Read The Google Resume Online

Authors: Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Tags: #Business & Economics, #Careers, #Job Hunting, #General

The Google Resume

BOOK: The Google Resume


Chapter 1: Introduction

Life at Infinite Loop and Microsoft Way

Big vs. Little: Is a Start-up Right for You?

The Job Title: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

And You’re on Your Way . . .

Chapter 2: Advanced Preparation

What Can You Do: An Overview


Work Experience

Extracurriculars and the Checkbox People

Your Questions Answered

Chapter 3: Getting in the Door

The Black Hole: Online Job Submission

Getting a Personal Referral

Career Fairs

Professional Recruiters

Additional Avenues


Your Questions Answered

Chapter 4: Résumés

Six Hallmarks of a Powerful Résumé

The Structure

How Long Is Too Long?

Your Questions Answered

Chapter 5: Deconstructing the Résumé

Résumé A: Bill Jobs

Résumé B: Steve Gates

Résumé C: Geena Roberts

Parting Words

Additional Resources

Chapter 6: Cover Letters and References

Why a Cover Letter?

The Three Types of Cover Letter

The Structure

Five Traits of a Strong Cover Letter

An A+ Cover Letter


Your Questions Answered

Additional Resources

Chapter 7: Interview Prep and Overview

What Are Tech Companies Looking For?

How to Prepare

Working with Your Recruiter

Communication and Behavior

Special Interview Types

After the Interview

Your Questions Answered

Additional Resources

Chapter 8: Interview Questions

General Advice

Acing the Standard Questions

Behavioral and Résumé Questions

Estimation Questions

Design Questions

Brainteasers: Why Are Manhole Covers Round?

Answering the Tough Questions

Your Questions Answered

Additional Resources

Chapter 9: The Programming Interview

How They Differ: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple

How to Prepare

Memory Usage

Coding Questions

Algorithm Questions: Five Ways to Create an Algorithm

Object-Oriented Design

Scalability Questions

Testing Interviews

Example Problems

Your Questions Answered

Additional Resources

Chapter 10: Getting into Gaming

The Culture: Is It All Fun and Games?

Job Positions: What Can You Do?

Fresh Meat: Advice for College Candidates

Reaching Out and Getting In

Personality Fit

The Gaming Interview—Three Tips to Doing Well

Your Questions Answered

Chapter 11: The Offer

How to Evaluate an Offer

Your Career Development

The Financial Package

The Happiness Factor

How Can You Negotiate an Offer?

Tricky Issues: Deadlines, Extensions, and Declining Offers

Your Questions Answered

Chapter 12: On the Job

Your Career Path

Promotions and Raises

How and When to Quit

Going Back to School

Part-Time Schooling

Your Questions Answered

Chapter 13: Final Thoughts

Appendix A : 156 Action Words to Make Your Résumé Jump

Appendix B : Answers to Behavioral Interview Questions


Copyright © 2011 by Gayle Laakmann. All rights reserved.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Published simultaneously in Canada.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at
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Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
McDowell, Gayle Laakmann, 1982-The google résumé : how to prepare for a career and land a job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any top tech company / Gayle Laakmann McDowell.

p. cm.

Includes index.

ISBN 978-0-470-92762-5 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-118-01313-7 (ebk)

ISBN 978-1-118-01314-4 (ebk)

ISBN 978-1-118-01315-1 (ebk)

1. Résumés (Employment) 2. High technology industries—Vocational guidance. 3. Job hunting. I. Title.

HF5383.M335 2011



To my mother and grandmother, whose engineering endeavors paved the way for my own.

Chapter 1


Just so you’re clear: it was not my idea to give a talk to Microsoft Research. I had learned embarrassingly little about computer science in my 18 years of life, and the last thing I wanted to do is to have that exposed in front of a bunch of genius PhDs in MSR. But my manager thought it’d be a great “opportunity,” and so there I was, blabbing on about my summer project.

I finished up my talk at lightning speed. As I was dealing with a somewhat severe case of stage fright, I considered my haste a good thing. And then the questions started. Did I consider doing X? Yes, I told them, I did, and this is what happened. Why not implement it with Y? You could, but that would cause problem Z.

I almost hesitated to admit it to myself afterwards, but things went fine. Just fine.

That whole summer I had been convinced that Microsoft would discover that I knew practically nothing and cut me loose. I had only gotten my internship offer through some brilliant streak of luck, I reasoned, and didn’t really deserve it. Not like my fellow interns did anyway. They had done three times as much college as me, completed three times as many projects, and basically knew three times as much as me.

Four years later, with a job at Google about to start, I reflected on my incredible luck. I landed a Microsoft internship at an incredibly young age, and that turned into three consecutive internships. Then I got an Apple internship, even though Apple never even recruited at my university. And then I happened to get hooked up with just the right people who referred me to the up-and-coming Google. I must be the luckiest person alive.

