To get the job you always wanted!
Although I am fairly new to VC, I thought it would be interesting to shed some light on how I got the job that I am really happy with today. And although there is a lot of material to read on this specific topic (I will also post some links at the end of this small thought-gathering of mine), I deeply believe the more real life examples, the merrier for aspiring VCs!
In the end, I think that this situation today can be addressed as the interplay of various decisions from the past 7 years and it all boils down to a few very important topics that I would like to touch in this article:
1) Personal interests
A lot of people that I have met throughout my educational path all told me the same thing:
“Don’t choose your place of work according to what you might earn per month or year. Do what you love and where you are good at and money will eventually follow.”
I am certainly not a big fan of such wisdom as this mostly comes from people that are already highly successful. However, up until now I have to say that I tend to agree with this advice. Not because I earn a lot of money — after all, being an analyst offers other perks than large monetary incentives — but because right now I experience that life simply is easier if you like your field of work. You seem to not need a work/life-balance as you do what you like and it does not feel like working. Sounds simple, right? I know what many of you think: “I don’t have one clear passion.” “I am a little lost right now.” “Maybe I won’t be as good in the job as I need to be in order to be successful.”
What’s up with all the negativity and disorientation? I am fairly sure that >90% of successful human beings today did not know after high school or college what their true passion was. Of course there are 10% that always knew — congrats to them! But the other 90% simply grew into something and began to love it and to be good at it!
But in order to do so, you have to be able to find your passion and for this you simply have to try different things and to engage in new topics!
Looking back at 8+ internships before and during university, it took me quite some time to learn what I would like to do with my life going forward. But in the end, I was able to narrow it down. During these internships, I was so lucky as to dive into startups and to work at both an Internet incubator as well as a private equity firm that focusses on post-Series-B tech companies. Those two internships as well as my first “real” job at a startup right after university helped me tremendously in my job-hunt for a VC-gig. Not only because I know now what I would like to do with my life but also because I am able to discuss certain firms that I was dealing with back then. Secondly, I have gained some operational experience during my brief startup-phase and know what it feels like to take responsibility for 10+ people. And last but not least, I was able to deep dive into various tech-related topics over the last years and this knowledge helped me a lot as well because discussing about trends and business models during the lengthy application processes would otherwise not have been possible.
TL;DR: Dare doing stuff that makes you uncomfortable and by that, learn what you are interested in. Focus on these topics and try to get better and better!
2) Endurance and going the extra mile
Getting a job in VC is hard. Just think about the possible funnel everyone is facing: 1) There aren’t too many VCs to begin with. If you count in adjacent fields, such as angel funds, incubators and accelerators you have a higher number but still.. 2) Most of these funds do not hire junior people, e.g. analysts or associates. My profile only fit for an analyst role — that made it even harder as usually there are no analysts in VC. From my understanding, this role only evolved in the last few years, inspired by some US funds that hire analysts for cold-calling purposes only. 3) Those funds that actually hire analysts mostly want applicants with deep technical background. Having studied management in both bachelor and master, this one really bummed me out. 4) Those funds that actually hire analysts with management background simply have to have vacancies. As easy as that. 5) For those few spots many, many, many aspiring graduates and young professionals compete with each other. Everybody is interested in tech. Everybody has stellar grades. How can one stand out and attract the interest of the fund one is applying to?
The answer is simple and yet complex. You have to be able to distinguish yourself from one another. And if everyone has a great CV and background you must look for different angles. Portray yourself as an interesting and engaged personality both before and during your interviews! Build up a digital presence and engage in blog posts, twitter discussions and other media. Try to forget the end goal of getting a job and try seeing the way there as the goal. I know this sounds weird but it actually helped me and I have learned a lot by just reading about topics and discussing them over the www.
Having built up some sort of contacts and a presence even before applying also helps with the next point I want to stress: Try to never apply cold for a VC job! This may sound trivial but in order to get into VC you should think like one. In this branch almost everything is connected to networking to some extent. Therefore, most VCs would appreciate you getting a warm intro because it shows already that you have what it takes and you know about industry mechanisms. In my case, I had a warm intro within 70% of my applications. For the other 30% I had tried but all possible connections told me that it “would be a stretch”. In the end, I did not get one reply from those 30% even though I used the associates’/ principals’ / partners’ direct email addresses.
