How I Stood Out At The Workshop, And Got Into Google
This post is on how I stood out from all other participants in Google’s Innovation Workshop and got hired by them. I am really excited to share this with you and hope that it will inspire you to apply at the best companies. Even when you believe that getting into those organizations is impossible. Specifically, this article is about standing out during workshops and similar events. The actual event where Google recruited me, the Erasmus Recruitment Days, will take place in a couple of weeks. This inspired me to write this article and to share the most important things I have learned with you. There are of course things that I am not allowed to share, like the actual interview questions that Google asks. Luckily, there is a little website called Glassdoor.com. The information in this article combined with interview questions from Glassdoor will go a long way. I am looking forward to your feedback so I can keep improving and offer more value with the next article. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!
Why I applied at Google despite the odds of getting hired
When I first entertained the thought of working at Google I did some research on the odds of getting hired. What I found was numerous articles explaining why getting into Google is very unlikely to down-right impossible. Google receives between 2 million to 3 million applications every year. Out of those only about 5000 get hired. This puts the odds, if you are on the optimistic-side, at 400/1 or 0.25%. These odds make Google more difficult to get into than Harvard. That is not very inspiring.
Now I knew that I was smart and creative. Two qualities that Google must find important as they call their ideal candidates ‘Smart Creatives’ in their book ‘How Google Works’. But how do you compete with people who have degrees from Harvard or people who graduate Magna or even Summa Cum Laude? Google is known to hire the best of the best. With slightly above average grades I stopped considering the possibility altogether. Until a friend showed me different.
After her internship at Google, I told her that I wanted to work at Google but stopped considering it because I did not believe I was good enough. She look at me like I was stupid and said: “Dude you know that you are exactly the type of person that they are looking for right? Google doesn’t care about your grades. Just apply.”.
While Google used to care a lot about academic performance in the past, they found that it’s not an accurate predictor of performance. In the words of Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations :“GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”. However, If you have two identical candidates of which one has higher grades, that one obviously wins. There are still companies (for example banks like Goldman Sachs or management-consulting firms like McKinsey) that use GPA as a hard selection-criteria. But for most world-class companies like Google, grades are just a small part of a much bigger story. Cultural fit eats grades for breakfast.
My application journey
With my new insight I started my application journey. After carefully reviewing the qualifications for their Business Internship and uploading my newly crafted resume I nervously pressed the apply button. The response I got was: “Thank you for your interest in working for us. If you are a suitable candidate we will contact you.”. I waited eagerly for a response but in the end they did not contact me. What I did not know at the time is that you need a very different resume for online applications than the ones you give/send to people. In a future post I will explain how to properly do this, but for now let’s say that I was very disappointed. I felt like I threw my resume into a black hole.
My second approach was contacting Google recruiters on LinkedIn. After getting the names a few recruiters through a friend I sent them them a message. Again no response from any of them. My message sucked by the way (I might do another article on how to reach out to people on LinkedIn properly). Naturally that led to me doubting myself again. Was I really good enough to work at Google? Luckily my wife, who was my girlfriend at that time, pushed me to keep trying.
My third attempt was to apply at Google through the Erasmus Recruitment Days (the career fair of Erasmus University Rotterdam and the largest on-campus recruitment event in Europe). They had 3 events: an interview, an office visit, and a workshop – and I applied for all three. My goal was to get the interview and/or the office visit. What I got was the workshop. For me at the time getting into Google was the pinnacle of achievement. The thing I desired most. I had a lot of my self-worth invested in it. Having been rejected twice before and now only getting selected for the workshop discouraged me. Feeling discouraged and trying to protect my ego, I decided on a different mindset. Even if I would not get hired, I would at least have fun and learn. Needless to say I was so nervous that I did not sleep the night before.
