by Jennifer Fried '15
We’ve all been there. You email a Booth alum, or somebody in your network, and set up an informational interview to learn more about what they do. You know what you want (a job) but you can’t say it out loud. They are part of a small team where openings are few and far between. So how can you make these coffee chats less awkward and make the interaction one they will remember? Second years who have successfully networked into jobs (shoutout to PMP!) have shared their advice below.
To start, make your conversation about content that adds value for both parties, not about yourself. Take advantage of the fact that you are in school: write a short investment thesis (see a helpful outline here: http://futurevc.blogspot.com/2007/02/putting-together-investment-thesis.html) or use a homework assignment as an excuse to create a work product around a specific topic both you and the professional can relate to. This gives you an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and understand how somebody in your ideal role thinks about an industry trend or investment opportunity.
If you don’t have a written work product, use the time to ask about business decisions they have made or pick their brain on industry trends, such as, “I understand you chose to invest in Company A even though Company B has higher margins and was fundraising at the same time…what drove that decision?” Demonstrating both knowledge and curiosity will leave an impression on that person such that they want to create a role for you to work together.
At the end of your conversation, don’t be overly aggressive but let your intentions be known. You don’t have to ask for a job at their firm, but make it clear that you are looking to develop experience in a particular space and are open to short-term projects. Better yet, if you learn that they have a specific interest in an area that they don’t have time to fully explore, define your own project and offer to do some free work. Setting the groundwork for a long-term, value-driven relationship is a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack when future opportunities arise. Remember that persuasion is rarely achieved overnight, and the interview process begins as soon as you make the initial contact.
Additionally, ask for more introductions. Take advantage of your student status and say, “I’m really excited to learn more about [industry sub-sector] and would love to talk to some more folks working in that space.” Even if there isn’t a fit for their firm right now, people like to help and may pass along opportunities that they hear of through their networks.
Finally, don’t forget to follow up with a note thanking the contact for their time. If a natural conversation doesn’t flow from there, send another note a month later, perhaps explaining how your project turned out, how your investment thesis has evolved or some additional insightful questions on a recent deal. Better yet – find a way to help the contact with their business. Keep your eyes out on the company (or portfolio companies) job board and send over a friend’s resume if it’s a match. If you are seeking PE/VC roles, send information about a company that matches their thesis that they may not have heard of. Follow up conversations are often harder than the initial informational chat, but are crucial to keeping the relationship warm.
Jennifer is a second-year FT student and a VC Career Adviser. After graduation, she is joining a new healthcare-focused VC fund.