A few years ago I wrote a post on how to get a job in venture capital. It was lucky enough to get broad distribution and remains my most viewed and linked to post. I’ve had a number of questions about it over the years and have tried to respond to people who wrote in to ask my opinion about their VC job search. One of the most common questions I’ve received runs something like: “I get it – finding a venture job is hard. I still really want to try and I have a 5+ year outlook on this. What should I do during that time to work towards my goal of landing a venture job?”
Of course the real answer depends a lot on the individual asking – where they are in their career and life, where they live, what their educational and work background is, etc. That said, let me try to provide a few ideas.
Go to business school. As much as it pains me to say it the fact is that it’s a lot easier to get a job in venture capital if you have a degree from a top business school (pains me not because I don’t have many VC friends who attended such schools, but because I have many that have not, and I don’t personally feel not having a degree from Harvard should be such a barrier to obtaining a venture job). While there are a lot of reasons to go to all sorts of different business schools and while many very successful venture capitalists have either never been to b-school or didn’t attend a top 10 school – if you’re intent in attending school is to land a job in VC you are MUCH better off going to a top school. MUCH. I know of several firms that simply won’t even consider associate candidates that haven’t attended a very short list of top chools (Harvard, Stanford and a few others). In fact, going to a non-top 10 business school could actually hurt your chances vs. not going at all. Not fair, I know (and I didn’t attend b-school at all, so who am I to even suggest this) but true.
Work for a start-up. This may seem obvious, but almost no matter what your background if you’re trying to build a resume to land in VC, having start-up experience is extremely helpful (preferably from a start-up that ends up well). As a practical matter, it’s helpful to have this experience as a VC – it will give you insight on what works and what doesn’t in the start-up world; will test whether you really like start-up environment and potentially expose you to venture finance and other areas of company formation and growth that will serve as a helpful backdrop to your venture career. In addition, if your company has institutional investors, you will hopefully get the opportunity to spend some time with your would-be peers which may help jump-start your eventual search (make that happen – its one of the key reasons you took the job working for a start-up in the first place!).
Start a company of your own. If you can’t find a start-up you’re excited enough about to join, why not start one of your own? Many successful venture capitalists have started their own companies. Its a great way to gain operating experience, test out your technology ideas and, of course, meet venture capitalists.
If you’re early in your career (and/or have the inclination), work for a bank or consulting firm. Like going to a top business school, having banking or consulting on your resume is an indicator to potential venture employers that you’re smart, aggressive, willing to work hard and well trained. Having been a banker myself at the start of my career I’m not entirely sure these adjectives always apply, but there is clearly a bias in the world of finance towards these types of jobs as training grounds. It will also bring you into contact with people who are likely to have networks that include venture capitalists as well as potentially up your chances of getting into a top school (see the first point above). This is especially true if you’re thinking of later stage venture or private equity who – much more so than early stage venture – tend to look kindly on the training one gets in these jobs.
Put yourself out there. Union Square Ventures famously asks potential applicants not to send in a traditional resume, but instead to point to the applicant’s various activities around the web (their blog, articles they’ve authored, companies they are helping out with, etc). While this may be an extreme example of a firm valuing the online presence of potential colleagues (and one that has worked very well for the firm), having a visible profile online that you can reference and point to will be helpful in many a VC job search (especially so if the firms you are seeking employment from invest in these areas, as USV does). Your online activity can and should extend to reading and sometimes (thoughtfully) commenting on the blogs of the now vast list of VCs that write a blog. These sorts of interactions are just one way to start to engage in a conversation with people in the industry you might one day work with.