Unpacking the Google Interview Process
“My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society. As a world, we’re doing a better job of that. My goal is for Google to lead, not follow that.” – Larry Page
Dispelling myths about the Google interview process
“You need to have a perfect GPA and/or have attended an Ivy League school.”
When Google was growing rapidly, hiring for high GPAs, top universities, and big name companies made it easy to quickly select and screen candidates. This screening method is a common hiring technique for many tech companies that are scaling. This is no longer the case.
Since the company has grown to over 100,00 employees, it’s simply not possible to capture the talent they need by limiting their hiring to these criteria. Another reason they’re no longer focused on academics comes from research conducted by the Google hiring analytics team. They found that a person’s grades only predict performance for the first two years on the job — but not afterwards.
Today, Google hires people from all backgrounds and takes into consideration your overall work experience and achievements. What’s more important is whether you are a fit for the culture, are a natural problem solver, and have experience in the role.
“You will be asked brain teaser questions that are meant to trip you up.”
Questions like “how many toilets are there in L.A?” or “how many golf balls would fit into a 747” used to be popular with hiring managers. After doing controlled experiments to see whether including these questions actually predicted job performance, Google couldn’t find any connection, so they’ve eliminated them from the interview process! But old habits die hard, and many managers who have been using these questions for years might occasionally slip one in. In other words, you shouldn’t focus the bulk of your interview preparation on these questions, but it doesn’t hurt to practice a few and come up with a strategy.
“Google’s interview process is a black box and different from its competitors.”
Google spends a lot of time analyzing data from job interviews and trying to improve the interview process. This has resulted in the “Rule of 4,” which limits the number of onsite interviews to just 4. There are exceptions, of course, but Google’s analytics found that 4 onsite interviews predicted whether or not Google should hire someone with over 80% confidence.
The interview structure, in other words, is pretty similar to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and other leading tech companies. There is an initial call with a recruiter, then hiring manager, and then a structured loop interview of 3-5 people that test you on various parts of the culture and role.
The interview process
Resume screening. Google looks for a polished application, quantifiable achievements (make sure to include numbers), and a clear timeline of employment. To get noticed, you can update your LinkedIn profile to optimize for Google jobs. Search for Googlers who have a similar job title to what you’re applying for, and also sprinkle in keywords from the job description in both your CV and LinkedIn profile. Use a tool like jobscan.co to identify missing keywords.
Recruiter call. The recruiter call can feel like a chit chat, even casual at times, but don’t be fooled: they are screening your background. The typical process is to quickly run through your work background from start to your most recent job. Be ready to answer behavioral, situational and technical questions. Make sure you know your own resume. Example questions: Why did you leave your previous job? Why Google? What’s your favorite Google product? What was your biggest achievement? What do you think qualifies you for a job at Google?
Hiring manager call. Usually you have two phone screens before moving on to the final loop onsite interview, but sometimes it’s only one phone screen with either the recruiter or hiring manager. Expect a more thorough deep-dive of your background and a conversation around why you’re a fit for the role. Always be prepared with 4-5 questions you plan to ask them.
Loop interview of 3-5 people. You’ll be invited to an onsite interview to meet multiple people back-to-back. They will be your perspective manager, peers, teammates, and/or cross functional teams. Each interview lasts 30-45 minutes. They’ll be testing you on the 4 key attributes discussed below and take copious notes as you’re talking, which they put in the hiring packet that will be reviewed by the hiring committee. The best way to prepare for these interviews is several hours of mock interviews.
Hiring committee recommendation. Google has hundreds of hiring committees who will be responsible for deciding on your application. The first hiring committee is composed of people who are familiar with the specific job but don’t have an immediate stake in it (like the team members and hiring manager). The decision is usually made by consensus (majority vote). If you don’t pass, they either reject you or they request a follow up interview to drill down on a couple of key points. After reviewing your application, they’ll pass your application to the senior leader.
Senior leader review, comp review and senior executive committee. Your hiring packet is reviewed by a senior leader who gives a yes or no, and then passes it on to the comp committee to decide a salary range. The final step is a review by a senior executive committee. The percentage of rejections at this stage is tiny. In other words, if you’ve made it past the first hiring committee then you’ll probably move on to the offer stage!
How long will the interview process take?
You can expect the process to take anywhere from 2-6 months. While Google does place importance on the candidate experience, they have to manage millions of incoming applications each year. A large number of their internal recruiters are temp staff, which means there’s a constant inflow and outflow of recruiters. Unfortunately, not all recruiters are equally competent, and coupled with the large number of applications it can be difficult to get feedback. Also, they put a great deal of effort into making sure they hire the right person, which is one reason they have so many hiring committees that review you before making a final decision. Spend time crafting your resume and make sure you’re applying for a role that you’re really interested in, because the process will require a big investment from both sides!
