How I Got Into Google With No Tech Background, Part 3

This is Part 3 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 and Part 2 before proceeding.

I thought I was nervous after my conversation with Punit (Google’s recruiter) on February 25, 2011.

Those two days of not knowing if I passed felt like an agonizing expanse of time. 

But once I did pass, it was a whole other level of nervous for what came next:

A call with a Google hiring manager named Anant.

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Ex-McKinsey guy, Columbia business grad, and reputed tough interviewer.

McKinsey, in case you don’t know, is one of the top consulting firms in the world. 

McKinsey consultants are who Fortune 500 CEOs call when they don’t feel comfortable making decisions.

And one big thing their consultants are famous for is “case-based interviewing.”

Meaning, instead of asking what your weaknesses are or some softball question, they present you with a case –– a challenging business scenario that you need to analyze and solve out loud.

So I ordered a book called Case In Point to bone up on this interview style as soon as I heard about Anant.

I prepped for some curveball questions that I’d heard about candidates getting in Google interviews too. Such as “how many golfballs can fit in a school bus” and “how many lawn mowers are sold in the U.S. in a year.” (The first one, I actually was asked as a 22 year old while interviewing for a hedge fund job that I didn’t get.)

I also gave myself a crash course in advertising technology (ad tech) since the role I was interviewing for was heavily focused on that. 

SEC filings, Google’s ad revenues, an online advertising company they recently acquired –– all of which was brand new to me. 

Bear in mind: Punit told me that I passed the recruiter screen on February 28th.

And my interview with Anant was on March 8th.

So, yeah…safe to say that I was pretty anxious going in.

I used a sick day at American Express to make sure I could do the call from home.

And then the hiring process took two unexpected twists from what I had mentally prepared for.

The first twist was that Anant wasn’t really a tough interviewer. (I later found out that he was a tough boss.)

The role I was interviewing for was also pretty technical (like I talked about in Part 2) and Anant wasn’t a technical guy. 

So almost none of the tough questions about the role that I was expecting, actually came.

Moreover, the guy who referred me –– Ben –– was somebody who Anant respected a lot.

And so, to my surprise, the interview was more social and friendly than anything else. We talked about our kids. The fact that we’d both gotten our MBAs from Columbia. How we each knew Ben. And we only discussed the role at a fairly high level. 

He never asked me case questions, riddles, or any of the curveballs that I prepared for.

The interview wound down without my heart rate having any real reason to increase.

The second twist arrived just as Anant and I were wrapping up.

“Do you have 45 minutes to talk to someone else on the team named Lindy?”

“Sure”, I said. “When?”

“Right now”, Anant replied. “She’ll call you after we hang up.”

As soon as Lindy introduced herself, I knew this was going to be different from talking to Anant. 

She wasn’t mean in any way, but she was colder and certainly more task-focused. 

I tried establishing some rapport (asking about her family, etc.) but Lindy answered curtly before diving right into the role requirements. 

Only, instead of digging into the technical aspects, she focused on the personality fit.

“We need this person to be a hardass”, she told me.

When I asked what she meant, she said that Google’s engineers had a habit of pushing products out the door before all of the bugs had been fixed. (Or, in many cases, even identified.)

Google was hiring a product ops / escalation management person mainly to nip that in the bud.

My job was to say “no” to engineering VPs when their new products weren’t yet supportable. 

A lot of Lindy’s questions were aimed at sizing up whether I was the type of person who could do that.

The truth was (and I did a damn good job of hiding it) I wasn’t that person. At least, I didn’t see myself that way at the time.

I had little experience working with VPs. Much less in engineering, which –– at Google –– is the department that runs the show. 

-gulp-

I wanted to work there, though, so I did my best to seem unflappably confident.

Lindy also asked me about something called the “product development lifecycle” which I had not heard of. (I actually googled it after the interview.)

Thinking fast, I inferred the gist of it from the name, and told her that I would soak the rest up as I went. 

Unlike Anant, Lindy asked me a fair amount of ad tech questions, which I was thankful to have boned up on. 

Google had acquired a company called DoubleClick a few years prior and my work was going to involve their product pretty heavily. The time I spent digging into DoubleClick’s background helped a lot.

Our call ended without her tipping her hand either way. I couldn’t tell how I had done in her eyes, and so, defaulted to worrying that I screwed it up. 

The next day, Punit called with news:

“We like you, but we need to calibrate you against other candidates.”

Since I was the first candidate Google interviewed for this role, they needed to bring more people in before I went further. 

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear –– it sounded like a big hurdle being placed onto what was previously a wide open road. 

Fortunately, Punit also said that there was another role I might be a good fit for. And then asked if I wanted to talk to Jen, the hiring manager for that.

Now, maybe this sounds bad, but back then I didn’t really care what my exact role was.

I just wanted to work at Google. Period. So I told Punit “Sure – have Jen give me a call.”

My call with Jen was scheduled for March 11 (3 days later) at 6pm.

And you’ll hear how it went in Part 4.

-Sincerely,

-Alan Stein, CEO & Chief Accelerator

P.S. One theme I’m sure you are noticing is what a difference it made for me to be referred in, as opposed to applying cold. (Like I did, unsuccessfully, five or six times before the story you’re reading now.)

I don’t want to say that a warm referral makes up for ALL weaknesses in your candidacy, but it does give you a bigger margin for error. It’s sort of like starting on second base.

In the future, I’ll write more about ways to get referred that you might not have considered.