Stories from Silicon Valley: How to land a Job at a Startup with Doug Galen
“What is your story?”, entrepreneur and Stanford University Lecturer Doug Galen rhetorically asks the crowd in the Skandalaris Center. There were mixed reactions from the listeners, who’s academic backgrounds varied from first-year undergraduate to first-year MBA. Galen’s reference was not to any sort of novel, rather one’s life. This was the hook to his first lesson on how to land a job at a startup, but really anywhere — know yourself so you can sell yourself.
Galen has been building innovative and disruptive companies for over 25 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Rippleworks, a nonprofit foundation that provides the practical support entrepreneurs need to scale faster and improve more lives. Prior to Rippleworks, he helped build three startups from scratch growing revenues to $50, $150, and $500 million. His daughter is currently a first-year student at WashU.
Galen went on to share three more lessons he learned throughout his career on how to land the job you want, not just any that are available. His second point, make a LinkedIn and tend to it like you would a garden. He emphasized the need for college undergraduates to begin building their professional network as soon as possible and surround themselves with other ambitious, like-minded individuals.
Don’t be afraid to reach out is his third lesson. Keep cold emails short and to the point while still introducing some of your story and voice into the body. Even if there isn’t a current job opening, asking for an informational interview to learn more about the company/industry and make a good first impression is a simple first-step. And don’t forget to include the company name in the body of the first email! Galen was adamant that any email with his company name within the text, is already ahead of the game. It shows there was at least some time taken to thoughtfully construct the message.
He added that at the end of any interview, especially informational ones, always ask, “Is there anyone else you suggest I learn from?” Don’t be afraid to “pull the WashU card [and] say you’re just a student!” Be humble and ask to learn. As Galen says, “people love giving advice.
The final piece was to come prepared for the interview. It seems simple, but asking a question with an answer on the company website is a non-starter. Better questions can pertain to company culture, past projects, and the company’s future.
When thinking about a job, there are three criteria with which you may use to judge any position. First, “Who do I work for?” Second, “What am I doing?” And lastly, “How passionate am I about my work?” Galen mentioned how each question was weighted differently based on where he was in life. When he first set out to find a job after college, who he worked for was much more important than his passion for the job. Building a name for himself and learning as much as possible would come to play later, as he grew more experienced, and began to put more value on his passions.
After being prompted about the qualities that make a successful entrepreneur, Galen described his personal experiences as well as those of his co-founders. He found they all had one major commonality — the ability to experiment quickly and learn fast in a very short amount of time.
Aaron Margulis reflected on Galen’s talk, saying “The process [Galen] outlined regarding workplace motives makes me excited to learn more and gain new industry experience so I may place myself in a spot to pursue my own passions later in life.”