Interview with Alumni: Chia Pan’14 shares his work experiences as IB & PE analyst and job hunting tips
“Interview with International Alumni” is a new program consisting of a series of interviews conducted by the Babson Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) and members of the Undergraduate Center for Career Development. This program will invite several international alumni to share their work experiences and career paths.
Graduation Year: 2014
Concentration: Corporate Financial management, Financial Accounting
About: Chia Pan is a senior associate at Neuberger Berman’s Principal Strategies Group (PSG), which employs a market-neutral, style factor minimized approach to event-driven investing. He started his career as an investment banking analyst in the Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he worked on various M&A, IPO and debt financing transactions. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Babson College. He concentrated in Finance and was a member of the Honors Program (highest academic distinction). LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chiachoupan/
Neuberger Berman | Full time
- Senior Associate, Principal Strategies Group – Crossover Fund, 2019-present
- Private Equity Associate, 2016-2019
- Private Equity Associate, Neuberger Berman Europe, Jul 2017-Oct 2017
Bank of America | Full time
- Investment banking analyst in BOA, 2014-2016
Q: How did you start this investment banking / private equity career path. How were you being selected by those employers? Also what made you stand out in front of the employers in this industry?
I was born in Taiwan, I moved to New York when I was 11. I then went to Babson College and graduated in 2014. After college, I joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch and I was in the investment banking division.
I spent 2 years as an analyst, working on different transactions and learning how to do financial models, all of which helped developed my technical skills. After 2 years, I decided to move to the buyside, and that was when I started my job searching process for private equity firms.
In 2016, I joined Neuberger Berman, which is a global investment management firm with over 350 million assets under management. I spent 2 years in their alternative investment group as a private equity associate. I focused on co-investing and co-underwriting directly with different general managers (GPs). They were also known as the traditional private equity firms. I was responsible for evaluating and investing in large buyout transactions. My job was to find a good company to acquire and then sell it for a higher value in about 5-7 years.
After 2 years in the private equity group, I joined my current group, which is called Principal Strategies Group (PSG). It is a hybrid of hedge fund and private equity fund. Now I spend approximately 50% of my time on investing in Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). I evaluate companies that are about to go public and our firm helps price those deals. During the other 50% of the time, I focus on investing in late stage, pre-IPO private companies that are 2 to 3 years away from going public (companies similar as Uber, WeWork, Airbnb…). We will then hold the stock after those companies go public.
To answer your question regarding recruiting, the investment banking career path is structured; there are recruiting seasons every year and the timeline seems to be earlier and earlier. For me, I landed my summer internship in investment banking at BAML after my sophomore year. After spending 10 weeks, I received a return offer for the following summer. I repeated the same thing for my junior year summer and ultimately landed a full-time job post college.
Since this career has a structured path, you have to make sure that you are well prepared along every step in order to meet the industry expectations. Candidates need to demonstrate not only strong work ethics, but also ability to think critically about different topics. It can be entrepreneurial in the sense that you have to be proactive in building your personal credibility and reputation in the group. This way people would want to work with you and you get to work on the exciting projects and deals.
Looking back, there are many things that needed to happen in order to find a position in each step of my career. Without summer internship, it can be difficult to land a full-time job at the investment bank. Similarly, without having good experiences in investment banking, it would be difficult to land a buyside position.
I believe there are several ways to help differentiate a candidate from others. First, you would need to plan ahead and be prepared to tackle both technical and behavior questions; you need to have a solid foundation of accounting and finance. Second, you need to develop the ability to think critically and ask thoughtful questions. Third, you need to be able to react and operate under stressful situations. Lastly, you need to deliver strong results, especially on the public market side where your investment performance is evaluated daily. Because the results of your investment decisions are transparent on a day-to-day basis, you need to be a real performer.
Q: How do you demonstrate your preparation, technical skills during job application?
I think the first step is having a resume that highlights relevant experiences and skill sets. You also need to demonstrate a strong interest in finance. In my case at the time of the application, I already completed financial accounting classes and I was in the process of taking several finance classes. Before I landed my sophomore internship, I had another summer internship in my freshman year at Moody’s.
Each of those experiences became a building block that leads you to the next step. Without my summer experiences at Moody’s, I think it would be difficult to stand out. Because the employers already knew I had prior experiences, I was more of a lower risk candidate to them. Because of my prior internship experience, the employer was confident that I was able to meet the basic expectations.
