Google: 2nd Attempt

TL;DR

I interviewed for Google for a second time and got the job. Yay! I aligned my options carefully, negotiated well, and came out satisfied. Reading this might help you do the same.

Introduction

So, there comes a point in every engineers career where they ask themselves do they really have what it takes to work at giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. I attempted to land a job at Google about three years ago. That attempt wasn’t successful. The fact that I hadn’t volunteered myself but was rather contacted by a recruiter, at the time, had something to say about it: I simply wasn’t ready.

But then, I started to think whether I was cut out for that sort of undertaking, and whether I would be able to get through the process if I was the one who initiated it. It didn’t end up working out quite like that, but it came close.

I sat down one evening at the urging of my wife and my own initiative to plan for my career’s future. I looked at possible routes I could take in the next five years, and companies I would really really like to experience working for.

Then, I decided to apply for them in batches, in descending order of interest. Namely, if I was interested in X, Y, Z, and T (in that order), I would apply for all of them, and arrange for the interviews for X and Y to be on the same week, and for Z and T to coincide as well. The first reason for that is that I wanted to prepare myself in the minimum possible time. I didn’t want to put weeks on end for each company. The second, and maybe the more important, reason (if you consider the dividends it pays) was that I wanted to be able to play the two companies against each other, should I get both offers. The third reason was self evaluation. If you get two YESes, it means you must have gotten it right; if you get one YES, you might have gotten lucky (with the YES) or maybe unlucky (with the NO); if you get two NOs, you definitely need to rework your preparation. Why burn bridges, especially when most companies have a mandatory wait time before you can apply again. The fourth reason was that I didn’t want to be in a position where I got an offer from a company I didn’t really consider my first choice, without trying that company first. This might sound zen and obvious, but it isn’t. A lot of people put off interviewing for the company they REALLY wish they were working for, fearing that they might fail and miss their chance, or hoping the “easier” interviews wood give them firmer grounds to stand upon. The reality is that even smaller companies can be enticing and competitive enough in their offers that they might stop you completely from considering making the scary leap.

The process of choosing prospective companies is also very exhausting and needs a lot of attention. I plan to do another post on that soon. But here are my top four companies:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Microsoft
  4. Amazon

So, I decided to apply for Google and Facebook at the same time. I fleshed out a new resume out of the ashes of the old one, and set about going through my study material at a leisurely pace.

It was just about this time that a Google recruiter contacted me, indicating that they were interested in giving it a shot again, since I was already in their system. The timing couldn’t have been better. Thinking of my previous experience, I imagined that I would have a couple months of preparation interspersed with one or two phone interviews and one final onsite. So, I submitted my resume to Facebook on their careers site, and decided to wait to see what happens.

A few hours after my first phone conversation with the recruiter, I got another call and was told that because of my experience and my previous brush with their interviewing team, they had decided to not do any of the phone interviews and take me directly to onsite, instead.

I was also asked to send them a few supplementary notes about myself, my goals, and my passions, alongside my traditional resume.

I was scared and thrilled at the same time. I accepted the challenge and set a date in three weeks’ time.

I chronicled all the steps of the process meticulously, writing down all my available tools, the steps I was taking, all the contacts I had, and everything else, and studied hard for about three weeks and went on to the onsite interview.

The biggest insight in helping me calm my nerves came from my wife: the interviewers are your  potential, future coworkers. Talk to them as you would with your colleagues. They aren’t there to trap you. You are there to solve a problem together, even though they may have the advantage of knowing the answer beforehand. They know it, too.

I also kept in constant touch with my recruiter, keeping her appraised of my progress in my studies, asking her for additional advice and preparation material.

The interview was challenging and interesting, and I liked the process and the people. I was given a number of questions over the course of five one-hour interview sessions, and a lunch break. The lunch break was a relief and a great help: I talked to my lunch interviewer as an impartial person whose job was to have lunch with me and nothing more, no feedback, no judgement. It helped me clear my mind, focus on what I thought to be mistakes and errors on my part in my pre-lunch interviews. Then, I did the rest of the interviews, said my goodbyes, and went home.

It is important to be very in touch with your feelings here. If you didn’t enjoy the interview, if you thought it was overwhelmingly difficult or boringly stupid, if the people seemed arrogant and off-putting, if the office space seemed depressing, maybe this isn’t the right job to move into for you. Just be aware that while the handful of people you interact with during your interview do not represent the company in its entirety, they are nonetheless a strong indicator, and maybe the only indicator available to you.

If you wonder how I prepared for the interviews themselves, I plan to follow up with another post shortly that precisely outlines my study plan and how I prepared for the interview from a technical perspective.

On Options

At the same time, I was approached by (let’s call them) company A and company B (a company I hadn’t seriously considered and probably wouldn’t work for, but it paid to have competition for Google). I told all of them that I was interested (and honestly speaking, I was, if I didn’t get in Google). I interviewed with them, and used their answers to help settle on better numbers.

The insight here is that you should never burn your bridges and narrow your selection too much. Remember that any potential employer is just another option on the table for you, giving you more peace of mind if nothing else. Also, it doesn’t hurt to feel chased after by powerful tech giants. Just don’t let this fool you into thinking you are superman. Stay humble.

Moving Forward

About five years ago, if you hear it being told, Google changed their hiring procedure slightly. Instead of first hiring you and then moving you around a bunch of times until you settle, they will not sign you on until you have a team to join. This process is a little slower, but gives you surer footing when you join. So, I was matched with prospective teams, and had conversations with their managers, which helped me choose the team I was going to work for.

Also, my recruiter was helpful and kind enough to help me set up a meeting with my prospective team members to talk to them personally and have lunch with them. She also helped me overcome my doubts by setting me up with people who had experience working for the other companies from whom I had offers. Again, keep your recruiter your ally.

Once everything was decided, we negotiated some numbers and signed an offer.

On Negotiating an Offer

I used GlassDoor, Paysa, and PayScale to come up with initial numbers. It is important to have a good idea of what your target numbers are. You have to now how much base salary, how much stock options, and what sort of bonus you want. You have to know what other things are negotiable and what things are more important. Don’t be too fixated on the base salary, but don’t sell yourself short. Sure, base salary isn’t everything, but negotiating the base salary is way easier before you sign your contract than when you are being promoted on the job ladder.

It is also extremely important to be very professional in your negotiating. Don’t forget to thank everyone who is helping you. Yes, the recruiter represents the interests of the company first, but s/he is also representing you in your negotiations with the company. A lot of people on Quora say you shouldn’t even think of negotiating your offer with companies such as Google. They couldn’t be more wrong. Just keep it courteous and professional.

Also, don’t forget that a deal in which one party feels they are losing isn’t a great deal. A great deal is one in which both parties depart feeling they have gained something. Don’t push your recruiter for the last penny. Consider how much added value that annual extra $5k will get you when broken down into 26 post-tax biweekly salary checks, and whether it is worth making a bad impression. Also, remember that the recruiter works for HR, while your manager is someone you have to see on a day-to-day basis. Know who you are REALLY negotiating with.

Conclusion

I realized that without actively thinking of fishing out my career from the figurative pond of possibilities, I couldn’t achieve much. You can’t “hope for the best” and end up being very successful. I am not yet, either, but I feel like I am closer.

I read everything there was about other people’s experiences. There wasn’t much available, with much clarity about the end-to-end experiences of real people, as opposed to books or articles on career sites. Those are helpful, for sure, but just lack the necessary insight and personal touch that motivates and teaches. That’s why I decided to write this piece as soon as I got the offer. I hope this helps someone, and if it does, I would love to hear about it!

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