The secret to breaking into venture capital

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Breaking into the venture capital industry isn’t easy, especially as an associate.

The majority of VC firms are lean and don’t have regular recruiting cycles, let alone a dedicated HR function. So what do you do? How do you make the right connections and have the right conversations to stand out and get noticed?

For many people, venture capital can seem like an exclusive world apart. That’s certainly how I used to feel, even as an investment banker with many transferable skills (the ability to analyze a business, do financial modeling, etc.).

I would be networking away, applying to jobs on LinkedIn, trying to get the attention of recruiters, the whole nine yards. I got cold call opportunities with VPs or even partners of funds, and yet they would ask me all these questions that were completely irrelevant to my experience and background.

I began questioning myself. How was I going to bridge that gap between my current position and where I wanted to be? Did I even belong in venture capital in the first place?

How do you break through and get invited to join a venture firm? Unfortunately, I don’t have a quick fix or a simple solution. My suggestion is time-consuming, and it takes a lot of effort. But it’s also effective, and in the end, you may be surprised at how far it can take you.

Pick one thing you are truly interested in, and learn everything there is to know about it.

Whatever it is, commit an hour during lunch or an hour before/after each workday to reading and talking to people about it. Obsess over it. Think about it as a second job.

Here’s an example: let’s say bitcoin interests you. Make sure that you are knowledgeable enough to have an intelligent conversation about industry trends, regulatory issues, emerging bitcoin-related companies, and incumbent bitcoin-related companies.

Then, take it one step forward by formulating your own personal opinion about all of the above.

Another useful exercise is to look at your resume. If you’re in banking, pick out a deal. If you’re in consulting, pick out a company you’ve worked for.

Then start researching the startup landscape within that industry. Before you know it, you’ll be able to easily have an interesting conversation that bridges your own current experience with your interest in venture capital.

Above all, VCs want to feel like they are speaking to somebody who is passionate, opinionated, thoughtful and interested. In my opinion, having an engaging debate with somebody about a company that makes bitcoin ATMs is more interesting (and revealing) than listening to a candidate tell me (s)he wants to be a VC because she likes being around entrepreneurs (which, by the way, (s)he should).

You’ll be surprised that by the point you’ve achieved this ability, you’ll be naturally begin thinking like an investor. And VCs will be able to sense that.

Baiyin Zhou is an associate at OpenView Venture Partners. She can be reached at bzhou@openviewpartners.com.

This guest column first appeared in Reuters Venture Capital Journal. Subscribers can read the original story here. To subscribe to VCJ, click here for the Marketplace.

Photo illustration courtesy of Shutterstock

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