9 Keys to Successfully Break Into VC

By Lindsey Nicholson, MBA Career Advisor

Are you excited about VC and want to recruit, but not sure where to get started? VC is a small and competitive industry, and recruiting can be challenging, even for the most qualified candidates. Unlike some other career paths that have a clear route and structure, VC can feel like a vine-ridden jungle, with no clear direction. Recruiting in VC is highly self-driven, requires extensive networking, and takes grit and perseverance.

Whether you are just starting your VC job search, or you have been searching for a while and feel like you’re not getting traction, the recommendations below will help you move forward or adjust course in the right direction! 

  1. Build a Strong Understanding of the Industry: Before you start thinking about your job search, start learning about the venture capital industry. Learn about VC investments, the structure of VC firms, what VCs do, the skills they use, and the terminology of the industry. Reading blog posts, listening to podcasts, signing up for newsletters, and talking with people who know/understand the space are a few great ways to do this. This foundational understanding is key to being able to do Step 2 well. Resources: How Venture Capitalists Make Decisions | Introducing the VC Business | VC Glossary of Terms
  1. Clarify Your Why: Once you learn more about VC, it is essential to clarify your why. Why do you want to pursue a career in VC? What specifically about the industry excites you? What kind of firm do you want to be at (what stage, sector, etc), and what kind of role do you want? Running a VC job search requires much more specificity than simply, “I want to work in VC.” Given that it is such a competitive industry, it’s particularly important to be able to communicate to others in the industry why you are excited about VC and how your unique background and experience align, so you need to identify where and how you can best contribute. Resources: Questions to Ask Yourself 
  1. Identify Your Targets: Once you clarify why you are interested in VC, start building a list of the companies and VCs you want to connect with. Be strategic (don’t reach out to any and every VC around) but also be open-minded. Go beyond the big names and look for firms with an investment thesis that you believe in and that aligns with your background, experience, and interests. Before reaching out, make sure they are a potential fit: does what you want align with the firm’s work? Resources: PitchBook | VC Mapping 
  1. Build Relationships: Building relationships in VC is the number one thing you can do to help your job search! It is a highly relationship-driven industry, and the relationships that you build will both help you in your search and in your career as a venture capitalist. Be prepared for every conversation: do your research on the firm, their investment thesis/portfolio, and whom you are talking with. Treat every conversation like an interview; you never know when an opportunity will arise from a conversation, and the company is evaluating your potential candidacy even in less formal conversations. Add value whenever you can,and stay in touch/top of mind. Track who you networked with and when using Airtable, a Google Doc, etc. Students often underestimate how long it can take to build a relationship with a VC through networking, and underestimate how many conversations they may need to have. Resources: The Art of Networking in VC
  1. Connect with Founders: A significant part of what VC Associates do is source investments, so building your network of founders and connecting with startups is essential to success in VC. If you aren’t already immersed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, now is the time to start. Engage with the rich entrepreneurial community at MIT and beyond; attend conferences and events for startups; find and connect with seed-stage companies that excite you. Plus, a great way to add value as you network with VCs is to send them a startup you’ve discovered that you think would be a great fit for their firm. Resources: PitchBook | Crunchbase
  1. Identify Your Gaps/Refine Your Skills: As you start talking to people in the industry and learning more about the core experiences and competencies VCs need, start thinking about any gaps you may have on your resume. In addition to industry knowledge, VCs need associates who can analyze market trends, financial statements, and business models. Strong quantitative skills including financial modeling are important, as well as the ability to conduct due diligence on potential investments and assess the viability of startups. Having experience in the startup ecosystem, either as a founder or operator, is also important. In addition to hard skills, soft skills are key; to be successful, venture capitalists need excellent networking and communications skills, and an ability to handle ambiguity. Be honest with yourself and ask, where are my gaps and where do I need to build my skill set? Aside from my skills, am I personally cut out for the VC space? Identify key areas for growth and map out how you will fill these gaps in the coming months/year. Tip: Paste your work experience from your resume into Copilot and ask it to identify any gaps on your resume for a VC role.
  1. Build Industry Expertise/Have an Opinion: Often students entering the VC industry are eager to be a generalist investor. While a deep and open curiosity will benefit your VC career, being too broad in your approach may not benefit your job search. Seasoned VCs typically advise those entering the industry to pick a sector and specialize.1 What areas excite you? What is your unique background and what unique industry knowledge do you already bring? Develop an opinion and have a perspective on what’s happening in the startup ecosystem within a particular sector. This will make you memorable as you connect with others in the industry, give you something to talk about in interviews and set you up for success as you start your VC career.
  1. Gain Hands-on Experience: The best way to set yourself up for success in VC is to gain experience in VC. VCs usually hire people who have had previous experience in the industry and have developed pattern recognition to identify promising startups. There are an increasing number of part-time fellowships and programs for students to learn and gain hands-on experience in the industry. These can be paid or unpaid and can range in time commitment and responsibilities. Before diving in, make sure you do your research and talk to alumni of the program to get a sense of what you’ll be learning/doing. Resource: List of VC Fellowships
  1. Start Acting Like a VC: Lastly, a common piece of advice we hear is to “act like a VC before you are a VC”. Do the industry research, conduct market analysis, identify startups that excite you, and bring VCs deals that match with their investment thesis. Resource: How to Get Hired as a Venture Associate

VC is a competitive industry and VC is not a safe or guaranteed route (we always recommend having a Plan B in your back pocket). It takes patience, grit, determination, and an ability to navigate ambiguity. These characteristics of the job search itself also reflect the life of a venture capitalist, and if you find yourself burning out through the search itself, reflect on whether it’s the right career path for you. However, for those who are up for the challenge, we hope this guidance helps you trod the unbeaten path.

1 Three Pieces of Advice to New Investors | by Jeremy Liew | Lightspeed Venture Partners | Medium

By MIT Sloan CDO