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How to land a job in Silicon Valley

Here are some tips for Australians wanting to work for a US startup. (Images: Getty)

For many Australians, especially those in younger age groups, getting a job working for an American tech startup is a dream.

The work is intense and the pay can be low for non-technical staff. But if the startup does well, employees with shares in the company could become very wealthy.

If you want to enter the Silicon Valley lottery but don't know where to start, there are Australians who have already experienced it.

It took nearly three years of persistence for UNSW Business School graduate Shawn Noronha to nab a job in California.

"It took a lot of planning, hard work and resilience to break into the start-ups' job market in Silicon Valley," he said.

"With only four days left on my trip to San Francisco, I was finally able to secure a full-time marketing position with a virtual bank called Empower."

Networking: the best way to hunt for Silicon Valley jobs

Noronha had completed entrepreneurship subjects at UNSW then interned at Australian startups before seeking his place in Silicon Valley.

When he arrived, he found networks of both university alumni and Australian expatriates who were willing to connect him to startups that were looking for more bodies.

"Silicon Valley is an expat town and people from all over the world head to Silicon Valley to make a difference," said Noronha.

"Every second day there is a summit, or a conference and you get to meet founders and work directly with them."

There is even a Facebook group named "Australians in San Fran Bay", which holds networking events.

But you have to put yourself out there and talk to people, said UNSW startup and mentor coach Brendan Hill.

"If you have the drive to talk to enough people and make your pitch – It is doable to land a graduate job in Silicon Valley."

What is your superpower?

A bit like an aspiring actor, there is a lot of competition for the few jobs available.

A way to stand out from others who are just submitting resumes online is to try to meet executives or recruitment officers face-to-face.

"Meet-ups and events were fantastic ways to meet like-minded individuals, learn more about Silicon Valley and expand my network. In fact, this is how I met the CEO of the firm that I'll be working for," said Noronha.

A question that repeatedly popped up in Noronha's interviews was "What is your superpower?".

The employer is trying to find out how self-aware you are and the level of self-confidence in your skills.

This is the chance to promote your strengths – so you need to have an answer prepared for this question.

What's the recruitment process like in Silicon Valley?

Reflecting the agility of startups, hiring happens fast in the Valley.

Noronha, with only one week left in San Francisco, met with the chief executive of Empower then the chief marketing officer and head of operations before securing a graduate position with four days left.

A feature of US startup interviews is the allocation of homework – a trend which hasn't caught on in Australia yet.

These tasks can require the applicant to write an email, presentations, or perform market research.

A growth mindset

Other tips Noronha would give other Australians trying to crack the US job market is to get some solid local work experience behind them and go in with a "growth mindset".

"The work culture is energetic and people there are very driven [in Silicon Valley]," he said.

"Stay curious, keep learning and don't be disheartened by setbacks or rejection. Take everything as a learning opportunity and keep on working toward your goals."

How to write to Silicon Valley startups

Noronha has provided two examples of emails he sent to US startups to ask about internship opportunities.

The first is a "soft request" for general advice:


My name is Shawn. I’m a UNSW student in my final year studying Information Systems.

I’m a big fan of your work - I loved the article you put out about the development of Instagram, and the stuff you’re doing with Oliver Space looks amazing!

I’ll be heading to SF in a few weeks and noticed you're forging a pretty fantastic career path in the tech & ops spaces. If possible, I'd love to connect to learn more about your experiences and the work you do. 

I know you're busy, but if you have any spare time at all to advise a student, would it be possible to hop on a quick call with you? I am available Thursday and Friday and would be truly grateful for any advice you could offer.



The second is a "hard request" for work experience:

Good morning XXX

My name is Shawn. I’m a final year Marketing/Information Systems student from UNSW, Sydney, Australia.

I came across your profile on LinkedIn and was captivated by the work you’re doing with Lyric and the incredible career you've forged.

I'll be in SF in 2 weeks for the month of August to work and learn and much as I can. I'm reaching out as I'd like to offer to work for free under you and the Lyric team for 30 days.

I’ll cover flights, expenses and accommodation and there’s no obligation to hire me afterwards, I’m just hoping to embark on a productive graduation trip and provide as much value as I can. I have prior experience in sales, marketing & ops at early stage ventures in Sydney and would be willing to work on anything you need.

I’ll be landing SF in 2 weeks and would love to connect. Would you be free to chat sometime this week? Please let me know what you think and apologies if I have overstepped a line here.