Networking and schmoozing are keys to any job search, but they're even more important when looking for venture capital positions. Networking is done in two ways: informally through social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, industry job boards), and face-to-face at business conferences, meetings, and other events. It’s a good idea to combine both approaches. Building contacts in the VC industry is key to learning about job openings and getting an interview. It helps to have a strong recommendation from someone the venture capitalist respects.
Another way to get an interview is to have deep industry experience. This takes a few years, so it’s not for the impatient. To improve your chances for an interview—do your research. Target a niche attractive to VC firms. Read the trade press, get on social media, or go to a large trade show and catch up on the buzz.
Start networking while you’re still in school. Create a LinkedIn profile. Get to know your classmates by joining VC clubs and participating in investment competitions. Develop personal relationships with your professors by offering to assist them in their research studies. Apply for internships, fellowships, and co-ops, and attend career fairs that are sponsored by your college’s career services office. There are many ways to network. Here are a few.
1. Reach Out to Your Existing Networking Contacts
Start by contacting your friends and family to see if anyone you know works in the venture capital industry or knows someone who does so. Touch base with roommates and classmates from high school and college; coaches; teachers and professors; fellow athletes; fraternity and sorority members; current and past employers; neighbors and community members; members of your religious community; people you volunteer with; members of social organizations you’re involved in; members of professional associations; and people who work in personnel departments or for placement or search agencies.
Hopefully, these contacts will be able to connect you with VC professionals, or at least someone who works at a portfolio company of a VC firm or in related industries such as private equity, hedge funds, or investment banking (common entry paths for aspiring venture capitalists).
If you’re already in the business, by far the best way to approach a venture capital firm is via a simple introduction to one of their partners through someone within your professional circle. (“Johnny Trustworthy suggested I contact you about …”) This is no different from the process used by entrepreneurs to get an introduction to venture capitalists. Part of your job should be finding people who are in a position to make this introduction. Venture capitalists work with lots of lawyers, bankers, portfolio companies, and boards of directors. Poll your network to see who might know the right people at these outfits, as well as the VC firms themselves.
Volunteering is probably not on your radar as a networking strategy, but helping others is a great strategy to meet venture capitalists. Many small VC firms welcome student volunteers who are willing to trade some hard work for an inside look at the VC industry. There are also venture capital conferences across the country that open their doors (free of charge) to club volunteers who are willing to take tickets, operate audiovisual equipment, or in some other way help to facilitate a smoothly running VC conference.
For those not in business school, volunteering at the conferences may also be an inexpensive entry to accessing venture capitalists. You are of course also welcome to pay the cover charge, but be prepared for the cost of admission to range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Consider volunteering at a VC association. You might be asked to help out in its business office, assist in publishing its monthly newsletter, or work the check-in table at its annual conference. Volunteering at associations might allow you to catch the eye of well-known venture capitalists, who often serve on association boards. Finance-and venture capital-related nonprofits and for-profits also provide many volunteer opportunities. Here are a few major organizations.
• VC Taskforce provides networking and educational events—panels, workshops, conferences, and roundtable meetings—for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs seeking funding. According to its web site, the VC Taskforce is looking for volunteers with one or more of the following skills: writing and editing, public relations and marketing communications, event management, sales and business development, research and interviewing, social media, corporate relationship building, and program development and management. A six-month commitment is required.
• MBAs Without Borders is a signature initiative of PYXERA Global. According to its web site, it “has strengthened and supported over 4,000 enterprises, entrepreneurs, governments, and nongovernmental organizations through pro bono consulting services” in more than 60 countries, including Morocco, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Equatorial Guinea, Mexico, Malawi, and Bhutan. The average MBAs Without Borders assignment lasts from three to 13 months.
• The High Water Women Foundation was founded by a small group of senior women from the hedge fund and investment communities. According to its web site, “Volunteers teach financial literacy classes to low-income youth, conduct career days, mentor at-risk women and youth, conduct computer skills, résumé writing, and job search workshops, support women trying to start small businesses, provide new backpacks to thousands of children in need as well as gifts for the holidays, and provide pro bono consulting services to domestic and international microfinance institutions and NGOs.” The foundation works primarily in New York City and the New York tri-state area.
