9 Tips To Land An Internship At A Hot Silicon Valley Start-Up

Landing an internship at a promising Silicon Valley start-up is not easy, and it’s even harder when you’re not from the US: they don’t know your school, they’re gonna have to get you a visa (meaning fees and paperwork), and they’re gonna train someone who’s likely to come back home after the job. So here are a few tactics I used to land several great internships at Silicon Valley start-ups from France. When I’m saying start-ups, I’m talking about these young tech companies with less than 30 employees focused on thriving in a fast-paced and competitive environment (What’s a start-up? Read this and that). I’ve had amazing experiences at such companies and it’s something I recommend to everyone interested in leading innovative projects.

Working at a start-up is very different from working at any other kind of company and the difference also applies to recruitment. Most start-ups don’t have application processes, it would slow them down. So here’s how to find great jobs at such companies.


1. Put yourself in the shoes of a start-up CEO in Silicon Valley

These guys are living the riskiest and busiest times of their careers. They have to build a product, find customers, manage a team, raise money… They are working as hell and they don’t have time to read looooong emails from people they don’t know explaining why their company would be an amazing opportunity for a 6-month internship. Understand that their time is their most precious resource and take that into account when you interact with them. You also have to know they receive such emails several times a week.


2. Look at the right job boards

I tried many different online job boards, big or little ones. The big ones such as Indeed.com, SimplyHired, Monster or LinkedIn, didn’t work at all. They are too international, too generic and overcrowded.

Aim at the same kind of websites but specialized in start-ups and that were founded in Silicon Valley (meaning that there first client source is there): AngelList, VentureLoop and InternMatch work pretty well. Note that some of the offers you’ll find there are outdated, that doesn’t mean that there’s no need for this position anymore.

3. Search where people don’t search

Craigslist: you will find whatever you are looking for on this website, including internships offers, especially in the SF Bay Area.

Many of my SF friends who finished their internship got friends replace them at the end of their internship. These are hidden internships: the start-ups never need to post something on the web about them as they just have to ask their leaving interns if they know people who would be a good fit. Some start-ups use several interns in a row (cheap work you said?) so it’s worth trying to get in touch with people currently interning start-ups you’re interested in. Use LinkedIn search and Facebook groups like this one: San Francisco Bay Area Interns Spring 2014.


4. Automate your search

Get alerted by email when something is posted on the web about an internship offer. I recommend the use of Google Alerts, Mention and Twilert with the keywords related to your search. I found Google Alerts and Mention were complementary in their results and Twilert is pretty cool as you can filter results by location. You will be surprised to see how many people ask for their Twitter followers if they know someone available for a job position.

You’re not on Twitter yet? Start now, it’s a no brainer if you’re looking for a job in tech.


5. Use your network

– To get introductions: each time you find a start-up you like, check on Facebook or LinkedIn if one of your contacts know anyone working there before applying. Being introduced will dramatically increase your chances to get an answer.

– To find start-ups you could be introduced to: the Facebook graph search is an amazing tool to search among your Facebook friends and friends’ friends. Simply activate it by switching your language to English (US) and start exploring opportunities. I searched for instance “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 each time I checked the company these people where working at. When I liked it, I asked for introductions. You should also use LinkedIn for that kind of stuff but the graph search makes it impressively simple and powerful.


6. Be smart with emailing

When you can, send emails to the CEO email address instead of generic addresses such as jobs@startup.com. His/her email address is not public? Use Rapportive to find it: install Rapportive on your browser and watch this video. Super easy.

Before sending anything, also install Yesware or Bananatag to track if your email is opened, when it is opened and how many times it was opened. It will enable you to adapt your message when you follow up if you didn’t receive any answer.

I’d also advise you to tweet the person about the email you sent as a reminder on another channel.

When it comes to the content of your email, be short and straight to the point: why you want to work at this company, what you want to do there and why you’d be an amazing fit (links to previous projects, etc.). Show you’re someone resourceful, entrepreneur-minded and able to multi-task. Having a few technical skills – such as photoshop, video edition, basics of coding, etc. – are also greatly appreciated for non-technical profiles.

7. Stand out from the crowd: be creative

As I told you, startup CEOs receive tons of emails, so being creative is a great way to stand out from the crowd. For instance, when I was looking for a growth hacking internship, I wrote this on Quibb (a professional network for startupers) 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 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 like this).


8. Deliver more than expected, it shows how good and motivated you are

Each time I applied for a job at a start-up I had spent at least 30 minutes on their website to prepare a PDF document describing what I really liked on their product and what I would try or change in order to grow faster (user interface, features, advertising strategy, email marketing…). 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 showed how much motivated I was to joined them. If you did a good work, you’re very likely to get an answer.

9. Don’t give up

Persistence is the #1 quality needed for start-ups as all of them have to face difficult times in 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 on potential hires and most of them will say “it’s a bit too soon”, “I’ve 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 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 with a job you like.


Don’t hesitate to check out my network on LinkedIn or Facebook and if you think you’d be a great fit for a start-up 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 have a beer together!


