by Cameron Cler | Cameron is a 2nd year MBA; she spent her summer internship at Underscore VC.
There are many great reasons to pursue VC as a summer internship in between the 1st and 2nd year of your MBA. For me, I had experience as both a founder and operator in growth and seed stage startups and wanted to see the other side of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. There isn’t one perfect background for breaking into VC. You could have deep experience in an industry, a functional area, or have been funded yourself.
The path to finding a VC internship is not traditional and often feels as if you are navigating the course alone. As most jobs are secured in the later months of second semester (April, May and even June), it may feel risky to wait and see if a role materializes. I compiled some learnings from my own journey and created a timeline that will hopefully help you stay the course and land your dream VC role.
Phase 1: Research & Outreach
November: Although many of your classmates are in the thick of recruiting for roles in consulting, banking and big tech, this is the time for you to start honing your interest areas and understanding what firms could be potential targets for your summer role. Using tools like PitchBook or speaking to classmates with VC experience will help you narrow your search based on criteria such as location, industry focus, firm size, fund size, thesis and more. This is a critical step that will save you time and energy as you begin to build relationships.
- Action: Create a list of 15-20 firms that fit your interest; note and prioritize some of the qualifying criteria for making the list.
December: As you’ve narrowed your focus and built out a list, begin to build your network with these firms. Look at the associates and principals at the target firms and see who in your network is connected with them. Ask for warm introductions and use your mit.edu email address to land introductions and informational calls. Even if these initial introductions don’t lead to a final offer, you will begin to build a network that you can call upon and collaborate with once you’ve landed a role.
- Action: Ask your network of colleagues and classmates for introductions to staff at your target firms. Utilize your mit.edu email address to send personalized emails. Tap into the MIT alumni network to establish first connections as well.
Phase 2: Build & Focus
January: There is no better time than IAP to take advantage of the cold weather and time off from school to advance your search. The most helpful work product in my search was a thesis I built on the ‘Future of Work’. I used my time over IAP to dig into a topic area I was passionate about that was aligned with the thesis areas of most of my target firms. This document became a tool to talk about my experience and investment strategy and was also a way to provide value to firms I was speaking to before they had interviewed me. If you want to go above and beyond, you can publish a blog referencing some of your findings. Having these materials on your LinkedIn or as part of a cold email outreach will give the readers more incentive to chat with you.
- Action: Reach out to a few of your target VC companies and ask if they have a thesis area they are trying to build out. Offer to do a project over IAP that you can present and share your insights on. These work products can lead to deeper conversations and sometimes, job offers.
February: At this point, some formal roles will start to pop up on job boards, LinkedIn, and through the CDO. This is a good opportunity to apply more broadly and get some reps on the VC interview process. Unlike consulting or PM, there is no formula for VC interviews and I found it helpful to have a few conversations and phone screens even if the role was not a perfect fit.
- Action: Track open positions and apply more broadly than your target list. Use your thesis as a tool to speak to firms and understand what types of questions you will need to prepare for in future interviews.
March: When Spring Break rolls around you will likely not have an offer – and that can be nerve-wracking. I promise you can enjoy your time off and still make progress on your job search. At this point, you will want to tap back into the network you have been nurturing and ask for referrals to the firms you are targeting. Through these referrals you will quickly learn if your target firms are hiring for the summer. Sometimes they are and haven’t advertised, and sometimes they are not. At this point you want to get information quickly so you can set up coffee chats and in-person meetings with the firms that are looking to hire.
- Action: Make time to be in the city you want to work in. Schedule in-person meetings to have conversations and solidify your interest in the firms you are visiting. If they had a previous Sloan intern, ask for referrals and understand ways you can set yourself apart in the conversations and interviews.
Phase 3: Define & Sign
April: The final stages of your search are nearing and you’ll likely be down the path with one firm, and perhaps feel as if you’re betting it all on one option. You’ll be finalizing interviews and it will be time for you to do your final research on areas such as compensation, team dynamics, manager relationship and role details. I recommend nailing down the structure of your internship as thoroughly as possible to get the most out of the opportunity. For me that meant understanding my role on the investment team, exploring what work I could get involved in with our portfolio companies, and identifying my personal goals for the 10 weeks.
- Action: Create 3 goals that you will accomplish over the summer, such as connect with 20 co-investors at other firms, write a thought leadership piece, bring 3 deals to investment committee.
May-June: Sign your offer! This is the exciting time where you finally know what you are doing for the summer and you can take your foot off the gas for a few weeks and celebrate all the work you have done to get here. Before your job starts, it is a great time to meet with your coworkers informally, sit in on a few meetings (if possible), and solidify you goals. Ten weeks goes by very quickly and the more upfront preparation you do, the more you’ll get out of your internship.
This might be tough for some that are more risk averse, and would prefer to have an internship locked up early but you only get one business school internship so why not shoot for the moon. And if all else fails, work with the VC network you have built to find an equally amazing internship at one of their portfolio companies. You can continue to build your VC network while providing valuable operator skills to one of their investments.
If you’d like to connect, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cameron Cler is a 2nd year MBA; she spent her summer internship at Underscore VC.