Jon Gray still remembers what it was like when he was hired as an entry-level analyst at a seven-year-old private-equity shop in New York City in 1992.
“It was a tiny place … I think there were 80 or 90 people,” Gray said of Blackstone, a firm that would go on to become the world’s largest alternative investment manager and, during Gray’s time as head of global real estate, its largest property owner.
Fresh out of the University of Pennsylvania, Gray was interviewed by the Blackstone cofounders Stephen Schwarzman and Pete Peterson themselves. He couldn’t have predicted that he would eventually be named Blackstone’s president and chief operating officer in 2018, becoming one of the most powerful executives on Wall Street.
“For me, a kid from suburban Chicago, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this seems really exciting.’ And it was obviously terrifying being interviewed,” he recalled. “And by the way, starting was terrifying. I remember being so nervous having my first job here.”
Granted, private-equity firms’ associate hiring is looking a little different than in recent years. Recruiters first delayed the kickoff of the ultra-competitive process in the fall of 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the traditional on-cycle associate recruiting process likely won’t start until late summer or early fall 2021, Insider previously reported.
In October of 2020, we spoke with Gray, headhunters who recruit for the firm, and Blackstone’s global head of human resources to learn what it takes to stand out. From how to ace interviews to deals you need to be familiar with, here’s what they told us.
In between jobs, I’ve chased magic swords. A friend of mine traveled through Vietnam and Thailand. Another spent time taking care of her family and one enjoyed the summer doing nothing at all.
From a human perspective, a gap in your résumé is obviously a good thing – you’ve spent that time having pizza for breakfast, entertaining clever thoughts, learning Spanish vocabulary, or devouring all seven Harry Potter books.
Gaps in your résumé mean freedom and freedom takes courage.
I’m in my mid-30s now, but from 1992 to 2008 when I was preparing for working life, I feared the résumé gap. Career advisors taught us to see them as the death knell to our careers.
“People will ask about it,” we were warned. “And what are you going to say?”
Having come from a non-academic family, I certainly wouldn’t have dared to leave any gaps in my résumé before my first job in a local newsroom.
The fear of plunging myself into “economic ruin” would’ve plagued me and I would’ve been afraid of how I’d justify myself in job interviews – and whether I’d even be able to respond to the dreaded question.
But now, my advice to anyone with a résumé gap would be to answer boldly.
I dropped out of a university degree and spent my days playing computer games until I finally got a place on a different program. Although that might not seem like a good use of my time, it taught me a very important lesson – if something doesn’t work for me, I have to change it.
At that point, it was my degree, and later on, it was a company I was working for. Both times, it’s been worth it because I’ve been able to better evaluate my situation and think about my skills and what I really want. My life has improved as a result and I’ve become a better worker.
“I don’t have any gaps on my résumé,” one of my acquaintances wrote to me once. “And I regret it.”
The people I know who do have those gaps have told me they took the time off to recover from mental health issues. Many of them decided they wanted to work for themselves during their breaks, and a lot of them have made it happen.
What people learn during their time off from their careers gives them the freedom to think differently and maybe even better. Admitting that is tough because it goes against our ideas about the “ideal worker.”
That’s precisely the problem. What society demands of professionals today isn’t sustainable anymore, or even relevant. If you do your job well only when it works for you, then you are one thing above all else: replaceable.
People do lots of things in their jobs. They develop ideas, help people, solve problems, manage the chaos behind the scenes at large institutions, tackle climate change, teach, calculate, heal, and program.
We’re not always equally good at those things and gaps tend to help us improve our performance. We need to remember life isn’t a machine and people aren’t cogs – life is complex.
If we don’t incorporate that into our lifestyles and into our work, then ultimately there won’t be anyone left who can develop the ideas to accommodate our complex lives.
However, gaps are scary. One of my friends is currently looking for a job but she’s scared to spread the word through her networks, whether professional or personal. I think that’s a fatal error.
If we all had the courage to leave gaps in our résumés and if recruiters approached gaps with curiosity rather than apprehension, the world of work would radically change.
Even taking parental leave is considered a “gap” in your résumé – a career inhibitor or something you shouldn’t allow yourself.
The truth is that work experience rarely makes us discover anything about life. We only get that through life experiences.
That’s why I think recruiters should be more concerned when someone comes into an interview without a gap in their résumé.