I Interviewed at Google

job interview My experience applying for a job at Google took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. In 2007, I had been an administrator at a Silicon Valley university for six years. Leading up to submitting my resume to Google, I had become aware of the tech-talent vacuum that was "the G."

Just in that year alone, seven doctoral students from my research group had been tendered offers by the Internet search-engine behemoth once they had received their diplomas, and all but one accepted without hesitation. In a region where one's place of employment is worn like a fashion accessory, Google was the little black dress of the season.

Looking for the best of the best

Sure, their requirements were steep -- including a degree from a "top-flight" university that included an outstanding academic record, along with some quirk or quality that made you stand out from the pack -- but the benefits were primo. On-site paid child care, free cafes with unlimited gourmet meals, dog-friendly offices. Oh, and then there was the ESPP program, or employee stock purchase plan. The day I interviewed at Google, their stock was trading at more than $500 per share, and I won't dance around the fact that I wanted to get me some of that!

Google human resources talent scout Christy first wrote me via e-mail in late August and asked if I would like to talk on the phone about an available position. I e-mailed her back in 3.6 seconds and prayed I hadn't waited too long. Step one was a phone screening in which I was asked the general questions you'd expect: What made you interested in Google? What would your current employer say about you? What are some of your long-term ambitions?

Finally, Christy whispered those five little words I was dying to hear: "Come for an on-site interview." For Silicon Valley residents and techies, being asked to the Googleplex is like an Englishman being asked to visit Buckingham Palace -- only with free espresso. I tried not let the tears of joy come through in my voice as Christy and I nailed down a time a few weeks later for me to swing by.

Being put to the test

Prepping for a job interview at Google is like trying to decide what to wear to a wedding held in a biker bar. Experience tells you you're suppose to shoot for "business casual" when you go on an interview, yet everything I found about campus life on the Google website made me think I'd be overdressed in anything more than Levis and a Rolling Stones tee. Many of my students who had gone off to work there described the atmosphere as a version of grad school, but with less alcohol and less stress. In the end, I opted for a pair of black slacks and a nondescript Walmart-rack gray blouse. It turned out that I fit right in.

The day of the interview, mid-morning, I drove out to the campus, found a visitor's parking spot and presented myself at the reception desk. Christy appeared within minutes, ushered me past security, and asked if I wanted a soda or a latte before I took my test. That's right, my test. Not anticipating a board exam, I bravely acted prepared and was shown into a small conference room, issued the test and some scrap paper, and left for 30 minutes to complete my exam.

When you're applying for administrative positions, it's not uncommon at large companies to be screened for skills in office computer applications like PowerPoint or Microsoft Word, but Google's standard logic test threw me for a loop. Even though I describe myself as a semi-techie, I was not applying for a technical position: I was applying to be an administrative or executive assistant. It was later explained to me, when I very diplomatically asked whether all applicants called in for interviews are administered this test, that indeed they are -- regardless of the nature of the position in question.

"Even the chef?"

Christy nodded and replied, "Even the janitor."

After an in-person meeting with two or three Google HR recruiters, Christy thanked me for my time and told me she'd be in touch after my test was examined -- that is, if Google was still interested. I felt hollow, and came to realize that I hadn't been interviewed for a position, I'd been positioned for an interview. With less vivid dreams of complimentary omelets and having my name followed by @google.com, I returned to my real life with only a vague expectation of being called back. Christy had made it clear that it was extremely competitive for all positions that the company had available. She had said at that time (in late 2007), they were receiving on average 10,000 resumes a month and hiring only about 100 people.

Jumping through hoops

The following week, another recruiter called me, telling me that my logic test had been impressive and that the original recruiting staff members thought my personality was a good fit for the company. The next step, she explained, would be finding an ideal open position and supervisor with whom I clicked. She asked me if I'd be available for an interview the following week, and I readily agreed.

And thus began my impressive world tour of the Googleplex. For the next three months, from late September until early December 2007, I was called out to Google on eight separate occasions to interview with various managers and executives involved in different programs on the campus. Recruiters became blank pages to me, as I was getting calls from so many people in the HR department. I was beginning to think someone had scribbled my name and number on the walls of one the bathrooms!

Each visit required me to meet with no less than three and sometimes as many as eight people, to whom, if I won the position du jour, I would report. It could often take as long as four hours on each trip to make the necessary rounds. Each time, my feedback was positive, but something would slip through. The program director was transferred to another department. The supervisor of Project Huffle-Buffle was able to convince her old admin to make a transfer. It was decided that the department should be reorganized and the position I interviewed for three days ago no longer existed.

Finally in early December, the stars aligned and a position was informally offered to me. By this time, I had accumulated, during three and half months, nearly 40 hours of time taken off from my then-current position, to meet Google's requests. But I shrugged it off, for if in the end I had a job at the G, it would have been all worth the effort. Christy reemerged to see me through the end of the process, giving me a wonderful alpha and omega feeling. There were just a few formalities, she explained, before a formal offer could be tendered. They needed to screen my references and requested me to submit a copy of college transcripts (undergrad and the graduate degree I was then pursuing in Information Theory). I gladly did so, each moment getting more excited and more pumped up.

Then came the call.

Doomed by a technicality

I had put in two semesters toward my graduate degree, covering three classes. For one class, I had taken an incomplete, as the birth of one of my children interrupted my academic studies. (The other classes, in case you're wondering, were graded A- and B+.) Also, my undergraduate degree was from a "top-flight" university, and my GPA in my major was a 3.85. Not too shabby, really. However, during my sophomore year at college, I had one really bad semester, during which I was very sick (eventually hospitalized). Because of this one semester, and because of one or two lower-B/upper-C grades from classes that I was required to take as part of a standard undergraduate program, my overall GPA was only a 3.46.

On that deadly call, Christy explained to me that the minimum GPA for new hires at Google was 3.5, and no exceptions were made. NO EXCEPTIONS. So, even though they courted me, even though they "thought I was a perfect fit for Google" and "just the type of person" they like to hire, even though they told me that I was being hired and they just had to go through the formality of seeing out the paperwork, my offer (or rather, the process of preparing my offer) came to an immediate stop and I never got the chance to show Google what I could do.

To say I felt slighted by a technicality was an understatement. I just kept thinking of the famous saying, "Justice without mercy is not justice."

Next: I Interviewed at Microsoft

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