6 things I wish I had known about job hunting in San Francisco

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business in June 2015, I decided to move to San Francisco. At 21 years old, I didn’t know what I wanted to do — but the one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to be part of all the excitement and innovation changing the world in Silicon Valley. I want to move back into entrepreneurship one day and what better place to find mentors, access opportunity, and get exposure to up and coming industries than the tech capital of the world?

With about 5 people in my address book, I slept on a friend’s couch and began the job hunt. 6 weeks later, I signed with a Series A start-up which by February 2016 had trouble raising Series B. In March through April 2016 I went through the “hustle for a job” again.

I am Canadian and therefore unable to work in the U.S. without a work visa. I am a non-technical, new graduate, with no “real” work experience. As much as there is always a need for talent in Silicon Valley start-ups and tech giants, I didn’t have the background that screamed must-hire. Here are the 6 things I learned along the way that helped me find a job (twice!) and that can hopefully help you land a job in order to move to your dream city (or at least know where to start).

1. Job Hunting is a Full Time Job

Without any work experience or connections in the bay area, I did not have the luxury of recruiters knocking on my door. The hardest part of moving to a city is not even knowing where to begin looking for a job. You will spend your time in 3 main areas: finding companies, asking for introductions, and applying/interviewing.

Finding Companies

When I first crashed on a friend’s couch in San Francisco, I knew maybe 10 companies with the majority of them being the tech giants — Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo etc. I wanted to work for a start-up and even if I didn’t, these tech-giants had very structured programs for hiring new graduates and I had missed their recruiting season. These companies will also rarely sponsor a visa for non-technical entry level positions. How can you apply to something you don’t know about? Below are some ways to start finding out about companies to apply to.

  • Read tech news and learn about what industries you want to work in — find companies in that industry.
  • If you’re flexible on industry, subscribe crunchbase and mattermark to see which companies have recently raised a round — they are more likely to hire
  • Look through the portfolio companies of VC firms and follow some influencers, VCs, and firms on twitter and Medium (YC, Sequoia, Greylock, 500 Startups — choose depending on what stage of startup you are looking for)
  • Enter company name into LinkedIn and look for the feature that shows similar companies

Asking for Introductions

I moved to San Francisco with very few first degree connections. These first degree connections, however, opened up to many second degree and then third degree connections.

I went through every single contact each of my first degree connections had on LinkedIn that lived in the bay area and asked for introductions. The second time round, I did that again, with a more specific ask because I had a more clear idea of what I wanted.

When asking for introductions, help the introducer by telling them your specific ask and why the person you want to meet should meet with you. A common way to do this is writing an introductory email requesting the ask that introduces yourself, thorough reasons in why you want to meet with the person, and/or why you would be a great fit for the company. Your behavior and impression will also affect your introducer. If you want more introductions and continued relationship with the person who is helping you make this introduction, make sure you don’t waste anyone’s time!

Applying/Interviewing

The most important thing about applying to companies is to not be “just another applicant.”

This is where the introductions come in — any warm introduction that will a pressure a recruiter to actually look at your resume is essential.

By the time a company has posted a role publicly, they are likely considering external candidates and other referrals. Your resume will be at the bottom if you apply cold. Do whatever it takes to find someone, even third degree connection to get your resume in front of a recruiter or someone in the company.

If you must apply cold — the best way is to email someone in the company you are either remotely connected to or someone that you are able to communicate something special to. For example, when applying cold, I have typically cold emailed the CEO or the manager I would like to work for there and expressed my interest in the company or their work.

2. Power of your Network

Your network is your most valuable asset. Similar to finding companies to apply to, the most difficult part of building a strong network from nothing is knowing where to start.

EDIT: Read my article on my guide to networking here: https://medium.com/@ivyxvine/a-thorough-guide-on-growing-your-network-from-crafting-cold-emails-to-personal-seo-ab6f6955ac11

Levels of Network

I soon learned that network was a broad term that involves strangers tied through a community (e.g. the 2,200 members of the Women of Color in Tech facebook group), classmates, extended LinkedIn connections, friends, friends’ coworkers, people you meet at house parties, and more.

You can get a referral and find out about job opportunities from every single person you meet. Third degree connections are very powerful when it comes to getting a job. For example, a woman posted in the Women of Color in Tech Facebook group that X company is hiring. Although I have never met her, I asked for her to forward my resume to the recruiter. I went to a Growth Analytics panel and made conversation with a woman next to me and by the end of the night, I had a referral into her company.

