In the minds of American professionals, the San Francisco Bay Area has a singular allure. Where else do the world’s most powerful businesses thrive against a backdrop of scenic splendor? What other regions can rival Silicon Valley’s influence on commerce and culture, or foster so many startups in close proximity?
In statistical terms, the Bay Area is staggeringly prosperous. If the region were its own nation, it would own the world’s 19th largest economy, with per-capita GDP superior to Singapore’s. San Francisco is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies and 39 call Silicon Valley home.
Though the region’s reputation is typically tied to tech, the Bay is home to a diverse array of industries. Companies as varied and enormous as Chevron and Google keep the area’s economy rolling. This business mecca demands a steady supply of talent, leading to a sustained pattern of massive job creation. Better yet, experts project this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
Of course, those who live and work in the Bay Area pay heavily for the privilege. The region includes some of the most expensive cities in America, with runaway real estate prices and sky-high costs of living. Some research indicates that the sheer cost of residing in the Bay Area is driving professionals to move elsewhere.
Amazingly, however, these factors have not put a damper on the Bay Area industry. Economists marvel at the sustained strength of business across the region. Despite high costs, companies keep growing, adding jobs, and filling them. How would you like to be one of the thousands of professionals who find new and lucrative positions in the Bay Area every year?
This guide is intended to help you do exactly that, enabling you to assess the current Bay Area job market and your own opportunities within it. Though the Bay Area offers unparalleled opportunities to skilled workers, you’ll need a job that pays enough to support a high quality of life in a highly expensive setting. Additionally, getting a great gig often requires an edge, as competition can be fierce.
Below, we’ll break down all the information and guidance you need to navigate the Bay Area’s hiring landscape. We’ll discuss the area’s boundaries and the overall state of employment across the region. From there, we’ll present the top industries in the area, allowing you to assess your own opportunities. Finally, we’ll offer specific tips to aid in your Bay Area job search.
Ready for a deep dive into the Bay Area’s employment opportunities? If so, keep reading.
Defining a Region: The Bay Area’s Borders
The Bay Area’s titular body of water is the San Francisco Bay, which occupies an area of roughly 550 square miles in Northern California. Nine counties border the Bay’s waters, and dozens of cities sit directly along its shores. The communities are hardly homogenous, and locals are quick to bristle at the inaccurate generalizations of outsiders. Yet Bay Area residents do possess a sense of unity, and some municipal organizations serve most of the region’s constituent cities and towns.
Additionally, the Bay Area includes a number of hotbeds for specific industries, such as the wine country of Napa to the north and Silicon Valley to the south. If you’re looking for a job in the Bay Area, these geographical distinctions will be essential considerations, even for the most motivated commuters. The region has some of the nation’s worst traffic, so proximity to work is a key priority for many professionals.
Here are some basic geographical facts to help you better understand what the “Bay Area” actually includes:
The Bay Area covers approximately 7,000 miles of land, including the following counties:
These counties include over 100 cities, the largest of which are San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
The Bay Area has a total population of roughly 7.7 million people.
Though many of the communities surrounding the Bay have distinct cultural identities, they have prosperity (and high housing prices) in common. Across the Bay Area’s various cities and towns, employment opportunities have rapidly expanded in recent years, with salaries rising as well. Next, we’ll break down the Bay Area’s remarkably active job market in more detail, illustrating a widespread need for qualified talent.
Golden Opportunities: Employment in the Bay Area
In recent years, the Bay Area has added tens of thousands of new jobs annually, surpassing the pace of employment gains in both California and the United States as a whole. Moreover, this trend in job creation seems unlikely to end soon, steamrolling through a range of potential obstacles. Despite global uncertainties regarding immigration, trade, and local concerns about scarce housing, experts say Bay Area businesses plan to keep expanding their payrolls.
To be sure, certain areas have enjoyed especially strong job growth since the end of the Great Recession. In October 2009, 1,946,300 residents were actively employed in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan area. By October 2019, that number had risen to 2,527,800.
While not all of the Bay Area has seen such intense growth, the labor market is strikingly favorable across the region. Unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show just how hungry employers are for talent. According to the nonprofit Bay Area Council, the region covers five distinct Metropolitan Statistical Areas. In each of them, unemployment rates were remarkably low at the time of this article’s writing.
For purposes of comparison, the national employment rate was 3.6% during the same period. Even against a backdrop of historically low unemployment rates across the United States, the Bay Area stands out for its tight labor market.
What do you get when you mix the Bay’s large stable of wealthy companies and a short supply of workers? Exceptionally high salaries. According to some figures, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and their surrounding environs are America’s highest-earning areas, with median household incomes above $100,000 per year. Additionally, at many of the Bay Area’s most powerful corporations, median annual salaries exceed $150,000.
Not all Bay Area residents are so financially fortunate. In San Francisco, for example, income inequality can be stark. Moreover, Bay Area salaries reflect local costs of living, which are shockingly high compared to much of the country. In fact, according to some analyses, many parts of the Bay Area are among America’s least affordable locales. From real estate to basic goods and services, everything in the Bay can seem to cost extra.