Good luck!




Thoughts on Silicon Valley from a New Comer

[Post written for The Entrepreneur Handbook]

“It’s the place to be”, “there’s no better city to launch a start-up”, “everybody should go there at least once”. This is what I was often told in Paris about Silicon Valley. I wanted to go and see for myself during my gap year and I wasn’t disappointed, even if a few statements need to be watered down!

Silicon Valley stage

I’m passionate about tech and it’s been quite a long time I had thought about moving here, to discover this ecosystem which is the global center of tech innovation. Interning several start-ups for a year in San Francisco sounded like a good way to do so. Today, I work at NextUser and I live in SoMa, the neighbourhood where the HQs of Twitter, Zynga and Airbnb a few blocks from one another. This impressive concentration is a striking feature of Silicon Valley: talent and resources are all gathered in the same place. All this naturally creates entrepreneurial opportunities.

Startupers everywhere, all the time

You can meet passionate startupers every time of day here: in the morning at the Starbucks where half of the tables are used by freelancers working on their MacBooks, later at the coworking space, during afterwork tech meetups and even at dinners with friends.

There’s no other city in the world where you’ll find so many early-adopters for every possible tech trend – there are several meetups gathering hundreds of amateurs of bitcoins, health tech, wearable tech, etc. In order to meet other young tech enthusiasts and exchange about our projects I even launched our own meetup – Early Entrepreneurs – with a friend.



One of the most famous places to meet other startupers in SF

For better or for worse , working in tech has become a norm in San Francisco. What is great about that is how easy it is to meet the people you’d have never met in Europe. For instance, you can’t imagine how excited I was when I met an engineer working on the fascinating Google’s Project Loon at the 1st party I went to… Today, after 4 months, my 1st and 2nd circles of connections count several dozens of founders of successful or promising start-ups. Most of them were or would be easy enough to meet if you ask them for a coffee. There’s a very positive mindset towards networking and it probably explains (among other reasons) why things can go so fast here…

Extreme competition and unique stimulation

It’s the risky and exciting part of Silicon Valley: there are very talented people here and everybody wants them. The talent war is impressive and makes salaries increase like hell. The average salary for a junior level computer engineer is more than 100k a year! And I’m not talking about the perks such as free lunchs, open snacks, gaming rooms, etc. The “acqui-hiring” is another trend showing how valuable teams of talented people are here: in order to bring amazing developers and designers all at once in your company (usually big ones such as Google, Facebook or Apple), you simply buy the start-up they have founded. None of them is more than 25? It doesn’t really matter – first counts skills and motivation here. It can even be a weakness to be more than 35 to be chosen for the most prestigious local startup accelerators such as the Y Combinator.

To overcome this talent war, some start-ups choose not to have their technical team in the region: build your sales team here in order to be able to meet several representative of the biggest tech companies in the same day but keep your developers far away from job offers!

On the other hand, this competition is extremely valuable as it obviously stimulates anyone who’s passionate about this field. I got that when at the end of the 1st hackathon I participated in a team demoed Google Glass-controlled drones… These people already live in the future, it makes it much easier to  build tomorrow’s technology. Such energy is priceless.

Techcrunch hackathon stage silicon Valley

The huge Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon

A place to visit

Silicon Valley’s mindset towards innovation is unique. This place is definitely enriching for inspiration and encounters. I’d advise anyone seriously interested in tech to come here at least a few weeks in order to draw on this great wealth. Should you launch your start-up here? The answer is a bit more complicated. It’s the world cup: you can be the best in your country and get eaten in a few months by the sharks you’ll find here. The employees are less loyal, the VCs are more generous but so powerful… But if you succeed here, things can get very big very fast. Maybe the solution lies in mobility? Criteo for instance was founded in 2005 in Paris, then moved to Palo Alto to target the US market and eventually brought back their HQ to France last year, just before IPO.

La Silicon Valley vue de l’intérieur par un jeune passionné

[English version here – Post à rédigé à l’origine pour Business Angel France]

C’est là que ça se passe »,  « Il n’y a pas de meilleur endroit pour monter sa start-up », « Tout le monde devrait y aller au moins une fois ». Voilà ce que j’ai pu régulièrement entendre de part et d’autre à Paris à propos de la Silicon Valley. J’ai voulu aller voir cela de moi-même pendant mon année de césure et je n’ai pas été déçu, même si certaines nuances méritent d’être apportées !

Silicon Valley stage

Passionné d’entrepreneuriat, cela faisait un petit moment que je songeais à m’installer à San Francisco pour découvrir cet écosystème, centre mondial de l’innovation technologique. Quoi de mieux pour ce faire qu’une année de stage dans une start-up à San Francisco ? Cela fait maintenant plus de deux mois que je travaille chez NextUser et vis à SoMa, quartier de la ville où l’on retrouve notamment les HQ de Twitter, Zynga ou Airbnb à quelques blocs les uns des autres. Cette concentration impressionnante est symptomatique de la Silicon Valley : concentration de talents, concentration de ressources leur permettant de se déployer, et donc naturellement concentration d’opportunités entrepreneuriales.

