Executive Q&A from William Blair & Company
What qualifications do you require in investment banking Analysts and Associates? What is William Blair looking for in candidates?
We seek to hire candidates who are collaborative, results-driven and who have a strong professional presence, including poise and confidence. Attention to detail and great communication skills are also very important.
We hire analysts from all areas of study. Our philosophy is to hire bright, driven and personable people, regardless of undergraduate major. We provide five weeks of training to all incoming analysts to ensure everyone starts out on an even playing field. We prefer grade point averages at or above 3.5, but make exceptions for compelling candidates.
William Blair recruits associates who have performed well versus their peers from top MBA programs. The firm seeks intelligent, talented, hard-working and dedicated leaders from a variety of backgrounds who have a passion for solving complex problems and serving clients.
Please describe the investment banking interview process.
The interview process starts on-campus with information sessions and recruiting events. We encourage interested students to request an interview through the on-campus process. First round interviews consist of one half-hour interview. Should you advance to the second round, we will contact you to set up a half-day of interviews at our headquarters in Chicago. During that round, you will have approximately eight half-hour interviews to determine your fit with the department, as well as your level of interest and preparedness for investment banking at William Blair.
How can I put my best foot forward with William Blair?
The recruiting process is our first opportunity to meet and interact with candidates, so to put your best foot forward we recommend attending all on-campus events, meeting as many bankers as possible, and using these interactions to craft a thoughtful resume and prepare for your interview. The more you know about us and what differentiates us, the better prepared you will be to interview.
Are there any specific tips you have for my résumé?
In addition to clearly articulating your experiences and accomplishments, your résumé should be free of errors, including spelling and formatting. Always include your GPA, unless your school has a specific written policy dictating otherwise. If you speak multiple languages, list those as well as your level of proficiency with each language. A résumé is not only your opportunity to list professional accomplishments and experiences, but helps us learn more about you and helps you stand out amongst the many résumés we review.
How is the Investment Banking department at William Blair structured?
William Blair has both industry and products groups within our Investment Banking department. Our industry groups are:
- Business Services
- Commercial Services
- Consumer & Retail
- Financial Services
Our product groups are:
- Equity Capital Markets
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Private Capital
- Special Situations & Restructuring
These groups interact regularly. For instance, if we are pitching a proposed IPO for a healthcare company, the Healthcare and Equity Capital Markets teams are both actively involved in the preparation and presentation.
What is the investment banking business split between public equity and M&A? Sell-side vs. buy-side?
Depending on the year and market conditions, the split in our revenues varies. However, on average, about 70% of our revenues are derived from M&A and 30% from public equity. Of our M&A deals, approximately 85% are sell-side.
How big are deal teams?
Deal teams typically consist of two managing directors, one director or vice president, one associate and one analyst. This can vary depending on the size and complexity of the deal, as well as the overall level of activity in the department. Additionally, a more experienced analyst or associate may be paired with a new analyst or associate in some cases to assist in the development of our newer team members. However, all members of the deal team will regularly interact with C-level executives at the client. Junior bankers get extraordinary exposure and responsibility at William Blair due to our lean deal teams.
What are the responsibilities I will have as an Analyst? Associate?
An analyst’s primary responsibilities include: preparing pitch materials, doing research on specific companies and industries, completing financial analysis and modeling, writing confidential information memorandums, assisting with buyer diligence, and preparing management presentations. Because of the high level of responsibility we give our analysts, they have a great deal of interaction with all levels at William Blair and regular contact with the CEOs and CFOs of our clients.
An associate’s job is to work with and monitor the analyst to complete certain of these tasks and take on some of these tasks directly, as well as drive the execution of pitches and live deals. Associates have a high amount of interaction with the CEO and CFO at each client, often speaking with them on a daily basis in the busiest parts of the deal process.
How does the experience at William Blair differ from one I would get at a bulge bracket bank?
The experience at William Blair differs in a few key areas. First, our deal teams are very lean which means that associates and analysts directly interact with our clients on a regular basis. Second, the balance of work between new business pitches and live deals is weighted significantly more towards live deals. Finally, we believe the average number of deals that one works on in a year is higher than at bulge bracket banks. Associates and analysts can expect to actively participate in approximately five to ten deals per year at William Blair across M&A and public equity.
Which companies have you advised in the past?
We have advised hundreds of companies over the years. Some notable prior clients include: Allscripts, CDW, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Dunkin Brands, Grifols, Pandora, Rosetta Stone, Smuckers, Wrigley, and Kellogg’s.
Will I get international experience?
With an established set of offices around the world, William Blair has developed a very strong global middle market practice. Approximately one-third of our M&A transactions are cross-border. Given the high number of international transactions, most analysts and associates have the opportunity to work on a cross-border deal while they are at William Blair. Further, for high performing analysts and associates, there are opportunities to move to offices outside of Chicago as the need arises.
What is the typical travel schedule?
Travel varies greatly depending on team and client preferences, as well as the number of live deals on which a person is working. Typically, an associate can expect to travel about one day per week. An analyst can expect to travel about twice per month.
Do investment banking Analysts/Associates come in as generalists? What is the process of joining an industry/product group?
Each analyst participates in a generalist program for the first six to 12 months and then joins one of William Blair’s industry or product groups. Near the end of each analyst’s time as a generalist, they are asked to rank their top choices for industry groups. Simultaneously, each industry/product group ranks which analysts they would like in their group. The preferences are then matched and analysts are placed into groups.
The process for associates is slightly different. Associates typically begin as generalists and, after one to three years, move into an industry group. Over time, each associate tends to gravitate toward working with a specific group. Thus, there is a less formal process for slotting associates into groups as it tends to occur naturally.
What if I already have industry experience? May I join a group directly?
We look to fulfill business needs while incorporating associate and analyst preferences, when possible, as we staff new projects. Those who show a preference early may start to focus more on their preferred industry while continuing to gain exposure to other sectors.
How is work assigned amongst Analysts/Associates?
We have two senior-level people who are responsible for staffing generalists – one for analysts and one for associates. In addition to trying to maintain an equitable allocation of work across each class, the staffers provide regular feedback on performance and serve as a resource to resolve issues in an objective and expedient manner.
Is there a formal training program?
Yes. Upon starting in July, investment banking analysts from all William Blair offices spend five weeks in Chicago for training. Training includes topics in corporate finance, spreadsheet modeling, and transaction processes. Additionally, each analyst is paired with a mentor who serves as both a resource and an advocate for the analyst’s career development.
Upon starting in August, associates from all William Blair offices spend three weeks in Chicago for training. Training includes topics in corporate finance, advanced spreadsheet modeling and transaction processes. Similar to analysts, associates are assigned a senior mentor who is a resource for advice and support as needs arise.
Can I begin off-cycle as a fulltime Analyst/Associate?
We try to have all analysts and associates start at the same time so that they can participate in our formal training program. That said, we do occasionally have off-cycle starting dates for special cases.
How is compensation determined for Analysts and Associates?
The compensation structure for our analysts and associates is designed to motivate and reward employees who display the greatest capacity for maximizing the value we provide our clients. We use a performance-based bonus system that rewards employees for working effectively and diligently on behalf of our clients. Bonuses range considerably in size, with our high-performing analysts and associates being compensated well-above industry averages. Our goal is to create a meritocracy where employees are rewarded based on their ability to deliver value for clients and on their contribution to the firm’s collegial, hard-working culture.