Google’s Workshop: Creative Skills for Innovation (CSI Lab)
The day that I would finally meet the recruiters from the undisputed #1 company to work for (according to Forbes, Fortune, and Glassdoor that year) was here. In the morning I reaffirmed my new mindset in the mirror: Learn and have fun. I went the Erasmus University Campus to the room not knowing what to expect. What I found was a room full students, 4 Googlers (who looked like students as well), a lot of Google Swag (goodies from Google, not to be confused with ‘Swagger’), and the album Random Access Memories from Daft Punk playing in the background. I noticed two things: 1) how nice and normal the people from Google were and 2) how nervous all the students were.
We started the workshop with regular introductions from the recruiters as well as the students. Then they explained how Google comes up with new innovations through prototyping. Google Glass for example, started out as a mobile phone taped to regular glasses.
They explained that Google’s creative process has 5 steps:
- Understand (your user): Dig into the problem through empathy.
- Diverge (ideas): Rapidly develop as many solutions as possible.
- Decide (the best idea): Choose the best ideas and hammer out a user story.
- Prototype (the best idea): Build something quick and dirty that can be shown to users.
- Validate (the prototype): Show the prototype to real humans (in other words, people outside your company) and learn what works and what doesn’t work.
As you might have guessed, those 5 things were exactly what we were going to do that day. We started off with breaking into smaller groups. I was put together with 3 friendly but slightly nervous girls. We had to figure out how we could make the university a better experience for its students (the users in this case).
Understand your user
We were given about 5-10 minutes to interview users. Immediately we split into two teams and started running down the hall asking random students interview questions. The problem we landed on was ‘not enough face time with the teachers’.
Next we had to brainstorm as many ideas as possible. The Googlers explained that this required a ‘‘Yes and’-mentality. Everytime when someone provides an idea your response is “Yes and [New Idea]”. Instead of judging each other’s’ ideas you try come up with as many as possible. We had 5-10 minutes to do this. While having fun I was proposed ideas like using Holograms (like the Tupac Coachella Hologram), Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence/Virtual Teachers, and a Teacher Arena where teachers defend their subjects in an arena. Unfortunately, they immediately got criticised. Not to say that my team members were mean or anything, but you could see that their nervousness was blocking the free flow of thought. One of their ideas for example was to add more teachers. Not the most creative idea in the world.
Decide on the best idea
Each of us were given 3 votes in the form of 3 stickers that we had to stick on the best ideas. I first waited to see what the others would vote. To my surprise they voted on the most conservative ideas. The one with the most votes was actually to add more teachers! It had 4 votes, which left me stunned. When I had to vote, I noticed that only one of my ideas had a vote, the Teacher Arena. So I used all my votes on it and tied the score. Two of the other team members were outraged. They called one of the recruiters and told him what I did. He laughed in response. What I did was allowed and we had to convince each other to change our votes. Using the full extent of my persuasion skills I managed to convince the one which wasn’t outraged to change her vote. At that point we had a quick break. This gave my group the opportunity to calm down and reconnect. Next we had to prototype our best idea.
Prototype the best idea and validate the prototype
We were given a box of arts and crafts materials and had to create a paper version of the teacher arena. Despite our former disagreement, we all worked well together and created the prototype, which in all honesty did not look too great. The group generously put me forward to present the prototype. To be honest I cannot remember the ideas from the other groups so I don’t know how our idea rated compared to others. When everyone gathered around, I told a story about two teachers on the opposite ends of science who would settle their score once and for all in the Teacher Arena. Then I demonstrated how our prototype worked and explained the benefits for the students, teachers, the university, and society as a whole. In the end the recruiters from Google were satisfied with our prototype, presentation, and team performance.
About half of the students left immediately at the end of the workshop. Most of the other half stood in line to fill in their contact details on the recruiters’ notebook. As I was waiting for the line to disappear one of the Googlers approached me. We connected. I asked him about his experiences at Google, how he got hired, what excited him the most about his role, the biggest thing that he learned, etc. While we were socializing the line suddenly disappeared. I took the last chance to provide my contact details, thanked all the Googlers, and left the university campus.