Know your Purpose

No one can help you if they don’t know that you need help. I found it extremely difficult to ask for help, and even more so to continuously ask for help. Before asking for an introduction or a referral, sometimes it helps to build a relationship. I say sometimes because there are also people who will happily forward your resume along to a recruiter within the company if your mutual connection makes the ask. Learn about the person, the company, the role — turn the ask into advice. Explain to your network (this includes everyone from strangers to best friends) that you are looking for a job and interested in the area that they are in. This way, if an opportunity does arise, you are on top of their mind.

Even if you are not looking for a job or you don’t see this person you have just connected with helping you land a job they can likely get you closer.

Your ask should always be to get one person closer — can they introduce you to a recruiter at their company, a friend in the role you want to work in, a company you’re interested in, or even an industry you want to know more about?

Meeting new people

Coffee chats and asking for introductions can be awkward. Here are a few examples you can ask about person, position, and company:

  • Ask to hear their story! How did they make decisions in their career to get to where they are? Why did they make certain decisions?
  • What do they think is the most important trait for X position? What kind of background would they like to see for X position?
  • What are the most important product lines at Y company? You can ask how a product works e.g. what goes into the explore function of Instagram? What new customers is Y company focusing on?
  • What ventures are undervalued/overvalued? Why did you invest in Y company?

The point is that the more right questions you ask, the more you will find out whether you are interested in this space. This will also help your network help you and introduce you to the right people.

Maintaining your Network

Build your network to last — your relationship doesn’t stop once they help you! Sometimes a person may not be directly useful to your job hunt but could be a great mentor or peer friend. Meet with them often, ask for advice, host get togethers, and eventually when your network is big enough — help make introductions!

3. Likeability goes a long way

People want to work with people they like. You can learn all the skills you need on a job.

I want to find people who want to teach me, bring out the best in me, and see potential in me. I’m a strong believer that if you stay true to yourself, you will attract the right people. I have gone through interviews where the interviewer made me want to go to sleep because of lack of energy or those that did not inspire me or click with how I worked.

Likeability comes with self awareness. Know your strengths and weaknesses and trust that by being yourself the right company will choose you too.

4. Know what to Optimize for

When deciding which company to move forward with, whether through the interview process or signing a full time job, there are a lot of important factors to consider. Although even landing one job offer might be hard, there is a fine line between holding out for the right opportunity and going with the best you have. Knowing what’s important to you could help you focus.

On my second job hustle, I talked to 65 different companies, not including the people who introduced me to them. By applying everywhere and moving forward with everything, it’s easy to lose focus and not perform well in front of the companies that really matter. I didn’t make a decision matrix, but I definitely had a good idea for prioritizing the importance of certain things that come with a job.

  1. A great manager that will help you succeed
  2. A team that is smart and inspiring
  3. A role that offered enough flexibility and door openings to other interesting jobs
  4. Stage and size of company
  5. Potential for growth due to company growth or personal growth (e.g. performance metrics, examples of flexiblity in promotion schedule)
  6. Pay/Stock grants or options
  7. Culture and perks

5. Expect the Unexpected

Time

I thought I could move down to SF, and get a first round interview in a week, second round interview the following week and be done. It doesn’t work like that. The more structured the company is, the longer the interviewing process takes because more senior people need to give a thumbs up and they are interviewing more people.

Introductions also take a long time as you might need to meet with multiple people before getting to the right one that will move you to an interview. Each of these meetings will take around a week or two to set up.

Unprofessionalism

Your coffee chats and interviews are also a time to interview the people at the company. I was incredibly surprised that over the course of two job hunts, I received verbal offers from 3 different companies and had that verbal offer rescinded. Maybe it’s just my luck, but I would highly suggest that you make sure you have a written offer before you rejoice — verbal offers are not official!

6. Opportunities come from Opportunities and your Persistence

In August 2015, I could not even get a phone interview with a recruiter at a tech giant (read: Facebook, Google, LinkedIn etc) when I was referred in by someone in senior management. In April 2016 with just 5 months more experience, I was in final rounds with them in positions that require “5 years of experience.”

Once you have an offer, you can pressure the companies that you are waiting to hear back from for a faster decision and a better offer.

Finally, there will always be a whole bunch of “No”s but it only takes one good yes to get you on your way!

When someone wants you, everyone wants you.

An Extra toast to the Women!

Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

Don’t underestimate your accomplishments. Starting a company during school, leading a team, and running a non-profit campaign are special skills and it is up to you to paint these skills as relevant to your employer. Recruiting and finding the right person is one of the hardest things a company needs to do — so go out there and prove yourself.

Only 41% of women negotiated any part (salary and/or benefits) of their job offer when they started their current job, and only 21% negotiated any part of their offer on the first job they took out of school.

Do it for yourself. Do it for the women who don’t ask. Your starting base salary will be asked by future employers and the bottom basis of all your promotions and pay increases.

Good luck! Would love to connect with you — tweet me @ivyxvine