How to Ace Your Venture Capital Interview

December 16, 2015

interviewing_05Every great career starts with a successful interview. You can excel in school and network all you want, but if you blow the interview, none of your other efforts will pay off. It’s easy to underestimate a venture capital interview. Often, you might hear others tell you, “Just be yourself.” It sounds like good advice to soothe your nerves, but the reality is that conducting a winning job interview requires a well-constructed plan. Will you be prepared?

While a venture capital interview involves some unique strategy, it’s important to review the basics first. In any interview, the entire discussion is framed by two simple questions: 1) What is the firm’s business, and 2) how can you help them? Everything else is just details, variations of answers to those two questions.

Know everything about the firm and the person interviewing you. Consider yourself the historian for the day. However, you don’t want to turn the interview into a history lesson where it sounds like you are reading from some invisible encyclopedia. The idea is to drop a few comments here and there to show an appreciation and understanding of the firm’s legacy. It demonstrates initiative and sincere interest.

Conduct research on the firm by visiting every page on their website and looking at news articles about their portfolio companies. Read everything you can about them. Determine the firm’s investment preference. Are they focused on seed, early, or late capital? An early stage VC firm has a different investment philosophy than a firm focused on preparing for the IPO. Look at their portfolio companies. Do they tend to offer early or late stage funding?

Approach the job interview as a two-way street. Prepare to talk about yourself, but also be ready to put on your “reporter’s hat,” and ask them for clarification about certain aspects of their portfolio. By knowing the details of the firm’s strategy, you can clearly discuss how your background fits into their long-term plan.

One part of a venture capital job interview that sets it apart from other interviews is the “action plan.” After you talk about yourself, you want to pitch some ideas. You could think of this as an answer to the question, “If you started working for us tomorrow, what is the first thing you would do?” Introduce some new start-ups that are not in the company’s portfolio that you think would match their investment style. Discuss important details that support your thesis. Avoid criticizing the firm’s current portfolio, and keep the discussion positive by focusing on complementary investment ideas.

Most importantly, make sure the firm’s expertise matches your background. One of the worst things you can do is show up for an interview at a venture capital firm that invests in biotechnology and not have any background or even an interest in biotech. If you don’t really want to be there, you will burn out. After reviewing one hundred start-ups, investing in seven of them, and losing money on two of them, a sense of exhaustion can creep in. That’s when you will realize that the venture capital industry is not always about the money. Genuine passion for the industry is what creates a successful venture capitalist. Showing your interest in the firm’s niche is a critical part of a winning job interview.

Interviews are not easy, but with the knockout combination of “prepare and pitch,” you will become the next industry veteran before you know it.

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