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Demystifying the “black box”: a look at hiring in the VC world

Demystifying the “black box”: a look at hiring in the VC world

Demystifying the “black box”: a look at hiring in the VC world

Last week, we announced that Baiyin Zhou joined Ascent Venture Partners as our newest senior associate. This is particularly exciting because adding to our team is the most important thing we do – and it’s not something we do often. Baiyin is our first new investment team member in 10 years. At Ascent, we treat hiring very seriously, and our process reflects this.  After posting our senior associate position on LinkedIn, we received 605 applicants. Over the following five months, we reviewed, met with, and got to know many extremely talented young professionals from across the country.

The reason the VC recruiting process is so long and exhaustive is that candidates like Baiyin are difficult to find, and ultimately recruit. Attracting a large number of candidates who met the qualification for the senior associate role was not the challenge, but ultimately our goal was to find the right individual to grow into a full partner and prove a strong fit for Ascent in the long term. Said another way, we met lots of people who were very capable of being a strong senior associate, but that was only part of our overall goal.  To make the right call on who would be the best long term team member included multiple rounds of interviews and discussions and hours of evaluation.

We decided not to hire a dedicated recruiter for the role, but instead posted on LinkedIn and tapped our networks for referrals.  Here is the breakdown of applicants, by channel, and the percentage that received first interviews:


Over 78% of applicants applied through LinkedIn (makes sense), but the greatest conversion rate were applicants who were directly referred to us. Referrals are key!

Between Luke, Geoff and I, we spent around 45 hours simply reviewing resumes and cover letters as they arrived.  We would collectively then spend over 100 hours getting to know candidates, going through seven rounds of meetings, coffees, and dinners:


Out of 605 total applicants, we interviewed 53. That’s less than 9%. No wonder many people say getting into the VC world is such a blackbox.  After five exhaustive months, we thought it’d be beneficial to share some summary statistics and learnings based on our 53 candidates.

1) Since Ascent is a Boston-based and geographically focused VC, it was no surprise that 56% of our applicants resided in Boston, and the vast majority came from the east coast.

2) The most common work experiences were investment banking, consulting, or an operational or corporate development role at a tech company.

2) The Senior Associate role seemed to attract people with on average 4-7 years of prior work experience.

3) While 27% of applicants were already VCs, we interviewed many more who were looking to switch into VC from tech companies, private equity funds, and even from founding their own startup!

Many VCs these days are looking for a diversity in background and experience within their team.  Therefore, there isn’t a clear-cut standard when it comes to the path towards venture capital. Some VCs greatly value operational experience, such as being a product manager for a tech startup, and others value the market understanding of a corporate development associate.  At Ascent, we were open to many types of prior work experience, and were fortunate enough to meet candidates from all categories.

4) Undergrad was diversified, but MBA programs were concentrated at the Top 10 programs. 76% of candidates had MBAs. However, no more than two candidates went to the same undergrad, except Princeton.  Candidates also studied all sorts of majors, from engineering to economics and even middle eastern studies!


The qualitative side carries most weight…

While this data shows the quantitative side of our hiring process, numbers are just part of the story. What really matters to us is chemistry – we spent a lot of time with our final candidates really trying to get to know them, and equally as important, allowing them to get to know us to ensure that the fit was right.

Our comprehensive hiring process proves how serious we are when adding to our team. The time we took selecting the right candidate provides our team with the confidence that we made the right choice for the right reasons. Baiyin brings a passion for B2B IT investing, six years of highly relevant experience, and a fresh perspective, and we are very excited to welcome her to Ascent. You can find Baiyin on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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