How to get a job in San Francisco in 30 Days
The behind the scenes story on my recent career transition from teaching to tech
I arrived in San Francisco at the beginning of August with two suitcases and a plan: to get a job. I was coming into the city directly from South Korea, where I’d been teaching for a year, so needless to say I had quite an adjustment to make diving straight into the SF job market.
A lot of people thought it was crazy to move halfway across the world to a new city without a job. And it kind of was. August was a whirlwind month for me. I had 44 interviews at over 20 companies, nine of which were on-site, and ended up receiving six offers.
I learned a lot in my month of job searching. In this post, I hope to share effective job search strategies — what worked, what didn’t — and give some insight into how I ultimately decided where to work, which ended up being the most difficult part of the process.
Before you start applying for jobs, there’s some initial legwork that needs to be done.
First, choose the city where you want to work. In my case, that was San Francisco. I had worked there before and knew the city well, and for someone like me who wants to work in tech there’s no better place in the world than the Bay Area. The market’s hot right now too. Everyone’s hiring. (Some would say it’s a bubble.)
Once you’ve chosen the city, move there. You can’t really do the job search remotely. (Believe me, I tried). I applied to several jobs from Korea, and every single conversation ended with, “We really like you, but why don’t you reach back out when you’re in the States.” Companies want to invite you to their office for interviews, and in order to do that you need to be nearby.
The only tricky part with moving to a new city is you need some cash to survive for a month or so and a place to sleep. I got lucky with housing but it wasn’t always glamorous. I slept on the floor of my apartment for a month to save cash, for example. I recommend crashing on a friend’s couch or at a family friend’s place if you can.
Next, figure out what kind of job you want. Think role and industry. For me, I wanted an entry-level sales job in tech. Have a convincing story about why you want that job, and why you have the skills or experience to do it. Then craft your resume and LinkedIn to match that story.
So you know where you want to work and have a convincing story, but now you need companies to notice you. There are a few ways you can get interviews.
College job board. Obviously universities have specific recruiting seasons, but generally jobs will be posted year round. You can also look up old job postings and find the appropriate person to contact at a specific company from there.
Internet job boards. LinkedIn, Angel List, Looksharp, and the Muse are good places to start. Be leery of job boards. Very often you’re just shooting your resume off into a black hole. I only got one interview from an internet job board submission, and I didn’t get past the second round.
Hired.com. An online talent marketplace that’s pretty hot in the Bay Area. A major benefit of job searching on Hired is that companies must show you their salary upfront.
Recruiting agency. I worked with Melissa at Betts Recruiting and would highly recommend them. Melissa’s a rockstar. She set up at a lot of interviews for me at quality companies and prepped me before each round. The best part? It’s free. You can get in touch with Betts here.
Personal network. In my case, this was mostly people I knew from past internships and college. Half of my job leads came in through my network. If you’re drawing a blank, you can search LinkedIn or even Facebook for connections in your city (filter by location).
Everyone talks about “using your network” to get a job. It’s clichéd advice. Here’s how I think about it. Don’t email everyone you went to school with asking for a job. Catch up with old friends. Introduce yourself to new people who can tell you more about what they do and how they got there. You’ll learn more by hearing other people’s stories over lunch or dinner than by asking for a job.
Granted, if there are openings at a friend’s company, whoever you know there will likely be happy to refer you. Most companies have referral bonuses.
Another “networking” trick (that may be specific to the Bay Area) is asking to join your friends for lunch at their office. Most companies in SF provide catered lunches to their employees; it’s typically pretty easy to drop by and join them for an afternoon meal.
The most important thing to keep in mind as you set up interviews is to have a timeline. I’m doing first round phone screens this week, next week is on-sites, and I’m planning on making my decision by this date. Companies will ask which stage in the job search you’re in, and it’s best to be upfront and transparent about your own personal timeline. If you tell every company the same schedule, they will work around it.
Choosing a Job
So you’ve finished interviewing and received a couple of offers: congratulations! Here comes the hard part.
First of all, if you google “how to decide between multiple offers” (which, yes, I did), everything you read will say it’s a good problem to have. Sure, that may be true in the abstract, but it’s also a very delicate situation to be in. You’ve just spent hours interviewing with these companies, met them in person, and now your decision involves a human on the other end.
In my interviews, I told companies I was looking for three things in my next job: (1) A well-structured sales team that’s between HP and Visually in size (my two previous employers), (2) A great product that can sell itself, and (3) Great people that challenge and inspire me. The tricky thing was that a couple different companies met those criteria.
When I had the offers in front of me, then, I had to refine my criteria and settled on three new factors: (1) Culture Fit, (2) Learning Potential, and (3) Money.
Culture Fit. “Culture fit” is an elusive term that gets thrown around a lot. The best way for me to determine culture fit was stopping by the company for lunch or going out for drinks with the people on the team. Anything outside a formal interview context. It’s easy to like the people you meet in these more informal settings, but from there you need to dig down and do a gut check: Can you see yourself working with them every day? When it came down to it, the people had the biggest influence over my decision.
Learning Potential. In sales, this is highly correlated to the product you’re selling. Are you selling a tool, or are you selling a service or platform? The former is transactional, the latter is consultative. It’s best to be in a more consultative sales job, where you learn from every conversation you have because they’re all slightly different, and you establish yourself as an expert in your field. Ask about company training (new hire and ongoing). Also ask yourself if you can see yourself learning from your teammates and the leadership in the sales organization.
Money. Compensation was something I did not expect to be a factor. The compensation structure at what was my dream employer paid an hourly wage and capped commission. The company I ended up accepting an offer from had a real salary and uncapped commission. The tangible difference was about $20K. The more theoretical difference was that one compensation structure enables complacency and a 40-hour workweek; the other rewards performance and results.
Turning a New Page
What’s next for me
The note I’ll end on is that choosing one opportunity inevitably means turning others down, even if that means turning down some amazing companies. I met so many great people doing exciting things at their respective workplaces during the course of this month. Telling those people I decided on another opportunity was a very difficult conversation to have.
My decision came down to MuleSoft versus a much bigger-name company that even my grandparents know about. It was hard to turn down the brand name. I’m confident, however, that I made the right decision for me. With the brand name company, I know I would have been comfortable, but with MuleSoft I know I will be challenged by my team and the job itself and will continue to learn and grow.
We’re only midway through September, and August — my month of nonstop interviews — already seems far away. I’ve been at MuleSoft for three weeks now, and it feels good to be working on my job instead of working on finding a job. The day-to-day so far has validated my decision to go there.
I want to give special thanks to all my friends, family, and mentors who helped guide me through my job search process. You know who you are. Thank you.