Coffee Chat: How did you get a job at a VC firm?

About this Series: There’s a list of questions that I get asked a lot about my career and my job, so I’ve decided to turn these into a short series of blog posts that I can use for reference in the future. With each of these, I’m going to pretend like you took me out for a cup of coffee and asked me this question. So I’m going to write for exactly as long as it takes me to finish one cup of coffee. Ready? Here we go.

How did you get a job at a VC firm?

The short answer is that I wasn’t looking for one. In the four years leading up to starting out at Union Square Ventures, I worked in various roles in sales and marketing for one of USV’s portfolio companies, Stack Overflow.

Along the way, I hit a wall (okay…multiple walls) anytime I was asked to take on a new project or step into a role that I’d never held before. Often times, there was no one else in the room who’d “been there, done that” before. And so I started to ask for help. Thankfully, USV hosts regular summits — all-day events that bring together people of similar functional areas from across their portfolio — and so I started to attend these to learn. Along the way, I got to know Brittany Laughlin, the GM of the Network at the time, and she connected me with people who taught me a lot of different skills. At one point, about four years into my role at USV, I sat alone with Brittany at our Diversity & Inclusion Summit at USV, and I finally asked her a question I’d be wondering for a long time: “How did you get your job?” As it turns out, timing is everything, and that question catalyzed an opportunity for me to eventually take over in her place.

In my role today, as General Manager of the USV Network, I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to first work for one of our portfolio companies for so long. It’s given me a lot of empathy for the startup experience, which has helped me in both how we engage with our companies and design new programming to support our network members.

Okay, erm…I guess what I meant, is, “How should *I* get a job in VC?”

If your reaction to reading that first answer was, “Well, shit! That’s so specific! How am I ever supposed to do that exact thing to get a job at a VC firm?!” my answer to you is, “Yes, exactly. This is why this line of questioning is so difficult for me to go down with strangers.”

I’ve never met a person in VC who entered the field in the same way. Here are just some of the “ways to get a job in VC” that I’ve encountered (and I’m sure there are many more):

  • Work for a venture-backed startup
  • Send a cold email to the right person at the right time
  • Show up at a networking event and meet someone great
  • Write a killer blog post that gets picked up and gets you inbound interest
  • Network your way through your grad school circles
  • Track down everyone with a similar role in a certain geography, take them out for coffee, and check in every 3 months about potential jobs
  • Know somebody who works in VC
  • Apply cold through a routine process
  • Have a mentor in your life make a direct intro to a VC
  • Shut down a failed startup, then move to the investor side

Each of these options are tied directly to people I know who got jobs in the venture capital industry. As you can tell, there’s no single entry point.

Finally, the last (important) caveat that I’ll add to this question is — I took a job on the platform and community side of VC. This advice might not matter at all to somebody who’s looking to enter through a more finance or investing focused side.

Ugh. You are so not helpful. I should have asked someone else this question.

Probably. But now that you bring it up, you’re right. A lot of really smart people have written about how to get jobs in VC or shared stories about how they got their start. Here are a few examples that might help:

If there’s one takeaway from these stories, it’s that very few people seem to have known from an early time in their career that they wanted to work in the venture capital industry. More often than not, the story you see is, “This other thing happened [in my career / in my life / with my family / in the economy / in a certain industry sector], and it motivated me to seek out a way to effect change in that area.”

This is basically the same answer you’ll get when you ask people why they decided to be doctors, or lawyers, or writers, or biologists.

My only request is that, before you go down the rabbit-hole of, “How do I get there? Help me find a job!” I’d ask that you take a beat and ask yourself, “Why do I think I want this, anyway? What exactly am I striving for?”

:-o … So, why did you want this job, anyway?

That’s a great question! As I’ve shared before, I take job searches very seriously and like to prioritize what I want and don’t want before stepping into anything new.

Now that I’ve had multiple jobs in multiple industries (consulting, publishing, technology), I’ve noticed a few commonalities among the way. One is that I prefer job functions where I can work on lots of different projects simultaneously. Another is that, if I’m not “bought in” to whatever it is we’re making or selling, I’m basically worthless to that organization. A third thing I’ve learned is that I like having a lot of autonomy in my job to make decisions and explore things on my own. And fourth — I wanted to be able to hold a role that held enough weight to it that I’d be able and encouraged to spend time on “social impact” initiatives, whether in my job directly or in my spare time.

All of these things took me down many, many different possible directions for the next step in my career. I wasn’t attracted to a job at Union Square Ventures because I was dead-set on working at a venture capital firm. I wanted to work here because I wanted to work with this group of people on this particular set of problems at this moment in time. It’s highly unlikely that I’d be working for any other VC firm right now. I wasn’t looking at any others in my job search.

And by the way, I’ve noticed that, like any competitive set of companies in any industry, no two VC firms are exactly the same. If you were to send your resume to 30 different firms and inquire about job openings, you’d likely end up with 30 different jobs in 30 completely different contexts. It’s unlikely that you’d be equally happy working at any one of those places. So take the time to really consider what matters to you, why you want to enter this field, and what sort of team, portfolio, and initiatives you’d be excited to work on.

With that, I’m running out of coffee so…

Wait! One last question! Can I email you my resume to consider for jobs at USV?

….

….

No.

At USV, we only hire new analysts every two years (and we’re currently one year into our most recent cycle). So check back in another year (on our blog — please don’t email me.)

But — if you are excited about the idea of working at a startup to get some operating experience before jumping to the VC side, why don’t you join our USV Talent Network? We have 1300+ job openings across our portfolio companies right now, and they’d be lucky to have someone like you.


Originally published at Dry Erase.