How to Get a Job in Google’s Creative Lab

if academy
Dec 1, 2015 · 7 min read

We recently sat down with Tom Uglow and Jonny Richards from Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney to get the down low on what they look for when hiring graduates.

They went one step further and wrote this guide on what to do and what to avoid. Even if you don’t want to work at Google (but really, who wouldn’t?), this is great advice for every creative.

5 things we learnt from the hunt for the Five

By Google’s Tom Uglow and Jonny Richards.

The 2015 Five (R-L Hanley Weng, Nicci Hurwitz, Emila Yang, Tom Uglow, Jennifer Nunez, Daisy Smith) Image Source; Google Creative Lab

You apply for cool creative jobs right? Do you ever wonder what happens to your application? I certainly used to (in fact I was pretty convinced that nothing happened at all). Earlier this year we spent several months with my team trying to find the perfect Five for the Google Creative Lab in Sydney.

We were looking for five junior or recent grads to work for eleven months on projects as part of our Lab. It seemed like it would be the easiest thing in the world — but it was really hard. It made me feel very lucky to have been hired (9 years ago) and in fact, I probably shouldn’t even be here now — luck and timing are always going to play a big role in your career.

We’re about to embark on the same process again — for the 2016 Creative Lab Five intake — so it seems a pertinent time to step back and reflect on what it means to start a career: the mistakes we’ve made (and still sometimes make), and the learnings we’ve had (I wish it was straightforward starting a career- it isn’t).

Image source: Playing holidays

But about the applications. Surprisingly it turns out we read them, all of them. Quite quickly. Except the ones that don’t load. (tip #1). And it was obvious fairly early on that most of the talented people who applied could have made it much harder for us instead of eliminating themselves from our search within seconds. We were probably able to make a decision faster than they spent filling out the form.

Does that seem unfair? Well, it’s a bit like dating. When your application turns up suggesting that it dressed itself in the dark, acting confused and belligerent, or smelling like they spent the night in that other recruiters’ inbox, well, first impressions count. Date over. In fact there were enough basic issues that kept popping up that we thought we should tell you about them.

So these are our Five tips for aspiring Fivers. Five simple things that matter to us. And then a few more.

5 simple things to do right

  1. Spell your name right. In fact spell ALL the words right.
  2. Add the url we asked for, the one about your work. 5% applied without one or with a sarcastic remark instead. Why?
  3. Find somewhere on that url to tell us about yourself and what you do. No one else is going to.
  4. Double check the url.
  5. Triple check the url. Holding pages: fail. Agency websites: fail. Comedy urls: fail. Websites with other people’s work are a fail. Facebook pages…

5 winning things that got you on the short list

  1. Fill us with joy: Nora made us our own personal homepage.
  2. Make us ‘ooh’: The first 3 seconds are the important seconds.
  3. Have a blog: (Not a tumblr) Expressing yourself with words makes you more real.
  4. Share our passions: Ours. In bold. On screen. Where we can see it.
  5. Keep it simple: Don’t be funny unless you really are quite funny.
Image source: Playing holidays

5 smart things to make us heart you

1. Be the candidate we want to meet

At the end of the day there are a lot of highly competent professionals for whom ‘work’ is a functional undertaking — hey, that may be you — but if someone asks for curious and creative people with passion, suddenly that is not a strength. So pay attention to what your future employer is actually asking for. We wanted passionately curious people and we said so, but most people just seemed not to believe us. Weird.

In fact try to care about the company you are applying to. It is quite likely they find their world exciting and if you’re planning on spending at least a few years with them then maybe start by knowing why they feel that way, and ideally why you want to feel the same way.

2. Focus on what you want to learn rather than what you know

We know, and you should know too, that the skills you have will likely be out of date in 2–3 years — maybe less - so we need you to show you can adapt, and want to adapt to new environments, skills, and platforms.

Getting excited about skills you are learning or want to learn shines in an interview. People with an aptitude for learning and bubbling enthusiasm for new ideas are simply more attractive. In fact it’s contagious. But all you Tractorites probably know that :)

“A willingness to engage with ideas is a strong sign that you will make a good fit.”

3. Be ready to talk about ‘why’

In our team we are driven by ideas — we discuss them constantly, we unpack and interrogate them; their evolution drives our practice, ideas are in our blood. Sounds good right? But *every* creative team in the world probably talks the same game, and if they don’t, well, don’t interview there. So, knowing that fact, why not show us how you are one of us? A willingness to engage with ideas is a strong sign that you will make a good fit. I can’t imagine a company that doesn’t want that. So speak up! Actually, listen first, then speak up. Tell us why your scamp is good / important / game-changing / epoch-shifting, not where you traced it from.

4. Have links to things you have done

This may come as a surprise but you do not have an excuse for not having ‘your thing’ on the web and easily accessible. Your portfolio should look amazing — it is a digital version of you at your sparkly, shiny best — and make it easy to navigate, ideally showcasing only your finest work, not *all* your work.

There is never time to talk about it all, so in advance know 1–2 things you feel comfortable boasting about and be utterly passionate about them. If your work is good enough, someone in the process will eventually ask: who is this person? Have an engaging and human answer to that question.

5. Ask questions

So you are about to embark on something that will consume 11 months of your life; if that doesn’t prompt a bunch of how / what / why questions, we would be worried. Same for any other job. Asking questions shows curiosity, rigour, and uncertainty: all admirable traits. Knock yourself out.

And besides that — being put on the spot by a thoughtful interviewee can be disarming and wonderful for an interviewer; it will almost certainly commend you to them.

Image source: Playing Holidays

5 other things to avoid

1. Showing up out of curiosity

Honestly, there is not one manager who is there simply to help you get to where you want to be next; any job is a shared journey, not a career fast-track. So be clear that this is the thing you want to do most in the world (right now) and we’d advise against treating any interview as ‘just an interview’. Cancel instead, it’s more polite.

2. Putting faith in pieces of paper

Your training and education can be a relevant part of your make-up; the bits of paper can show discipline and can set expectations about skills, but in the creative industries qualifications will never impress as effectively as pointing to a thing you have made (and explaining your precise role in making it…) In fact the decreasing half-life of technologies increasingly means shorter courses feel relevant / meaningful so be aware of how this wider educational shift affects you.

3. Basking in others’ glory

We’ve all done it, and pointing to shared or joint projects is a perfectly reasonable thing to do; claiming credit for them isn’t. So remember that the interviewer will be keen to know your precise involvement, and hiding behind ‘we did this / we did that’ is pretty noticeable. Instead turn this into a strength and be honest about your contribution: just tell it how it was.

“Asking questions shows curiosity, rigour, and uncertainty: all admirable traits. Knock yourself out.”

4. Feeling a need to diversify

This is a tricky one but in the current climate there is a tendency to not fit neatly inside particular skills boxes; but you can be assured there is nothing wrong with being the right kind of peg for the hole they need to fill. A jack of all trades does not necessarily win; an amazing filmmaker is an amazing filmmaker. Almost inevitably you are joining a team, and if the team-builders do their job right, they will choose people whose skills fit together. So when asked “how would your describe yourself?” try to make that a 3 word answer. And then, when you have the job, THEN you awe them with your multidisciplinary, T-shaped, strategic guru-ness.

5. Feeling superior.

Confidence is a blessing. Over-confidence is a crime.

Good luck next year!
Tom Uglow & Jonny Richards, Google Creative Lab.

November 2015

Originally published at www.tractor.edu.au.

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