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Life in the Boutique - Part II

A conversation with Ken Marlin, managing partner of Marlin & Associates: "There's always an element that's totally out of the control of the person being interviewed, which is this: We're trying to figure out if he'll fit in."

Ken Marlin is founder and manager partner of Marlin & Associates, a boutique advisory and consulting firm focused on middle-market companies in technology, information, media and business services. Previously, he'd spent ten years as an executive at Dun & Bradstreet, overseeing a number of information and technology products and strategic acquisitions. He left D&B to head the U.S. operations of Telekurs, which he eventually took over as a privately backed company. When Bridge Information Systems acquired the firm in 1997, he stayed on as executive vice president. He then joined the private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson to lead its Business Information and Internet practice. He started Marlin & Associates in 2002.

In this, the second of two parts, Marlin talks with eFinancialCareers about his approach to interviews and how he sizes up candidates.

You touched on interviews, but I'd like to ask you specifically: When somebody comes in, what do you look for? How are you sizing that person up?

You do size them up, and you size them up from the beginning. You expect them to dress like they're coming for an interview. Even though I'm sitting here not wearing a tie, and I typically don't wear a tie, we do wind up having to go to clients, and dress the part, and we expect a guy to come in dressed the part so he can show you that he can.

We expect people to have done some degree of homework, to have at least been through the Web site and understand who we are and what we do, and not ask dumb questions, which could have been answered from the Web site.

In most cases, before we ever interview somebody we see their resume. So we already know they went to school, they graduated, they told us they have quant skills and the like. We are often trying to understand how they are at multitasking, how they are at communicating in English. We have asked people if they've done anything in writing that they're proud of. I don't care what it is, can I see a copy of it? And a lot of times, we're trying to get a sense of personality and maturity.

That's a soft answer. You know, how do you evaluate intelligence and maturity? You've got to make an attempt to evaluate it.

Well, it's very subjective topic.

There's always an element that's totally out of the control of the person being interviewed, which is this: We're trying to figure out if he'll fit in. It's a relatively small group of people here. We're here and we're in Washington, D.C., but still it's a relatively small group and people have to fit. Having said that, most people will fit. We're easy-going and it's a rarity that somebody says this guy wouldn't fit - guy or a girl.

Do you find most people come in prepared, or do you have people who at some point in the process show you that they just haven't sweated the details?

I would say that most people are prepared, but I'm always surprised when we get someone who just clearly isn't, who doesn't know what we do, hasn't looked at the Web site, etc. And I'll say that if you're writing me a letter or sending me an e-mail and you spell my name wrong, I throw it away. I don't get any further than that. If you aren't diligent enough to figure out how to spell my name, I don't want you. I'd say to people, check it.

Do you have any general advice for somebody who wants to get into a boutique? Your kind of firm?

It's certainly easiest to get into firms like ours when you're young and you come in right out of college or right out of an MBA program, or a year or two out of college or a year or two out of an MBA program. And then grow with the firm. In part, that's because so many of these firms have developed their own cultures. I've periodically had people come to me looking for a job that have had a successful career in some other investment bank, and I think they've got the right skill-set and they've got the right attitude, but they want me to guarantee they'll make $300,000 a year. And I say, "No we're not going to do that. Come in and be entrepreneurial like the rest of us, and if we don't make any money then you're not making any money." And they go, "Oh, I don't want to do that." It's hard on those guys.

My last question is basically, is there anything else I should have asked you?

No. I would say that interviews should always have some element of working both ways, and I do think particularly when you're talking about a boutique investment bank, they probably all have some degree of personality. And you should make sure you look around at people and listen to them and talk to them and make sure your personality fits with the firm. If it doesn't, it's unlikely to be a marriage made in heaven. It's unlikely to last. Because in all likelihood you're not going to change and the firm's not going to change.

Thanks very much for all of your time today.

You're welcome.

AUTHORMark Feffer Insider Comment

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