Questions from a PhD who wants to work in VC

Subscribers from my VC Careers email list (you can subscribe from this page) often email me asking for advice about how to get their first VC job. Below is one such email from a PhD student who is hoping to work in VC. I’ve responded to his questions below in bold.

Hello John,

Following your suggestion, I have recently had an informational intervew/conversation with a managing partner of a VC firm. The overall feedback is good, I felt that he is happy with my qualifications (PhD in —-, and currently working in a —-). Now I have two questions emerged after this conversation, and I think your insights would be very much appreciated on them:

1) The partner said that his firm only hires junior members as analyst/intern who works for them on a hourly basis. He even shared with me the salary that they are paying which is really an intern salary.

My question is: in your book and on your website, you repetively emphasize entering VC is hard, once you are in, you are in. I am really interested in and passionate about a career in VC, but is it worthy for me to enter VC as an analyst/intern, receiving hourly salary ( abandoning a consultant salary and not to mention no additional benefit with an hourly pay such as pension and health insurance etc)?

I wouldn’t create financial stress for yourself in order to break into the VC business.

A VC firm with >$50MM AUM should be able to pay you a salary that will at the very least pay your bills, and even smaller firms will offer basic benefits like health insurance. For example, the firm where I worked ($160MM AUM) had 3 junior professionals and 2 full time partners and we had a great health insurance plan.

Here’s an alternative for you: Have you thought about taking on part time or project based work with the firm? This way you’d gain experience, they’d get the benefit of your services, and you wouldn’t have give up your day job (and salary). One of my friends took this route with a US firm and ended up getting hired (at a livable salary) after a few months of hourly work.

If you want to go the part time / project route, be proactive and propose a project that would dovetail nicely with the firm’s interest areas and your experience. Even if they don’t like the project idea, it will help start a conversation that will hopefully end up with you doing some work for the firm.

Last, I’d leave compensation discussions until the end – when you know they’d like to bring you on board. Talking about compensation during informational interviews will get you sidetracked and take the firm’s focus off of what you can contribute.

You can politely deflect compensation questions in a couple of ways:

  • State that you’d want to be paid similarly to your peer group at other funds of similar size OR
  • State that you’d prefer to discuss compensation later in the interview process once you have a better sense of the job requirements and the particulars of the firm.

2) Secondly, he suggested I could go for a secondary captial firm (secondary buy-out / directs), as he described they are having a booming business right now in life science session. Are you familiar with this kind of VCs? and any difference in the job-hunting tactics with such VCs?

I think the networking tactics (some of which I have outlined in my VC Careers and job hunting eBook) would be quite similar. However, I’m not sure how secondaries firms source and analyze investment opportunities. I’m sure the day-to-day is quite different than what you might see at an early stage VC firm. You’d probably want to do some informational interviews with people with secondaries experience before making a decision if that line of work is for you or not.

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