As a result, six-figure salaries don’t necessarily equate to luxurious living. In the most coveted corners of the Bay, you’ll need to make that much just to live comfortably. Indeed, according to federal standards, individuals earning $82,000 in San Francisco county qualify as “low income.”
Of course, your pay grade will depend on your particular field, skills, and experience — and how your talents stack up against that of other applicants. So before you eye the Bay Area’s big paychecks (or conclude that you can’t possibly earn enough to move there), it helps to understand who you’re up against.
There’s no way around it. The Bay Area is teeming with talented professionals, so you’ll be facing stiff competition for attractive openings. In terms of education and specific, marketable skills, the Bay Area’s workforce may be the nation’s best.
When considering educational attainment, San Francisco ranks second only to Seattle in the percentage of adult residents with college degrees. San Jose is similarly learned, with the highest percentage of college-educated adults among all metro areas. Additionally, many Bay Area professionals are graduates of nearby universities and colleges, including some of the finest schools in the nation.
In many respects, however, it makes little sense to evaluate the Bay Area’s workforce in local terms. If you’re hunting for gigs there, so are many others from around the world. Despite high costs of living, San Francisco remains the single most attractive destination for tech professionals around the United States. Though high prices have pushed some professionals to move elsewhere, plenty are flooding in to take their place, especially from foreign countries. When it comes to the best Bay Area positions, you’ll effectively be competing against a global talent pool.
Given this competitive landscape, you’ll need a solid understanding of the opportunities available in the Bay Area, so your job search can be both comprehensive and creative. By familiarizing yourself with the region’s leading sectors, you can identify and pursue all the professional opportunities that the Bay Area has to offer. In the next section, we’ll introduce you to the Bay Area’s most prominent industries and employers.
The Bay Area’s Leading Industries
While the tech startups will grab all the headlines, the Bay Area's economic activity attracts and supports a wide range of industries. Though some of these fly under the radar, each sector below helps support this area's large labor market.
Information and Technology
For many, the Bay Area is synonymous with the tech juggernauts who call the region home. The proximity of so many illustrious organizations is a striking fact of life for locals. From Google to Facebook, or Apple to Uber, the Bay Area is chock full of the world’s most powerful technology companies.
In recent years, some tech companies have established new offices in smaller hubs, hoping to find lower costs and new talent, but for the time being, the Bay Area remains the world’s undisputed technology capital and the site of unparalleled opportunity for skilled tech workers.
If you think finance is an East Coast industry, San Francisco provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. The city is the nation’s third-largest financial center, with giants such as Visa holding over $2 trillion in assets. Moreover, the Bay Area is home to many of the world’s most powerful and respected venture capital firms, offering a range of intriguing opportunities for savvy finance professionals.
Biotechnology and Life Sciences
Thanks to a steady stream of smart scientists from nearby schools, the Bay Area has played host to many breakthroughs in the realms of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Thanks to interest from Bay Area venture capitalists, the area leads the nation in investment in bioscience startups and projects. Though some corporations such as McKesson have decided to move their headquarters elsewhere, the Bay is still a beacon of opportunity for those skilled in biosciences. Major players include Genentech and Gilead.
Professional and Business Services
This broad industry category encompasses all of the vital tools and services that businesses require to operate effectively. From high-powered corporate law firms to illustrious staffing and recruiting agencies, the Bay Area plays host to many esteemed business-to-business enterprises. Many of these companies, such as KPMG and Deloitte, have a vast Bay Area presence, despite being headquartered elsewhere. Additionally, many of them win acclaim for being great places to work.
When you think of America’s manufacturing hubs, the Bay Area probably doesn’t spring to mind. The business of making things is going strong in San Francisco and its surrounding cities, where firms are manufacturing everything from textiles to advanced technologies. From the sneaker startup Allbirds to satellite builder Planet, there are some exceedingly cool manufacturing businesses active in the Bay Area. In many cases, however, these jobs are strictly corporate, with the actual manufacturing processes occurring far away from the Bay.
Leisure and Hospitality
San Francisco is a huge tourist destination, and the Bay’s scenic views can entice any traveler. Additionally, well-paid locals enjoy the finer things in life, spending big on the city’s renowned food scene. Accordingly, there’s a thriving market for great leisure experiences and tons of companies willing to provide them. However, the employment options in this industry are not always lucrative. In the restaurant sector, for example, many workers struggle to afford the high costs of living.
Breaking Into the Bay Area: Job Search Tips
There are some universal rules and tips all job-seekers should be aware of, and we’ve covered many of them thoroughly in other articles. In this section, we want to focus instead on guidance geared towards the Bay Area, sharing suggestions that will serve you well in that specific job market. Looking for a job there can be both exhilarating and exhausting, but these tips should make the process less painful and more successful.
Anticipate an Extensive Process
Even if you’re immaculately qualified for the position you’re pursuing, get ready for a lengthy application process. Because attractive companies receive so many applications — and invest so heavily in those they eventually hire — they take a multifaceted approach to screening candidates.
In many cases, applicants undergo multiple interviews with various team stakeholders. This process can take weeks or even months, but an extended timeline does not indicate a lack of interest on the part of the hiring company.
