How to Get a Job in Silicon Valley

November 10, 2014

An engineer’s guide to recruiters and finding a job in “the valley”

In the past four years I’ve gone on three interviewing blitzes:

  • The first time moving from a research position in Iowa to an iOS Software Engineer position at Apple in Silicon Valley.
  • The second time exploring either leaving Apple or internally transferring. (A plan I later abandoned.)
  • A third joining Coursera as an iOS Engineer.

Silicon Valley is a weird place where companies have both high demand and intense selectivity regarding hiring engineers. Indeed, after spending a few years navigating the high scrutiny of interviewing in “the valley” the job search feels a little more like mastering some sort of high stakes quiz show. The core of the job search, technical interviewing, has been widely covered, but I’ve read little regarding how to effectively find the right job. Therefore, in this article I’ll discuss how to find job opportunities both using recruiters and without them.

Recruiters A-Z

call center

Call Center by Alan Clark under CC

With the talent crunch in Silicon Valley recruiting definitely seems to have accelerated lately. However, I’ve yet to read an article on recruiting written from an engineer’s perspective. In an effort to strike new ground I hope to share some tips I’ve picked up over the last three years.

First of all, the recruiter comes in three flavors: cold caller, industry and company.

  • Cold Callers are a type of recruiter who calls you up out of the blue, typically during the day while you are working your current job and wants to start a serious conversation about your life goals.
  • Industry Recruiters have an ever changing portfolio of companies they work with. The best ones try to get to know you and only engage you regarding opportunities they think are a good fit with your interests.
  • Company Recruiters work for a medium-large company, often 150 employees or more. Recruiters at those larger companies (Apple or Google sized) typically they believe regardless of your interests their is “the right position for you” at their company.

Recruiters can be a great resource, but also can be off-putting. Cold caller recruiters typically don’t care about your interests, are too aggressive and should therefore be avoided. Industry recruiters are very variable, but are the best for longer, dormant, exploratory searches. Company recruiters are good to connect with, but are opportunistic. They are only interested in engaging with you if you are looking to interview right now. Depending on your career level and geolocation you may have a few Industry or Company recruiters contacting you each month on LinkedIn. If you are considering moving positions within a year, I suggest responding to every one of these recruiters. Even if that response is simply that “you are not interested right now”. Why? To expand your network and get a sense of what types of companies are growing. Later, when your job search changes from passive to active you can message all these connections to see what opportunities they have available.

Hold on, prior to contacting those recruiters you should have already searched through job boards so you know they aren’t pitching opportunities you could find on your own. Remember, you are more expensive to companies when going through a recruiter because of their commission. Also, always remember that recruiters operate under similar incentive structures as real estate agents so they have more to gain from landing you a job immediately than negotiating a few thousand dollar increase to your salary.

Opportunities Outside of Recruiters


Photo by Sebastian Delmont under CC

If you don’t have frequent LinkedIn contact with recruiters another way to build out your network and research the job environment is to go to Meetups. I actually first considered working at Coursera after attending an iOS Developers Meetup at their office. Aside from connections and research, Meetups are a great way to hook into your industry’s community, share tools of the trade and learn about new technologies.

I’ve also had a lot of success finding opportunities by thinking about all the products and services that I admire or love to use. Often these companies will have jobs posted on their website and if they don’t, simply contacting them with a short intro describing why you are interested in the company goes a long way. Posted jobs are a formality, companies are opportunistic and if the right person comes along they won’t want to miss out.

Lastly, regional, industry-specific job boards are the best resource for finding lots of active job listings for an area. I haven’t found a good one for Silicon Valley, but ideally you can find something like Boulder’s Startup Week job board. If you can’t find what you are looking for on a regional board, there are a number of other sites you can use:

  • AngelList is the best resource for discovering opportunities within smaller startups outside a recruiter.
  • LinkedIn and Glassdoor have similar offerings: a diverse and lengthy list of job postings.
  • Hired is great for exploring / confirming what you are worth salary-wise but I only found one potential fit out of a couple dozen leads.
  • I didn’t have a great experience on Whitetruffle or make any meaningful connections. You can probably skip it.
  • CyberCoders actually called me and tried pushing me into contacting a company I wasn’t sure about. I really, really dislike bullying tactics at any point in a job search by another party. Please skip them.

Thats all folks. I hope you’ve found this article directed and useful. To read how these strategies worked in reality read the follow up article “The Journey to Coursera” about my last job search in July 2014.

Please reach out on Twitter or leave a comment if you have other questions or input regarding job searching in Silicon Valley. To read more about interviewing in Silicon Valley see Robert Heaton’s thoughtful and extensive post.