As I got home I still felt the adrenaline. The opportunity to meet Google was behind me. I eagerly awaited their response in the weeks after but to my final disappointment I again got no response. Fast forward 4 months later, I finished an internship at the largest IT-consulting firm in the world called Accenture and was focused on the last stage of my Masters. I completely forgot about my Google application until they finally invited me for an interview. Apparently I am good enough.
Going through the interview process is an interesting story itself. It remains the most difficult set of interviews that I have done. Why you ask? Because you only have 20 – 30 minutes to set yourself apart from all the other candidates, and that requires exceptional skills. But that is a story for another time. For now, let’s focus on the thing that you came here for. The lessons I have learned on standing out during workshops.
The qualities that Google is looking for
During my internship at Google I actually met one of the Googlers from the workshop. He told me that after the workshop they unanimously agreed that I was the one that stood out from all the others. So even though I initially was unhappy with just getting into the workshop, I learned that they can be very effective for getting into companies. Google’s best predictor of future performance is a work-sample test (29 percent). The workshop gives them a small sample. Google believes that you need to hire the right person from the start, instead of spending a lot on training them to be up to par. They would rather miss out on “someone that seems bad but turns out to be good” (false negative) than hire “someone who seems good but turns out to be bad” (false positive). This makes them incredibly selective because they focus on avoiding bad people even when they miss out on good ones in the process. So to be successful you need to understand what qualities they are looking for so you do not get screened out. These are the following:
- Cognitive Ability: Basically how smart you are. Even though we all expect people at Google to be super geniuses, most of them are normal like the rest of us. If you were able to get your Bachelor or Master degree, you probably meet their required Cognitive Ability (seriously, I’m not kidding). But do not forget that creativity is part of cognitive ability as well. So they do expect more when it comes to creative intelligence. They also expect you to be fairly analytical. They want to know how you solve problems in real life.
- Emergent leadership: Leadership is great. Emergent leadership is better. This is about taking initiative in a team where everyone is equal. Because most teams in Google are equal, most leadership in Google is emergent. This is also includes collaboration. Focus on ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.
- Googleyness: This is the one where people have no clue what it means. Simply put it is a combination of intellectual humility and child-like curiosity. Intellectual humility means that you realise that you don’t know everything and that you are proactively looking for feedback and knowledge. Child-like curiosity means that you can get curious about things and that you try new stuff even in ambiguous situations.
- Role-related knowledge: By far the least important one. But of course you do need to meet their minimum qualifications.
The thing they look for at workshops is cultural fit. They assess this by looking at your Googleyness, emergent leadership (taking initiative and collaboration) and openness to new ideas – which you all demonstrate with your behavior during the workshop.
How I demonstrated the qualities that Google is looking for during the workshop
Setting myself apart started out with the “have fun and learn” mindset. It brought out the above qualities in my personality. The performance mindset (trying to perform and beat the rest) hurts your chances because it is fueled by your ego. The learning mindset is much more effective. There is an even better mindset, but the learning one already makes you stand out because almost everyone else is stuck into the performance mindset. It shows the most important trait for cultural fit: Googleyness. I demonstrated the cultural fit qualities during the following moments:
- Empathy for users: It started with showing that I cared about the user’s problem. Google looks for people who want to make a difference, even if it’s a small one. It shows emergent leadership by taking ownership. The other students also did a great job at this.
- Openly co-generating ideas: I was able to generate creative ideas despite some of the other team members being judgemental. That showed Googleyness. The act of trying to open their minds and asking them questions showed emergent leadership. It also showed that I value creativity.
- Going for the interesting path: When that moment came where we had to vote I could have chosen the safe path and voted with the group. Instead I did something interesting by using all my votes on the strangest idea. It showed the part of Googleyness where you dare to take interesting paths. Remember that I wasn’t being a dick about it. I was smiling the whole time and trying to collaborate with the team, which showed emergent leadership in the process.
- Collaborating on the prototype: During prototyping we were working very well again despite our former disagreement. Together we built a solid but very ugly prototype that we were proud of. It showed taking ownership and teamwork which are both part of emergent leadership.
