Getting a job in Silicon Valley
Getting a Job in Silicon Valley
How I ended up in Silicon Valley (as a non-techie) and how you can too!
Silicon Valley, a magical place on earth that everybody in the startup world talks about and seemingly THE location for young companies! Many want to go there to soak up the wisdom this place radiates, connect with likeminded people, find investors and learn from the best on how to grow a Silicon Valley Unicorn. What better way to do all of this than working for a company based there?! Oh, and I heard the salaries are not bad either!
In 2016 I made my way to the Valley and lived in Palo Alto and San Francisco to start to work for an awesome company in sales. In this article I’ll be sharing my entire journey on how I got a job in Silicon Valley and my tips and tricks if you want to do the same!
Reasons why you should consider looking for a job in Silicon Valley
My reasons for going to Silicon Valley were pretty straight forward – I wanted to learn from the best in sales and learn more about how to grow a profitable business! The reason for this was that I failed with my first startup. We won a ton of awards and all that jazz, but were never able to grow it to a profitable business which is kinda the most important part of building a business… That being said I felt like sales was a skill I was lacking and if I ever want to successfully do something in the business world, it would be a skill that I’ll have to learn and get really really good at!
I wasn’t interested in a sleazy car-salesman kind of sales, but instead wanted to learn more 1) the basics of honest sales and 2) how modern and upcoming startups do sales – which involves a lot of inside sales (selling from your computer via phone calls and video conferences). I had a good idea where I could find a place where I could learn all of the above and I’ll share more on this below.
As you see, you don’t necessarily have to be in tech or an engineer to start looking for a job in the Valley. It’s not a place that’s restricted to techies only. I studied Marketing and was running my own food startup (selling Yoghurt instead of tech) before going to Silicon Valley, so I’d say I’m a pretty good example of someone non-technical making his way there.
I personally think that the Valley is a great place for many reasons: make connections to potentially find new co-founders, look for investors, learn a specific skill or learn more about how to start and run a startup. All these are things that you can dive into much better when you actually live there. If you end up in the Valley you will not only hopefully have a job there that can impact your personal growth but at the same time you have all day and night after working your job to dive into events, meet people and all that great stuff!
Connections + Hustle = Job in Silicon Valley
One of the big mistakes people do is flying to San Francisco and only then start looking for a job. While this can work, I wouldn’t recommend it because you’ll waste a lot of money living there without income and I believe there are much smarter ways to approach this. I’ll share my exact story on how I made one single connection that gave me an opportunity to actually live in the US and work for a Silicon Valley based startup.
You can for example network like crazy not only online but also at events. Many people “network” at conferences but not very many make use of those connections. If you follow through and show true hustle, you can make magic work. Keep on reading to see how one connection made at a conference was my entry card to Silicon Valley.
While running my first startup in Austria, I went to a lot of events. I saw countless public speakers on stage talking about everything related to startups and one of them was the a co-founder and CEO of a Silicon Valley company. His name ist Steli Efti and he runs Close.io, which is a CRM tool for sales people. When I first saw him I had no idea who he was but the conference program said that he had something to do with Silicon Valley so that was reason enough for me to go look at his talks.
Long story short, his talk was one of the most inspiring I’ve ever seen and I was blown away by this energy. That was the moment where I knew that I want to work with this guy at some point but keep in mind I was running my own startup at the time plus I was finishing my Master’s degree at the same time.
That didn’t hold me back from connecting with Steli though. Right after his talk, I walked up to him and literally said: “I don’t really know you but great talk! What exactly do you and you company do?”. I had to make my way through the masses and say *something* to grab his attention. He gave me a quick answer but at least the first connection was made. I also had his email address which he put on his slides during the talk, encouraging people to reach out – I knew that a lot of people were thinking of emailing him but I knew that not many follow through on opportunities like those so I made sure to save the email in a safe place for when the time was right for me.
