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Cracking the Code to Silicon Valley: Why Your Great Resume Sucks There!

May 26, 2015

Google HQ“Silicon Valley is not a place where one is invited to show frailty or despondence. It is…’the place where everybody is killing it all the time.’”
–From One Startup’s Struggle to Survive the Silicon Valley Gold Rush,, 4.22.2014

To crack the code in Silicon Valley, you really have to do your homework. Basically trying to land a job there is a part-time job in itself and I guess it should be as they are trying to get the most resourceful, creative and innovative people in the world.

Here’s some of what I’m learning in my ongoing quest to break in:

• Your resume may be great for your part of the country or your industry, but to get noticed in Silicon Valley, it must be re-crafted and re-spun exactly the right way and targeted to each specific job to which you are applying. There’s no room for laziness. It will take extreme dedication and commitment to land a job. In Houston I had it easy, one resume with a broad range of skills and experience could almost always land me the job I wanted—and a great rate to boot. Not true there. Hence, I now have 15 different resumes! One traditional looking and one cool graphical, interactive version. Check it out here.
• Currently I’m reading Laszlo Bock’s book, Work Rules, to gain a better understanding of the culture in the Bay Area from someone who knows it better than most. The book is great to boot, and it really makes me want to work at Google, because it sounds like such a great place to work. Laszlo Bock has also posted advice on his blog about the biggest mistakes he sees on resumes. Definitely worth a read, whether you want to work in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley or not. It’s valuable info no matter where you want to work.
• Maybe you already know this, though I did not. Silicon Valley is not all cool startups. Silicon ValleyThere are many old-school companies there too, which is good because they’re established and likely easier to transition into if you’ve grown-up in corporate America as I have. If you are applying to one of those companies, then a more traditional resume will likely work, but it still has to make an impression because you are competing with thousands of other candidates. Bottomline, to get a job there you have to be really good at marketing yourself. And if you have a degree in marketing, the expectations for you are even higher for you as far as how you present yourself and sell your skills. Having an MBA from Harvard alone will no longer do it, you better be established on social media long before arriving in “the Valley,” and some knowledge of marketing analytics.
• If you do happen to be applying to a startup, before you apply, you should understand what they do, but really understand what they do—DO NOT WING IT! Also know what they’re passionate about, and how they work, so your cover letter can convey you are passionate about what they do and why you are a good fit for their company. I have an impressive resume, but was told by a recruiter from “the Valley” that I came off as too corporate, that I wasn’t presenting myself as someone innovative. She was right. Just because you’ve been successful in your current job, doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in there.
• Also, startups are at different stages of development and funding. It helps to understand what that means, as their needs will be slightly different depending on what stage they’re in—and how much money they have. I worked for an early stage startup for cheap just to get experience and a better understanding of how things worked. It really helped—and opened my eyes too. It’s not as glamorous as you think. Bootstrapping is real—so if you’re used to having big budgets to fund your projects, get ready for a rude awakening. Guy Kawasaki’s book Reality Check is a great resource for anyone interested in working for or launching a startup.Innovation Matters
• One other thing, if you are applying to a tech startup, you should get to know their tech solution or app or whatever they are selling. If you haven’t already realized this, companies are tracking everything you do, download, how much time you spend on their websites, and how you are using their apps. All that is taken into account when considering you for a job. Why would they want to hire someone who doesn’t even use their app on a regular basis? Google does this more than anyone else. They are tracking you throughout the application process and looking to see if you are really studying them and for how long, and if you are connecting with people at Google, and so on. The positive side about this is that you know what’s expected, so you just have to commit to doing it.
• By the way, I’m learning Silicon Valley really is a conceptual place, but also a geographical location, though not everyone agrees on where that is exactly. To me it is anywhere from Southern San Francisco to San Jose. Paul Graham of Y Combinator is fond of saying that the center of Silicon Valley is: “…wherever there is at this moment the greatest concentration of the people who are going to make the next generation of stuff.” So it’s kind of nice to know Silicon Valley covers a large geographical area. Cause that means there’s more opportunities!

#Career JourneyIn a nutshell, the first two months of my job search have basically been a very good and intense learning experience. “Do this, not that.” “Highlight this experience and play down that one.” “Format your resume this way, no that way.” And so on. But I’ve learned a lot. Best of all, people have been generous with their advice and seem to want to help me. For that I am very grateful, cause I did not expect that, especially since I am a lot older than the average age at most start ups—which is about 26, and even younger at Facebook.

I know this will take some time, but I’m committed and confident that I will land a good job there. I’m not giving up until I do.

Stay tuned for more!


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