Or am I?

Maybe, while Lady Luck was certainly in my favor, I had somehow, accidentally, done everything just right. I completed several large projects in high school, offering me considerably more experience than my peers. I got an entry-level job as a web designer, which developed my professional and technical credibility. I created a résumé that, while atrocious in many respects, demonstrated my passion for technology and showcased my limited experience. And finally, I built a network of more senior professionals, managed relationships with mentors, and leveraged these connections to land one dream job after another.

And that, my dear readers, is how you get a job at the world’s greatest tech companies.

Life at Infinite Loop and Microsoft Way

Even their addresses are suggestive of company stereotypes. Microsoft, at One Microsoft Way, screams big and mammoth. Google’s 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway address is understated, like its user interfaces. Apple, of course, takes the bold “think different” step with One Infinite Loop—a play on words that could come back to bite a less beloved company.


Despite the little eccentricities of each company, these companies are much more alike than they are different. Software companies are youthful—at heart, if not in actuality. They scorn the stuffy suits-and-ties atmosphere of their predecessors and elect to wear just jeans and a T-shirt. In fact, this casual attitude is so potent that it’s pervaded even the social scenes of tech hubs; only a small handful of restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco would request anything beyond jeans, and a woman in a suit gets more stares than a girl with a purple mohawk.


Desperate to attract and retain the best and the brightest, tech firms shower their employees with perks. Microsoft offers free drinks, a heavily discounted gym membership, and an all-expenses-paid health care plan. Google matched and then one-upped Microsoft on almost all of these. Free sodas? Try free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Free gym membership? Use the on-site gym and pool. Deluxe health care plan? We’ll give you a good one, and throw in an on-site doctor. Nerds everywhere can only hope that the “next Google,” whatever it is, will engage in its own perk war.

Of course, cynics argue that these benefits are really just a way to trick employees into staying at the office longer. You can fulfill almost any regular appointment, from a haircut to dry cleaning, without leaving campus. But the fact that you
doesn’t mean you have to. No one will think worse of you because you declined to get your dental work done from the on-site dentist parked in the van out back.

Work/Life Balance

The severe shortage of engineers in the United States forces companies to take good care of their employees. They would lose too many qualified candidates otherwise.

Workers are encouraged to find a reasonable work/life balance, and work comparatively short hours compared to people from other industries.

The exception, as in most jobs, is during crunch times. Software releases will be stressful in any team.

Moving Up: Individual Contributors

Although other industries push high-performing employees into management roles, technology companies tend to be more open to the “individual contributor” role. After all, great engineers do not necessarily make the best managers.

An employee, particularly in engineering, can continue to get promotions and increased technical responsibilities, without becoming a people manager. Eventually, this employee can grow into an architect or a distinguished engineer, earning one of the most respected positions within the company. It’s perhaps not as glamorous as being a VP, but for some people, this is just right.

The Differences

Cultural differences between companies can often be traced back to the company’s roots.

, many would argue, is more of a retail company than a software company. It faced extremely hard times during the dot-com crash, and continues to battle profit margins that are levels of magnitude lower than that of a “core” software company. It is consequently extremely frugal, and refrains from providing the lavish perks that others software companies might. Additionally, some employees have suggested that the company does not value technical innovation for its own sake, and instead looks for an immediate and causal link to profits. But, do not let that deter you too much; indeed, Amazon is leading in multiple industries (retail, cloud computing, etc.) largely because of its technical innovation. The company moves at a rapid pace and pending deadlines often mean late nights.

is just as secretive inside as it is outside. When your innovation lies so heavily in your look and feel and your market share depends on beautifully orchestrated hype, it’s no wonder. The company can’t afford to let its secrets slip. Employees are die-hard fans, just as one would expect, but rarely know what coworkers from other teams are working on. In my time at the company, I sensed a feared-but-revered attitude toward Steve Jobs; he called the shots, and no one would argue.

has dabbled (and reasonably successfully) with search and the web, but a large chunk of its earnings come from Windows and Office. Live patches to these products are expensive, so the company tends to operate on longer, multiyear release schedules. This means moving slower, taking fewer risks, and making sure to get everything right the first time (even if it’s never totally right). The bright side is that the company tends to have a good work/life balance, as ship dates are relatively infrequent. Many former employees say that though they loved the company, its mammoth size could stifle innovation and risk-taking. However, individual team cultures are all over the map, and some may be more innovative than others.

is the nerdiest of the nerdy. Founded by two former Stanford PhDs, the company is still, many claim, preferential to engineers over other positions. The company moves quickly, shipping products weekly, and can value technical innovation even to a fault. As a web-based company, it can afford to take some risks on products; after all, “shipping” a new application to the web is so much easier than boxing up and mailing software. Google values its flat hierarchy, but there’s a downside as well. Your manager may have too many people under her to fuss about the progress of your career, and moving up can be a challenge.

