by Brian DeChesare Comments (41)

How to Get into Venture Capital: Venture Capital Recruiting

How to Get Into Venture Capital

Everyone usually has the same first question about how to get into venture capital:

How do I break in?!! Tell me!

To students, engineers, jaded investment bankers, and Uber/Lyft drivers, venture capital sounds like the dream job: take meetings with exciting entrepreneurs all day and then bet money on the best ones.

Wait about a decade, and then… boom! You’re wealthy.

Or, if things don’t go as planned, tell your firm’s investors “it will take more time” to get results.

What could go wrong?

And, going back to that first question, how do you break into this “dream job”?

What is Venture Capital?

Venture capital firms raise capital from Limited Partners, such as pension funds, endowments, and family offices, and then invest in early-stage, high-growth-potential companies in exchange for equity (i.e., ownership in those companies).

Then, they aim to grow these companies and eventually exit via acquisitions or initial public offerings (IPOs).

Most of these high-growth-potential companies are in technology and healthcare, but some VCs also invest in cleantech, retail, education, and other industries.

Since the risks are so high, VCs expect the majority of their investments to fail.

But if they find the next Google, Facebook, or Uber, they could earn exceptional overall returns even if 90% of their portfolio companies fail.

Here’s some data on U.S. venture returns over 10 years assembled by Correlation Ventures:

Venture Capital Returns - 10 Years

Yes, you’re reading this graph correctly: a full 65% of VC deals lose money or merely break even.

Technically, venture capital is an “investing” or “buy-side” role.

But it’s also a sales profession where you compete for capital and access to the best startups.

There’s so much capital chasing so few truly promising startups that gaining access is often the biggest challenge – which is why returns are highly concentrated among the top few VC firms.

Why Venture Capital?

Venture capital is a “get rich slowly” job where the potential upside lies decades into the future.

Annual compensation is a significant discount to private equity compensation or investment banker salaries, so if “becoming wealthy ASAP” is your main life goal, cross venture capital off your list of possible careers.

Junior-level venture capital jobs rarely lead to Partner-track positions, so you will probably not work your way up into a senior role if you join after ~2 years of banking or consulting.

Deals are simpler than in IB or PE, there’s less financial modeling and number crunching, and you spend more time on “sourcing” (finding companies) and industry research.

So, there’s only one great reason to aim for junior-level VC roles: because you are extremely passionate about startups and you want to use the role to learn, build a network, and leverage it to win other startup-related roles in the future.

Fore more on this topic, please see our article on venture capital careers.

How to Get Into Venture Capital: Who Wins Interviews and Offers?

The three main entry points into venture capital are:

  1. Pre-MBA: You graduated from university and then worked in investment banking, management consulting, or business development, sales, or product management at a startup for a few years.
  2. Post-MBA: You did something to gain a background in tech, healthcare, or finance for a few years before business school (e.g., engineering or sales at an enterprise software company), and then you went to a top business school.
  3. Senior Level / Operating Partner: You successfully founded and exited a startup, or you were a high-level executive (VP or C-level) at a large company that operates in an industry of interest to VCs.

We focus on the pre-MBA path here since you’re most likely in that category, but most of the tips here are relevant to the post-MBA path as well.

It’s very difficult to break into venture capital directly out of undergrad, and even if you have the background for it – i.e., you went to Stanford or Berkeley, majored in CS, and completed multiple startup and finance internships – it’s not necessarily a great idea to do it.

To be useful to a VC firm, you need some full-time, real-world experience and at least the beginnings of a professional network.

Venture capital internships during undergrad are more plausible and are often a useful way to win investment banking roles later on.

It also tends to be difficult to move directly from a pure engineering role into VC because market and customer analysis matter more than coding prowess or technical skills.

Yes, we’ve featured readers who have done it, but it’s quite rare.

Management consultants may have a bit of an advantage over bankers, but it depends on their background: advising on HR policies for insurance firms is far less relevant than advising on strategy for tech companies.

Overall, pedigree and prestige still matter quite a bit for VC roles, and firms tend to favor candidates with brand-name firms and universities on their resumes.

How to Get Into Life Science Venture Capital: The Exception That Proves the Rule

Life Science Venture Capital

One final note: life science venture capital (biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, etc.) is different from tech venture capital, and at early-stage life science VC funds, academic prowess counts for a lot.

