This is what it’s like to fail your interviews at Google.

What follows is a story about an intensive, ill-fated pursuit — observations and takeaways drawn from 1 month+ chasing a version of a dream.

Levi Peterson
Mar 11, 2018 · Unlisted
…I have nothing to complain about.

The entire interview process was to take about a month, and if all went well, would encompass a series of five interviews for the role. Google’s courtship of me began in January of this year.

But first, some context: the process used to be longer, spread out over many interviews for an individual’s hiring, often six months or more. So I have nothing to complain about.

Full disclosure: this wasn’t the first time I had applied to Google. Also, it was my second time applying on a friend’s referral. (Sorry I let you down again, A.) This essay is an attempt at working through failure with humor.

With that background out of the way, I want to talk about the feeling and circumstances behind my failure to land the job.

If you’ve gone through something similar — this part hurts, without a doubt, but it gets better.

The hiring process feels efficient, I’ll give Google that. But, in the interest of sincerity, I have to acknowledge that expulsion from consideration after a month of continuous preparation, study, and interviews…is eviscerating. If you’ve gone through something similar — this part hurts, without a doubt, but it gets better.

I suppose companies must break a few eggs pursuing this kind of hiring efficiency. And still, maybe one month of preparation and waiting is better than six months or longer. So there is perhaps some consolation in that.

What was the job? Associate Account Strategist, Ann Arbor, Michigan — this is essentially a front line sales position in the AdWords unit. I picked Ann Arbor over Mountain View for a personal attachment to the region.

After submitting a resume and cover letter, a recruiter contacted me for a candidate phone screen. I passed, proceeding, a week later, to two phone interviews with team members in Ann Arbor.

Because of Google’s NDA, I can’t discuss interview questions. But I do want to talk about how the interviews felt.

The recruiter call was cordial — I felt that the conversation went well. The follow up was prompt, though correspondence with the recruiter tended to include a generous sprinkling of emojis and memes — which had me floored, for a time clueless about how to respond. The scheduling of the next round of interviews was also prompt.

The interview felt, at times, like an infamous “stress interview” from the world of consulting.

It was during this next round of calls, though, that the tone seemed to shift. The first of the two, over the phone, was with an individual currently in the role. The interview felt, at times, like an infamous “stress interview” from the world of consulting.

The interviewer questioned, doubted, rejected my responses. I felt certain my candidacy was in jeopardy. Next up, the same day, was a call with a manager from my possible future team.

This conversation seemed to flow better. And I spoke to that personal draw to the Ann Arbor area, which seemed well-received. The manager even spoke about what he loved most about Ann Arbor.

Still, I didn’t know if I would make it to the in-person round. But a few days later, I received a call from the recruiter that the team wanted to bring me out for an on-site visit.

I was ecstatic.

I continued preparing relentlessly over the intervening days. And when I arrived in Michigan weeks later, I felt ready.

…if we don’t hire you, it’s because you weren’t good enough. The jobs are there. We just don’t want you.

Briefly, I want to talk about Google’s practice of “batch hiring.” Scheduling several interviews for the same role, on the same day, during the same period of time, Google informs candidates that they should be friendly and non-competitive with other job seekers.

The gist: if we like everyone, we’ll hire everyone.

I felt a possibly unintended corollary: if we don’t hire you, it’s because you weren’t good enough. The jobs are there. We just don’t want you.

Whether or not Google intends this extrapolation — I’ve grappled with this idea in the wake of my failed candidacy.

The day of the interviews, I arrived too early, about forty minutes before. I signed in, and waited for my host, engaging in polite small talk with the other candidates as they arrived. I felt some consolation in the fact that I was not the very first candidate to arrive. We were all boundlessly enthusiastic.

Our host arrived, and gave us each Google swag bags, bright fluorescent in color, which I would carry like an overeager dunce for the rest of my time in the Ann Arbor office.

The group of candidates, swiped in by the host, walked through a door at the side of the reception area, and into the Googler space. It was the first time I had visited a Google office. And it was unlike anything I had ever seen. The space felt futuristic, efficient, brilliant in design. There was so much light. I felt at home. Sure, my tenure in the space would be short-lived, but there was a moment where I thought, “I belong here.”

Setting aside the clear presumptuousness and arrogance of that thought, I question, in retrospect, whether anyone should feel completely “at home,” intellectually or otherwise, in a space like that. But I digress.

