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Looking for a job at a family office? Read this first

In the last ten years, family and private investment offices have become the new sexy financial boutiques to land a job at. They represent for the potential employee, particularly at a senior level, more independence than working for a big institution, more influence to direct investment decisions, and more job security.

Of course, whether these set of factors all add up depends on the family office, but the perspective is very much a favourable one about the sector for many job-seeking financial-orientated managers.

Those looking from outside to work for a family have to understand, a family office is an extension of their family and hiring someone is a big deal

But getting a job with one of the 3,000-plus single-family/private investment offices that exist across the world isn’t that easy. Or, at least, doesn’t follow the same path as you would invariably go down to get a job at your typical bank, asset management group, private equity house, or similar financial institution.

The first thing to bear in mind is there aren’t so many jobs in the family/private investment office world as might be suggested by their numbers. Most of the 3,000-plus family offices comprise offices of often less than ten staff. Few have more than 20, and only a hand full have 50 and more staff.  

“The truth is that even in family office centres like London, New York, or Geneva there simply aren’t that many single-family office jobs out there,” says Keith Johnston, CEO of the London-based Family Office Council. “And many of these offices are thinly staffed.”

The second and most crucial point for job seekers in the sector to consider is the majority of family offices hire from their network, particularly at a senior level. This is to the chagrin of many very well qualified candidates who are outsiders.

“If you don’t know someone at a family office or haven’t worked with someone there, those doing the hiring are reluctant to pull the trigger,” says an exceptionally well-qualified investment specialist seeking a job in the sector who wanted to remain anonymous. “Those looking from outside to work for a family have to understand, a family office is an extension of their family and hiring someone is a big deal.”

Sometimes qualifications and experience might count for little in the hiring process. “I know a colleague who recently got a job at a single-family office,” says the job-seeking candidate.

“Yes, he’s a smart person, but not someone with a great deal of investment experience. I asked him to please tell me how he got the job, after all, I wanted to learn from him to help me land that job. Unsurprisingly, he had been friends with the family for 25 years. He was an insider. And, even though I have much more investment experience, I was the outsider and less likely to get the job.”

A cultural fit is often the most critical factor. “Unlike working at an institution, your expertise isn’t the main factor which will decide if you get hired,” says Johnston. “So-called ‘cultural fit’ is key – and this is a mix of respect, trust and likability.  If your personality and mindset gel with the principals you’re in with a chance. If not you may as well stop the interview in the first five minutes.”

The third point that’s related to the network factor is family offices don’t use headhunters that much, particularly when they’re seeking senior roles. “Only a tiny proportion of jobs get to specialist recruiters like myself, Mark Somers or Agreus in the UK, or their equivalents in the US and Switzerland.”

A more junior role might make it to the books of an executive search role, but senior roles less so. That might be because of how much a headhunter will cost, but also because they can rely on their network. “Very few family offices would go to a headhunter and be prepared to pay 30% of the first year’s composite fee,” says the job seeker. “They rely on their networks. Rarely do I see something from headhunters from a single-family office perspective –  and I’ve covered a lot of ground.”

Fourthly, most family offices aren’t looking for a highly experienced and proven investment specialist in the first place. “Many family offices aren’t willing to hire someone with a great deal of investment experience, because they don’t need such a person,” says the job seeker.

America is a better place to look for a job if you’re an outsider

“A lot of family offices talk about doing deals themselves and, of course, you see bigger family offices doing just that. The smaller ones talk about it, but when it comes down to it, they aren’t willing to do deals themselves. They mostly all prefer funds. So they don’t need a particularly skilled investment specialist.”

The fifth point is those family offices looking to fill a position might not be the best place to work anyway. “There may be good reasons why there is a vacancy in another office,” says Johnston. “It’s possible that the family office is dysfunctional in some way and perhaps the family is divided and ungovernable, or the principal is disagreeable.”

But it’s also important to remember, that being offered a job with a less desirable family office might be a Hobson’s choice. Either you take it, or there is nothing. Like any job seeking efforts, it’s always easier to get that special job in the sector if you already are working within it.

The sixth point is America is a better place to look for a job if you’re an outsider. The world of family and private investment offices is just that more developed in the US than the UK, or Switzerland, which themselves are much more developed than much of the rest of the world. In the US, more family offices are doing direct deals, and they’ve been doing it for longer. Consequently, they tend to follow a more institutional approach to hiring, which benefits the outsider more.

But even in the US, informal networks provide the primary way family and private investment offices recruit. And, of course, if you’re not an American citizen getting a job there is just that much hard.

Finally, the last point is not to get too disheartened by the “insider-like” recruitment mentality of family offices. Like any sector, not all family offices are typical. There are many outliers and ones that don’t follow any norms. As long as you’re a proven professional with a keen desire to work for a family office, you will get that job – with a little bit of luck.

To contact the job seeker quoted in this article click here…

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