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

September 5, 2007

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!