They often recruit Ph.D.’s from top institutions who are specialists in an area of interest for the firm, and they don’t necessarily require banking or consulting experience or an MBA to get in.

However, you still need some business/finance knowledge, normally gained by starting your own business, taking courses, or completing relevant internships.

Also, they want advanced scientific knowledge: an undergraduate or Master’s degree in biology is not sufficient unless you have other, highly relevant experience, such as founding a biotech startup or working in healthcare investment banking or biotech equity research.

Late-stage life science VC funds tend to care more about finance experience, so if you’re more of a finance person with some knowledge of science, late-stage funds might be a better fit.

What Qualities Do Venture Capitalists Seek in Recruits?

Junior-level VC roles (“Associates”) differ based on the firm’s investing stage, industry focus, and strategy:

  • Investing Stage: Early stage? Late stage? Closer to growth equity?
  • Industry Focus: Technology? Life sciences? Cleantech? A specific sector within one of those? Something else?
  • Strategy: Does the firm spend more time on portfolio company operations, finding new investments, doing industry research, or something else? Does it find new investments via outbound marketing, referrals, or a more data-driven approach?

VCs prefer to recruit presentable, highly articulate professionals with a passion for startups over number crunchers with limited interest in startups.

This is especially the case at early-stage firms, which focus on sourcing, building networks, and setting up meetings to win deals and raise capital.

At late-stage firms, deal execution and due diligence become more important, but even there, the analysis is fairly simple compared with the average IB/PE deal.

Venture capitalists want professionals who hold strong views on different industries and companies and who can justify their views based on market and customer analysis, not the product/technical details (maybe not as true in life sciences).

If you’re more of a finance person or number cruncher, then you should focus on late-stage firms or growth equity firms.

How to Get Into Venture Capital: The Full Recruiting Process

There are not that many junior-level VC jobs, and the available jobs tend to be concentrated in specific regions, such as the coasts of the U.S.

It’s difficult to win these roles because:

  1. Similar to other buy-side roles, VCs do not “need” an army of junior employees to churn endless documents to close deals.
  2. VC firms are flat partnerships with fixed budgets based on assets under management (AUM), so each new hire directly reduces the earnings of the Partners. Closing deals does not result in more revenue or a higher budget in the near term.
  3. Demand far exceeds supply because everyone thinks venture capital “sounds cool,” without necessarily understanding the job in detail.

As a result of these factors, the venture capital recruiting process is unstructured and similar to the off-cycle private equity recruiting process.

Some of the bigger firms, like Sequoia, New Enterprise Associates, and Accel, may use headhunters, and the list of names is familiar: in the U.S., CPI, Oxbridge, and Glocap tend to have a steady stream of roles.

In Europe, KEA Consultants and PE Recruitment (PER) offer many VC roles.

Unlike in private equity recruitment, these headhunters will not necessarily contact you proactively years before the job start date.

You’ll have to be more proactive with getting referrals, contacting them, and asking specifically about venture capital – or, you can do the networking yourself and go around headhunters.

You should start by narrowing down the types of funds you want to work at, searching for professionals on LinkedIn, and then emailing them to ask for advice on getting into VC.

You can follow the example email templates on this site or in articles such as the one on middle-market private equity recruiting.

As always, asking for advice about getting into the industry tends to be more effective than asking directly for a job.

The recruiting process can drag on for months if the firm has no urgent hiring needs, or it can be over quickly – in a month or less – if they need to replace someone right away.

You’ll start with phone interviews, but you should expect to meet everyone at the firm, or everyone in the group at the large firms, multiple times before winning an offer.

Interviews are casual and conversational, and VC interviewers put a laser focus on “fit.”

Case studies and short modeling tests are possible, but they’re far less likely than in private equity interviews (where they’re guaranteed to come up).

Venture Capital Interview Questions and Answers

Venture Capital Interviews

Venture capital interviewers ask questions that are similar to ones you’d receive in corporate development, investment banking, or private equity interviews…

…but the focus and distribution of the questions are far different.

Unlike in investment banking interviews, you won’t be quizzed for 30 minutes on the WACC formula or Equity Value vs. Enterprise Value or the tax treatment of defined-benefit pension obligations.

Technical questions could still come up, but VCs care far more about your market views and investment ideas and your fit with their team.

