There have been a number of people who have written blog posts about how to get a job in venture capital. Here are links (Seth Levine and Fred Wilson) to a couple of the most notable. These are good posts with sage advice.
I rarely write about work, but in the past several months I have conducted several interviews and have witnessed some patterns. This post is about how interviewees can be more effective…at least with me. Several of my points will extend beyond getting a job in venture capital to the overall landscape of interviewing.
In addition to conducting many an interview, I myself have had millions. At Goldman Sachs alone, I met 29 people; 14 in one day. I got that job, and thank GOD after all that. Cripe. I have not always been successful getting the job but I have received more offers than refusals, and have learned a few things along the way. In addition, part of my job now is to interview lots of people for my companies, and I get pinged all the time by people wanting to get into VC asking for informational interviews. Bottom line, I have gone through this process on both sides many times and think I have learned a few things about what works. So here goes.
Lesson 1: Say you want the job. This might sound shockingly obvious, but I am always amazed at how often I meet people who don't tell me that they want the job, and most importantly, why they want it. They may tell me once I ask, but my point is, why make me ask? Everything you say in an interview should tell your interviewer why you are right for the job. This comment varies by level and circumstance. The more senior the role, the more the conversation is two-way. And if it's informational, I expect that you are exploring and not necessarily trying to sell yourself. But if it's a real interview, assume I am interviewing others for the job; therefore, sell yourself. Try to stand out from the pack. Why are you here? What is interesting to you about this role? Why are you a fit? This does not mean you cannot have questions – you should – but don't make me wonder if you are even interested in the job in the first place.
Lesson 2: Act the part. If you want a job in VC, you are often given the advice that you should go get operating experience and then after 15 years you can be a VC. This is a good idea, and arguably, the best path, but most people I meet are looking for something a little more immediate than a 15 year plan. And I understand that. So what to do besides meet as many people as you can and get lucky? You should still meet as many VCs as you can, but also, try to make yourself more lucky. You can do this if you position yourself properly, meaning, act like a VC. Send me deals. Go meet some entrepreneurs doing interesting things and see if you can connect me to them. Introduce me to talented managers. Send me an industry analysis and create an investment thesis around that industry. It's draconian but clean – be of value to me, and I am more likely to think you might add value to the firm. You may be saying "Free labor! Why would I do that?" Take a lesson from lawyers and investment bankers. They do it all the time, and it often reaps big rewards, meaning, they get the business.
Lesson 3: Before you implement Lesson 2, find out if I am hiring anytime in the next…two years. Not a great answer, but it's reality. If I don't have a new fund, I don't have more fees with which to pay you, and therefore, it will be really hard for me to hire you. So you might want to focus your efforts elsewhere.
Lesson 4: Don't say you want to be a VC because you are entrepreneurial. It's a cliche. If you are entrepreneurial, start a company or go work for a start-up.
Lesson 5: If you are looking for a job at a portfolio company and we have never met before, please do not say you are flexible and will do anything. I have heard this from even the most senior people and it is frankly not that helpful. I don't really know what to make of that. I need executors. Killers! And my portfolio companies have real needs, so learn what you can about them and have a view. I appreciate generalist skills, and young companies often need athletes, but saying you are "flexible" can be translated as follows "I don't really know what I want to do." Don't allow yourself to be viewed this way! You have to present yourself as something more than just flexible.
And a few more things. Do some homework on the industry for which you are you are interviewing. It's incredible how many people don't do this.
And show up on time. Just my 2 cents.