What's It Take to Work at Google?

Anthony PellegrinoAnthony PellegrinoLast updated
Hey there! Since we've published this article, we've written several Google-specific Interview Guides for many different roles. Check them out here.

Those who are looking for a job in tech, whether it be in product management, software engineering, data science, or the like, have undoubtedly considered a career at Google. Nevertheless, Google receives millions of applications a year, which makes it more difficult and competitive than the top Ivy League schools like Harvard or MIT.

But, Google still hires thousands and thousands of these candidates every single year. One of them was our co-founder Stephen Cognetta back in 2014-2015.

Given this difficulty, what does it really take to work at Google? What sort of behavioral or intellectual traits is the company really looking for in its candidates? We understand that it can feel overwhelming to aspire towards a position at the tech giant. So we compiled this handy guide on what it takes to work at Google. Hopefully, you can use this article to improve your own Googleyness and one day become a Googler yourself!

Future Googlers

Google in Sunnyvale, CA, at West Java Drive.
Photo by Greg Bulla / Unsplash

First and foremost, what does the company itself say of the employees that it seeks? Google's career page titled 'How We Hire' says the following:

There’s no one kind of Googler, so we’re always looking for people who can bring new perspectives and life experiences to our teams. If you’re looking for a place that values your curiosity, passion, and desire to learn, if you’re seeking colleagues who are big thinkers eager to take on fresh challenges as a team, then you’re a future Googler.

Nevertheless, this isn't a very straightforward or helpful statement. There's no doubt that Google is looking for the best of the best when it comes to its hires. The company has continuously demonstrated it will go the extra mile to make its workplace attractive to the world's top tech talent. Google is famous for throwing exclusive perks at its employees that can't be found anywhere else, like free food, in-house massages, and nap pods. So how can you improve your odds of becoming a Googler?

Do you know how you'd answer why you want to work at Google?

An Overview of Google's Company Culture

Marketing team meeting at a startup co-working space strategizing the next social media campaign.

If you use this photo, I would be very appreciative if you would please credit in the caption or meta to "www.useproof.com".
Photo by Austin Distel / Unsplash

Like the workplace itself, Google is known to have an innovative corporate culture. When it comes to hiring, Google's HR emphasizes on ensuring the right culture fit before making a job offer. A good overview of Google's cultural philosophy can be found in "Ten Things We Know to be True," a memo written in the company's earliest days. The points made are very revealing of the corporate philosophy of the company, and your alignment with the principles it lays out may allude to your level of Googleyness.

They are:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

In terms of which of these will get you hired, that last one, "great just isn't good enough," is probably your most useful guiding principle.

How Google Hires

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Great just isn't good enough, especially when it comes to employees. Larry Page, co-founder and long-time CEO of Google, is famous for his dedication to "moonshots" and a "10x" mindset. This means that he pushes his employees to build products that are 10x better than the competition. As such, you can expect Google to be hiring its employees with these expectations.

Google cares so much about amplifying their work that the Google behavioral interview is one of the most rigorous in tech.

In the past, the company was famous for asking several mind-bending and challenging brainteasers to its interviewees. So much so that it inspired the book Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone. However, the company has since acknowledged that these were, by and large, a waste of time. What hasn't changed, though, is the emphasis on 'Googleyness,' or Google's form of culture fit. Although, the company itself tries to internally differentiate between the two.

While this term is never formally defined for the public by the company, Laszlo Block, once the Head of People Operations, said that 'Googleyness' is:

"Attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life."

The Importance of Curiosity

In the first few years of Google, a mysterious billboard appeared along Highway 101 in Silicon Valley. On it was the following text: {first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com with nothing else. Yet, if a curious onlooker were to try to solve the puzzle, and eventually come upon the answer of 7427466391.com, they were directed to a website with an invitation to apply to Google. The company was seeking talented and qualified engineers, of course, but they wanted more than talent. They wanted curiosity, and this early hiring story reflects just that.

One of the most essential attributes of Googleyness is a demonstration of a curious mind. Not only must a Googler be deeply talented, but they must be genuinely inquisitive, as well. After all, those are the best people you'd want on a 'moonshot' team, right?

Staffing for Moonshots

From top of Adam's Peak #SriLanka
Photo by malith d karunarathne / Unsplash

Larry Page is famous for his frequent use of the word 'moonshots' to refer to incredibly ambitious projects that he would push Google towards. While today, many of Google's bread-and-butter products aren't necessarily ambitious enough to be called moonshots, the general attitude towards the resourceful and talented qualities of its employees is still a deciding factor in who gets an offer. So, ask yourself: are you one of these highly curious and skilled individuals that can see themselves, not only working on moonshots but actually contributing to their success?

