks performed prior to a transaction;
• Experience with large and complex private company transactions.

Hong Kong PE firms will value candidates who are team players with a strong work ethic. An entrepreneurial approach, strong complex problem-solving skills, and the ability to lead a team are also considered important.

4. Language skills

Hong Kong serves as both Asia’s biggest financial centre, and the Western world’s gateway to the massive Chinese market. As such, private equity firms in Hong Kong will usually expect you to be fluent in both written and spoken English, and Chinese (preferably both Mandarin and Cantonese).

Knowledge of other Asian languages, such as Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, can also be valuable, as can knowing an additional European language or two.

5. People and networking skills

Working in private equity, you can expect to interact with many different bankers, law firms and consultants, both inside and outside Hong Kong. You’ll likely need to be able to manage and supervise other people. During a transaction, your ability to apply skills in communication, empathy and understanding will be critical to achieving the best outcome. This will certainly apply in China, where locals prefer frequent and lengthy meetings to build trust before signing deals.

Over the course of your private equity career, strong interpersonal skills will only become more valuable, helping you to build a strong network of business contacts and attracting a steady flow of deal opportunities. Joining a professional association, such as the HKVCA (Hong Kong Venture Capital and Private Equity Association) is a great way to connect with career opportunities and to get to know the industry’s key influencers.

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