Kelly Hoey: Nine Smart Moves To Network Into A Venture Role

featuring a previous IEEE Entrepreneurship speaker

Kelly Hoey: Nine Smart Moves To Network Into A Venture Role

by Kelly Hoey

Earlier in a past career life, I was interviewing candidates for the newly created manager role reporting to me as the “senior manager” of professional development. I recall one interviewee vividly as her answer to my standard interview question “what about this job interests you?” killed her prospects of being hired for the job.

“It looks like such fun,” she replied. Her answer quickly revealed to me that this enthusiastic candidate who had (on paper) the credentials to successfully transition into the role, was lacking in one vital respect: she apparently had no clue as to what the job truly entailed. Long work days that were frequently extended. Egos and industry politics to constantly navigate. Delivering tough messages and undertaking thankless tasks. “Why on earth would anyone want my job?” is really why I asked the “what interests you” question. For me, the answer I heard was an absolute fail that could have been avoided entirely had this candidate done some pre-interview research (and networking). I reflect on this vivid hiring moment from my own career, as I regularly observe my friends in venture capital (the hot job du jour) get bombarded with unsolicited resumes and coffee-date inquiries on how to get into the industry from entrepreneurially minded career types eager to leap off the corporate ladder. Understand the role and the industry. Really, there are no excuses on this point. There are books, podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos and endless opportunities at conferences to hear accomplished VCs talk about what it is they do everyday. A must read resource that immediately comes to mind is the book: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalistplus blogs including Cowboy Ventures blogFirst Round ReviewUpfront InsightsAVCReaction WheelThe Barefoot VC and Laconia Capital Updates and podcasts such as The 20 Minute VCRecode DecodeTractionThe Bootstrapped VC and a16z. Please note, I’m only scratching the surface here on all the available resources out there. If you’re really paying attention, you’ll quickly realize at most meetups, hackathons and demo days in the startup community you can introduce yourself to the associate at a venture firm. Start networking with these professionals as they will be your industry peers if and when you land a venture role. Seek out for their guidance on everything from what prepared them for the role to what it is they actually do every day as well as the industry resources they truly rely on. The associates at venture firms are doing the job you desire so take their recommendations and/or suggestions seriously. Study the career paths of venture capitalists. 

There is no longer one set starting point for pursuing a future career in venture (through her relentless determination Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital has crushed this misconception). Here are additional role models whose early career choices may more closely mirror yours:

    1. Jessica Peltz-Zatulove, Partner MDC Ventures was an Integrated Planning Director at Zenith Media.
    2. Terri Burns, Principle GV was an Associate Product Manager at Twitter.
    3. Claudia Iannazzo, Managing Partner AlphaPrime Ventures was an M&A attorney at Baker & McKenzie.
    4. Beau Lasky, Managing Partner SVB Capital was a Navy Seal.
    5. Jalak Jobanputra, Managing Partner FuturePerfect Ventures was a corporate finance and M&A analyst at Lehman Brothers.
    6. Matt Golden, Managing Partner Golden Ventures was an attorney at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt.
    7. Kristina Montague, Managing Partner The JumpFund, was Assistant Dean of External Affairs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
    8. Chris Fralic, Partner First Round, was store manager at Jonathan’s Computer Centers
    9. Brenda Irwin, Managing Partner Relentless Pursuit Partners was a middle school teacher in Toronto.
    10. Hala Fadel, Managing Partner Leap Ventures was a Financial Analyst at Merrill Lynch.

Network and be strategic with your outreach. 

Enthusiasm and credentials aren’t necessarily enough to land the venture role, you need to network . Network to build reputation so your resume rises to the top of the applicant pile. Network to gain information not otherwise discoverable on blogs or from podcasts. Network to establish relationships with industry peers (as you’ll need them dearly once you land a role).

Rather than leave you guessing on “how (exactly) to network” with busy venture capitalists, I asked one for her recommendations. AlphaPrime’s Claudia Iannazzo offers these nine suggestions:

  1. Find Points Of Commonality. Not everyone has connections into the industry, so be smart about seeking informational interviews when you don’t have a warm introduction . The best way to secure a meeting with someone you don’t already know is to find someone with something in common with you. If you are an Army Veteran, look for Army Vets who are VCs. If you used to work at Google, reach out to VCs who used to be at Google. If you studied the same degree at NYU, use that to start the conversation.
  2. Forget The Coffee Date!  Don’t ask random VCs to have coffee with you so you can ask for career advice (that’s what podcasts, blogs, conferences and books are for). VC calendars are completely insane with investor, staff, management and entrepreneur meetings. Better to ask for a brief call, after all, who can’t spare 10 minutes to talk to someone they already have something in common with?
  3. Work With Their Calendar. Don’t go backwards and forwards on email about scheduling. You are asking busy people to make room for you into their calendar. Simply ask “when are you available?”  then work around the other person’s schedule. Once a time is confirmed, take the lead and send a calendar invite.
  4. Get Ready For Calendar Shuffling. The VC is doing you the favor by taking your call, and things come up all the time, so don’t be offended if your initial meeting gets rescheduled several times.
  5. Prepare For the Call. Make good use of the time you have. 10 minutes is 10 minutes. All the people Claudia has hired over the years had one thing in common: when they got their 10 minutes, they made spectacular use of it.
  6. Establish The Purpose Of Your Call. The purpose is not “give me advice as to how to get into venture”. You need to be much more targeted than (example: “I’m looking for a role as an investor with a VC that is focusing on healthcare”).
  7. Focus On Your Skillset. Be ready to discuss why you have relevant skills for a venture role (example: “I’ve studied biochemistry, then worked in research for 2 years, and have increasingly been exposed to emerging technologies that are changing the face of healthcare”).
  8. Show Thought Leadership. Demonstrate during the call that you are already thinking like a VC (example: “I believe that the future of healthcare will increasingly be in immunotherapy advancements, unified information systems and telemedicine”).
  9. Remember To Follow-up.  Your post-call outreach (not just a thank you note) is essential after the call. Your follow-up ideally should include your resume, and one piece of research that you have done that shows you have been thinking critically about this space. It could be an article or blog you wrote, or a market map you’ve developed for a specific investment thesis.

Read the entire article on Forbes here.