Just like an actor chasing the Hollywood dream, the road to Silicon Valley is not for the faint-hearted.
“It took a lot of planning, hard work and resilience to break into the start-ups' job market in Silicon Valley,” UNSW Business School Graduate Shawn Noronha says. Almost three years to be exact.
“With only four days left on my trip to San Francisco, I was finally able to secure a full-time marketing position with a virtual bank called Empower.”
How did your experience at UNSW influence your interest in start-ups?
“Over the course of my Bachelor of Commerce degree at the UNSW Business School, I developed a keen interest in start-ups. Courses such as MGMT2010 - Innovation and Entrepreneurship and INFS2631 - Innovation & Technology Management provided me with opportunities to learn more about innovation and entrepreneurship as well conducting research, building and pitching a start-up.”
Noronha proactively took part in start-ups initiatives – once working on an innovative product at Wipehero to help people clean their cars without water or electricity, irrespective of the location.
He also participated in pitch competitions as part of the UNSW Founders Program – the main UNSW body that runs events and hackathons such as ‘Start-up Launch’ to support novice and experienced student entrepreneurs. This opportunity introduced Noronha to the start-ups' landscape, and he completed his first internship through the UNSW Founders Program with a food start-up company called Caitre'd.
What’s the work culture like in Silicon Valley?
The culture in Silicon Valley has a “how can I help you” mindset. Upon arriving in Silicon Valley, Noronha connected with UNSW alumni and they were instantly happy to connect him with companies who were hiring.
“The work culture is energetic and people there are very driven. Silicon Valley is an expat town and people from all over the world head to Silicon Valley to make a difference. Every second day there is a summit, or a conference and you get to meet founders and work directly with them,” Noronha says.
“Silicon Valley is the mecca of technology. My goal is to bring Sydney to that level and recognise that international experience and exposure are both important.”
Are many students from Australia making the move to Silicon Valley?
It is more common today for Australians to follow their start-up dream to Silicon Valley – especially with the introduction of the E3 Visa which enables Australians to work in the United States if they meet three conditions – a degree, Australian citizenship and a job offer.
Brendan Hill, Start-up and Mentor Coach from the UNSW Founders program stated that “there are currently 1,501 UNSW alumni in the San Francisco bay area”.
There is also a Facebook group called ‘Australians in San Francisco Bay Area’ and their events offer tangible networking opportunities.
“If you have the drive to talk to enough people and make your pitch – It is doable to land a graduate job in Silicon Valley.”
What do employers in Silicon Valley look for?
When Noronha first arrived in Silicon Valley, he applied for jobs through conventional platforms. However, he quickly realised the best way to stand out from the crowd was to interact with potential employers at networking events.
“Meet-ups and events were fantastic ways to meet like-minded individuals, learn more about Silicon Valley and expand my network. In fact, this is how I met the CEO of the firm that I'll be working for,” he says.
Simple icebreakers such as “I can offer you these skills and experience, do you know anyone who is looking?” or even filtering out companies who are recruiting on LinkedIn, can help accelerate the job search.
While he was going through interviews, a common question that employers asked was “what is your superpower?”. This unconventional question seeks to find out if you are confident about what you can bring to the table and self-aware. This is your chance to show how you will be a great fit for the team.
To better prepare yourself ahead of an event, know your strength and your value-add. This is very important as you’ll want to come across as naturally confident, capable and friendly to your future employer.
What’s the interview process like in Silicon Valley?
The interview process in Silicon Valley can have a quick turnaround time. In Noronha’s experience with Empower, the interview process was prompt. With only a week left in San Francisco before having to fly back to Australia, Noronha met with the CEO, the CMO and Head of operations of Empower and secured a graduate position. The interview used classic behavioural interviews and asked for his previous job experience as well.
A key takeaway from his interview experience is the popularity of take-home assignments. These can take the form of email drafts, deck pitches, and market research – something that is not common practice in Australia yet.
Top 3 tips for future students looking to take their career to Silicon Valley
- Connect with people
Talk to as many students, alumni, employees, teachers and mentors as you can over the course of your degree. Participate in networking events, connect over coffee, send an email or a LinkedIn message – this will take you far and help you figure out what you want to do.
- Get work experience
Work experience is one of the most important factors when applying for graduate roles. Pursue your interests and aim to get as much relevant work experience as you can over the course of your degree. If you are unable to get corporate work experience then work on whatever interests you - pursue side hustles, extra-curricular and voluntary projects.
- Have a growth mindset
Stay curious, keep learning and don't be disheartened by setbacks or rejection. Take everything as a learning opportunity and keep on working toward your goals.
How to reach out to start-ups in Silicon Valley?
Below are two examples that Noronha previously sent to companies to enquire about potential internship opportunities:
Example 1 – Soft ask for general advice
My name is Shawn. I’m a UNSW student in my final year studying Information Systems.
I’m a big fan of your work - I loved the article you put out about the development of Instagram, and the stuff you’re doing with Oliver Space looks amazing!
I’ll be heading to SF in a few weeks and noticed you're forging a pretty fantastic career path in the tech & ops spaces. If possible, I'd love to connect to learn more about your experiences and the work you do.
I know you're busy, but if you have any spare time at all to advise a student, would it be possible to hop on a quick call with you? I am available Thursday and Friday and would be truly grateful for any advice you could offer.
Example 2 – Hard ask for immediate work experience
Good morning XXX
My name is Shawn. I’m a final year Marketing/Information Systems student from UNSW, Sydney, Australia.
I came across your profile on LinkedIn and was captivated by the work you’re doing with Lyric and the incredible career you've forged.
I'll be in SF in 2 weeks for the month of August to work and learn and much as I can. I'm reaching out as I'd like to offer to work for free under you and the Lyric team for 30 days.
I’ll cover flights, expenses and accommodation and there’s no obligation to hire me afterwards, I’m just hoping to embark on a productive graduation trip and provide as much value as I can. I have prior experience in sales, marketing & ops at early stage ventures in Sydney and would be willing to work on anything you need.
I’ll be landing SF in 2 weeks and would love to connect. Would you be free to chat sometime this week? Please let me know what you think and apologies if I have overstepped a line here.