So, in rough order of importance, here are the question categories you can expect:

  1. “Fit” and Background Questions – Your resume, why venture capital, why this firm, your strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  2. Market and Investment Questions – Which startup would you invest in? Which market is attractive? Which markets should we avoid?
  3. Firm-Specific and Process Questions – What do you think about our portfolio? Which companies would you have invested in or not invested in? How would you analyze a potential investment and make a decision?
  4. Deal, Client, and Fundraising Experience Questions – How did you add value in the IB deals you’ve worked on? If you worked at a startup, how did you win more customers or partners in a sales or BD role?
  5. Technical Questions – You could get standard questions about accounting and valuation, as well as VC-specific questions about cap tables, key metrics in your industry, and how to value startups and size markets (e.g., average revenue per user, SaaS accounting, annual recurring revenue, SAFE Notes, venture debt, etc.).
  6. Formal Case Studies and Modeling Tests – These are less likely, but you could get a short investment recommendation or a market/company analysis.

We cover sample venture capital interview questions in this separate article and provide examples and model answers as well.

After the Interview(s): What to Expect

If you hear back within a day or two, it’s almost always good news.

If not, follow up every week or two until you get some answer, even if it’s “Sorry, we’re delayed and we don’t know yet.”

If the VC firm is not under pressure to replace someone who suddenly left, it can be a very long process to finish interviews and get an answer.

How to Get Into Venture Capital: Is It Right for You?

Before jumping into the recruiting process, you need to spend time asking yourself whether or not you truly want to be in VC.

If you go into interviews without much conviction, it will be very apparent that it’s your “Plan B” after private equity and hedge funds didn’t work out.

You don’t need to memorize hundreds of pages of technical questions or be an Excel/VBA wizard or be a programming demigod to get into VC….

…but you do need an extreme passion for startups, which you can’t “learn” by reading interview guides.

How to Get Into Venture Capital: For Further Learning

If you want to learn more about venture capital and stay apprised of industry trends, I recommend:

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

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Read below or Add a comment

  1. Hi Brian, thanks for the article. I work in venture capital at a mid level position in Australia – do you have a view on how hard it would be to move to another country (Europe or US), and recruit for VC roles? Or do you think transitioning in tech / startups would be more likely? Thanks!

    1. I think it would be quite difficult to do this due to work visa issues. VC firms are small and really do not like to sponsor people, especially in places like the U.S. where the process is notoriously random and time-consuming. You would have a better chance of doing this if you could find a job at a large/global tech company and then push for a transfer via that company.

      1. Thanks Brian. And if visa was not an issue and I was targeting the European market, would it be correct to assume that Europeans VCs would be less interested in a mid level hire from a different geography, since I would cost more than analysts / associates, and not immediately have a local network? Thank you very much for your help.

        1. Yes, those are both issues as well. VC is hyper-localized, and at the mid-levels, you’re not quite as “plug and play” as Analyst/Associate candidates, so it’s a tougher sell. You probably still do have a higher chance if you aim for European VCs, but it would still be a challenge to move directly.

  2. Hey Brian, I’ve been doing Business Valuations in Asia for a couple of years, and just got two offers – (1) one at a Technology Investment Bank (USD 50m – USD 500m deal size), and (2) the other being a mid-level Corporate Development type role at a VC-backed start-up (in an industry that would be of interest to VCs). You mentioned that a high-level role at a startup is what it might take to get onto a partner track in VC, so does that mean that grinding it out at (2) for a couple of years makes more sense if my end goal is VC? And in general, which of the two do you think would open up more options? Appreciate the advice!

    1. #1 gives you more options overall, but #2 might be better if your specific goal is venture capital. But I don’t think #2 provides a huge benefit for VC roles over a tech IB role, as many tech bankers go into VC anyway. I don’t really think they would bring you in at a senior level in VC unless you are a C-level executive at this company, and it performs very well. So… it depends on whether you’re most interested in VC or could see yourself in other roles, and also the level you’ll be entering IB at. If they’re going to make you a Year 1 Analyst, you might just want to skip all the nonsense and go to Corp Dev for more interesting work and a better lifestyle.

      1. Great advice Brian. Wrestled with the exit options bit, but decided to skip the nonsense and go with Corp Dev, thanks!

  3. Hi Brian,

    I currently work in equity sales, first at a big IB for many years and now at a smaller broker. I found a role at a multi-stage VC firm that I am incredibly interested in (impact investing). I have experience with the relationship aspects of the role they are hiring for, but less so the startup experience and investment process knowledge.