Des startupers partout, tout le temps

Chaque moment de la journée est en effet une occasion de rencontrer d’autres startupers passionnés. Le matin au Starbucks du coin où pas moins de la moitié des tables sont prises d’assaut par des freelancers tapotant sur leur MacBook ; durant la journée dans un des multiples espaces de coworking de la ville, plus tard à des meetups (il y en a plusieurs par jour sur des thématiques différentes, j’y ai d’ailleurs lancé le mien avec un ami) ou le soir dans les hacker houses où nombreux sont ceux qui travaillent pour les mastodontes du web tels que Google ou Facebook … Même à la maison, mes colocataires sont employés chez Craigslist, Airbnb ou dans la biotechnologie !


The Creamery, un des spots préférés des start-upers à San Francisco

Travailler dans la tech est presque devenu la norme à San Francisco. Et le mieux au sein cette communauté d’entrepreneurs, c’est l’ouverture à la rencontre (d’aucuns diront l’importance du réseau) qui nous permet d’entrer facilement en contact avec des personnes qui auraient été inaccessibles depuis la France. Je suis par exemple tombé au cours d’une soirée sur un ingénieur français travaillant au sein de l’équipe du fascinant Project Loon de Google ; une amie a pris un café avec le fondateur de la Pebble Watch (1ère montre connectée) sans même savoir de qui il s’agissait ; et l’on croise régulièrement quelques stars de la tech qui se retrouvent dans une poignée de restaurants  à San Francisco ou Palo Alto. Je n’irai pas jusqu’à dire qu’il est possible de prendre un café avec Zuckerberg, mais les personnes ici sont en général ouvertes à l’idée d’une rencontre pour discuter de ses projets mutuels, sans qu’une introduction au préalable ne soit nécessaire.

Une concurrence sans merci mais source d’émulation

Les meilleurs du monde sont ici, et on se les arrache. C’est le côté à la fois excitant et risqué de la Silicon Valley : la compétition y est extrême. La « guerre des talents » en est la manifestation la plus claire. Ici, les développeurs valent de l’or, et tout est bon pour les faire venir puis les conserver : du salaire aux « perks » (les « privilèges »), cela atteint des sommets. Un ami en stage d’été chez Twitter, je dis bien en stage d’été, recevait 7500$ par mois et travaillait au siège au centre de San Francisco où l’on trouve entre autres une salle de jeu, de la nourriture à volonté et une cantine en rooftop. Le « acqui-hiring » consistant à racheter une start-up afin de récupérer ses employés est un autre phénomène prouvant la valeur donnée ici aux ressources humaines. Leur âge n’a d’ailleurs pas tant d’importance, ce qui compte avant tout ce sont les compétences et la motivation – avoir plus de 35 ans peut même parfois être un handicap si l’on veut être sélectionné dans les accélérateurs locaux les plus prestigieux comme le Y Combinator. Face à cette guerre des talents, certaines start-ups françaises préfèrent avoir leur équipe technique en France ou même embaucher des développeurs sous contrat travaillant à distance grâce à des outils comme oDesk, ce qui diminue nettement les coûts et limite le risque de départ impromptu d’un élément de son équipe.

Evidemment, la concurrence se ressent au niveau des projets également. Prenons les hackathons auxquels j’ai participé (il y en quasiment tous les weekends) : rares étaient les équipes qui n’avaient pas été formées à l’avance, avec des idées mûrement réfléchies et un matériel impressionnant afin de délivrer le meilleur projet possible au bout des 48h – que dites-vous par exemple d’un drône contrôlé par le mouvement de la tête portant des Google Glass ? Bref, difficile de nier après ce genre d’expérience que la Silicon Valley a plusieurs coups d’avance sur la France sur certains domaines… L’émulation créée par la concurrence entre les génies de cet écosystème y est évidemment pour quelque chose.

Techcrunch hackathon stage silicon Valley

Gigantesque hackathon précédant le TechCrunch Disrupt 2013

Un passage obligé

En définitive, la Silicon Valley déborde d’une incroyable énergie lui donnant une force d’innovation technologique difficile à retrouver ailleurs. Cela en fait donc un écosystème extrêmement enrichissant en inspiration et en rencontres. Définitivement, il faut venir ici aux moins quelques semaines pour puiser dans cette dynamique lorsque l’on souhaite monter sa start-up. Faut-il la lancer ici ? La réponse est moins évidente. Pourquoi pas si l’on est prêt à se battre aux côtés des champions du monde, au sein de cet environnement à la fois bénéfique et hostile où les employés sont talentueux mais chers et peu loyaux et où les VC sont souvent généreux mais aussi très puissants. Certains ont trouvé la solution dans la mobilité, comme Criteo qui, fondée en 2005 à Paris puis partie s’installer en 2008 à Palo Alto pour le marché américain, a choisi de rapatrier son siège aux sources françaises l’année dernière.