Big vs. Little: Is a Start-up Right for You?

Go to almost any business school and you’ll find that there are about three times as many people who claim to be “interested” in start-ups than actually pursuing this career path. Why? Because start-ups are sexy.

Newspapers splash stories about start-ups that made it big, or crashed and burned, and we always think,
we can do that
we can do better
. Start-ups are a high-stakes game, and you’re gambling with your time as well as your money.

For the right person with the right opportunity, however, a start-up environment can be fantastic.

The Good

Many say that for true “start-up people,” this high-risk career is just in their nature. They get that entrepreneurial itch, either in college or at some big company, and know they need to be somewhere much, much smaller. And their new career path offers a ton of value to them in return:

  • Diversity of skills.
    Whereas big companies have designated marketing and finance people, start-ups never have enough people to fill every role. And the smaller the company, the more hats you have to wear. Unless you are truly narrowly focused on just one field (in which case you should avoid start-ups), this can be a great thing. You’ll get to develop a more diverse skill set, which will help you in your future job search.
  • Leadership opportunities.
    When—or if—your start-up grows, you’ll be in a great place to lead your own team. Many people join a company and find that within months they’re expected to manage several new hires. You’d have to be at a bigger company for years to get such an opportunity.
  • Control and influence.
    Each time a bit of my work shipped at a big company, I was able to point to it and say, “I did that.” And while that made me happy, a little part of me also knew that, really, someone else would have come along and done something very similar if I hadn’t been there. At a start-up, however, you are not only shaping the company in how you perform your immediate responsibilities, but you’re also offering feedback on all aspects of the business. Think the newsletter should have some content about related tools and plug-ins? It’s your job to speak up, and everyone will listen. You always know the decision makers in any department.
  • Rapid results.
    You won’t have to wait years to see your work out in the real world; it’ll happen within months. That holds true for any decisions you make as well. For better or worse, the outcome is visible within months, enabling you to learn from your mistakes (and successes) much faster.
  • High reward.
    Hey, we don’t take on all this risk for nothing. Start-ups can make you very, very rich if you get very lucky. Of course, it could just as well do absolutely nothing for you financially—and usually that’s the case.

Me? I’m a start-up person. I love everything about it. I love that I get to do 10 things at once. And if I have no idea how to do it, then I get to learn. I see my impact immediately and I know that, for better or worse, I shaped the company’s future.

The Bad

Start-up burnout is a very real thing. Sure, you may be passionate about your new social-location-group-buying-thingy-dot-com, but things change and passions die. The following stresses tend to wear on people the most.

  • Long hours.
    With the amount of money and careers depending on a start-up’s success, long hours are critical. Those who do the bare minimum don’t last long, and start-ups do not have the fear of firing underperformers that bigger companies do.
  • Unclear job description.
    You were hired in to be a tester, and now you’re helping look for office space. Well, tough. Someone’s got to do it. Start-ups don’t have the time and money to hire a specialist for each and every task, so employees are expected to chip in on projects that are outside of their roles. That may mean you spend less time doing what you love and more time doing what the company wants you to do.
  • Low pay.
    With very few exceptions, start-ups tend to pay below-industry salary and compensate for the difference with stock options. If the company fails (which it usually does), your stock options are worth nothing.
  • Limited credibility.
    The earliest employees of Google and Facebook have lots of credibility, but let’s face it—what are the odds? You may join a start-up, only to have it fail after a few years. And all of a sudden you’re back on the job market with some no-name company on your résumé that wasn’t good enough to survive. Doesn’t sound so appealing, does it?
  • Less mentorship.
    Big companies have invested time and money in understanding how to train new employees; start-ups lack both of those things. They probably won’t invest in growing you into a great leader in three years because they’ll be lucky if they make it that long. Big companies can teach you a structured way of solving problems, under the guidance of more experienced professionals, while those at start-ups are learning on the go. And if your coworkers have never spent time at a big company, they may have never been taught how “real” companies do things.

Notice anything missing in that list? I never listed the lack of perks. The reality is that as much as people are drawn to companies like Google and Microsoft for their flashy benefits, even ex-employees tend not to miss them much once they’re gone. Having to scrimp and save due to your meager salary may frustrate you, but a lack of free food tends not to be an issue.

The Ugly

In Ryan’s first four years after leaving Amazon for the start-up scene, he’d worked for four different companies. He left one company because of a personality mismatch between him and the CEO. Words were exchanged. It wasn’t pretty. The next start-up folded. The third one started to veer in the wrong direction, and he decided to get out before it was too late. Lucky number four is a company he started himself.

Ryan’s story is fairly typical of start-up employees. With fewer than 40 percent of tech start-ups making it past four years, rapid job switching is just a fact of life. People joining start-ups should be mentally prepared for this constant change.

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