After the resume phase, you will go through a series of phone and in-person interviews. For the sophomore internship was BAML, my final round of interview lasted ~6 hours. They asked me a lot of technical questions to test my interest and general knowledge in finance. I was also asked about my knowledge of the company and my long-term career path. Essentially, employers want to hire people who would want to return to the company post the summer internship or post-graduation. At a high level, those are the key messages you need to convey.
The junior internship interview followed a similar process. You’ll have an initial phone call then an in-person interview. You might be asked to complete a paper exam and then you will be invited to something called a super day. A super day is when you meet multiple people within a group that you selected; it was a matching process.
Q: So have you used any of the resources from Babson to help you to land your jobs or internships?
You have to use all the resources you have, that’s the short answer. A lot of those investment banks have something called a target school. Babson is a target school for some firms but not for all firms. Therefore, in order for you to break in, you have to reach out to alumni who have worked at those places and really network yourself in. Expect to do a lot of networking, reaching out to senior students and alumni and ask for referrals. This is the part you have to be super proactive. I personally know people who spoke with 100 people if not more, just to get 2 to 3 interviews for internships.
Q: So what do you see is an effective networking strategy then?
I think the most effective strategy is to position yourself as someone who wants to learn about their experiences. You may want to position yourself from a learner’s perspective. And you need to be clear with your objective. I want to avoid spending one hour talking but losing focus on what you are aiming to achieve. So at the end of the day, you want to make sure those are the people who can support you and refer you to different opportunities. Be direct and straightforward with your objective.
To increase effectiveness, you want to find ways to provide values to the person you’re speaking with. One example is providing interesting information you have seen on the news that might be relevant for the person you’re speaking with. Let me give you an example. If you’re speaking with the analyst in the tech group and you recently saw an exciting tech deal on the news, that can be a topic of conversation. Because that not only demonstrate that you have done your homework, but also show your interest in the industry.
Q: Is there a lesson or tip for the students so that they can avoid the same mistake you made.
Definitely. My recruiting process and career path may not be as easy and smooth as people expect. Looking at what’s on the paper, it might seem as an easy transition, but in between each position, there’s always struggles and challenges. My recommendation is to start planning early. If you’re going to try something, make sure you’re putting 100% effort. Finance is an industry where you need to fully dedicate yourself to. There might be some self-sacrifice at the beginning (i.e. not being able to spend as much time with your friends and family). But at the end of the day, hard effort will pay off. Putting effort during the early stage of your career will help position you to do so many different things in the future; it will open different doors in your life.
Second, I wish I spent more time talking to people who were more experienced than I was when I was in college. When I was in college, there weren’t as many alumni in investment banking or private equity. I think that has changed over time and now there are more and more alumni in the finance field who can be good resources to the current students.
Q: Is there a fun story or important experience, a project or something that you would share with us?
I’m laughing because what I think is interesting in my current job is actually just generating good performance. In my current job, looking at stocks is the only thing I care about, to be honest. It makes me really happy when my investment thesis is proven to be correct. It makes me unhappy when my thought process is proven wrong. So in a way there is definitely an emotional factor baked into it, but I feel like my everyday life and my career are kind of blended together holistically.
People often reference to work-life balance, but to me, it is more like work-life integration. When you are passionate about something, your job becomes your hobby. I read the news and pay attention to companies during my free time. I also talk to my friends about investing.
Having seen both the buy side and the sell side, what I like about banking is really the collegiate teamwork-oriented environment. That’s when you’re first out of college and you have your analyst class. You’ll be working in the same group of 10 to 15 other analysts and you form a very strong bond because everyone spends 80-100 hours per week together.
I see my co-workers more often than I see anyone else, even my roommate. and you really build a very solid foundation when you’re in banking. Furthermore, this is your first time interacting with the senior people at different companies. That’s what I like about IB. And then for private equity you start to become an investor versus a salesperson. In Investment banking you’re constantly trying to sell something or persuade other people to buy something. So when you’re on the buy side, all of the sudden, you’re thinking how can I invest in a good company.
You often work with an investment banker who will pitch you companies and your job is to evaluate whether this is a good investment. Private equity is very deals driven, it’s a process and relationship based business. So there’s a fair amount of coordinating with different parties such as accountants, lawyers, your co-investors. Your job is more about running the process in addition to making a good investment decision.
Lastly, what I like about the public market is that this is a super dynamic, super complex place with a lot of moving pieces. It’s a very quantitative career. You’re constantly thinking about how other people think in addition to how you think. It’s exciting in the way that you get to see results very quickly versus in private equity, when you make an investment, you’re not going to know if it is a good investment or a bad investment until at least 3 to 5 years later. The pace is definitely faster in the public market and it’s less relationship driving I would say, it’s more analytical and quantitative.