he venture capital industry can seem like a black box sometimes — it’s rare to see a public posting for venture roles, and firms often hire at odd times. This is coupled with the fact that many funds don’t have formal internship programs. So if you don’t have the right connections, it can be tough to get your foot in the door.
Tough, but not impossible.
In a previous post, we shared some insights on how to break into VC and get a job as a VC associate. Now, we’re taking a step back and want to help shed some light on how to secure an internship in VC by sharing what we’ve learned about breaking into the space.
Ready? Let’s do this!
So where should you start?
Okay, so you’ve committed to going after a venture capital internship. So now what?
Three words: research research research. (Okay, technically just one word but it’s so important that we felt the need to repeat it three times).
So first, bust out a sheet of paper and make a list of the 15-20 firms that you'd like to intern with.
Unsure where to find a list of VC firms? Pitchbook is a great resource. Try a free trial while you do your research (you can always cancel before they charge you). And once you have this list of firms, it’s time to go out there and learn every darn thing you can about them. Another great resource is OpenVC. And it's free!
- Who are the key decision makers?
- What startups are they invested in?
- Do they focus on a specific industry?
- What’s their investment philosophy?
Take notes on them. Write down what you learn. Research the startups they’ve invested in. Follow the key decision makers on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Read their blog content if they have any. Read the news on them and set Google Alerts so you get notified when they’re mentioned in the press. Find out if they are hosting any in person events and go to them. Be visible.
Are you a member of a student-run venture chapter? If not, join one. If so, consider inviting a partner at one of your target firms to come to speak to your group.
Do everything you can to give yourself a leg up.
And don’t be afraid to go after some small firms. They often don’t see as many applicants as the larger more established firms and need the most help.
Know What Need Will You Fill As an Intern
To better your chances of securing an internship in VC, you must think of ways you can make yourself valuable to the firm. This means you should strive to fill a need. Do they need help organizing their files and contacts? How about building a database? Consider showing off your research skills by helping them take a deep dive into a particular industry sector.
The takeaway? There are many ways to make yourself valuable to a fund. And don’t be afraid to get creative.
A cautionary word of advice, however. Don't pretend you can source deals or analyze companies for them if you can’t - that's what they do. And that's what you want to learn about.
Do, however, let them know you are willing to tackle any project for the firm or a portfolio company if in return, you can be a fly on the wall and absorb every bit of knowledge about their day-to-day operations as you can.
It’s All About Who You Know
A cliche’? Perhaps. But it’s true.
Venture capital is very much a relationship-driven business. If you know someone who can introduce you to a key decision-maker at a firm, it will greatly increase your chances of securing an internship.
So while we’re on the topic of making lists, go ahead and make another one that shows all of the alumni from your school who are in the VC or startup world. Make a list of anybody your family knows that may be in the industry.
Then reach out to those people. Tell them you want to intern at a venture capital firm and are willing to do whatever it takes.
If you have the chance to meet with someone from the firm, take it! You won't know everything they are looking for, but hopefully, they will ask you questions that could open ways of improving your candidacy.
Check your Google alerts for news about the funds, acquisitions, etc, and sneak that into your pitch or cover letter. This may give you a slight edge as it shows that you’re a decent cyber sleuth that did the research about their firm and took the time to integrate it into the letter. Top firms naturally want the best and brightest, but they also want the highly motivated and ambitious that are great with attention to detail.
Reaching out to VCs
So we know the best way to approach a venture capitalist is via a warm introduction. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of relying only on warm introductions.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be successful in reaching a VC on your own.
While cold emails can get a bad rep sometimes, we’ve found them to be pretty helpful, especially when executed the right way.
That’s the key: “the right way.” Your goal is to send a compelling email that advances you to the next round. The email pitch has to be short, compelling, and stand out. The skill of conciseness is going to come in handy here.
Here are a few things to avoid when cold emailing VC’s:
- Starting with something like “To whom it may concern”
- A 500-word email.
- Lengthy paragraphs, especially when they’re not bulleted or formatted for quick readability
- Misspellings/poor punctuation.
Tell them the genuine reason why you find them interesting and your perspective on their investment focus. Then you ask to chat with them to discuss ideas for 15–20 minutes. All within 5–7 sentences.
You need to get the point quickly and hit the nail on the head with the first shot. Remember, these people are incredibly busy so your email should be short and to the point yet articulate. Great communication isn’t about how long you can write about something, it’s about how short you can write it while getting the message delivered.
And once you've gotten a response, you have about two days (max) to move the conversation forward. You must move quickly because: 1) VCs have a short attention span and 2) VCs like go-getters, not procrastinators.
Quick Tactical Tip: You can find almost anyone’s email using chrome extensions like Adapt Prospector, Hunter.io, RocketReach.
What VC’s Want to See in a Potential Intern
- Shows genuine interest in tech trends
- Involved in relevant extracurricular activities
- Previous experience working in start-ups is a plus
- Has a reputation as a hard worker (they might seriously ask around).
- Is prepared to work for free
As far as that last one goes, sure we can argue about how you should be paid, but the ROI of having that VC experience on your resume will be far greater than whatever pay you missed out on.
On top of all the above, you must possess a strong curiosity, as it’s imperative to have in-depth knowledge of technological innovations, new business models, or even new uses to detect growth potential in a startup; a taste for a challenge; rigor; and a good spirit of analysis and synthesis.
If you’re coming out of a top 25 MBA program, with a solid undergrad and GPA you may not have to think about this as your chances of a paid gig is high. But not everyone gets that shot.
Preparing for the Interview
Okay, so you’ve made it to the interview. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it farther than most.
This is where you can really shine with the amount of research you’ve done on the firm.
And when you get to the interview, be prepared to answer some version of the following questions:
- Why venture?
You’d be surprised how many people answer this question with something like: “I did a banking internship and didn’t like it, so thought I’d give this a shot.”
Really take the time to think about why you want to explore VC, and how it’s a fit for your skills and personality. Most VC firms are looking for someone who has a genuine interest in startups and entrepreneurship — you should be able to tell your story and talk about your experiences and choices in a way that reflects this.
- Why XYZ firm?
Think about why the firm’s investment stage and strategy are particularly interesting to you. You’ll gain bonus points if you can mention specific portfolio companies or team members. If the firm publishes thought pieces, make sure to read these to get a sense of the team’s investment philosophy.
- Which early stage companies are interesting to you?
We recommend pitching at least three that fit the firm’s investment strategy. You should be able to chat intelligently about the idea, team, traction, and past funding rounds, and may also be asked about how to size the market or what an exit would look like.
- What news have you been following?
Make sure to check all the major tech sites (e.g. TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Bloomberg Tech) daily for a week or so before the interview.
- What themes are you interested in?
We recommend that you have a few investment theses to discuss — you should have a point of view on why the spaces are interesting and be ready to discuss the trends that will drive growth
Do not give up easily! You will have refusals but you will quickly forget them once you have found an extraordinary internship with an awesome VC firm.
And remember that everyone was once an intern, so don’t be scared of making mistakes! Also, don't forget the other people who work at the firm. The relationships you make during your internship can extend beyond your time there.
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