What its Like to Work for Google

With fun perks like free lunches, on-site massage, and weekly roller hockey games, it's no wonder that Google is high on the list of where college grads want to work. After all, the company was launched from a Stanford University dorm room, and Staffing Programs Director Judy Gilbert says working at Google is still a lot like being at a college campus.

While most of the Internet company's undergraduate hires are in technical fields like software engineering, she says Google is also hiring top-notch candidates for positions in sales and marketing. She spoke with BusinessWeek.com reporter Kerry Miller about what it's really like inside the Googleplex and revealed the one answer students shouldn't give when interviewers ask, "Why are you interested in Google?"

Google ranked No. 2 in this year's Universum Survey of where college grads most want to work and fourth among undergrad business majors (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/4/06, "They Love it Here and Here and Here")

Certainly, we have a very visible brand, as a company as well as an employer, and I think it's very difficult to separate those. But, at the end of the day, we don't know quite what drives it. We're just flattered to be near the top of the list. We like being popular.

And does that make it easier to find good talent, or does it actually make it harder -- since you have so many people clamoring to get your attention?

It's a good problem to have, but there is a little bit of both. We're very selective about the people that we hire. It's very important to us to find the right match. There are some very smart people who are enormously capable, but for various reasons, they're not likely to be very happy or successful at Google. Part of what we try to do throughout our hiring process is to spot that, so that candidates can get to know us and understand what it would actually be like to work at this place vs. what it's like to experience Google as a user or as a customer. But we're more than happy to wade through piles of resumes and applicants if they're coming to us.

How fierce is the competition?

For most of the positions for which we would hire entry-level people, we're not looking to fill a particular number of chairs. It's not like there's one position that's up for grabs and we're going to look at five candidates and pick the one we like best. We want to try to hire everybody that we find who we think would be a good fit for that position and successful, long-term, in this company. It's one of the things that's hardest to talk to students about because there is this sense that the guy who goes in to interview right after is someone you're competing with, and that's really not the way we think about it here.

What types of jobs are open to undergraduate business majors?

Most of the undergrad hiring that we do is for software engineering positions, so it's technical. But there are positions available for people who do not have a technical background and who are interested in the business side of things. The biggest groups into which we hire business-oriented undergrads are in our online sales and operations world. So these folks come in and they support our products like AdWords and AdSense, and they learn the tools inside and out. They work in small teams, and they interact with customers and prospective customers.

What's the career path like for a new hire in online sales?

A new hire would start as a coordinator, and they move up from there. They're given progressively more responsibility as they demonstrate that they can handle it. And many of the people who come up through that program move into roles where they are managing teams that are not just a batch of grads within two or three years. There's a very structured training program, with clear objectives that you hit at different points in your career, and there's a fairly well-established promotion track.

So what would a coordinator be doing on a daily basis?

Depending on which product they were working with, they might be dealing with inquiries that have come in from, for example, advertisers who were trying to understand why their keywords were showing up in certain areas or where the clicks were coming from. Basically, a coordinator is helping our advertisers use the product more effectively and get the most value out of it.

As a coordinator moves up and gets more experience, he or she might work with individual customers to help them optimize their ad program by helping them understand how to select keywords, how to bid more effectively, and other placement strategies. We're very focused on providing clear metrics on the outcomes of the products that we sell. And the AdWords coordinators are really on the front lines in delivering that kind of service.

Are there other types of positions open to undergrads?

We're also a product marketing organization, so we hire associate product marketing managers (APMMs) who work on increasing acceptance and usage of our products worldwide. For example, we have a set of APMMs who work on marketing our products to a college-student audience. There's a section of our web site called College Life Powered by Google, and those APMMs work with products like Gmail and Picasa, and highlight how college students might find that set of things particularly useful.

How many people will you be hiring this year?

I would say for undergrads, it's going to be more than a hundred, and most of those will be primarily at our headquarters in Mountain View. We've also got a big center in Dublin, and we've got folks at a few locations in India. You may have seen in the papers that Ann Arbor is about to be a much bigger place for us. We're opening an office there that will support our advertising businesses, and and I would say a good chunk of our undergrad hires will be at our new facility in Ann Arbor. The AdWords coordinators, for example -- we'll be hiring lots and lots of them in Ann Arbor.

What kind of long-term like career development opportunities does Google offer?

The company is growing and so, historically, the answer on career development has been the thing that you're doing now is probably going to grow out from under you, and that automatically gives you larger, more complicated, more interesting things to do. It also creates opportunities.

