How to land an Associate job in VC
Associate jobs in venture capital are rare. I was fortunate enough to land one of these roles 8 years ago and learned a ton by starting out on this path.
Around this time of year, I receive a couple emails each week asking for advice on breaking into VC. Here’s some boilerplate guidance to get you started on your search.
Do you even want this job?
VC is a peculiar beast. It shares little with product management, engineering, finance, or other previous jobs you may be coming from.
Investigative journalism is more similar to VC than these other professions. You develop a nose for something interesting and unknown. You chase down a lead, putting your foot in the door when it’s often not welcome. You scrounge around for data to inform your thesis. You compile your analysis and have conviction to publish (or in this case, invest).
Investigative journalism requires resourcefulness, rigorous analysis, and a strong sense of purpose. It also requires a thick skin. You will be told by more “experienced” people that you’re wrong, or that you’re wasting your time. It will take years to develop your “gut” instincts, so you need lots of patience in the meantime. And you’ll make plenty of mistakes. The payoff is huge and well worth the journey, but the journey itself can be arduous.
Is that the kind of job you want? Would you prefer it over working with your product team, writing code, or building and presenting financial models? If so, then you might enjoy being an Associate.
Find your superpower.
No single job adequately prepares you for VC. The best VCs do not share a single background. While the industry is less diverse than it should be, diversity seems to be increasing. Our belief is that diverse firms will outperform over time.
Instead of focusing on past job skills or education, focus on your “superpower.” It will likely fall into one of these three dimensions:
- Access to a proprietary network for deal flow,
- Unusually deep understanding of a trend or sector, or
- Some ineffable reason why entrepreneurs enjoy spending time with you.
Ideally, you have more than one of these superpowers, but even one will do if it’s sufficiently strong.
For example, you may have been an early employee at a successful company and know all the engineers who will likely do their own startup. Or, you may have studied and blogged about a particular sector for years and have deep insight into future trends. Or, you may be excellent at throwing dinner parties that founders want to attend.
Whatever your superpower is, figure it out and position yourself around it.
Build a firm list. Get intro’s from portfolio company CEO’s.
Lists of top VC firms are not hard to come by. CBInsights did one last year. Only 19 firms have more than one partner listed. While the list is certainly not definitive, it illustrates that there are few top firms, and hence fewer opportunities for you to find good fit. You should prioritize those firms where your superpower uniquely fills in a hole on their team, or in the sectors they’ve invested in.
Once you have your list, you should request intro’s from founders who have received investment from those firms. Getting the intro is an acid test for your ability to network your way to founders. Plus, an introduction request from a portfolio company CEO is never ignored.
Remember: your only goal at this point is to get the meeting. You don’t need to “close the deal” just yet.
A few other tips here:
- Reach out to senior partners. They will have more visibility into the hiring needs of the firm.
- Reach out to partners who share something with you — an interest, an college or hometown, a publicly stated opinion, etc. Start with a common ground to build rapport.
- Deeply research the portfolio. Have strong opinions about deals the firm has done, both positive and negative.
- Don’t worry if the firm has an open rec or not. If they don’t have one now, they may in the near future.
Create a sense of urgency.
Nothing happens without a sense of urgency on both sides of the table. For that reason, you should pursue several firms simultaneously. The number doesn’t scale much beyond 3–4 firms. Interviewing for an Associate job requires tons of preparation, offline work, and lots of meetings. It’s hard to parallel process more than a handful.
That means you have to winnow the herd in the beginning. Much of that will happen naturally. Some firms won’t like you; others won’t be hiring. That’s ok as long as you get down to 3–4 you can actively engage with.
In addition, keep the firms you’re speaking with on pace with one and other. If one breaks out naturally, that’s fine, but do your best to accelerate your process with the others. You can learn a lot about the firm’s conviction on deals by studying how fast they move on great people.
Lastly, pick a date by which you will decide. Without a decision point, there is no urgency, and things will drag on indefinitely until someone loses interest.
Start early; stay persistent.
I know several VCs who were in the market, often unofficially, for years before landing their jobs. Be patient. Develop relationships with a couple firms by showing them deals. “Come bearing gifts” to get their attention. The ultimate currency of the VC industry is deal flow, so nothing represents you better than bringing fresh deals to the table.
Persistence pays off. Those relationships can start years before you’re actively looking, and sooner or later there may be a match. Ours is not an industry with predictable recruiting cycles, so you must set yourself up for serendipity to occur.
Hopefully, this sets you along your way thinking about the Associate job search. If you’re serious about it and have further questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com, and I’ll do my best to help.
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