At the afterparty I walked up to him again and told him how great and inspiring his talk was. I was wearing some weird green nerd glasses which were the trade mark symbol of the startup I was running. I might have looked like an idiot, but at least it helped Steli remember me as the kid with green glasses ha! That’s where this picture was taken and in hindsight I can’t believe that this was my starting point of a long and exciting journey ahead!
So the connection was made. I now knew someone that was running a company in Silicon Valley and I knew it was all about sales. Close.io is a CRM for sales people and Steli also trained countless sales people for a sales team on demand which was a company he was running before the CRM company. It was literally the perfect place for me to learn sales but at the time, I was still committed to my own startup plus my University studies.
After eventually shutting down my own startup and finishing my Master’s degree, I knew it was time to put my hustle to work. I was determined to learn from Steli and go to Silicon Valley so my first step to see if Close.io was hiring.
The hiring process – time to shine!
Hiring processes in Silicon Valley are different to what I’ve seen in Europe. It’s not about your title or education at all but much more about what you’ve done and what you can deliver. This typically means that you need to go through various take home tasks and prove in interviews with multiple people from the the company that you have what it takes to help push the startup forward.
Here’s how I got involved in the hiring process and what I did to eventually got hired: So I literally checked if there were any open positions at the company I wanted to work at. I’m not an engineer nor do I want to become one so I was looking for business/sales/marketing type of positions. Close.io was hiring for Sales Development Reps – jackpot! When I saw this on their website I pinged the CEO on social media and via Email to briefly email him what I’ve been up to and that I’m interested in the open position. Remember, he already briefly knew me from an event and I tried to keep in touch every few months just to make sure I don’t let the connection die
My initial email subject line was literally “Hi from Austria + SDR” and I made sure to leverage the picture we took at the event back then to make sure he remembers me and has a personal connection to my email. Back then I was hoping that this line would help so I added it to my email: “You’re probably wondering who the fuck I am but you know me – I’m the guy from Austria with the green glasses, we’ve met several times :)”
To my surprise he replied the next day introducing me to the hiring manager for the sales position. I was pumped! But I knew that this was only the first step to make my way to the Valley. I had an intro, great – but now it was time to shine and show the entire company that I really wanted to job and that I’d do whatever it takes.
The hiring process included multiple calls with the head of sales who assigned me tasks that I should work on. I had no idea about sales so I read all of the free content and tips out there to help me learn as much as possible so I could put it to work. I nailed the assignments by 1) delivering super fast even though the head of sales told me I could take my time and 2) not only making sure the assignment was completed but also making it look super nice and designing nice slides etc. You might think this is not necessary but I believe the nicer something looks the better it’s perceived. It’s not essential but it’s something that can give you that edge over other applicants!
While all the interviews were taking place and I was working on the challenges, I made sure to send brief follow-up emails to everyone involved to keep them in the loop. Top priority was of course the CEO Steli, not to be intrusive but just to show that I had some business and sales sense when it comes to following up.
After I delivered the take home assignments and had my calls with the head of sales, I received an email that I need to set up a call with Steli. I was about one month into the hiring process at this stage and was super pumped – this could only be a good sign! I received instructions that the next call will be a “mock call” (a staged sales call where I’ll have to try to sell Steli something on the phone) which was super daunting, remembering the fact that Steli is a very very experienced sales person.
So what I did was again, research and learn as much about sales calls and cold calling as possible and practice with friends so that I at least showed I somewhat knew what sales was all about. I didn’t do great but I think what the CEO honored was that I gave it my all and tried to implement everything Close teaches about sales as good as possible.
I sent another email to Steli and Kevin to just say thanks for all the feedback so far and that I’m super pumped about this opportunity and reiterating that if they are looking for someone that will put their input to immediate action then I’m their guy. Looking back it might have seemed a little desperate but I prefer rather sending one email too much than too less!