3. Join School Clubs
One of the best ways to learn about venture capital is by getting exposure to the world within which venture capitalists work. The low hanging fruit here are the venture capital clubs at most business schools. For example, students who are enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business can join the Wharton Private Equity & Venture Capital Club, a student-managed organization that helps further the education and interests of its members through peer industry panels and coffee chats, mentoring opportunities, the Wharton Private Equity Conference, and career treks (in which members travel to various cities across the U.S. and world to visit VC and private equity firms and network and learn more about internships and full-time positions). The Chicago Private Equity Network is “dedicated to connecting and serving University of Chicago alumni investing principal in private equity and venture capital…and facilitates information sharing among alumni, students, faculty members, and industry professionals.” Other clubs are available at Columbia University, the University of Georgia, and Harvard University. Check with your school to see what types of clubs and programs are available.
4. Use Social Networking Sites
Social networking sites make it extremely easy to connect with recruiters and employees at target firms, learn more about the VC industry, and even apply for jobs. LinkedIn is the most popular site for anyone wanting to build or expand their professional network. You should create your own page and keep it updated with your latest educational and professional achievements. Join several of the more than 1,500 interest groups for VC professionals—including Private Equity, M&A, and Venture Capital Investments, Global Private Equity & Venture Capital, and Venture Capital Café—to connect with members and learn more about the industry and its major players, career paths, and the job search. Follow VC firms to raise your profile and connect with key industry players. LinkedIn is free unless you want to sign up for an upgraded membership that allows you to send more InMails (LinkedIn’s version of e-mail) to potential networking contacts, view expanded profiles, and see more member profiles when you search.
Ellevate is a global professional women’s network that’s dedicated to helping women in business advance in their careers through online and in-person networking and educational events. It has chapters throughout the world. Ellevate offers an Emerging Member category for college students and young professionals. Some of its resources are available for free at its web site.
SumZero is a social media site for buy-side private equity, hedge fund, and mutual fund professionals. Members receive access to networking opportunities, job listings, and other resources. SumZero offers both free and paid membership categories.
MeetUp.com is a good resource to find local networking groups. It has dozens of VC and private equity meetup groups in cities around the world, including Venture Connects (Chicago), New York Private Equity & Venture Capital Careers, and Founders & VCs (San Francisco).
Some VC firms have pages on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking sites. For example, industry leader Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) has a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Following DFJ and other firms will help you to stay on the cutting-edge of developments in venture capital and improve your chances of making networking contacts.
5. Conduct Research
Try to get access to Dow Jones’s VentureSource, PitchBook’s Venture Capital Database, Preqin’s Venture Deals Analyst, or CB Insights’s Venture Capital Database. These databases are very expensive, but you should be able to get access at a local business school or at a friend’s investment bank or venture capital firm. These databases chronicle investments reported by venture capital firms across the U.S. They give you the name of the company invested, which VC firms made the investment, how much was invested, and a short description of what the company does. By studying the information, you may glean an indication of what are currently considered hot investments. You might also start to see patterns where certain names of firms are repeatedly attached to companies that interest you. This info will help you focus your list of preferred venture capital firms.
Hit the Web, including social media such as Twitter, to find out about each of the companies in that space, the VCs that invested in them, and the opinions of journalists who write about the niche. As a low-cost informational supplement on the tech industry and its day-to-day VC transactions, take a look at CNET News , TechCrunch, and TheDeal. Sign up for daily e-mail updates from Strictly VC and related web sites to stay up-to-date on events, industry movers and shakers, and deal alerts. Develop your own ideas about the market and find other private companies that haven’t yet attracted investors. Trade shows are among the best way to research companies. Once you have developed ideas backed up by research, you can approach and impress a venture capitalist.
The above was adapted from the new Vault Career Guide to Venture Capital.
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