How to Get a Job as a Venture Capital Associate
7 min read

How to Get a Job as a Venture Capital Associate

Want to get a job as a VC associate? Discover the different pathways into VC associate roles and get expert tips on how to land a job.
How to Get a Job as a Venture Capital Associate

We asked an experienced venture capital operative for a no-nonsense take on how to get a job as a venture capital associate. This operative has worked at a top-tier fund and recently started their own firm, so they know what they’re talking about.

Read on to learn about the pathways into venture capital associate roles and for expert tips on how to increase your chances of breaking through and landing a role.

What are the pathways into venture capital?

People in the industry speak about two pathways:

  • Operator path: Start or work at a successful startup.
  • Investor path: Work in high-level financial services, e.g. investment banking.

But this is true only when talking about a lead investor, principal or partner at a firm. For a venture capital associate role there are actually a few additional paths:

  • Operator path: As above, but with less experience.
  • Investor path: As above, but with less experience.
  • Consulting path: Working in management consulting at organizations like McKinsey, BCG, Bain or the Big 4 accounting firms, probably in strategy consulting or financial advisory functions. This means experience with activities like business strategy, due diligence and financial reporting.
  • Networking path: This is the freestyle path and incorporates all the other ways to land a VC associate role (and there are lots of other ways so keep reading). The classic example here is the young upstart who landed a job at a VC by starting and growing a popular VC based Twitter account.

So when it comes to the associate level at a VC firm, there are other ways to enter. This is because associates are not expected to land deals. The role is more about building a database of companies, supporting deals, completing admin for the fund and providing ad-hoc support to portfolio companies on special projects. So the junior banking or management consulting skill set and toolkit works really well here and it’s why it’s one of the more common pathways into venture capital associate roles.

A side note: The beauty is that no single pathway is a predictor of success in venture capital. It really is a meritocracy. At the right firm the people with the best ideas and the best relationships will win, it doesn’t matter how they entered the industry.

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What background, skills and experience do you need to get a job in venture capital?

I’ll tackle background, then experience and skills.

As I mentioned in the previous answer, there are different pathways into VC associate roles and the networking path makes the overall number of potential backgrounds really diverse so there’s no concrete advice available here.

In terms of experience, it’s possible to get a job as a VC associate straight out of college or university so technically the amount of experience required ranges from 0 years to around 10 years. The 10 year maximum is based on the generalization that after 10-years of solid experience you’ll probably be looking at lead investor, principal or partner roles rather than an associate role. I’d say the average amount of experience falls in the 3-5 years range of the operator, investor or consulting path, so this is when you might want to start thinking about VC associate roles if you’re taking these paths.

Here is a quick sample of the skills required in the role:

  • Sourcing: The ability to build a database of target companies and manage the deal flow pipeline (companies at various stages of the VC process). This requires setting up a process and database with good logical structure and the discipline to maintain it with useful information while pushing companies through at the required pace.
  • Due diligence: When a term sheet is signed, VC’s will then do diligence on the company before they complete the deal (some firms to more than others). This means collecting  data from the company and information on the market and using it to provide a go/no-go assessment on the deal. Can include financial, strategic, legal and technical due diligence.
  • Deal execution: There is paperwork that goes along with every deal, from the term sheet to share purchase agreements and shareholder agreements. This is very much a project management role to make sure the deal runs smoothly for your firm and that you are bringing together all parties (e.g. external legal services) and activities required to safely get the deal across the line.
  • Managing the fund: The Limited Partners (LPs) are the investors in the VC fund you work for and they’ll want reporting on how their investment is performing. There will also likely be internal reporting requested to gain insight on fund performance and areas for improvement. These are the main tasks of a VC associate when it comes to managing a fund and all these activities must be completed on time and with a safe pair of hands, as requested by the funds stakeholders.
  • Supporting portfolio: Depending on the level of service offered by the firm you work for, you’ll be on the hook to deliver many of these services to portfolio companies. Every firm fields ad-hoc requests from their portfolio companies. All of this will fall on your plate so it is important you know how to spin up and deliver projects to help solve issues ranging from strategy to hiring and marketing.

The background, skills and experience required to land an associate role are highly variable and depend on the VC, their firm and the market. Some VC’s and firms prefer to hire associates with strong financial skills, others with stronger project management or people skills. Some use their associates for sourcing and others for managing the fund and portfolio.

So the answer to what background, skills and experience you’ll need really depends. It’s a different combination of all of the above every single time, almost never the same combo, and it’s why you should research every role and firm you pursue.

What is the hiring process for venture capital associate roles?

The hiring process is fairly standard. A job description will be written, this will be circulated by current staff and friends of the firm, there will be direct reach out to existing people on the VC’s radar, and they will also put it on a job board (to see if there are any gems).

So, yes, you can find VC associate roles on job boards.

They will develop a short list and have the candidates enter an interview process. Generally with the firms lead investors, principals and partners. Sometimes there will be a case interview or take home case study. The candidates will be assessed and the list refined down to the last few candidates, and a selection will be made.

So all fairly typical. Here’s how to stand out, link your skills to that firm's preference by deeply researching the firm. This is the same as inverting. Working backwards. Find out what they are looking for, and position yourself for that preference.

Each firm will have its own preference on what they are looking for. It’s up to you to do your research and find the firm that’s a match for you, your background and your experience and then position yourself with that firm to land the gig.

This is even more important if you are applying cold to an open role you found.

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What are the best tips and hacks to help land a venture capital associate role?

For each different VC or firm, give them something they uniquely want, need or value.

I have a preference here on how to do this. Once you have identified a VC or firm you’d like to work for and have done all your research into their strategy, approach, preferences, team and portfolio, then start doing the job already. Before you even have it. Here’s how:

The single best way to land a VC associate role (high impact, highly targeted): Based on your research and the VC’s positioning, generate a list of their next 5 to 10 investments that fit their mandate. Literally, go find the companies, tell them what their deal flow SHOULD be going forward. Then write investment memos on each company and even start building a relationship with the founders. Don’t tell them you can do the job, SHOW THEM.

It’s crazy how likely it is that you will get a role with the VC after you do this. Yet no one does it. It’s unbelievable. But it’s even more amazing how many people say they want to work in VC, but won’t do this. It’s literally the job.

Here are some other good ideas (high impact, but less targeted):

  • Build a model portfolio and track it publicly.
  • Start building an audience either through a Twitter account or blog. Better yet, the next big opportunity might come on Tik-Tok, or the hot platform after that. Get a following and make some noise and you never know who will reach out.

Just to illustrate this further, applying for an open VC role might work, but it is low impact and less targeted. You’re just like everyone else if you do this.

What are the exit opportunities from a venture capital associate role?

Most people look to land an VC associate role because they think they want to spend the rest of their career in venture capital. Work your way up to partner, have a 20% share in a $1 billion fund that gets top quintile returns and then retire on a beach with your $100 million share.

That gives the first two options: move up in the firm or move to a different firm.

Generally speaking, the career path laid out above is the best (some would say only) reason to pursue a VC associate role. There’s another good option: use the position to learn about markets that are ripe with opportunity and then leave to start your own company. This is a good plan if you want to be a founder but lack ideas right now. Can’t fault it.

Otherwise, the skillset is transferable but not really desired outside the industry so you’ll generally be starting from the beginning. If you don’t want to work in VC or found a company long-term there are few reasons to go after this role.

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