How to land a job in venture capital, according to 4 top VCs

May 25, 2023, 12:00 PM UTC
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Securing a job in venture capital was never exactly easy, but in the wake of SVB’s collapse and the broader venture slowdown, candidates have to work harder than ever to stand out. And even though the venture industry has been through a rough time, there’s still huge opportunity for those looking to break into the upper echelon of Silicon Valley. But no question, venture can feel intimidating to break into, particularly for women, people of color, or anyone who didn’t graduate from Stanford University. 

Yet before you begin applying to job postings in a frenzy, make sure that you are seeking out firms that align with your investing philosophy and career goals. After all, you are evaluating the firm as much as it is evaluating you.

Insiders suggest immersing yourself in the world of Silicon Valley and dealmaking by following podcasts like 20VC and reading books like Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. Reading investor Substacks and blogs can be helpful too. (And of course, subscribing to industry newsletters like Term Sheet will keep you abreast on deal flow and the latest news in the private markets.)

While from the outside the VC industry seems opaque, through research you can figure out which roles and firms are the right fit for you. If you’re looking at an emerging fund manager, a growth-stage firm, or an established early-stage firm, the job and experience can deviate dramatically. Many funds are sector-specific, meaning that investors devote all their time to certain industries, like gaming, green technology, consumer, or A.I. You can read Fortune’s coverage of the top VCs in health tech and cybersecurity to understand more about how sector-specific funds work and who the top players are. Some funds will try to lead rounds and take a hands-on approach to their portfolio companies, while others won’t take board seats and prefer to take a backseat role in a round. 

Lionel Foster, who was hired as an investor at real estate technology firm Camber Creek in 2021, suggests asking for informational interviews to learn about different funds, how they categorize themselves, what their missions are, and their varying approaches to deploying capital. 

Face-to-face connections go the furthest in getting your foot in the door at any firm, according to Lotti Siniscalco, partner at Emergence Capital. She says that every time a close friend or founder introduces her to someone who is interested in the industry, she will take the call.

“If you are looking to work at Fund X, but don’t know anybody that can introduce you to a partner there, work your relationship intelligence muscle to build a relationship with someone who can,” Siniscalco says. “This is very similar to what VCs do when they can’t get an introduction to a company they want to invest in.”

Nicole DeTommaso, a senior associate at New York–based Harlem Capital, advises would-be VCs to think about how their own priorities, including job security, align with certain funds. “Emerging funds are more like startups,” and therefore slightly more risky, she argues. “Growth-stage mature funds, which have been around a while, are just more secure.” Once you’re talking with these firms, asking questions about the LP base (institutional versus individuals) and the fund’s performance thus far can be useful in sussing out the firm’s position, says DeTommaso.  

Another important consideration, according to Meera Clark, a principal at Redpoint Ventures, is the long-term viability of a fund. You should get a sense of what the firm’s returns look like and whether the firm is in an equal partnership, where all partners own the fund equally. “If given the choice, I would never work at a fund that was not an equal partnership, because I think it creates far healthier partnership dynamics and incentives to collaborate,” argues Clark. Another key thing to understand is what the usual career trajectory and growth opportunities are for employees at the firm.

You should also consider what stage of funding your own skill set is best suited for. Growth-stage investors tend to focus much more on the financials (after all, the companies they’re investing in actually have those metrics) versus early-stages that bet more on founders. In other words, how much do you like to use Excel? 

Just as important as understanding the nitty-gritty financial details is figuring out the company’s culture. Harlem Capital’s DeTommaso adds that you can get a sense of a firm’s informal vibe through social media. “In VC, you can look at someone’s Twitter, you can look at their LinkedIn, you can look at their blog posts, you can listen to podcasts, right? All of this is public information for you to get a better sense of what the firm is like—not only from a thesis perspective, and what they like to invest in, their portfolio companies—but also from the perspective of, what is the culture like in the firm? Do people like working there? What do they do for fun?” she says. 

Particularly for female applicants, Emergence Capital’s Siniscalco recommends going through back channels to get an unbiased perspective and guarantee you aren’t applying to a firm that is “hiring you to be the token woman.” 

If you want to know more about how to make your application stand out and nail the interview process, you can read our full guide to landing a job in venture capital.

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