    Do you have any advice on how I might ‘break in’ to this role or write a cover letter that could position me well enough to get a first interview? I am passionate about impact investing and come from a family of entrepreneurs (having initiated investor conversations for my own company in the past), but have no direct work experience in VC.

    1. Not really, the usual networking strategies and tactics apply. Reach out via LinkedIn/email, say you found the position, explain your family entrepreneurship background + sales experience and how that makes you a good candidate, and ask if they can tell you anything more about the role. Direct VC work experience doesn’t necessarily matter that much.

  4. Hey Brian,

    I’m in the UK

    I’m 5 months into my full time Transaction Services / FDD role at a Big4 firm (in the TMT team in London) but I’ve been offered a financial analyst position at an extremely fast growing FinTech startup

    My plan at the Big4 was to switch to Banking after 3 years (chartered qualification) and then maybe VC after – or maybe go straight into VC after my chartered qualification

    Do you think there’s the possibility in working at a start-up in a finance capacity then making the switch to VC (the start-up will also support my Chartered accountancy) I feel as if the Big4 path is very well defined and I know what’s to come

    But the start-up route would lead to a bigger network and faster growth through more responsibility?

    Would like to hear your thoughts

    Thanks in advance :)

    1. It will be very difficult to go from the startup back into IB if you’re at all considering that. VC will be easier, but still not a sure thing because the roles are still different (reporting/budgeting vs. investing). It also depends on how big the startup currently is. You generally want companies with between 20 and 100 million or so in revenue, as there’s too much risk associated with ones smaller than that.

      1. Thanks alot – much appreciated!

        I noticed you’ve just uploaded an article on the London PE industry

        Would be good to see something similar for London VC

  5. Rohan Khollamkar

    Hi Brain,

    This is a very informative article on VC and inspired me even more to get into VC. I am currently working as a product manager at an early-stage startup backed by an angel investor and I am looking for transition into VC. Need some guideposts on how much experience should I hold before applying ? How to research for such openings? and what skills should I be developing within product management landscape that will further by chances for landing an opportunity at VC

  6. John Mark

    Hi Brian – I found your brief on VC immensely informative. I am in product management at a big tech company and would like to move to a top VC firm. I need a great VC coach. Do you recommend any or can your suggest effective ways to find one?

    Thank you,

    1. I don’t know of any VC coaches, sorry. Maybe look on Upwork and see if someone with VC experience there can help you.

    2. Rohan Khollamkar

      Hi John,

      I am also a product manager at a tech startup backed by an angel investor in India. Let’s connect over a Linkedin as I am also looking to move towards VC firms.

      1. Rohan Khollamkar

        Here is my Linkedin Profile —>

      2. Rohan Khollamkar

        Hi John,
        You can find me Here —> /in/rohankhollamkar/

  7. Hi Brian,

    Will working in venture capital or growth equity be useful for going into entrepreneurship? Is there a better one out of the two for this?

    Not really sure how the financial analysis skills can really translate when setting up a business.

    1. No, not really. There may be a marginal benefit because you’ll get to know more entrepreneurs and investors and you may get access to a batter talent pool, but the roles are not at all similar. The biggest difference is that starting a business is all about *doing things quickly* to generate sales. Fields like VC and growth equity are more about talking, evaluating, analyzing, etc., and waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen.

  8. Hi Brian,

    You mentioned it in the article but didn’t dive as deep into it. I was wondering how useful you think corporate strategy, development, or finance roles for making a move into VC? Also was wondering what these types of roles would be called at startups since the titles are a bit more blurred. For example would they fall under business development?

    1. Those roles can work, but they’re probably not as good as IB or consulting for entry-level VC jobs. At startups, yes, many of these roles fall under “business development” or “operations” or something similar.

  9. Hi Brian,

    You’ve covered the topic of Big4 Audit to Big4 TAS to IB/PE before, but I am looking into VC. Is Big4 Audit to Big4 TAS to VC a viable path? Is it easier/harder than just going into IB/PE? Or would I need an IB steppingstone role before trying for VC roles?

    1. I don’t think it’s a particularly common path because Big 4 TAS is perceived as being further away from VC than IB/PE roles. Yes, you work on deals, but you spend your time on tasks the VCs tend to care less about (deep financial due diligence, not market DD). For VC roles, it’s almost always better to work in IB, consulting, or join a startup in a sales/operations/business development role first.