Take Google, which receives millions of applicants each year for a diverse array of roles. Applicants typically undergo four interviews, and the company actually used to conduct many more before recently revising their hiring process. This thoughtful, deliberate interviewing process simply takes time, so don’t be deterred if the pace seems slow.
Prepare to Prove Your Skills
In addition to multiple interviews, Bay Area companies often utilize skill tests to screen candidates. For organizations that receive tons of applications, these assessments are an effective way to determine whether those with glowing resumes actually possess the necessary skills.
Tests also measure commitment. In some cases, they can take hours to complete. Companies understand that only serious candidates will participate, deterring the apply-on-a-whim crowd.
For certain kinds of applicants, these tests can provide a real advantage. If you have a nontraditional career path, for example, the chance to show off your skills can quell any doubts about your qualifications. On the other hand, if you overstate your actual skill set, these simple tasks can dash your chances. Accordingly, it’s best not to fib about your abilities because you may need to back up your claims.
Stress Social Platforms
It should go without saying in a tech-centric area, but your online presence can seriously impact your professional prospects. Platforms like LinkedIn can be a key conduit for forming industry connections in the Bay Area, and more companies are aggressively recruiting via these channels. By posting, engaging with peers, and generally remaining active, you can demonstrate your passions and people skills.
Unfortunately, you can’t expect scrutiny of your social media to stop at professional platforms. Many employers will seek out your personal accounts, including Instagram or Facebook, looking for any red flags. Accordingly, keep your content clean, positive, and wholesome or opt to go private.
Emphasize Culture and Connection
The Bay Area is renowned for its transformative workplace practices, including eye-popping offices and enticing perks. For many companies, these benefits represent more than a means to lure in top talent. They’re building a community around shared values and making deliberate choices to support it. Before bringing you into the fold, they want to ensure you’ll contribute positively to the culture they wish to foster.
Many companies are explicit about their workplace priorities and ideals, making culture a key dimension of their brand. Do your research ahead of time, and learn how the company you’re applying to sees its own team dynamics. In your cover letter and interviews, try to demonstrate your appreciation of and agreement with those principles.
On a similar note, it’s essential to demonstrate your ability to relate well to others and cultivate meaningful professional bonds. Bay Area companies are flooded with applications from impressive candidates, but credentials don’t always prove someone’s capacity for collaboration. Whenever possible, be kind, authentic, and spontaneous, rather than rigid and cold.
It’s a simple statistical truth: in the Bay Area’s current hiring climate, big companies are posting jobs in big numbers. They’re also likely to offer the kinds of benefits, compensation, and stability that can make a Bay Area move possible. Even if you’re attracted to life at a lean startup, it can be tough to begin your Bay Area career at that kind of company.
Think about it, you don’t want to move for a gig at an exciting startup, only to have it run out of funding six months later. Plus, if you’re brand new to the Bay area, working at a place with hundreds of colleagues could help you build helpful connections. After cutting your teeth at a big company, you’ll be in a better position to leap to an exciting upstart.
Consider Earning an Advanced Degree
Going back to school can be time-consuming and expensive, so we don’t make this recommendation lightly. However, in the ultra-competitive Bay Area job market, an advanced degree can help you stand out from hundreds of other experienced professionals — and the hotshots coming straight out of Berkeley and Stanford.
Moreover, a significant portion of Bay Area companies have instituted more stringent hiring requirements, demanding an advanced degree where a bachelor’s once sufficed. Especially if your undergrad degree doesn’t particularly pertain to your field, getting a master’s is well worth considering.
Even if you have a strong skill set, an advanced degree can position you for ongoing career growth. Tech professionals, for example, could position themselves for executive leadership roles by acquiring an MBA. Thanks to the growth of online master’s programs, working professionals have a larger and more varied set of options than ever before.
Beginning Your Bay Area Journey
We hope the information we’ve shared in this guide will inform and empower your search for a job in the Bay Area. The region certainly does not lack exciting opportunities, with dozens of positions created daily in a range of thriving sectors. In contemplating a Bay Area move, you have plenty of reasons for optimism pertaining to your career.
By the same token, competition for appealing positions can be intense. As you plan the next stage of your professional life in the Bay Area, we advise a patient and flexible approach to searching out new opportunities. Pursuing an appealing role may require weeks or even months of engagement, including an extensive interview process. Though you may not succeed at first, persistence will be an essential asset.
In a similar vein, you’ll need to cast a wide net when searching for relevant positions. In the Bay Area’s competitive labor market, you can’t afford to overlook excellent opportunities. To get ahead of other applicants, you’ll need accurate information about open positions as soon as companies post them.
That’s where Joblist can lend a hand in your Bay Area job hunt. Our platform seamlessly integrates information from a diverse array of job listing sources, so you never have to worry about missing your dream gig. To save you time, our tools allow you to personalize your search, excluding the irrelevant listings that flood other job sites.
To see just how helpful we can be, take a look at our listings in San Francisco and San Jose, or search for any other city nearby. There’s no harm in looking at the opportunities out there. You might just discover the perfect way to begin a new Bay Area chapter.