The Four Key Attributes Google is looking for
To best prepare, you need to understand the structured interviewing process that Google uses and the 4 attributes that they are looking for. Framing your preparation around these 4 attributes is a good strategy.
I. General cognitive ability (GCA)
Google wants smart people who can learn and quickly adapt to new situations. This doesn’t mean they give you an IQ test, but rather they are seeing your approach to problem solving. Google explains how they test this on their career site. The key is having a framework, or multiple frameworks, to answer questions (check here for a list). For example, a GCA question could be “How would you convince a Google Cloud Platform customer to expand their cloud services?” To answer this skillfully, Google wants to see that you have a structured and logical approach. This could mean you need to consider and expand on all of the following: Historical Data, Budget, Timeline, Resources (Tools, Stakeholders. SME’s), Risk – Mitigation, Scoring, Dependencies, Scope/Scale, and Stakeholders and Shared Vision.
Google looks for a particular type of leadership called “emergent leadership.” Emergent leadership occurs when a group member is not appointed or elected as leader, but rather that person steps up as the leader over time within group interactions. Check out Laszlo Bock’s video on emergent leadership here.
“Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.” – Laszlo Bock
For the most part, Google looks for people who are authentic, genuine and nice, and follow a version of the ‘no asshole rule.’ They want to make sure the candidate could thrive at Google, and looks for signs of comfort with ambiguity, bias to action, and a collaborative nature. Googleyness means putting the user first, being friendly/approachable, putting your ego aside, being humble, doing something nice for others, being proactive, keeping an eye on the goals and much more.
“How easy are you to get along with? With the Google recruiting process, one question that you have to pass is every person who interviews you is asked, Would you want to work with this person every single day? Would you be happy if you sat next to this person every single day? Would you be able to do good work, and would you enjoy their company?” – Kevin Miller, Google Ad Words Director
IV. Role-related knowledge
Do you have the background and experience that qualifies you for this position? On one hand, they put a big emphasis on your qualifications. On the other hand it’s possible that you are interviewed for a different role than the one you applied for. As part of their review process, Google recruiters look at all of the open positions to make sure to double check where you’re the best fit. Role-related questions can also be behavioral, as they look for expertise in a certain domain. Examples for a business/sales role: Explain AdWords to a 4 year old child. Explain how Google fits into Alphabet. Tell me of a time when you dealt with a difficult customer?
Many companies don’t use structured interviews, ask random questions and use an opaque decision making process. Fortunately that’s not the case with Google and their process is highly structured.
The Google rework website describes the benefits of structured interviews as follows:
Structured interviewing simply means using the same interviewing methods to assess candidates applying for the same job. Research shows that structured interviews can be predictive of candidate performance, even for jobs that are themselves unstructured. Google uses structured interviewing — using the same interview questions, grading candidate responses on the same scale, and making hiring decisions based on consistent, predetermined qualifications.
During the interview you’ll get three different types of questions: situational, behavioral, and technical (depending on your role). A situational question is usually job-specific (‘What would you do if…’) and focuses on a future hypothetical event, whereas a behavioral question focuses on your past experience (tell me an example where you managed conflict etc). A situational question: How would you handle it if your team resisted a new idea or policy you introduced? A behavioral question: Tell me about a time you stepped up as a leader. The technical portion will often require white boarding and solving various coding and system design problems (example here).
The power of mock interviews
The best way to prepare for these three types of questions is to practice mock interviews with an experienced interviewer. But before jumping straight into mock interviewers with your Google coach on Carrus, it’s important to do your own preparation. Otherwise, it can be a little bit demotivating if you’re having your first call with a coach and totally bomb it. It’s better to put in a bit of work first in order to get the most out of a coach’s feedback.
Practice with an imaginary interviewer — or a rubber duck. In the programming world, the Rubber Duck Method refers to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer, where the programmer carries around a rubber duck and debugs their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck.
Here’s how you can use this technique: When you’re explaining your past experience answering a behavioral interview question or technical interview question, imagine that you have to explain it to a Rubber Duck. The duck is pretty dumb, so you need to use simple language and make it easy to understand. In doing so, you often find a flaw in your logic or a better way to explain your idea.
Similar to talking to a Rubber Duck, is writing this out on paper. Write down your answers to various questions. It’s okay if it’s lengthy at first. Get the full version out there with all the details, and then you can start to trim it down. Purely writing it down will force you to think through your logic. Google, like many tech companies, recommend you use the STAR method to structure your answers.
Get Interview Coaching from ex-Googlers
Are you looking to get a job at Google? Come check out our article on How to Land an Interview at Google
And, if you’re looking for support in applying or preparing for the interview, our Google Interview coaching program has been built with expert recruiters to ensure you get the best chance to achieve your goals.
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