You’re hired! Next Steps & Visa things
After a long and extensive hiring process where they made sure to test my skills and willingness to learn, I finally got on a last call with the CEO where Steli told me they decided to hire me! Holy cow, I couldn’t believe it! I was jumping up and down in my room in Austria and was so happy. HOWEVER, on that same call I kept asking about next steps. What are the next steps when it comes to visa? Are you going to sponsor it? How can I actually work over there? Who is going to pay for the flight? I just wanted to make sure that this deal actually closes and I knew that the dream is only reality once I board that airplane to San Francisco!
I realized that there’s a lot more work to do to make this happen, one of the major challenges being figuring out the whole visa situation. Keep in mind Close is a startup and they had very limited resources, especially on the people management side. I basically had to take full ownership and tell them exactly what the options were to get me over and what the steps are that we need to take to get me over there!
In the spirit of consistency I put just as much effort into all the research as I did with the previous assignments, showing them that it’s simply my way of working – fast, efficient, to the point, well structured and again, visually appealing and easy to read.
If you want to go from Europe to the US and work there the easiest way is a J-1 intern visa which you can max out to one year. That’s exactly what we did and you can always then during that year work on getting an H-1B visa. We worked together with an agency (which is required) for the entire process and I made sure that everything was in place and was moving forward as fast as possible. Visa + flight organization took another 1.5 – 2 months after about 1 month of hiring process.
A few weeks later I finally boarded the plane and could not believe it at all. I was on my way to Silicon Valley to work with a growing startup. An opportunity to not only learn a lot about sales but also to connect with like-minded people and soak up the entire startup spirit that the Valley has to offer!
Step to step guide to get a Job in Silicon Valley
So as you see, it’s absolutely possible to make your way to Silicon Valley and work for a startup there. Even if you are not an engineer! The above is my story on how I made it happen and I think that the key principles are still true if you follow through:
- Have a good reason why you want to work in Silicon Valley. This “why” will help you to keep going even if things don’t look that great!
- Make a connection. Find someone that has been in the Valley or that can help you get a job there. Use LinkedIn, Social Media and conferences to network and make sure you stand out!
- Nail the application process. Go all in, even if it means sleepless nights! OVERDELIVER! Everybody can send out a CV and do the basics. You can only stand out if you deliver better quality working less time than everybody else!
- Take ownership over the full process. It doesn’t stop at “You’re hired!”. Help the startup hire you by figuring out your visa possibilities, costs, flights and everything else that needs to happen to get you over there! Prove your startup IQ!
The above seems logical to me in hindsight, but it wasn’t at all back then. I had to figure everything out step by step and if I had to boil it down, I’d say it all comes down to straight up HUSTLE! You need to have a strong reason WHY you want to make this happen and then over deliver again and again until you made your dream a reality.
If you really want it, I truly believe this is possible. Not only because I did it myself, but because the principles above apply to anything that you want to make happen – have a strong why and then work on it until it’s yours!
Let me know if you have any questions about this topic or my story on how I got a job in Silicon Valley. Simply leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – thanks for reading!
Bonus – finding companies in Silicon Valley that are hiring
As you can tell from my story above, I heavily leveraged my networking skills to increase my chances of getting hired by a Silicon Valley based startup. However, I still believe that you can use the same principles (straight up hustle and displaying your skill) to get hired in a more traditional way.
There are lots of job platforms out there where you can search for open positions online. Keep in mind that almost every startup in the San Francisco area will be hiring since most of them have rapid growth in mind. Reach out to them directly, search for people working there on LinkedIn, research any new and upcoming startups in the area and I promise you that you’ll find countless opportunities to apply and blow them away in the application process!
Even if the startup doesn’t have any open positions on their website, doesn’t mean they are not interested in someone adding value to their team. Close.io is for example always hiring or at least looking to connect with great talented people! You can check out our open positions here: https://jobs.lever.co/close.io/
Hint: If you’re really interested in getting a job in Silicon Valley, keep in mind that you now know someone that might have some interesting connections for you – me! If you think you have what it takes and are open to apply the principles described in my article, feel free to reach out 😉
Below is a video I made for Close.io, showing you how much fun it can be to work with a remote startup that meets up regularly at team retreat so work together face to face! Enjoy 🙂