For example, we're going to open a big office in India, and one of the guys who's over there running that joined Google not too long after he finished his MBA program. He was in the online sales and operations program, and was very successful as a manager there. So he went over to start the India office, and he will have been over there for about two years now. So those kinds of international assignments are definitely part of the growth path.

One of our initiatives right now is that we've hit a point in growth where we as a company see the need to become more systematic about developing career paths and giving people more visibility into what the options are. People get promoted here very regularly, but we're trying to provide more of a road map to help people understand how this might work over a period of a few years.

So, right now, is there such a thing as a typical career path at Google?

There really isn't, and I actually don't think that will change once we have things formalized, because we hire people with such broad, interesting skill sets, and we hire people with the idea that they might grow and do a lot of different things, and we don't want to try to bet on it too much up front. So I think soon we'll have a clearer set of what the range of possibilities might be, and we'll have that somewhat better defined, but there will continue to be exceptions.

Do you offer internships for college students?

We do, though not every group offers intern programs. And to be honest, on the undergrad side, we don't have a lot of programs for business students. They tend to be more onesy-twosy projects, where some group said, "You know what? I could really use some help on this, and this would be a good project for an intern."

We actually have an intern in my team right now -- she's a statistics major, and she's doing analysis of various factors that contribute to hiring decisions, looking at some of the science behind hiring and helping us figure out what the attributes are that we should be looking for.

We're sending a whole bunch of interns on a scavenger hunt to San Francisco one day next week. And the idea is to put them on teams with people who are also interns but they probably haven't worked with. And so it's a fun, sort of silly team-building exercise and a good example of the kind of sort of nutty team events that are a really important part of the culture around here.

There's a kind of aura that surrounds the culture of Google and the work environment there, with the free lunches and everything else. What's it really like working at Google?

I've got to say, it's really all true -- it is an amazing environment. With some of the perks, like the frozen yogurt machine, say, it really does feel like a college campus -- and I'm certainly not the first person to have said that.

I think because the company has such trust in the fantastic people that we bring on board, we want to give them the tools and the environment they need to do their very best work. We prefer to let them run free, not to constrain them with silly things that they shouldn't have to deal with.

Silly things like dress code?

Dress code is certainly one thing. You want people to be comfortable, and that means a variety of different things depending on who you've got. So, you know, just looking out the window of this conference room here, there are people walking by in shorts and flip-flops, somebody's got their dog. But people do wear suits here, too. People wear shirts with collars. It's very much what the individual is comfortable with and feels that he or she needs to do to do his job best that day.

What do you wear to an interview with Google?

Whatever you like. It really is whatever people are comfortable in. It's likely that when you come in, your interviewers will be wearing an array of different things. Business casual is a pretty safe bet. Some of the software engineering candidates we get in here are wearing tank tops, shorts. For a business role, I would probably wear long pants. But it really is about the content of what you've done and of your ideas rather than what you've got on.

So when you're when you're talking to students, what is it that you're looking for?

We look for a track record of accomplishment. We look for a history of being effective in environments where the rules aren't necessarily clearly defined and you've got to make it up a little bit as you go along, which is a big part of what we do here. And we look for different signs that point to the fact that the person isn't somebody who takes the easy way out.

With people who are coming straight out of school and often haven't had a lot of work experience, we're looking for people who have consistently demonstrated that they're willing to take on tough challenges, wrestle them to the ground, and come out either on top or having learned something.

Academics are also a big piece of that for people who don't have a lot of work experience. So, here's a tough program, did you take some classes that were outside your major that forced you to stretch yourself? At some of the schools where we do a lot of recruiting, we actually look at what courses a student took, and we'll say, we know that this is part of a particular major and this is a really hard class, and when we see someone who did very well in that class, we know that that's a really strong marker. In places where we've gotten good data about what a certain piece of information might predict, we definitely will look for it and we try to get it.

What are the major campuses where you do recruiting?

We went to 80 different schools in the U.S. last fall for campus recruiting, so it's a long list. Obviously, Stanford is right in our back yard, Berkeley is just across the bay. We certainly go to Harvard, Princeton. We get a lot of engineers out ofCarnegie Mellon and MIT, and, while we're there, we also are looking for the non-technical students, as well.

Are there certain things that people do when they're interviewing that they think will really impress you but just totally backfire?

One question we ask when we interview people, is "Why are you interested in Google," and an answer that we don't think is so great is, "Well, because it's Google." But you'd be surprised how often we get that answer.

Copyright 2006 BusinessWeek Online.

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