So I Got a Startup Job: How to break into the Valley

I’m starting work this week at a small web startup. This will be my first full-time position, and I want to share what I have learned about the process of getting a job.

First, apply to many places. Beyond improving your chances of getting a job, there are several reasons for this:

  1. Applying is a skill, and one you rarely get to practice. This notion extends through every phase of the process: the resume, cover letter, phone interviews, follow-ups, and on-site interviews. As I kept applying, my resume and cover letter got significantly better — enough so that I even wished I had delayed applying to a couple places.
  2. Leveraging progress from one job application to improving your other prospects. After one company decided to fly me out for an on-site interview, I notified all the others I was applying to, and suddenly a lot more were interested in meeting me. Later, even an offer from a company you’re less interested in can be used to encourage other companies to move quickly and aggressively.
  3. Making contacts. I didn’t know anyone in the Valley when I started, but I met some great people just by having them interview me! Even though I didn’t take jobs at their companies, this unexpected benefit will outlast the interview process, and even my current job.

Second, present yourself honestly. At first, I imagined that companies were only looking for developers with a lot of experience. That’s what the job postings said! So that’s how I tried to position my application, even though I just recently graduated from college. It wasn’t convincing. Once I started presenting myself honestly — as a recent graduate, ready to work hard and capable of learning quickly — my resume made more sense, and my response rate improved.

Third, keep pushing them. Imagine that the companies literally don’t know what to do with a job application, and your duty is to politely remind them each step of the way. If you haven’t gotten a response to your phone interview after a week, send an email to the person you were already in contact with. If other companies are moving faster, don’t even wait a week — contact the lagger right away, and it can’t hurt to mention the other guys’ interest.

Finally, know what you want before you start. Things move very fucking fast in Silicon Valley, and you won’t have time to think. From the time I started applying, through all kinds of interviews, choosing an offer, and moving to California was about three weeks. (The sole company in NYC that I applied to only now got back, saying they want an interview. It must be different over there.) In this kind of environment, with multiple offers on the table and your brain fried from interviews, you won’t have a lot of brain-power to devote to choosing a job. It helps if you’ve weighted all your variables beforehand!

I you find this advice helpful. Good luck!

10 Responses to “So I Got a Startup Job: How to break into the Valley”

  1. Hasan Says:

    congrats, welcome to Cali!

  2. lamegoat Says:

    Great Tips – I think the most important is to “Know what you want.” This, together with honesty will get you the job that you will enjoy to work at.

  3. freshbreakfast Says:

    Cool. Thanks. I’m currently working for a startup, looking for another job as well, in silicon valley. I must say, your take on the process is spot on. Doing the startup rounds is definitely a different kind of beast than other hiring processes.

  4. brush2 Says:

    Well Done!
    Honesty and confidence……walk right in there and tell them that you’ve chosen their firm/co….!!…to have YOU.

  5. Ben Yoskovitz Says:

    I’m curious – how did you go about looking for a job? It’s clear you wanted to work at a startup, so what was your process?

    Google search for jobs in San Fran, Valley, New York?
    Surfing existing job sites?
    Visiting specific companies’ sites to see what careers they had?

  6. tempo32 Says:

    Ben: I used several resources. First was looking directly at the websites of companies I liked, to see if they were hiring. Second was Craigslist, under the “internet engineers” job section for the San Francisco Bay Area. Third was job boards, especially CrunchBoard.

  7. ayaz Says:

    Congratulations. You’ve underlined some good points one applying for a job ought to look after. From my experience, I believe I rate honesty in how your present yourself both in person and on paper (through resume, cover letter, etc) the highest. I have seen people brag about god-knows stuff they don’t even understand properly in their resumes. Also, one must never lose one’s confident when appearing in interviews, neither on phone, nor in face-to-face.

    My experience has been such that even though I know a lot, more than in fact 90% of most other people applying for the same position in almost all the cases, I have felt while applying a little nervous thinking that I don’t know enough. But, it has always turned out real well from me. I’ve interviewed some six to seven places, and except for one (which is Google), I got the offers from all of them.

    And yes, like someone else has highlighted, it is very important to know “what you want and are looking for”. More and more graduating students these days hardly know where they would like to go, which profession they would like to follow a career in, and that really is sad. Explore yourself, analyse your interests, your skills, and determine what you want to do or would like to do in all earnestness (instead of relying on whatever job you get).

    Again, a great post.

  8. Gus Says:

    Congrats. This is excellent information.
    If you are over 40 (for those of us who are), you MUST lie about your age but otherwise, keep it honest, about work, that is.
    Keep us updated, if your job lets you keep a blog.

    MK, dtr of Gus.

  9. Rory Says:

    Congrats man, and nice writeup :)

  10. Winding Machine · Says:

    silicon valley is great because it houses some of the world’s best electronics firm ::

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