I got rejected by Google – woe is me

I’ve just had the standard rejection letter from Google about how I’m not a good fit for their position “$p”. Awww. I was kinda enjoying the interviews in a masochistic way. This was at the end of interview #2.
I thought I’d share what went on, and my thoughts on the process, and what sort of person Google is likely to get out of them. Also, I suspect Google is on a hiring rampage right now, with HR people scouring the web for people with some degree of fit.
Before the Google fan-boi’s jump out of the woodwork and exclaim that this is just sour grapes, I’m going to clear up a few things.
#1. I never applied. Google contacted me, and asked me to interview. I agreed, only after explaining that I was very happy where I was and that I was very unlikely to move.
#2. At each step of the process I expressed my concern about the process, and what that meant to hiring people.
Of course, Google being Google meant that was kinda irrelevant, because “Everybody wants to work there”.
First of all the job that I was asked to apply for was in C/C++, in a testing department and had pretty much nothing to do with my current skillset. W..T…F..
OK, so I had a chat with the recruitement person about that. “Oh, we’ll just go ahead anyway as I’m sure we can find another job somewhere with your skills” says she.
Turns out Google don’t interview specifically. They must have a checklist of things they’re going to answer, and if you can’t answer those, then you’re not a good fit for Google.
In the first interview, you’re asked to rate yourself on a bunch of topics, with a wide variety of technical skills on offer, I appraised myself with fairly low to medium for anything not in my current domain of expertise (JavaEE) and expert in that field (seems reasonable, I have written a couple of books).
In my second interview with an engineer, I was delighted to be asked questions about physical networking devices, detailed questions about specific operating system filesystems and some algorithmic questions that were theoretical at best but could be used to gauge peoples thinking skills.
Excellent, after I answered them honestly (I could take a guess about “a” and “b”, but I’d prefer to look things like that up) and went through what was required for “c”.
The engineer said that the interview was over. I was like “huh”. Don’t you want to ask me about Java, Agile development, teamwork, managing distributed development ? Any of the 10 things I am actually expert in doing ?
The answer was (predictably) “no”. These questions (the types of ones that people working in small companies who do networking, user and operating system administration) which only a specific set of people will answer without digging through old textbooks are what Google considers will give them a good indication of whether people are a fit to work at Google.
I was amused by the process, but felt it was fairly “typical” of an american companies interview process. After having gone through a similar (but much more sophisticated) version for ThoughtWorks, I’m starting to believe that these companies are so entrenched in their ideals of what makes a good fit that they are creating a mono-culture.
I’d say, from experiencing the process, the people that Google will find “a good fit” are:
1. Bright, and capable of solving relatively theoretical algorithmic problems
2. 22-28 years of age and working in, or have just recently worked in, a very small environment where they have had to do all the networking, the operating system management as well as small amounts of programming.
Ability to write code and work in teams appears to be a secondary concern, something I find fascinating from a socialogical point of view, but given what I’ve read about the environment, possibly not all that suprising.
I wish Google well, I wish people who interview with Google well, and I hope that people who read this get some degree of insight and amusement into the process. I’ve deliberately kept the contents of the interview process vague, as they have asked me to do so. I don’t believe for a moment that is legally binding, but it seems like the polite thing to do.


37 thoughts on “I got rejected by Google – woe is me

  1. Sounds like my C++ interview with Accenture, when i applied for a java post few yrs ago.
    Well just think of it as Big companies just wants a bigger share of the smarties in the industry and you’re cool.

  2. My interview process was similar.
    I was flown out to Zurich for an interview, but had to leave at 4am, I presumed this was to test my ability to withstand sleep deprivation!
    When I got to the interview, I learnt the process was 3 lots of 45 minute interviews. Each one followed the same pattern.
    Ask an arbitrary question to do with computational complexity. Enjoy making me sweat by drip feeding important information (such as leaving the word “amortized” out of questions).
    At some point, I was hoping that I’d be asked on my interests (functional programming, programming language theory, my PhD, my previous work), but this never happened.
    I felt the entire time that the interview process was just a chance for socially challenged engineers to look down their noses at me. Grrrrrr!!!
    In the end, they phoned me a few weeks later and happily explained to me that “I had a weak grasp of algorithms and computational complexity but the door is never closed.”.
    I’m sure Google is a great place to work, but I find it weird they aren’t interested in “the people”, but the brain. I’m sure they’d do a brain-scan if they could and employ on the basis of that!

  3. Similar experience here. 3 phone interviews and a flight out to Mountain View… tons of theoretical and algorithmic questions… weird flight hours… thanks but no thanks.

