It’s no surprise that a lot of people dream of landing a job at Facebook. The social network’s massive reach means employees get to work on something that potentially affects billions of people. The company has also consistently placed high on the rankings of best places to work for offering career advancement, good benefits, and a positive culture. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also earned a 95% approval rating from his staff.
But how, exactly, does one land a coveted spot at Facebook?
It’s not easy to make the cut, but there is one thing their hires all have in common: “A penchant for action,” according to Vijaye Raji, engineering director and site lead for the Seattle office. Their values must align with values of the company, he says. “We are looking for makers who are bold, move fast, and get stuff done,” says Raji.
Once an applicant is selected, it’s typical for them to go through several rounds of interviewing, progressing from a phone or Skype call, to in-person rounds starting with Facebook’s recruiters and leading up to department heads.
Next to its Menlo Park, California, headquarters, Seattle is Facebook’s largest and fastest growing location. Together Raji (Facebook employee No. 15 in Seattle) and Melissa Nixon, Facebook’s recruiting director in Seattle, have interviewed scores of hopeful candidates. Here are some of their tips for standing out and scoring the job.
Nixon says feeling nervous is natural, and she’s a believer in leaning in to it. “Nerves and excitement feel the same,” she points out. Admitting that you’re nervous to the interviewer is a good way to push through it, she explains. “It’s a pretty friendly group,” Nixon explains, particularly because everyone hopes they’re someone you get to work with in the future.
It’s not only the way to get to Carnegie Hall, it’s the way to ace interviews, according to both Nixon and Raji. Preparing yourself mentally can help build confidence, says Raji, so it helps to do mock interviews with friends.
At Facebook, all the engineers are required to code on a whiteboard during their interviews. Although this sounds kind of terrifying, Raji says that it’s become familiar territory to anyone doing a technical interview. “We don’t expect you to know 15 programming languages,” Raji contends, but you do need to have basic computer science down pat. For example, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of how an algorithm works rather than memorizing a bunch of different ones.
Raji suggests picking one language and getting really comfortable with that through practice. A misstep he often sees is when engineers try to reimplement everything they know, which reduces the amount of time they have to solve the problem. Other ways to practice working through problems in real time are by participating in contests or hackathons, says Raji.
An often overlooked but valuable part of the interview process from the recruiter’s and hiring manager’s perspective is when a candidate is able to think through their responses out loud. At the whiteboard, this is especially true. “We understand you’re not going to come up with the most awesome solution in one shot,” Raji explains. He suggests writing an answer first, then iterate on it. “This is something we love,” he underscores. “Test it, and say how you can improve what you just wrote.”
“Don’t be afraid of making mistakes,” Nixon adds. “It’s part of everyday reality.” Talk about how you think through these things and focus on getting to a solution so the interviewer can see how you would operate on the job.
Many of Facebook’s hires are college grads or early in their careers, so not having a long list of accomplishments isn’t going to immediately discount a candidate. But Nixon points out that you have to be able to show what you are good at. And it’s not enough to present a laundry list of skills. “Give detailed examples from work or school,” says Nixon. For example, if you love working with all different kinds of people, tell about a time you worked well within a diverse team.
Facebook’s interviewers are also trained to ask leading questions like: “Tell me about a time when you–fill in the blank. How did you handle that situation?” Nixon again points to the importance of talking through the answer here. “We want to know people’s thought processes,” she says, because it goes back to Facebook’s desire to hire builders and makers.
Both Nixon and Raji maintain that no one interviewing job candidates is going to lob a curveball question like, “Why are tennis balls fuzzy?” Although some recruiters maintain that those questions are valuable because they can see how a person thinks on their feet, Nixon says they ultimately don’t reveal anything important about the candidate.
Tough questions that make an applicant think are part of the process. Nixon remembers her own interviews at Facebook before she was hired in February 2016 (after spending a decade at Google). “I was having a great time,” she recalls, “but then [the interviewer] asked me about the line between recruiting and engineering. I’d never been asked that.”
Nixon admits she responded with something vague that certainly didn’t speak to the values of the company. That’s when the interviewer told her, “Here there is no line, we are all in this together.” Looking back, says Nixon, she realized that every interview is a give and take. “It’s not just about us interviewing them,” she says. The right answer, and there could be many different variations on it, is to understand what Facebook’s culture is, and how that plays into whatever is being asked.
“The interviewer is never going to leave someone hanging,” she observes, because of the collaborative culture at Facebook. If they get stumped, the interviewer might give them a hint. But, she says, candidates should also ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand what the line of questioning is getting at.
The bottom line is, “Interviewing is scary. It is when you do have experience, like death and public speaking,” Nixon adds. But Raji reminds hopefuls, “Mind-set matters just as much as what you know.” Oh, and they’re hiring.