Recruiting for VC

This post was originally distributed via John Gannon’s VC Jobs mailing list. Edited and re-posted here because I regularly get inbounds on this topic.

I recruited for VC jobs in the spring of 2012 during my first year at Barclays, where I was working as an investment banker.

My recruiting process was fairly straightforward. I met with some headhunters (Glocap and Amity) who specialized in placing Investment Banking analysts as associates in VC firms. I utilized the VC Careers mailing list as well as Christina Cacioppo’s list as resources. I also dropped my resume at several places that posted an opening (e.g. online job boards or targeted mailing lists).

I definitely bombed a couple of interviews early in my process, but the journey definitely taught me how to present myself as a more viable candidate. So think of your VC job hunt a little bit like SAT prep – the only way to get better at it is to do more of it.

On that note, here are the key lessons that I learned during my search:

  1. The saying goes that you have a better shot of becoming a professional athlete than a VC. I haven’t done the math, but the bottom line is that VC openings are much more limited than the number of folks who wants to get into the industry. At the beginning of your process, make a list of the VC firms you’d prefer to work for – either from a stage, geography, or focus perspective. However, at some point your recruitment process will turn into a numbers game. I’d like to say that you should be strategic in which VC firms to approach, but the reality is that it’s a buyer’s market.
  2. Part of being a VC is having the luxury for being paid to think. My interviews were always casual and conversational, because the partner is ultimately trying to understand the way I thought. There are only two ways to hone on-the-fly critical thinking skills: read a lot and blog even more. Be prepared to present some of your theses with the reasoning to back them up.
  3. They say VC is also a people’s business. As much as it is about the analysis and decision-making, VC is also about who you know and who knows you. In an interview context, this is why networking is so important – don’t be afraid to name drop some folks that you have met and maintained relationships with, especially if they are relevant fellow VC or entrepreneur. While in banking, I spent many of my free evenings and weekends attending tech events in NYC. With the proliferation of blogs and tweets, it’s only become easier to access tech investors and entrepreneurs, even if you’re chained to your day job.
  4. Firms seeking candidates with finance backgrounds are typically later-stage VC’s. Those firms prefer hiring folks out of an Investment Banking or Management Consulting program. One recent implication is that competition with PE firms for these same candidates has driven later stage VC firms to recruit earlier and earlier each year – some, like IVP, even hiring a year in advance.
  5. It’s a crapshoot. Some firms liked me enough to have me participate in multiple rounds of interviews, while other firms ignored my resume drop and cover letter. Each VC firm may be looking for something different – either in terms of experience, education, or cultural fit. Don’t take it personally and keep your chin up.

Women in Private Equity? Less than 10%

Yesterday morning, I attended a “Women in Private Equity” panel, sponsored by a consortium of Private Equity firms like Blackstone, Apax, KKR, and THL. The event consisted of a panel of several female Managing Directors and Partners, moderated by Sandra Horbach (MD at the Carlyle Group). Afterwards, we had a light informal breakfast and networked with the panel and other participants. 

When Michael George (MD at Fortress) kicked off the morning, he called it a recruiting event – not for the individual firms, but for women in Private Equity in general. Investment banking analyst classes are on average 25% female, a ratio that drops below 10% when we look at post-banking careers such as venture capital, private equity, and hedge funds. 

Here were my key take-aways:

  • Surprisingly, there are more women in senior positions in Private Equity in Europe & Asia than the US. Panelists attributed this to the generous support system in Europe and Asia for working moms, such as maternity leave and other benefits. This line of reasoning goes hand-in-hand to the debate on maternity leave sparked by Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy. The U.S. is the only major industrialized country not to guarantee paid parental leave nationwide. 
  • Don’t clean the house, don’t do the laundry. The secret to achieving work/life balance, apparently, is knowing how to set boundaries and paying a bit of money so that you’re not doing chores during your off-days. The 99% in me still feels too guilty to use drop-off laundry service, but I have to admit that this is a good way to maximize leisure/family/social time. 
  • Find a mentor, find a champion. Mentors are those who you can go for advice, professionally or personally. Champions are those who will bang the proverbial table for you when it comes to reviews or throw your name in the ring for that promotion. Going through the review process during my first year made me realize that despite claims of a meritocracy, it’s often the people who have the loudest supporters who end up ahead of the pack.