Writing The Perfect VC Resume

by David Cummins Ankit Garg, and Linus Chung

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Into Venture Capital.

This chapter details how one should go about writing a high-quality resume that will improve their chances of landing a VC position. Such a resume:
  • Should show that the applicant is willing to take educated, calculated risks.
  • Should demonstrate something unique about the applicant.
  • Needs to look crisp, clean, and professionally done.
When seeking a job in the venture capital industry, it’s important to keep in mind that each firm is looking to build a team. In order to become part of that team, it will be necessary to understand the team’s dynamics and where you might fit. There are plenty of people out there that are smart enough to do the work, but don’t have the ‘right’ personality. Venture capital funds tend to be smaller working environments, so having a personality and attitude that fit with the team is just as important as your accomplishments.

When a job opening is announced, the fund receives a stack of resumes. The number of applicants easily numbers between 300 and 400. Out of those, a more manageable number has to be chosen. Perhaps only 30 of the original 400 applicants are contacted for an interview.

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This chapter details how one should go about writing a high-quality resume that will improve their chances of landing a VC position. Such a resume:
  • Should show that the applicant is willing to take educated, calculated risks.
  • Should demonstrate something unique about the applicant.
  • Needs to look crisp, clean, and professionally done.
When seeking a job in the venture capital industry, it’s important to keep in mind that each firm is looking to build a team. In order to become part of that team, it will be necessary to understand the team’s dynamics and where you might fit. There are plenty of people out there that are smart enough to do the work, but don’t have the ‘right’ personality. Venture capital funds tend to be smaller working environments, so having a personality and attitude that fit with the team is just as important as your accomplishments.

When a job opening is announced, the fund receives a stack of resumes. The number of applicants easily numbers between 300 and 400. Out of those, a more manageable number has to be chosen. Perhaps only 30 of the original 400 applicants are contacted for an interview.

When sifting through this overwhelmingly large stack, firms always look for something different. There are plenty of people who are extremely smart and qualified. There’s a plethora of people who worked at a consulting firm or an investment bank or who went to a great university.

The trouble is, many qualified resumes end up looking exactly the same. A lot of applicants have had similar jobs in similar industries, so there’s nothing to differentiate them from others. A lot of these applicants also make the mistake of trying to appear perfect to their prospective employer. They’ll take the jobs they think someone else might find impressive, and do everything by the book.

There are very few people who actually dare to take real risks.

Many people are afraid of failure and what this might mean for their career later. They feat how it might look on their resume if they have a failed business. They don’t think about what can be learned from taking risks, and instead focus only on the negative. They stick with what’s safe.

And in venture capital, that’s not the sort of attitude you want to have.

Taking Risks & Venture Capital

Venture capital is an industry that encourages risk, because without risk we can’t create great companies and new technology. So if you took a risk and failed...don’t consider it a failure. You took the risk, it didn’t work, you grew from the experience, and hopefully you can build on those lessons.

Demonstrate to prospective employers that you’re willing to take risks. I’m not saying you should make a list of every failure you’ve experienced. What I am saying, however, is that if you took a risk—collaborated a project, started a company—and it didn’t work out, don’t shy away from it. Be able to talk about the “why” and “how” of that risk.

Know why you made the decision, and understand how you grew from the experience.

In the case of start-ups, be ready to talk about why you started the company, what you thought at the time, what you learned along the way that you didn’t expect, how you reacted to adversity and what the outcome was. Sometimes a company doesn’t work or the market doesn’t adopt the product. Sometimes the timing is off, sometimes the execution is off. Learning from setbacks and failure is key.

Now, not everyone has started a company, and that’s perfectly alright. If you haven’t tried your hand at a start-up, be ready to list non-profits you’ve been a part of and other projects you’ve worked on. Again, the “what” is less important than the “why” and “how.”

A lot of people throw out cookie-cutter resumes hoping to demonstrate that “I’m perfect. I went to the right school, I worked at the right company. I got good grades, I’m extremely intelligent.”

Do you know what those resumes demonstrate? That the applicant is identical to everybody else trying to get a job in venture capital. They might plenty smart to do the job, but they have nothing about them that makes them unique. They’re boring.

If you want a job in a risky industry, you need to show you’re not immune to risk. No, don’t take blind or irresponsible risks just so you have something to put on your resume. Instead, find a way to demonstrate that you have the ability to take calculated risks.Venture capital is all about risks—sometimes you’ll invest in twenty companies, only to see fifteen of those fail, and only one of them achieve true success.

Those are the realities of VC—this field isn’t for the faint of heart.

What I’m trying to say here is that if you worked at a company that went under or took on an ambitious project at work that wasn’t a success...it’s alright. Don’t run from the experience. Be able to talk about why you did it and what you learned. If it didn’t work, know what went wrong.

At the end of the day, venture capital is all about taking risks, thinking outside the box or thinking in ways that people haven’t thought before. It’s all about innovation.

Personalize Your Resume

It’s not enough to show you took a risk, or that you think outside the box. You need to make your resume personal, make it uniquely you. Make it reflect your interests and passions and what you did. The resume isn’t a place to talk about the “whys” and “hows,” but be able to talk about the things you’ve done and how you’ve grown from your experiences.

For example, if you’ve started a company, why did you start it? What problem did you see that was so frustrating to you that you just had to solve it? If you took a job at a start up, what compelled you to do that? If you learned a second language, what was it about the language that drew you to it?

Most importantly, how did you grow and what did you learn from the process?

Find something that’s different. Something that makes you who you are. It doesn’t have to be a job. It could be an interest or passion. Too many people write resumes that they think people want to read. Not enough people write resumes that reflect who they are.

Those that do, stand out.

Make Your Resume Look Good

Would you wear sloppy, dirty clothes to an important interview? No? Then why would you submit a sub-par resume? Make sure your resume is professionally done, clean, and put together.

Keep your resume on one page. There’s no need to submit a small encyclopedia to a job, particularly if you’re only in your twenties. Be clear, concise, and to the point. List your jobs, talk about the roles you played. Focus on action words like “managed,” “initiated,” “analyzed,” and “lead.” Include numbers. How many people did you manage? How big was the deal you worked on? How much did you increase revenues? How much did you help improve efficiency?

Have someone look at it—a friend in the industry, perhaps. Don’t have friends in the industry? Get it reviewed by an online service. Sure, that might cost money—but it’ll pay off in the long run, as you’ll have a stronger resume that gives employers a better first impression of you.

The first thing a firm will look at is whether or not you can do the job on paper, after all.
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