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I Hire Engineers At Google—Here's What I Look For (And Why)

This Googler explains how tech recruiting is becoming more holistic than it used to be, and what it takes to stand out.

[Photo: Flickr user Roman Boed]

The hiring experience for engineers isn't what it used to be—and that's partly by design. Here at Google, we've intentionally broadened the number of schools where we actively recruit, from 75 a few years ago to 305 today. We're as interested in English or philosophy majors as we are in computer science degree holders. We don't really care if you have a 4.0 GPA, and we're not interested in whether you can figure out how many golf balls fit inside a 747.

But here's what we do look for in engineering candidates in 2016—and why we look for it.

1. Don't Disqualify Yourself Preemptively

Recent experience has taught us that we can find great tech talent in a much wider range of places than previously thought. For one thing, there are far more qualified college applicants than there are spaces for them at top universities. And for another, computer scientists aren't always aware of their talent for coding by the time they’re 18 and have to declare a major.

Google is also trying to challenge some of the industry's stubbornest stereotypes about what computer scientists look like and do in their spare time. Our Google in Residence program, for instance, embeds Google engineers at historically black colleges and universities to teach computer science and coach students about how to position themselves for engineering careers. We have similar initiatives in the works aimed at improving Hispanic diversity, too.

It's important to know this because, too often, the tech sector's well-documented demographics are enough to discourage some of the best talent from imagining themselves as future Googlers. My job is to help change that; your job is to apply.

More broadly, Google’s CS in Education initiative works to develop programs, resources, tools, and community partnerships to make computer science accessible to more students during their formative educational years. The goal is to make sure tomorrow's tech industry mirrors the demographics of the people it actually serves.

In the meantime, don't assume you're unqualified on the basis of your educational, professional, or personal background and decide against applying (or, for that matter, let self-doubt get the better of you when you do show up for an interview). Trying to land a competitive tech job is daunting, but it's only impossible if you don't compete.

2. Show Us What You Can Do—Even If You Didn't Learn It In School

Yes, engineers need to be able to code. But we're interested in hiring actual people, not machines. So on your resume, instead of listing your GPA (which we no longer use to determine candidacy), give us details about your experience at hackathons, coding competitions, or programming assignments at work. Just because it isn't an academic credential doesn't make it any less relevant. Not only does this create a more textured portrait of your abilities, it’s a great way to prove your engineering chops if you majored in sociology, for instance.

3. Get Comfortable With Coding Exercises

Now for the obvious part: It goes without saying that engineers need to be able to code, so intensive preparation for the coding exercise—the centerpiece of every Google engineering interview—is a must. Candidates should be able to answer three coding questions from scratch (without the help of a library function) within 45 minutes.

I also suggest practicing with a live person, whether they’re technical or not. And try going analog—use a whiteboard or a blank piece of paper. And focus in particular on algorithms and data structures. There are some great samples in Cracking the Coding Interview, Topcoder, and LeetCode.

4. Remember What Got You Noticed In The First Place

It's equally important is to keep a lookout for "impostor syndrome," certain high achievers’ tendencies to discount their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a "fraud."

Some newly hired Googlers experience it when they first step on campus, and sometimes it crops up periodically during their tenures. While this is a completely normal response, it's a counterproductive mind-set while you're gunning for a tech position. I've seen it get the better of candidates and completely derail an interview.

You might not put relaxation techniques at the top of your checklist for tech-interview prep, but they should be there. Here's a tip: Consider thinking out loud while you complete the coding exercise. Not only can that help you own the task at hand and stay calm under pressure, but this level of transparency helps your interviewer understand how you think.

And why wouldn't you want that? After all, if you’ve made it to the interview, you can be confident that someone on staff already believes in your abilities.


Keawe Block is a recruiter at Google.

Related Video: This Is The One Surprising Interview Question You Should Definitely Ask
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