Preparing For the Interview and Getting the Offer

While developing your own Googleyness is obviously a great way to become a part of the Google team, there are some other practical tips to help you get a leg up.

Consult a Google Interview Guide

Get a Referral

By and large, the majority of Google's interview offers are for those individuals who've managed to get a referral from a current Googler. If you have someone in your professional network who works at Google, it can't hurt to reach out. Just be mindful of the fact that it's common for new Googlers to be inundated with these types of requests. Every Googler can relate with superficial attempts by many in their professional and personal networks to use them for a foot in the door.

Our advice is to cultivate and manage your professional networks before you need to ask for referrals. Make sure you put the right effort into actually building your relationships. It's transparent that you don't care about a relationship when the only time you contact someone is to ask for something. This is especially true if when asking to vouch for you at one of the world's largest tech companies. But with the right relationships, you should be able to get this very valuable referral, which almost guarantees that you'll be invited to an interview.

Study Up

No matter the position you're applying for, you'll definitely need to study up to ace the Google interview. This is especially true for technical positions. If interviewing to be a software engineer, be sure to get comfortable with different algorithms, data structures, object-oriented programming, backtracking, memoization, and dynamic programming.

Complete as many programming questions as you can to prepare for those during your interview.

Aspiring product managers can expect a 2-hour product assignment during their interviews. This assignment should be treated just as the other product questions are: clearly outline the approach and acknowledge any assumptions you have made. As such, PMs should study up on concepts like A/B testing, product vision, key metrics, product design, and more.

Demonstrate Your Thought Process

The most successful interview candidates are those that can fully flesh and demonstrate their thought process and approach to answering Google's questions. During your sample programming or product questions, be sure to ask the right questions before proceeding. Many of them are purposely ambiguous, and your interviewer will be paying attention to how you get the correct context. Don't be afraid to think out loud as you solve your interviewer's challenges, and to confirm all the assumptions you're making while doing so.

Interviewers at Google will want to see that you're creative or inventive in your problem-solving. After all, a big part of Googleyness is being open to new ideas. The best Googlers are those who can come up with brand new solutions to brand new problems.

Should You Work At Google?

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It doesn't take much digging to realize that there's an enormous amount of information on how to get a job at Google. However, there's not that much on why you should work for Google. This may seem silly as Google is regularly ranked as one of the best workplaces in the entire world. "Why wouldn't you want to work at Google?" intuitively seems the better question.

Yet, as we've seen, getting a job at Google is no easy feat. It requires an enormous amount of time, energy, preparation, effort, and some luck. The hiring process, even the successful, takes months. It takes a considerable investment on your part in the attempt to get a job at Google. As such, it's a wise idea to honestly consider if you really want to work at Google.

As of 2020, Google has a market capitalization of 1.1 trillion dollars. This is the largest the company has ever been in its history. As a result, many current and former employees have said that Google has become deeply bureaucratic, with an increasing amount of careerism and office politics, especially among the managerial staff. Given the sheer size of the company, some employees found that the purpose of the projects they work on is not always clear to them. After all, the ability to put up with ambiguity is explicitly part of Laszlo Block's definition of Googleyness. Some candidates may find a better culture fit at companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Stripe, Dropbox, LinkedIn, or even smaller companies.

Similarly, some employees find that their career growth and promotions occur at a much slower rate than they would at other companies. Many attribute this to the sprawling bureaucracy of middle managers. Nevertheless, you can never understate: Google is a phenomenal company to work for. Some of the benefits and perks that come with a job at Google can't be found anywhere else. For some, that becomes a problem after they leave. Many former Googlers report that working at the company set the bar exceptionally high. Very few, if any, companies can truly compete with the type of workplace that Google provided its staff. So, during your Google interview prep, be sure to reflect on whether Google is the workplace for you.

Consult with an Exponent Coach

We’ve partnered with many expert career coaches here at Exponent. Many of them work with companies such as Google, Stripe, Yahoo, Facebook, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon. Whether you're interviewing for product management, software engineering, data science, product marketing management, technical program management, or product design position, you can be connected with the right coach with Exponent.

Here's a list of our coaches who've worked at Google and can provide the most help with your Google interview:

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