When I saw that job ad, I was hooked: Lunar Ventures, a Berlin-based venture capital firm, was looking for a STEM associate to help with deal sourcing and technical due diligence – and it had officially announced the position on LinkedIn!
This was curious, given that venture capital is known for being notoriously difficult to get in: Jobs are seldomly advertised officially, and you don’t expect cold emails to be answered. Looking from the outside, it had this aura of an elite club only the chosen ones would get in.
Yet, you may be lucky – as I was.
Associate roles, especially at larger funds targeting series A and later, usually involve a lot of number gathering and spreadsheet yoga to estimate traction metrics – you can get a decent general overview of associate roles here, here, and here.
On the contrary, Lunar’s job description talked all about looking beyond shortsighted traction metrics, diving deep into founders’ vision of the future, and understanding their ambitious R&D roadmap – this sounded like someone had come up with a job tailored to me!
After pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and being employed in academia for four years, I decided that I never wanted to be an employee again unless it would give me the chance to do something I really wanted to do, such as working with deep tech startups.
And that’s why I wanted to work as an associate. I quickly checked that there was no one in my network with a direct connection to Lunar – and then I decided to cold email them.
Here are some learnings about breaking into VC:
Hack the Game
First, try to avoid cold emailing VCs when applying for a job.
It may work if you are lucky as I was, but it may be more promising and time-efficient to first think about what could give you an unfair advantage over other candidates.
Do you already know someone working in VC or at a VC-backed startup? Great, you should probably first reach out to them and ask for an introduction to VC people – VC is a networking game, and many landed their VC positions through networking.
Especially analysts and associates will be happy to have a chat with you about VC – just approach them, tell them what you are interested in and why you’d like to get into VC, or ask about one of their portfolio companies.
VCs will use your outreach ability to assess your general sales skills, as the VC job involves a lot of sales to founders, follow-up VCs, and fund investors.
Talking about unfair advantages: If you run a book club/newsletter/blog/LinkedIn group/student association or anything like that about startups and venture capital, this could give you a major unfair advantage for getting into VC.
It’s a game of outliers – don’t try to round up your image, figure out how to stand out.
Invite VCs for an interview, ask for their opinion, or give them a stage to present their fund. It will significantly help to approach VCs, expand your networking, and find opportunities for working in VC.
In any case – try to avoid cold emailing VCs without a hook and establish some personal connections first.
Prepare for Interviews
After a few days, I heard back from Lunar – they invited me for an interview.
This is the point where you got a foot in the door, and it’s time to figure out whether you and the VC are a good match. Generally, you should
- prepare a two-minute pitch about yourself and why you’d like to work in VC
- look into the domain the VC firm invests in and make yourself an opinion about recent trends, the coolest startups, and the most promising sub-areas in that domain
- look in-depth into a couple of portfolio companies and make an opinion about either why they are cool OR why you didn’t get why they got an investment
- think about the criteria based on which the fund might judge startups and how you are going to evaluate them
- think about deal sourcing strategies
- last but not least, prepare for the classical interview questions (What is your greatest weakness? When did you fail before? Where do you see yourself in five years?)
Here is a decent overview of typical interview questions that I used to prepare myself. My favorite ones are:
- Why do you want a job in venture capital? Why did you want a job with our firm? Why are you interested in us and not continuing with [previous company/industry]?
- Why do you like to work in VC rather than founding a startup yourself?
- What do you think about our investment XYZ?
- Given an amount of money X, how would you invest it?
- How would you evaluate a possible investment?
- How would you source new startups? Where within the investment process could you help best?
- How do you learn new things?
- What do you care about/do in your free time?
Last but not least: Read. A lot of different stuff, not just about VC. Make sure you can recommend a decent book/newsletter/YouTube channel.
Working as an Associate
After four rounds of interviews, I finally joined Lunar Ventures as an associate in January 2022 – and it’s been a fantastic match!
My job lets me learn about exciting technologies, interact with ambitious founders, and work with an amazing team. Every meeting is a great chance to learn more about the startup and VC ecosystems.
If you’re a STEM graduate thinking about whether you should work in VC, I have also written an essay about why you may want to give it a try. Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org