Landing an internship at a promising Silicon Valley startup is not easy – and it’s even harder if you’re not from the US. They don’t know your school, they have to get you a visa (meaning fees and paperwork), and they have to invest in training someone who’s likely to go back home after the job.
So here are a few tactics that, coming from France, I used to land several great internships at Silicon Valley startups. When I’m saying startups, I’m talking about young tech companies with less than 30 employees, focused on thriving in a fast-paced and competitive environment (What’s a startup? Read this). I’ve had amazing experiences at such companies, and it’s something I recommend to everyone interested in leading innovative projects.
Working at a startup is very different from working in any other kind of company, and the differences extend to the recruitment process. Many startups don’t even have a formal application process – it would just slow them down. So here’s what you can do to find an internship opportunity that could transform your life.
1. Put yourself in the shoes of a Silicon Valley startup CEO
Running a startup is surely the busiest and most stressful time of their life. They have to build a product, find customers, manage a team, raise money, and try not losing their mind in the process. They’re tired as hell, and they don’t have time to read loooong emails from people they don’t know, explaining why their company would be a fantastic opportunity for their 6-month internship. Also, they receive those emails several times a week.
Understand that their time is their most precious resource, and take that into account when you interact with them.
2. Look at the right job boards
I tried many different online job boards, big and small. The big ones such as Indeed.com, SimplyHired, Monster or LinkedIn, didn’t work at all. They are too broad in content, too generic and overcrowded.
Aim at the job board that specialise in startups and were founded in Silicon Valley (meaning their primary clients are probably from the Valley as well). Sites like AngelList, VentureLoop and WayUp work pretty well. Note that some of the offers you’ll find are outdated, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no need for the position anymore.
3. Look where others don’t
Craigslist: you can find pretty much whatever you’re looking for on Craigslist and that includes internships offers, especially in the San Francisco (SF) Bay Area.
Many of my SF friends who finished their internships suggested their friends as a replacement. These are the hidden internships: the startups never post anything on the boards, as they can just ask their leaving intern if he/she knows someone who’d be a good fit.
Some startups use several interns in a row (nothing like cheap workforce), so it’s worth trying to get in touch with people currently interning in startups you’re interested in. You can use LinkedIn search and Facebook groups like this one to maximise your chances.
4. Automate your search
I found Google Alerts and Mention to be complementary in their results, and Twilert also allows you to filter results by location. You will be surprised to see how many people ask their Twitter followers if they know someone available for a job position. Not (active) on Twitter yet? Start now, it’s a no-brainer if you’re looking for a job in tech.
5. Use your network
There are two ways you can leverage your network to scout internship opportunities:
- Get introduced: each time you find a startup you like, check on Facebook or LinkedIn if any of your contacts know anyone working there before applying. Being introduced will dramatically increase your chances of getting an answer.
- Find startups you could be introduced to: the Facebook Graph Search is an amazing tool to research your Facebook friends and your friends’ friends. Simply activate it by switching your language to English (US) and start exploring.
For instance, I searched for “friends of friends who live in San Francisco and who are founders” or “people from France who live in San Francisco and who are founders”, and checked out the companies these people were working at. When I liked what I saw, I asked for introductions. You can also use LinkedIn for this kind of stuff, but the Graph Search makes it impressively straightforward and powerful.
6. Be smart with emailing
When you can, send emails to the CEO’s email address instead of generic addresses such as email@example.com. His/her email address is not public? You can use plugins like Rapportive to find their contact details. Install Rapportive on your browser and watch this video. Super easy.
Before sending anything, also install Yesware or Bananatag to track if your email has been opened, when it was opened and how many times it was opened. It will allow you to perfect your pitch when following up if you didn’t get an answer. I also suggest tweeting to the person about the email you sent, as a cross-channel reminder of your dedication.
When it comes to the content of your email, be short and straight to the point: why you want to work at the company, what you want to do there and why you’d be a perfect fit (links to previous projects, etc.). Show you’re someone resourceful, entrepreneurial and able to multi-task. Any technical expertise – such as Photoshop, video editing, basic coding skills, etc. – is also greatly appreciated for non-technical profiles.
7. Stand out from the crowd
As I already mentioned, startup CEOs receive tonnes of email requests so getting creative is a great way to rise above the noise.
For instance, when I was looking for a growth hacking internship, I wrote this on Quibb (a professional network for startup employees) about my job search and posted it on Growthhackers.com, which enabled me to get a pretty big shout-out.
Also, during events related to growth hacking, I tweeted at all the people using the hashtag of the event on Twitter about my job search, sending them the link to my post on Quibb. It was incredibly powerful (I landed a job opportunity as a growth hacker at BitTorrent doing this).
8. Show motivation
Each time I applied for a job at a start-up, I spent at least 30 minutes on their website preparing a PDF document describing what I really liked about their product and what I would change to increase growth (user interface, features, advertising strategy, email marketing, etc.)
As a growth hacker with a business/marketing background, it enabled me to show my creativity when it comes to the product. Spending some time studying their strategy and bringing great ideas also demonstrated how motivated I was to join them. If you did good work, you’re very likely to get an answer.
9. Don’t give up
Persistence is the #1 quality needed for startups, as all of them have to face difficult times on their path to success.
Never, never, never give up when you’re passionate about a company as long as they didn’t tell you a big and clear NO. Startup founders don’t like to turn down potential hires, and most of them will say “it’s a bit too soon”, “I have to talk with our lawyers”, “come back in a month” instead of saying you’re not a good fit. The more you show them your good qualities and your motivation, the more difficult it will be for them not to hire you.Be creative, try different things to convince them and never stop following up. With all these tips, you’re very likely to end up with a job you like. Good luck!
Don’t hesitate to check out my network on LinkedIn or Facebook and if you think you’d be a great fit for a startup I know, tell me exactly why and I’ll put you in touch with them! You can contact me on Twitter: @adrienm. Once you’re in Silicon Valley, check out this cool little guide for interns in the Bay Area and get in touch so we can have a beer together!