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 Note that some of the offers you’ll find there are outdated, that doesn’t mean that there’s no need for this position anymore.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!




Stay Aware, Meet People, Build Projects: Some Advice For Students Interested In Tech Entrepreneurship

Mark Z.

Mark Zuckerberg

This advice was given to me by people I trust or it simply comes from my personal experience. Hope it will be helpful – would love to hear what you think about it.

Stay Aware

There are two complementary and inseparable ways to learn about tech entrepreneurship: from what you read and get taught and from your personal experience as a project founder. When it comes to learning resources, the Internet made it amazingly easy to have access to very high quality content. There’s so much knowledge at your fingertips today that it would be a mistake not to harness this new tool to the full. Here are a few resources I think you should consider using:

1. Blogs

The first category of blogs you should read to be aware of the latest trends are the tech news websites such as TechCrunchVentureBeat, Mashable or Hacker News. If you don’t live in the US, I would also look for local startup blogs – we have Rude Baguette or Frenchweb in France for instance.

The other category of blogs that are interesting to follow are personal blogs written by experts. Just to name a few, I really like those of Steve Blank, Paul Graham, Chris Dixon and Andrew Chen.

Look for the blogs you prefer on Google or on Quora, there are tons of lists and select a few ones you will really read. It could also be a interesting to look for less famous blogs where you can discuss thoughts with the author more easily.

To stay up to date, I usually subscribe to their newsletters or like their page on Facebook. You can also use an RSS reader such as Feedly that will gather all the articles on a single updated place. Another tool I’d recommend is Pocket to save interesting articles and read them later.

2. Twitter

Another must have for tech entrepreneurs. Two different points lie in Twitter to me: information and interaction. Information: get the latest news shared from people you value – friends, journalists, founders, investors, dreamers, etc. You’ll find lists of must-follow people on Google. Interaction: react to their tweets and start a conversation with them. As an example of the power of this platform, a good friend of mine organized a conference with the famous French blogger Loic Le Meur after getting in touch with him on Twitter.

Twitter can also be used as a tool to get a general idea of people thoughts, interests and “influence”. For instance, I know people who always check out the Twitter profile of a potential hire before the interview. So I really recommend you join Twitter soon if you’re not on it yet, and stick to it even if you have difficulties in finding the point at first. Say hello by the way!

3. Quora

I fell in love with Quora quite recently and already learnt so much! The concept is pretty simple: people ask questions and other people answer or vote for the best answers. The credit system makes it the best knowledge-sharing tool I know today and if, I could, I’d spend hours and hours on it everyday. You’ll find a lot of stories, tips and great resources about tech entrepreneurship but not only.

The nice thing about Quora is that the Quorans community counts people such as Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Ashton Kutcher or Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook – Zuck is also there but never answered a question yet). So you might get answers from them if you ask:


If I had to hire someone, I’d definitely have a look at their answers on Quora.

I use Evernote to classify all the valuable information I get from all these different sources. It’s also a good tool to organize your thoughts and your projects. Don’t put heavy PDF files or high quality pictures on it and you should be ok with the free version.

Meet People

Having a good network won’t make you a great entrepreneur but most of the time a great entrepreneur needs a good network on the road to success. As a student, I’d say a good network is the combination of two kinds of people: mentors and partners. Mentors are people who will help you build your projects by giving you experienced advice and the contacts you could need. Here’s an interesting article about finding mentors. Partners are people like you, close to you, who you could launch projects with.

Try to meet as diverse people as possible, when it comes to skills, culture and personality – be it with your mentors or your partners. Differences come with opportunities and broaden your vision. Of course, it’s all about mutual help – the more you bring to the community, the more you’ll get from it.

To meet the local tech community, you should use Meetup and subscribe to the Startup Digest of your city if there is one. There must also be facebook groups you could join.

If you’re not satisfied by what you find out, just build your own gathering. You’ll find out quickly if other people felt the same need. That’s why I founded Start Me Up, the Entrepreneurs Student Club of ESCP Europe: we organized events and tried to bring an entrepreneurship mindset among the Master students of this business school. I also organized events with friends such as Students At LeWeb in London on June 2013 and I’m planning to gather young tech enthusiasts with Early Entrepreneurs in San Francisco. Each of these initiatives brought me wonderful encounters, some recognition and a lot of fun. You should definitely consider shaking the world around you too!

Build Projects

There’s no better way to learn how to launch a project than to launch your own projects.

Need ideas? Look for problems that matter to you and find innovative ways to solve them (when it comes to startup ideas, I recommend this great article by Paul Graham).

Need a team? Attend events and especially Startup Weekends and the like. If you’ve an entrepreneur spirit, you’ll definitely love these weekends. My advice: come with an idea to pitch – always a good exercise – and have developers in your final team. Building a prototype of the product in 54 hours is incredibly fulfilling. Two of my side projects in Paris were born in such events (Jukeo at a 3DayStartup and Feel at a Startup Weekend). Each time, I learnt a lot and met great people with whom I continued working on the product afterwards.

Need technical skills? Are you sure? Today, you can build basic websites without coding using Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Strikingly or the wonderful Webflow.  You can also easily create prototypes thanks to these tools: Balsamiq for generic mock-ups and Pop App for mobile app “paper prototyping”.

These are great tools to begin with but, in the mid term, I’d advise anyone to learn the basics of computer programming. Software is eating the world and being able to build things on your own and to understand how all of that works is priceless. Again, there are plenty of ressources available online to learn how to code (Udemy, Codecademy, etc.). As any knowledge, it simply needs motivation, time and some passion.

Just two things to finish with:

Play it lean. If there is one book any aspiring entrepreneur should read it is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Eric Ries and Steve Blank (The Four Steps to the Epiphany) reinvented the way start-ups should be built.

In a few words: instead of working on your project for months and planning every detail, launch a “minimum valuable product” (MVP) that will enable you to get user feedback as soon as possible to know if you’re in the good way or not. Sometimes, people (me included) spend way too much time building beautiful websites while simple Google docs and forms would have done it.

You don’t need a beautiful website with tons of features working perfectly to discover if you are answering a problem that really matters to people in the right way – cf the success of the ugly Craigslist if you doubt about it… Launch a simple product soon, learn from its users, change what need to be changed and iterate. It actually doesn’t even have to be a product sometimes. As an example, The MVP of Dropbox was a 3-min video showing how easy and intuitive this service would be. This is how Drew Houston drove awareness around his product on Hacker News and got fast feedback. Here’s the story about it. Buffer also did a great job when it comes to testing ideas without product.


Break things and have fun. Life is short. Try things that make sense to you. Never stop testing new ideas. Fail, learn, fail again, never stop learning. Share your experience to people. Listen to what they say, don’t necessarily do it. Don’t always be business focused about what you learn, who you meet and what you do. Open your life to serendipity. Break your habits. Be mobile. Go and discover the world. Be open and talk to people, they have so much to teach. Inspiration can be found anywhere. Go out of your comfort zone and be the change you would like to see in the world. (Ok that last one is from Gandhi, not me). Love what you do and be proud of it. That’s what I’m trying to do everyday.


– Article written for Entrepreneur Handbook.