3 VC secrets to landing your dream job after a layoff

Unexpectedly laid off? If you’ve ever experienced that sunken feeling, you know what we mean. All plans and expectations for the year suddenly go in the trash as you try to figure out your next move. It is easier to make big decisions when the future is predictable, trends are clear, and the risk is low. But when a shocking disruption happens, traditional approaches may not work anymore. Instead, consider borrowing some tools from people who have been dealing with uncertainty and failure every day: venture capitalists (VCs).

Ilya’s team at Stanford University has been studying VCs and how they make decisions for more than a decade. The conclusion? VCs think and make decisions differently from most people. Their counterintuitive mental model helps them deal with extreme levels of risk and spot revolutionary companies like Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Google, Moderna, and Zoom at the very beginning.

We call this the Venture Mindset. The Venture Mindset is designed for times of uncertainty and risk. Following are three specific VC-inspired mindset shifts you have to make to treat your layoff as an opportunity, not just a devastating obstacle, and win big in your career.

First, make many bold bets as you search for a new job. Become more entrepreneurial. Don’t be afraid to take risks and fail. This is not a time to aim for perfection by trying to land every single interview opportunity. Instead, it is the time to make many small bets and see which one might work.

For VCs, home runs matter. Strikeouts don’t. Don’t be afraid of getting rejected or getting ghosted by a potential employer. The thing to be afraid of is missing your dream job. VCs and the startups they fund fail all the time. VCs don’t mind if 15 or even 19 out of 20 companies in their portfolio fail, as long as the 20th company is the next Amazon, Google, or Tesla.

Moreover, you don’t have to make a huge bet right away. You can start small. Why not try a consulting project instead of a full-time job? What about converting your hobby to a side gig? Why not help your friends with their project and see if it works out? VCs do not go “all in” right away. They start small, double down on the winners, and quit less-promising projects. You can think about the career in the same way—as a portfolio of bets.

Second, don’t be afraid to say no. Consider the young screenwriter and Emmy Award winner Michaela Coel. In 2017, Coel received an attractive $1 million offer from Netflix for her dramedy show I May Destroy You. She was tempted to sign, but after carefully reviewing the terms of the offer, she declined. Turning down $1 million was risky but wise. Shortly after that, BBC and HBO offered Coel a much better deal.

VCs are great at saying no. According to Ilya’s research, VCs decline 100 opportunities for every one startup they fund. VCs don’t want to buy the first house or the first car they see; they look at 100 houses or take a dozen test drives. To land the job that you like, you must be prepared to say no 100 times and look patiently for the right time to say yes.

Finally, think long term. Prioritize your long-term value over short-term metrics such as your initial salary or signing bonus. While it’s undeniable that salaries are important for our livelihoods, falling into the trap of short-termism can be detrimental to your life satisfaction for years to come.

Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber were all, at one time, small companies losing money. But the VCs supporting them believed in their long-term potential. Think about your next career opportunity in the same way. Focus on what really matters. Don’t judge by appearances. Google was once two dreamers working in a garage. Sequoia VC partners met with the founders of Dropbox in their tiny apartment.

Titles and corner offices do matter, but “if you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat,” as Sheryl Sandberg explained after her talk with Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and chairman at Google. Adopting the Venture Mindset toward your career could be one of the most significant and thrilling projects you’ll ever undertake. Think long term.

If recent layoffs have not impacted you, don’t sit back comfortably. Don’t become like Borders, the brick-and-mortar bookstore chain that waited too long to change and was crushed by venture-backed Amazon. Don’t be the next R. H. Donnelley (owner of the Yellow Pages), which missed the digital ad era and was washed away by Google and Facebook.

No one, not even a VC, likes times of crisis when layoffs are hitting hard. But VCs also know that challenging times are often the best times to invest.

In 1975, an energy crisis produced a severe recession, and the U.S. unemployment rate reached 9%. That was also the year Microsoft was founded. In 1998, while the tsunami of a global financial crisis was hitting every safe harbor in the world, banks toppled, and U.S. companies cut more than 650,000 jobs, two Stanford PhD students launched Google. WhatsApp, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, and Square, all revolutionary companies and products, were founded during financial crises and economic recessions.

Rather than giving in to short-term panic, think long term and invest in your human development by attending a course, becoming an intern, or changing your profession.

What seems today like a bump on the career path could actually be just the beginning of something new and exciting. Stay venture-minded and start making your bets now.

Ilya Strebulaev and Alex Dang are the authors of the forthcoming book The Venture Mindset. Strebulaev is the founder of the Venture Capital Initiative and David S. Lobel professor of private equity and professor of finance at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Dang is a seasoned tech executive and innovation adviser who has shaped new ventures at Amazon, AWS, and as a McKinsey & Co. partner.