According to insiders, the most challenging part of getting a job at a VC firm is actually getting a face-to-face meeting. While VCs have admittedly been busy these past few weeks navigating, you know, issues such as the chaos created by multiple bank failures, getting their attention is an important way to let them know you would be a great addition to any team.
To secure an interview at a top firm, it’s important to show not only interest, but to give the hiring manager confidence you can already do the job. While angel investing is going to be out of reach for many applicants, crowdfunding might be a good way to prove you have some kind of skin in the game, even if it’s a few small bets, according to Eleanor Kaye, who runs a next-generation investor training center in London called Newton Venture Program. Sweat equity is another option: A prospective investor can offer services like marketing or web development to an early-stage company in exchange for a small equity stake in the business.
Making your application stand out is easier said than done. Yet showing how your specific skills apply to the firm is one way to make yourself seem indispensable. Emergence Capital’s Lotti Siniscalco suggests sending leads to an investor, or developing a thesis on a space, preparing a couple of slides on it, and sending those slides as marketing materials to potential VCs. Contemplate what you can bring to the table, then research the backgrounds of existing team members at a fund and see if they are missing any specific skills—such as more technical experience, Siniscalco says.
Another source of knowledge to draw from is analysis and news about the larger VC space. “You should be talking to founders; you should be following trends; you should be reading blog posts, listening to podcasts about what’s happening; you should know recent unicorns, things like that,” explains Nicole DeTommaso, a senior associate at New York–based Harlem Capital. “That will show you’re really interested in the role [and] you have a passion for it. You’re doing it before you even are getting paid to do it,” she argues. “To the extent that you can prove that in any application, that’s really important.”
Another way to show you have a great handle on the industry is to keep up with the happenings of the buzzy startups VCs are watching. Redpoint Venture’s Meera Clark, who started out in banking before making the move into VC, says that when she was trying to learn more about venture and prepping for an interview, she started a list on her phone of interesting companies she heard about and a one-liner about what they did. That helped with two things: “One, I had names to go back to; two, I had some data to analyze in terms of, what are the trends? Where’s my nose taking me?” She suggests doing that “passive work” on a weekly basis to get up to speed. You can also read Fortune’s reporting of the top startups to watch this year in the health tech and cybersecurity sectors that were nominated by VCs.
If the initial application process only consists of uploading a resume, following up to the VC firm’s general email to offer more specific insights—be it highlighting portfolio companies that you like that the firm recently invested in, sharing your own thesis, or commenting on something the firm has written or put out publicly—can help you stand out from other applicants. If “you can just follow up with one thing above what the application asks, you will get on a VC’s radar,” DeTommaso says.
In her own application process, DeTommaso created a presentation showing how she’d fit into the firm and what she’d bring to the role.
While face-to-face introductions can be the hard to secure, they are also the most effective. Don’t forget the importance of founder referrals, as those relationships provide “a much more differentiated network” than simply knowing investors, says Kathryn Weinmann, a vice president at Norwest Venture Partners, who started as a summer intern in 2017.
And, while warm intros might have a higher success rate at many firms, if you want to work somewhere like Bain Capital Ventures, you can always try a cold reach-out. Leslie Crowe, a partner who heads up the people functions at Bain Capital Ventures, says that even if Bain isn’t hiring at that moment, the firm has a database of people it keeps “tabs” on who express interest. She also suggests tapping into your college alumni network if you don’t have a direct connection to the VC space.
If you want to learn more about how to nail the interview process and negotiate your salary at a VC firm, read the full guide here.