- Presenting the idea: I presented our prototype with excitement and storytelling. After the story I talked about benefits and costs and made quantified estimates. This showed being able to communicate well (emergent leadership) and demonstrated my analytical skills (cognitive ability).
- Socializing afterwards: When everyone was either rushing out the room or to the registration form I slowed down and just talked with people. I connected with them on a personal level, by showing genuine interest and asking them for advice. This showed intellectual humility, the other core part of Googleyness.
9 Takeaways that will make you stand out at every workshop and recruitment event
- Mindset: Get yourself in a learning mindset instead of a performance mindset. We all have the tendency to try to show your best self. Instead focus on enjoying and learning from the experience.
- Ask questions: Ask a lot of questions. If there is anything that you can prepare for a workshop it is a list of interesting questions that you can ask them. Do make sure that the questions are actually ones that you care about. They can smell insincerity from a mile away. If you don’t have anything you would like to ask then wonder why do you actually want to work for them in the first place? Don’t be the one that talks the most, be the one that asks the most.
- Lead & collaborate: The most important quality you can display during workshops is collaborating well with others. Every organization looks for effective team players that can work well with others. Don’t compete with your fellow students. Work with them. Challenge them. Ask them thought-provoking questions. The best way to show leadership is by asking your teammates one by one what they think about the case that you have to solve. Make them shine as well. It’s what great managers do.
- Open-mindedness: Don’t succumb to the pressure and become close minded. When people express ideas don’t judge them. Don’t be like Kanye West and actually let them finish. When people criticize your ideas, don’t become defensive. Not everyone needs to agree with each other but you do need work off each other. Create a flow where you are building on top of each other’s ideas rather than shooting them down.
- Culture: Adjust yourself to their culture. It is their most important screening tool. While Google is a bit goofy and prioritizes creativity, other companies might be more business-like and prioritize other stuff. Be conscious of what their culture is and adjust. When in Rome, dress like the Romans do.
- Focus on their clients: So important and most easily overlooked. Always ask them what their clients/users find important. Especially in consulting workshops it is more important that you involve your (fictive) client and discover what they actually want, rather than coming up with the best solution. The team that caters to and involves the client the most always wins, no matter how genius your solution is.
- Treat them like normal people: Stop yourself from putting recruiters on a pedestal. Show genuine interest in them. First and foremost they are normal people. Even if they sometimes don’t act like it. They were also crapping their pants when they were being screened. We are all imperfect, or in other words: perfectly human. Treat them how you would like to be treated.
- Right fit: Ask yourself if the actual workshop gave you energy. Are you your real self in such an environment? Chances are that if you did not like the workshop, you might not like them as your employer. By faking it you’re playing a losing game in the long-term. This is as much a screening process for you as it is for them. Don’t settle for a company that doesn’t resonate with you and work in a role that doesn’t give you energy (see previous post).
- Follow up and be patient: Always follow up by sending them a message and thanking them for everything that they have shared with you. This might not always get you the response you hope for, but it is crucial nonetheless. Getting into companies like Google requires a good bit of patience. But if you did all of the former things right and keep hanging in there, it is only a matter of time before they will call for the much desired interview.
Next up: Silicon Valley Lessons and Free Consults
So there you have it: How I stood out and got recruited by Google. As always, I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback on this article. Hopefully it has been valuable and will help you stand out during workshops and recruitment events. For now I am looking forward to my trip to Silicon Valley from January 16 to 24. Click here to find out how I won that trip in the first place. The next article will be on all the lessons learned from the top technology companies that I will visit (including Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Cisco, and more). I will be posting updates throughout the trip on the Facebook page.
Furthermore, I have opened up Free Consults slots in February. You can apply for them on the homepage. During the consults I can share how my application at Google went after the workshop and how I separated myself in the interview. Of course without disclosing anything that I am not allowed to if you are reading this Google 😉 If you will soon visit a career event (like the Erasmus Recruitment Days for example), it might be worth checking out the currently available slots. Be quick though because they probably fill up fast. I will open up more slots once I am back from my travels and throughout the coming months.
Thanks again for your readership and till next time!