If you then apply and get your first rejections, don’t worry. If it was easy, everybody would do it. The chance of actually getting the job is so small to begin with that you really have to see the job as a nice add-on but not something crucial. The way getting there and the stuff you learn, the people you meet during the process — those things should matter and help you develop.
In case you get invited to interviews — great! You have possibly just taken the biggest hurdle. Now it comes down to a few points: a) Are you able to present yourself adequately during the interviews, b) Are you familiar enough with the topics that matter, c) Do people at those funds like you and want to work with you. For a) I would simply say be yourself and do not try to fit in. Even if you played a role during the interviews and a fund hires you, in the end you probably won’t be happy there and won’t fit in. b) can be learned. The only advice I can give you is read, read, read!
I especially found these sources to be helpful to get a feel for the industry:
Before the interviews, make sure you know your stuff, in particular:
Know your CV and how it connects to tech startups, entrepreneurship and venture capital in specific. Ask yourself over and over again: How does your CV portray your will and yearlong planning to get into startup financing? And be able to discuss every point on your résumé inside out, without looking at it. Besides personal stuff, you should know what is going on in the market right now and what kind of topics will be hot in the next 5–10 years. You should pick 1–2 sectors you really like and dig deeper. What kind of sub-sectors are there? Which companies are hot right now? What does their current “state of tech” look like? You should know the fund’s portfolio companies and what they do. You should pick 2–3 of those that interest you and be ready to discuss why they interest you, and know how a possible SWOT-analysis could look like. You should know the fund’s history, its investment principles, and recent deals. You should prepare at least 2–3 companies in which you would like to invest if you had the money.
Apart from this, one thing I was asked in almost every interview was:
“What do you think an analyst job here entails? What would you be doing?”.
In my opinion, it is absolutely critical to think about this before going into any interview. To my surprise, I often heard that future analysts weren’t sure of their line of work. Many seem to have thought they will be out constantly having drinks and meals with important LPs and founders. This is just wrong. You will be the analyst — most possibly the youngest one in the fund but definitely the least senior one. In many cases you will do the groundwork. You will be the gatekeeper for founders and business plans. You will dig deep into technologies, create landscapes, do research, screen business plans and be at the disposal of everyone else. Be thankful for that! You get exposure like no one else and you still get to see all the deals that have happened, are happening and will happen in the near future. I can’t even explain how great this kind of exposure is in terms of what you can learn in a very brief timespan. Imagine, founders actually want to talk to you and want to share their vision. You will be facing a variety of different business models and will get a feel of what can be successful and is investment-worthy and what isn’t. Other people would kill for this kind of chance!
c) Is very subjective. Most VCs are pretty small shops and after smarts, I believe, personal fit is the most important hiring criteria. Again, try to be yourself and although you might be nervous. Try to convey positivity, openness, curiosity and show them that they would be happy having you represent their firm in the upcoming years.
After all, try to be remembered in a positive way. It’s the little things that can make a difference after all. The same of course goes for the VC. Try to evaluate whether those are people that share the same values and with whom you can see yourself working. At e.ventures for example, I spoke with everyone from the European investment team and just loved the atmosphere. Everybody seemed very humble and genuinely interested in me as a person and this I had barely seen during interviews at other firms.
3) Steady comparison
A last but yet very important topic in my opinion: Don’t ever underestimate your skills & chances. One often tends to question the own abilities and overestimate the skills of others. This actually hampers you in getting the job you always wanted as you will be less self-confident and focused during preparation and during the interviews. Free yourself from always looking to the left and right and from an unhealthy steady comparison with others. It is definitely easier said than done but once I internalized this, many things got much smoother.
Last but not least, I want to provide some links that I found to be very helpful back when I was applying and informing myself. Of course there are many, many more but those in my opinion picture the essence of what you need to know:
rob go (Nextview) on the real downsides of VC:
Rob Moffat (Balderton) on how to get into VC:
Stephan von Perger (ex Wellington) on which companies to pitch during interviews:
And make sure to subscribe to Stephan’s newsletter with recent job openings:
There you have it. Getting a job in VC certainly is a very ambitious goal but it can be managed. Never forget that people have succeeded long before you and mostly, it all comes down to a combination of luck and how much effort you put into this.
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