The group dwindled in number as the host walked each candidate to their interview room, but there was a huddle taking place in mine. So the host and I commenced casual conversation. I mentioned that the space mesmerized me, and that this was my first visit to a Google office.

The room was full of diversions, but appeared to be empty of Googlers.

Since we were waiting anyway, he decided to show me the game room. In a few moments, we were at the door, and he was gesturing to the wonders beyond the glass, complete with a ping-pong table, and, weirdly, “Big Buck Hunter,” a massive video arcade game, running its grisly gameplay in demo mode.

I made a comment about the iconic nature of the ping-pong table to Google spaces, and how that iconography had shaped startup culture more generally, feeling a certain poignancy in the moment. The room was full of diversions, but appeared to be empty of Googlers.

And then we returned to my interview room. It was still occupied, so the host gave the door a loud knock. Then he promptly excused himself before getting an answer, walking away briskly down a corridor. And there I was, standing outside the room with my bright Google swag bag, a portfolio, a notebook, as current Googlers exited. I expressed an apology, doubting they heard, staring down the hall after the host, as if to say, “I didn’t knock.”

This was how I appeared when the first interviewer, a manager, arrived a few seconds later and made my acquaintance. He asked whether the host was returning (given my inquiring gaze down the hall), or whether we could begin. Disoriented, I stumbled through a reply.

…we would need to see “how the cookie crumbles.”

A quick reboot, and the interview seemed to go well, moving fast through behavioral and hypothetical questions. If you want examples, Google indexes a trove on Quora and Glassdoor. I talked about my brothers, at one point, small business owners, and their positive experiences with Google products. Then the interview was over.

The second interview was with another person already in the role I was pursuing. During this interview, I realized that the body language in both on-site interviews had seemed positive. And I felt, given the verbal feedback that I received, that my answers had come across in a positive way.

I asked my last interviewer if he believed I was a good fit for the job, following the advice of two Google recruiters on YouTube. He said he believed so, but that we would need to see “how the cookie crumbles.” He seemed dissatisfied with the last expression, but I think the cliché fits the outcome of my candidacy.

I left the interview room elated, feeling like an offer might be in reach. Then one of the other candidates asked me how the interviews went.

“But there are difficult aspects of this job, as well — like making rejection calls to candidates,” he continued.

“I’m optimistic,” I replied, with hesitation, unsure of what to say.

I wasn’t sure if any Googlers had overheard the audacious response, so I felt a pang of anxiety.

We had a moment of downtime waiting for the last interview in the candidate pool to wrap up. I asked our host what he liked most about working at Google.

“Probably the perks, the work-life balance,” he replied.

“But there are difficult aspects of this job, too — like making rejection calls to candidates.”

I felt another pang of anxiety.

But it was time for the tour, so the host escorted us around the building, swag bags in hand, drawing stares from current Googlers in the cafeteria. It seemed to be lunch hour.

And then it was over, and we were turning over our name tags to our host, and exiting the front door of that corporate space. I walked back toward my car alongside another candidate. We discussed the efficiency and responsiveness of the process, as we had experienced it. We talked, for a moment, about former SVP of People Laszlo Bock’s efforts to export Google’s hiring protocols to the rest of American corporate culture. We wished each other good luck. Then we parted ways.

I felt blindsided two days later by a recruiter rejection around 7PM EST.

If you want a synopsis of what I did wrong, I couldn’t tell you. Google doesn’t offer feedback. And if you’re interviewing at Google, I don’t know — just study, prepare, repeat; also, try not to be in awkward situations — I guess that’s my advice.

Getting hired at Google has always been a bit of a roll of the dice. At this point, as has always been the case, decisions err on the side of false negatives. This is effectively argued elsewhere on the Internet. Google receives about 3 million job applications every year, hiring about 0.2% of applicants.

If you’ve gone through a Google rejection recently, I send my best to you. Keep looking forward. Stay excited about the future.

“You should feel incredibly proud of making it this far, regardless of the outcome,” the host had assured the candidate group during my visit.

I suppose I am proud of how far I made it. But it was still a weird, exhausting experience. If you’ve gone through a Google rejection recently, I send my best to you. Keep looking forward. Stay excited about the future.

I only wish I had worn my bright blue Converse to the interviews, living my truth despite all else.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 305,461+ people.

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Unlisted

Levi Peterson

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Past work in: The Brasilia Review, SWLH. Leaning toward light with a camera, chasing the poetry of prose here on Medium.

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