How I Got Into Google With No Tech Background, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series on how I got into Google as a first generation college grad with no tech background and almost no connections. If you haven’t already, read Part 1 before proceeding.

In my last post, I told you a little about what it was like working at Google (my personal dream company.) 

But that was just scratching the surface of the complex process that led to me actually GETTING that job.

It’s one thing to have a dream company in mind, but if you don’t know how to navigate the landmines, the dream never becomes a reality.

(And that’s what you’re here for – right?)

So today, I want to “rewind the tape” and take you back to the beginning of the hiring process:

The Recruiter Screen.

As you may know, top companies usually don’t let you talk to a hiring manager right away.

They use recruiters to screen the candidate pool and make sure that hiring managers only talk to realistic, promising candidates. 

In essence, the #1 job of a recruiter is to DISQUALIFY YOU from moving forward.

Now, this is not to say that recruiters are mean or nasty, because they can actually be wonderful people.

(I’m friends with a lot of them, some of whom are closely involved with my work here at Kadima Careers.)

I just want to emphasize that recruiters are motivated by speed and volume of hires, and they don’t give a damn about any individual candidate. 

The good news is: if you know what traps to avoid (and more importantly, what to showcase to a recruiter) you can flip the dynamic around and raise the odds of being passed to the hiring manager.

Here’s how my own recruiting call went with Google.

Remember: before this, I submitted five applications to Google that got ignored.

Those previous (failed) attempts all had one thing in common, which is that I was a cold applicant coming in through the front door.

This time was different –– you may remember from my last post that my college buddy Seth introduced me to a director at Google named Ben.

Ben and I had a wonderful phone call on February 18th, 2011 which ended with him offering to put me in touch with a recruiter.

One day later, I heard from Punit (the recruiter.) I got back to him right away and booked a call for February 25th. 

I remember the day clearly.

I had to use an empty conference room at American Express, since we had an open office with cubicles.

(I literally went down to another floor to make sure my boss and colleagues didn’t know anything was up.)

The role I was interviewing for was Manager, Product Operations & Escalation Management of Publisher Products.

I didn’t really know what that meant–– I was just excited to be interviewing with Google!

Because I was referred in, this conversation really was about giving an overview of the team, the logistics of the process, and the constraints around my potential for the role…

But I was no less nervous about my first real opportunity to persuade a real human being at Google to hire me.

We discussed location, too –– this role was going to be in NYC, which was fantastic since I did not want to uproot my family.

We also discussed compensation.

And this was the first time I fucked things up royally.

I shared a lot of info about my compensation at American Express (which was below market) that wound up cutting my knees out from under me later on.

We discussed the key elements of the job and how I fit in with those requirements as well.

Some of those, I fit perfectly with: I needed to be operationally effective and work within a service organization. I needed to solve and prevent tough client issues. I had to lead through influence and change management.

All of these skills, I polished to a mirror shine at American Express.

Others, I felt concerned about: I had never run a global team (which I’d have to do at Google), I had never managed complex technology projects before, and I didn’t have “exceptional leadership skills” like they wanted.

I’d been managing people for a few years, but I was in no way “exceptional.” In fact, when I came to Google, and they did employee surveys on manager quality, I got rated in the bottom 25th percentile.

(A few years later, I won their Great Manager Award after a lot of time spent building my management skills. But I was a long way from that right now.)

The role also required a BA or BS in a technology-related field from a top school. Mine was in psychology from a solid but relatively under-the-radar New York State school, Binghamton University.

Finally, they were looking for someone with experience in software and “a track record of success managing large-scale technical projects to completion.”

I didn’t have that.

That being said, I came into that interview, and somehow I put on a decent show.

I told Punit that even though I didn’t check every box, I had learned on the fly for my entire career. And I said that my hunger to excel would make up for what I didn’t already know.

While I had some concerns, I left that 30 minute conversation feeling cautiously optimistic.

When Punit ended the interview (which was on a Friday) he said he would get back to me the following week.

Let me tell ya: that was NOT a pleasant weekend! 

I did not sleep well, I endlessly second-guessed myself, and I kept wondering if I had screwed something up to lose my opportunity at Google.

I talked my poor wife’s ears off with all of my concerns about how I did.

Lucky for me, early Monday morning, I got an email from Punit.

“Alan, congratulations: you’re moving on to the next round.”


That meant I would have an opportunity to interview with a hiring manager named Anant.

I took about five minutes to feel good about myself, before it dawned on me that this next interview would be a whole other ballgame. 

Quite frankly, I think I passed the recruiter screen with Punit by just being friendly and enthusiastic about working at Google. (Ben’s recommendation also went a long, long way.)

But I had a feeling the hiring manager was going to dig a lot deeper into the technical role requirements that I felt shaky about. 

So I did a ton of prep for that (some of which helped, some of which was a waste of time.)

And I’m going to give you the whole play-by-play in Part 3 of this series.