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 Note that some of the offers you’ll find there are outdated, that doesn’t mean that there’s no need for this position anymore.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