The Chicken Run For Jobs in Venture Capital!
Want a job in private equity? Take a hint from James Dean's "chickie run" game in the movie Rebel Without A Cause
We loved this article written by Chicago Booth MBA Ricardo Taveira and originally published in the Economist. Ricardo shares some essential job-hunting tactics for MBAs interested in Private Equity and Venture Capital roles.
IN THE film “Rebel Without a Cause”, James Dean (pictured) plays a game called “chickie run”, in which two car drivers hurtle towards a cliff edge. The person who bales out first loses.
At business school, this is how it feels to search for a job in private equity and venture capital (PE/VC). There are two types of MBA recruiting: on-campus and off-campus. For the traditional MBA paths of investment banking and management consulting, on-campus is a well-trodden path. For sought-after opportunities in private equity and venture capital, not only is the process usually off-campus, but it is a test of your appetite for risk. Where on-campus recruiting is typically done by February, most off-campus PE/VC recruiting begins later. Herein lies the game of chicken: if you wait for PE/VC recruiting in the spring and fail to secure an internship you could well end up having no summer internship at all.
MBA wisdom says that this is by design. After all, these are industries in which your appetite for risk is an indicator of your compatibility with the job. But the result is that many exceptionally talented candidates are not willing or able to accept the risk of “no summer”, and choose to recruit on-campus for other things. While a deluge of candidates may knock on their doors, PE/VC firms tend to wait until only the most committed are left. Indeed, nearly 100 students expressed an interest in VC at the beginning of the year at my school, Chicago Booth. Only a dozen or so were still committed by the start of spring.
For those who choose the PE/VC path, it is an anxiety-inducing experience. While friends practiced the dreaded case interviews for consulting, those of us going for PE/VC were still working on the necessary investment theses and shaking the networking tree. Later, when the same friends were celebrating multiple offers, those targeting PE/VC struggled to keep their spirits up as their own recruiting anxieties were at their worst.
Friends naturally questioned why I would put myself through such an ordeal. My background had mostly centered around entrepreneurship in one form or another. Why was I seeking to switch to the other side of the table? I told them what I had been telling countless interviewers in boardrooms and cafes. Venture capital, to me, is the essence of what attracted me to entrepreneurship in the first place. It is bridging the “why not?” with the “how?” of often-heretical ideas. It means working with a rare type of person—someone who is not daunted by the fact that they do not control the means to bring their ideas to fruition. If in doing so I am able to accelerate innovation and meaningful change, by giving someone the same vote of confidence that someone gave me many years ago, then this—venture capital—is what I want to do.
The VC offer I had been hoping for came just 20 days before classes adjourned for the summer. I had already declined offers from other funds months before, playing chicken at a time when friends at other schools were already focusing on their final exams and readying for their summer work. A few friends talked about the “abnormal appetite for risk” required for VC and how I was ultimately rewarded for it.
MBA wisdom proved right in one regard: what makes for successful recruiting for VC is indeed what makes for a good VC. But it was wrong about what that was. It isn’t some superhuman tolerance for risk or sangfroid. Thinking of how close the cliff edge had come, I tried to understand how I managed to keep my hands on the wheel. According to the common wisdom, “how?” implied an ability to manage and tolerate risk. I did nothing of the sort. When others received offers, I grew anxious. When I was rebuked by contacts, I feared. And when I turned down offers, I questioned my own sanity.
Yet with every amazing conversation I had with those working in the industry, I was constantly reminded of “why”—why I wanted this so much in the first place. What steadied me through recruiting to the end wasn’t an appetite for risk. It was passion—intolerable and insatiable—for the people, the ideas and the chance to build great things.
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