We have all been there. You’re about to graduate and everyone keeps telling you how important it is to gain work experience. You think about internships, but for some reason they now require work experience. You ask yourself: how does anyone get work experience before being an intern? What are you supposed to put on your CV besides your degree? You wonder if you will ever be able to get the job that you want. You panic and you start applying to every internship and entry-level job you find online. You reach a point when you’re not even sure about what you really want anymore, and what’s worse: you don’t get any answers from employers. More stress.
Going through this experience is a necessary step, but the sooner one moves past that the better. These are 4 simple ideas on how to guide your career that helped me land a job at Google at the age of 22 after a business internship in summer 2018, one year before my graduation.
“How am I going to gain experience as an intern if all these companies expect me to have already worked?” — Every student in the world
1. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and build up your résumé early on
Let’s be honest. Applying to 10, 15 or 30 jobs per week and never hear back from any of these companies is not efficient. It doesn’t feel good either. I used to do that too, but you might be better off investing your time evaluating your application vs. the job requirements. Sometimes we forget the most essential aspect of the application: are we really the person they are looking for?
For instance, if they ask for someone with 2 years of experience in the field and you are about to graduate with none… well, that might not be your best option. Keep searching, there are plenty of opportunities out there. You just need to find the right one for you.
Disconnect from the world for one day, take 1–2 hours and sit down with a blank sheet of paper.
- Write down what you think makes you stand out in one column. You might, for instance, be good at public speaking, great at analysing trends or decent at extracting actionable information from data.
- Use another column to list everything that you would like to improve. Maybe you’re impatient, hate working in groups or could improve your knowledge of a second or third language.
It may sound like a cliché, but ask a friend, classmate or colleague at work to provide you with ideas and feedback to complete both columns. Don’t just write good and bad things about yourself, think about them and evaluate yourself critically. Keep that list of strengths and weaknesses in mind when you apply for internships or jobs at Google (or anywhere else, really).
2. Apply to jobs selectively (but don’t put yourself down)
Believing that something is impossible will, not surprisingly, make it impossible to happen. Be mindful about the importance that believing in yourself can have for your success. I remember visiting Google’s website a year ago to check their internship programs. I thought I stood no chance against other applicants and it was a waste of time to prepare my application.
Today, I’m happy I spent 20–30 minutes completing my application a couple of weeks after and dared to think there was a small chance I could at least get an interview.
There’s a general idea that you need to be some sort of computer geek to work at Google. Fortunately that’s not the case. Even though Google is propped with engineers, they also have teams that cover areas such as sales, service, support, marketing, communications, design, business strategy, legal, public policy or government relations, just to name a few.
I graduated in June 2018 with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and next summer I will also graduate (finally!) with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations. Although I never thought about working at Google when I started university, my interdisciplinary background will be useful in many different contexts. Whether you are a business student, going to law school or majoring in design… there’s a place for you as long as you look for it.
A polished CV is a must, and including internal referrals in your application can give you an edge to make it through the first selection rounds. I did not have one at Google, but I know my application would have had an even bigger chance to succeed if it had one. LinkedIn is your ally here. Don’t be scared of introducing yourself to people working at Google and asking them to be your referral.
Be smart about your opportunities: you may have a bigger chance to succeed in a role where your strengths will be required. During university I attended some sessions on public speaking and participated in a couple of debate tournaments. I’m fairly good at communicating ideas, negotiating and convincing. I like ambitious goals and to measure and plan everything I do. No surprise I ended working for a sales team.
3. Prepare your interviews: practice, practice, practice!
Believe it or not, some people don’t prepare their interviews. There are some really scary stories about how Google interviews used to be. Fortunately, thats all in the past. The brainteaser questions you have heard about aren’t common anymore.
Despite this, interviews at Google are not “easy” either. The interview process for interns is relatively short with 2–3 interviews from HR and team managers. On the contrary, full time employee candidates can spend 4–6 weeks interviewing with up to 5–6 different people.
There is plenty of information on how Google hires online, with the interview process, tips to prepare, FAQs, etc. My advice would be trying to imagine what would be the ideal candidate Google could have in mind for the position after throughly reading the job description.
After this, prepare examples of experiences that relate to the job. What could Google want to know about this ideal candidate? Which core skills for the role could they want to check during the interview?
Get ready to give details through story-telling and make sure to apply the STAR method when answering to your interviewer. Practice mock interviews with friends and colleagues. Assess your answers, improve them and rehearse as much as possible in advance. Yes, this will take time, but it is necessary to succeed in the interviews.
4. Understand what it means to be “Googley”
Google does not only hire people because of their proven talent or potential to develop it, they also consider how good they would fit in the company’s culture. Believe me, this is really important for them. One of the aspects that they assess during their interviews is your “Googleyness”.
During my first weeks at Google I was initially shocked with the way things worked there, despite having experience in other tech companies (Salesforce and Uniplaces). The offices and workspaces are amazing, but I was more surprised to see so much liberty to decide how to organize your own time, where to work, when to work and how to do it. Also, it surprised me how people are genuinely willing to help each other.
Being an intern can be a tough experience and, while interns at Google are challenged and expected to deliver their best, other Googlers are always there to help. To put it simple, if you’re the newbie in the team people will probably ask you to have lunch with them during the first weeks. The book “Work Rules” gives really useful insights on Google’s corporate culture.
In my experience, working at Google also means being able to take decisions on your own and guiding yourself when trying to achieve your goals. This is a double-edged sword, as it requires being able to succeed in environments with limited information. At Google deadlines often pop up like landmines. Not everyone is naturally ready to deal with this. I definitely had to adapt to it.
Some people are not comfortable with ambiguity, while others thrive in these challenging environments.
5. It’s perfectly fine to not get your dream job at first
During my summer internship, this year, in Google’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin I realised that many of the employees there didn’t initially aim to work for Google. Others had been dreaming of working there for years.
This was surprising at first, but it helped me realise something I plan to keep in mind during my career: there is no point in obsessing about where you want to be professionally if that doesn’t allow you to enjoy your way there.
In my case, when asked about what I wanted to do after graduating I often said I wanted to develop a career in international affairs, development and public policy. My initial plans did not involve working in the tech industry. Nor was working for Google my dream job, yet I have enjoyed every day of my internship and learned more than I could have expected. I plan to keep learning as much as I can.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned is that to arrive from point A to point B one can either go straight to point B or take some turns and end up arriving there too, just a bit later and much happier
Working for Google has made me think again about what I want to specialise in. I was initially interested in learning more about international economic policy and now I think that could be complemented with an in-depth specialisation in how technology can foster development globally, or how governments could address digitalisation processes.
Is technology reducing social inequalities or increasing them? How can we make sure developing countries can also profit from technological advances? How can data be used to build more sustainable cities?
There is simply no other company with more knowledge in how technology can change the lives of people around the world than Google.
BONUS: Success depends on how YOU measure it
Despite what many people say, there is never one single way to achieve your career goals. Success is largely based on the choices you make to achieve them, but specially how you measure your own success.
Today success for me means being able to work with, and learn from the best. And that’s why I will be back at Google when I graduate. So, what comes next? Well, that I look forward to discover! For now I will enjoy the rush of working for one of the best companies in the world.