Breaking into VC out of Undergrad

Courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Written by Abby Lyall

The best strategy is to introduce yourself as a student interested in learning more about VC, strike up a conversation about a topic that is of genuine interest to you, and try to build meaningful relationships with the people that you meet.

As a student at NYU Stern, I found myself in the common position of having interests in both finance and technology— venture capital, I thought, was the perfect mix of both worlds. The problem was figuring out how to get started. Unlike the big banks that had recruited my friends, VCs didn’t come to campus and host info sessions, and there weren’t any recruiting cycles to speak of; I joined my team at Quake Capital through a strange and lucky turn of events. But now that I’ve been in the VC world for almost a year and a half, I believe there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of breaking into the space.

Network, Network, Network. When it comes to hiring, VCs are much more likely to consider a candidate that they’ve met in person, or who has been introduced to them by another VC, than someone who fills out an online application. It’s crucial, however, to not walk into networking events handing out copies of your resume—this will get you nowhere. The best strategy is to introduce yourself as a student interested in learning more about VC, strike up a conversation about a topic that is of genuine interest to you, and try to build meaningful relationships with the people that you meet. Most VCs that you meet at such events will let you keep in touch via social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, and many will even be open to sharing their experiences over coffee if you follow up. Throughout these interactions, keep in mind that the end goal should not just be to use these connections to get a job, but to build a strong relationship that stays with you throughout your career.

Start a Company. Many of the smartest VCs I know were founders first, and college is the best time to start a company. As an NYU student, you have an incredible number of resources at your fingertips like the Berkley Center’s $300k Challenge, the Leslie eLab, and many talented potential co-founders sitting next to you every day in class; not to mention no kids to care for, no mortgage to pay, and a safety net to fall back on if your business fails. You’ll learn a million times more starting a company yourself than you will by reading books or listening to podcasts, and you’ll meet a lot of VCs as you try to raise money for your business. Don’t worry about ruining your reputation if your business fails; 90% of businesses fail even when started by experienced entrepreneurs, and VCs understand this. They will respect you for taking the risk and consider you a more valuable asset to their firm after you’ve sat on the other side of the table.

Consider Waiting. Most VC positions require at least 1-3 years of previous work experience, and it’s for a reason. VCs generally have small investment teams that rely heavily on the expertise of each person to make wise decisions and give valuable assistance to their portfolio companies. Your entry-level experience need not be in investment banking; people of all backgrounds find their way into VC, and the skills learned in consulting, software engineering, or tech business development are arguably the most valuable. A few years spent in a high-profile entry-level position serves as a stamp of approval for VCs looking to hire you, and the knowledge that you gain will put you in a much better position in both the interviews and the actual job once you start.

Try all Three. The strategy most likely to land you a coveted VC analyst or associate position is probably a combination. You’ll find that they play into each other well; entrepreneurship experience on your resume will likely make you more attractive for entry-level consulting and tech roles, or you might discover the next billion-dollar idea during your first year at Amazon or Google. A strong network, a critical mind, and a friendly, open and humble personality are sure to help you down whatever path you choose.

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