Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by guest writer Eleanor Kaye.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the ideal CV to land a job in venture capital looks something like this: high grades from a top-notch private school, a degree from an elite university, a few internships at big-name businesses, a stint on a high-flying graduate scheme or a stint in investment banking, and then perhaps an MBA for good measure.
You don’t need to spend much time in the venture capital world to know that there are a lot of people who fit this mould. But it’s not everyone. Increasingly, VC firms are waking up to the need to broaden out who they hire; diversifying their talent pool in order to better reflect the world around them.
Despite slow progress when it comes to diversifying the industry, there is a huge amount of work going on across the sector to address this issue. That means, more and more firms are approaching hiring in a new way – interviewing for skills rather than specific CVs. If you’re looking to break into the world of VC and come from a typically overlooked or underestimated background, here are the three things you should highlight in your application or interview:
VCs are looking for ideas and technologies which will disrupt our world. Effective VCs are therefore constantly deploying their professional curiosity: how does this work, what else could that be used for, and what’s the next frontier for this technology? They love asking questions and seeking out answers.
Being a curious and interested person is therefore an essential building block of a talented investor. Seek out times you’ve showcased this in your career or education to date – was your STEM degree inspired by running science experiments in your kitchen as a kid? Did you attend lectures or talks outside of your subject area at college or university to learn about new things? Do you enjoy researching trending topics and deep diving into emerging areas?
Take every opportunity to showcase how you exercise your curiosity in everyday life and how you’ll bring that energy and insight into a venture career.
Diversity of experience
Walking into a room or workplace where no one looks or sounds like you can be intimidating. But that doesn’t mean you don’t belong there. In fact, the diversity of your background or experience could be your superpower.
Homogeneous teams with similar worldviews and backgrounds will struggle to spot investment opportunities that don’t fit the traditional mould. They may overlook a startup with a unique proposition because they don’t understand the customer segment they’re marketing to, or fail to grasp the size of the problem they are trying to solve because they haven’t experienced it first-hand. Having different perspectives in the room when those conversations are happening is crucial. Put simply, they need people like you.
Lean into your unique differentiators. Progressive, genuinely inclusive VCs will see this as a positive. Those intent on building identikit teams aren’t the funds you want to build your career with.
In pop culture, investors are often portrayed as ruthless “money men” who only care about the bottom line. In reality, most investors are passionate individuals who invest emotionally as well as financially in the startups they back. The involvement of a VC doesn’t stop when the cheque hits the bank account – VCs sit on boards, provide ongoing counsel, and offer support during a crisis.
Being able to spot when a founder in your portfolio is struggling, sensing when aptitude is being obscured by nerves in a startup CEO’s pitch, or knowing when to step in to help and when to give startups space to figure things out on their own; these are all ways in which emotional intelligence plays a vital role in the day-to-day of being a VC. Showcasing your passion for collaborating meaningfully with founders will help show that you understand the various non-financial nuances that ‘investing’ involves.
The truth is that VC firms who want the best-performing teams should be ripping up the rule book when it comes to ‘ideal’ CVs or ‘perfect’ candidate backgrounds. Hiring for skills, aptitude and instinct is a fairer, more accurate way of identifying new hires. It’s also the only way of giving all aspiring VCs a level playing field and the chance to authentically showcase their talents.