      1. Thanks Brian.

        If I could move into growth equity after Big 4 TAS, would I be able to ‘lateral’ into VC after a year or so in growth equity?

        1. Yes, potentially, but moving from Big 4 TAS into growth equity also isn’t an easy transition.

  10. Hi Brian, thanks for this article. I found it very insightful.
    I am currently an undergraduate student in my second year (non-target university).
    I am doing my first ever internship at a family office VC fund focused on digital health investments.
    In your opinion, to what degree does it give me an edge over other students when applying for other internships later on (Management consulting, IB, PE)?
    How can I best leverage it this experience? And should I aim for “healthcare” PE funds and IB to give me more chance of getting the offer as it will be related to my VC experience? (Taking into consideration the fact that I am not passionate about this industry)

    1. It helps, but it doesn’t really give you an “edge” over roles like consulting, IB, PE, etc. There are some tips on how to use VC experience here:

      If your ultimate goal is PE, then you should probably aim for IB roles first because you will have much better opportunities after working in IB. So maybe target healthcare groups at banks and then go from there.

  11. Hi Brian,

    I’m in banking at Goldman Sachs NY (2nd year analyst) and would like to get into VC (in either NY or CA). I have found it very difficult to focus on networking / prepare for the interview process with my hours (largely working until 1-3am, 6-7 days a week as you may know).

    Is it looked down upon to quit my current role, and take time to solely focus on VC recruiting? Further, given the VC recruiting process can be quite long, in your opinion is it worth the risk of being potentially unemployed for an extended period?

    The tradeoff is I either try to interview while in my current role– recognizing I likely won’t interview / network as well given my hours or I quit allowing for full focus– recognizing I may be in a “gap” / unemployed for an extended period as I pursue VC.

    Would greatly appreciate your thoughts. I am very unhappy with my current state and on the verge of quitting so I would like an outside view here.

    Thank you

    1. It is generally not a good idea to quit your current role and then recruit because quitting always sends a negative signal. But this is more of an issue if you want to move to another large bank or go to a PE firm or hedge fund.

      If you’re 100% certain you want to recruit for VC roles, and you simply don’t have time to prepare for recruiting right now, then yes, it may be a good idea to quit. VCs care less about how long you were officially there, resume gaps, etc., as long as you have some explanation.

      It will probably be more difficult to win offers at the top VC firms if you do that, but coming from GS NY, you could easily win offers at other firms.

  12. Hi Brian, I’m planning to apply for an IB internship 2 years from now and would just like to ask what I should pursue for my immediate internship; boutique PE or VC firm? Which do you think would be more attractive as an IB applicant in the future?

    1. Either one could work, but VC internships give you some advantages that are described in this article:

  13. Thoughts on Corporate Venture Capital?

    1. It’s… OK? We covered it before here:

      It’s a blend of corporate development and venture capital, and it has the same trade-offs as both of them.

  14. Hey Brian, currently doing Valuations for a year and I’m interested in both tech ib and vc. Interviewing with a vc firm right now and I’m moving on to round 2, which I heard is a case? Any idea what it could be?

    Also, I found out the comp is 60k with potential for performance bonus in a very high cost of living city. Does vc have potential for career growth and income growth or am I better off going into tech ib?

    1. It will probably be a “Should we invest in this company? Why/why not?”-type case where you focus on market and competitive analysis. They could ask for a simple projection model as well.

      $60K for total compensation sounds ridiculously low for a high-cost city. At that level, you’re much better off going into tech IB because even the base salary is significantly higher than $60K.

  15. Is the Partner title different than that of banks? I look at some top name VC funds and it seems that some people go from tmt ib analyst straight to partner? I look through LinkedIn and I see a bunch of partners. Am I missing something?

    1. For example I see on LinkedIn 1 yr at tmt for IB Analyst, then 2 years partnership at a top vc fund.

    2. Yes, sometimes VC funds play games with titles and call everyone at the firm “Partners” even if they’re junior-level hires. However, they are not real Partners in the sense of owning a stake in the firm and receiving carry, or a higher portion of carry, on deals. a16z likes to do this. “General Partner” means the person is an actual Partner/senior-level person at the firm, while “Partner” after a year of IB just means “junior-level hire whom we’re making sound more important.”

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