As a former hiring manager at Google, I can tell you that the first secret of getting hired at Google is that there are no secrets to getting hired at Google. The truth is that Google’s hiring process is highly decentralized; so while there are general company guidelines, each group has its own best practices, go-to questions and, most importantly, ideal candidates.
If you’re fortunate enough to be called for an on-site interview, the first thing you should know is that the person asking questions most likely really wants to hire you. After all, few people at Google like doing interviews as it takes away from their core job.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help get you into Google CEO’s Larry Page’s Google+ circles:
1. Answer the question you’re asked. This may seem intuitive, but I can’t count the amount of times that a candidate answered a different question than the one posed. For example, one of my favorite questions is, “How could Facebook make money outside of advertising?” About 7 out of 10 candidates will give me an answer that in some way ends up coming back to advertising, and I am left to conclude that the person doesn’t pay close attention to details.
2. Don’t impose your agenda. You may be very eager to tell your story and phrase your candidacy, but it may be that the interviewer is interested in elements of your resume you hadn’t considered especially relevant. Pay attention to the clues embedded in the interviewer’s questions to determine what she’s looking for and how you might fit the bill.
3. Expose your thought process. Google is famous for asking brain-teasers (how many blue cars are there in Arizona?) and the purpose is to determine whether or not the candidate can break down a complicated problem and distill it into composite parts. To do this, be sure to verbalize your entire thought process and feel free to use the whiteboard or paper to draw out what you are thinking. I once had a candidate use the white board to organize and visualize all of his answers. He got hired.
4. Don’t be intimidated. If the interviewer pushes you for a more detailed answer, the worst thing you can do is become defensive (my favorite failed candidate once stated in exasperation, “wow man, you’re really putting me on the spot here!”). If you’re feeling intimidated, be sure to smile, breathe and stay on track. If you require further clarification don’t be afraid to ask for it. Remember: sometimes seeing how you respond to intimidation is part of the test.
5. Don’t mention the food. Regardless of what role you are applying for, at some point someone is going to ask you why you want to work at Google. This is a trick question to see if you focus on the famous benefits or the role. Responding to this question is your chance to talk about your knowledge of and passion for the position.
6. Do your homework. Google hires a lot of athletes, meaning super-smart competitive generalists who know how to get things done. This doesn’t mean, though, that you’re not expected to understand the product you’ll be working on. The strongest candidates show their initiative by knowing the product well, the competitive landscape and the industry space. You also want to demonstrate an appreciation for how Google brings products to market and then iterates on their development. Ultimately, if you’re not prepared to engage in an in-depth conversation about the product and strategy, then you clearly haven’t done your homework.
7. Examples and anecdotes are your best friend. Tell the interviewer about yourself through examples. If an interviewer must distinguish you from ten other candidates, the easiest tool you can give that person is great stories that illustrate your strongest attributes. Similarly, you should also have some flexible stock anecdotes available at will to answer questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you’ve worked cross-functionally to solve a problem?” If you need to spend a lot of time considering the question, you probably don’t often work cross-functionally. Any candidate, for example, can state that they possess leadership qualities, but if you can tell a story that proves your point, the interviewer will be far more likely both to believe and remember you.
8. Asking questions is your time to shine. Interviewers will judge you based on the quality of questions you ask. The person interviewing you probably spends a lot of time thinking about her product and its impact on the world. Your question, therefore, should be engaging, slightly gratifying, and hopefully unlock the passion of the interviewer. Don’t ask what someone’s average day is like or about her favorite part of working at Google. While the interviewer can easily deliver a canned response that will take up the rest of the allotted time, she is likely already thinking about which cafe she wants to eat lunch at. Ummm: Hot Pots!
9. Give me an answer I’ve never heard before. Your goal shouldn’t be to provide a satisfactory answer to every question. Instead, your goal is to be memorable; after all, what the interviewer is looking for is a non-standard answer to a question he may have asked a dozen times before. Sergey Brin, for example, is famous for asking people to explain to him the most complicated thing they understand. That way, if you bore him to tears, at least he’ll hopefully learn something. If your encounter isn’t memorable the chances of you moving forward are slim. Make it memorable for the right reasons.
10. Passion and enthusiasm are deal-breakers. The presence of these two qualities can often make the difference between a number of highly qualified and other-wise even candidates. Many hiring managers operate on the assumption that passion for the product and the role trump all other attributes. You can’t go wrong by demonstrating a deep passion that’s confirmed by your ability to speak in an intelligent and articulate manner about the product.
Lastly, if at any point a high-five is warranted, it should be instigated by the interviewer, and not you (my second favorite failed candidate).