  4. I recently went through a similar experience. I was also contacted by a recruiter. From what I have heard from other people, they are in a big push to hire for the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team. Since I’m more of a software person, I was a little skeptical about this position (I’m also perfectly happy in my current job), but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. If I got in, I might be able to switch to something more to my liking.
    As I suspected, the interview did not go well for me. The questions were all about system administration and operating system specifics. Nothing involving the data structures and algorithms that I had prepared for. I felt exactly like you. Why didn’t they ask me anything about my areas of expertise? I asked about the Software Engineering position and how I thought that would be a better fit for me than the SRE position. The interviewer said that all he was told was that he was interviewing for an SRE position and that he just asked the standard questions that he usually asks for that position.
    I contacted my recruiter again afterwards to express my desire to be interviewed for a Software Engineering position. She told me that after reviewing the results of my interview, they agreed that Software Engineering would be a better fit for me. The short version is that I did another phone interview for the Software Engineering position and did much better. Now I am being scheduled for an on-site interview.
    So, my conclusion is that they interview specifically for the position under consideration and not for more general levels of intelligence. The fact that the SRE position needs more domain-specific knowledge only exaggerates this. Right now, it appears that they are in a big push for SRE people, so the recruiters are not concerned with filtering the applicants to eliminate the bad matches. Their incentives are probably commission-oriented which encourages the mass-submission of anyone who can answer a few basic questions.
    So I agree with you. Ability to write code and work in teams WAS a secondary concern. But this is probably because you were probably applying for the SRE position. As my second interviewer said, SRE = sysadmin + a little coding. It was “‘typical’ of an american companies interview process” because you were interviewing for a “typical” IT/sysadmin type of job. It sounds like you should probably apply for a Software Engineering position if you are really interested in working for Google. In summary, you have to filter the position yourself because the recruiters won’t (or can’t) do it for you.

  5. I had much the same last year, also with the SRE team. Contacted by a recruiter, asked if I was interested. I was pretty unhappy with what I was doing at the time so I figured why not. I mostly do C/C++/Perl/Python systems programming and some system administration, so it wasn’t completely off, but for the onsite interview they brought me in and wanted to ask me an hours worth of questions about IOS and Cisco gear, at which point I realized they don’t actually read resumes. I know Unix systems stuff pretty cold and did very well (at least I think) on the filesystems, networking, syscalls, and programming questions, so I assume it’s the IOS stuff that sunk me.
    I know they have a lot of money, but it seems pretty stupid that they flew me out and put me up in a hotel just to reject me because I didn’t know something I didn’t list on my resume and would have readily stated I didn’t know had anyone bothered to ask. anon’s comment above about the recruiters being on commission smells right to me.
    I’m generally not a big fan of interviewing for specific skillsets anyway – anyone going to Google is going to have to learn a huge amount about Google’s infrastructure and systems, but they can’t conceive of the idea that you might be able to learn about Cisco gear in the same way? Argh. But at least I got a free vacation to SF out of it.

  6. You are correct about the SRE team. Even when I expressed my preferences they clearly ignored that and continued.
    The same thing happened to another friend of mine who is waaay smarter than me.
    Clearly the HR people are paid by the body pushed, not by the body hired.

  7. Pageman, I think you’ve missed it a bit. A number of the people responding to the blog “did not” want to work for Google. Google contacted US.
    That’s what makes the whole experience really stupid. A large company scouring the web for people that don’t fit a role.
    If I applied for the SRE position, then I’m an idiot (given my skillset), but likewise, knowing my skillset the HR staff are idiots for pushing me to that position.

  8. Even if recruiters do get paid by the body hired, it still benefits them to inject people into the hiring system indiscriminately. The way to fix that would be to pay them by the ratio of body hired to body pushed.
    The other trouble is that I don’t know that the HR staff know when they’re pushing you for the right position. The initial phone screen questions were seemed designed to be graded by anyone regardless of their understanding of the subject matter involved.

  9. I was told by the Google HR person that she knew nothing about the technical nature of the questions and merely would ask questions and compare the answers.

  10. Seems like the typical “hiring process gone wrong”! Just dissapointing to hear that Google which should have the resources to take care of this handles it so bad…
    Waste of time on both parts 😦

  11. I’ve been through two phone interviews with Google for an engineering project manager position recently. The experience you describe in your post (and in some of the comments) sounds very, very familiar.

  12. I’m a little surprised that this hasn’t been picked up by some mainstream media (maybe it has and I haven’t seen it). The people here aren’t necessarily disgruntled Google-non-starters, for the most part they’re highly skilled people who have been caught up in Google’s recruitment drift net. IT recruitment is generally pretty terrible, but to me this seems just plain weird.

  13. While it might be true – that’s not what their hiring strategy is doing. It’s hiring people that fit a particular demographic, and ignoring the other skills.
    The fact that I didn’t know off the top of my head the difference between 2 types of hardware networking devices means fuck all when I know how to analyse a team of people and put in place a process framework that leads to an order of magnitude improvement in defect rates, and a doubling of delivered functionality.
    No, I’m not bitter. No, I don’t give a shit about whether I got a job a Google. What I am amused about is a company that claims to “hire above the average” when they don’t hire that way, or hire people for their strengths.
    As I said in my blog, and to the interviewers, why are you not asking me questions about what I am good at ? The short answer is – Google’s not interested in _me_ and the skills I’m good at, but they want skills that Google are good for.
    I’m not a good fit for Google’s current hiring, that’s fine by me, I don’t think I want to work at a place that has such a narrow view on hiring people anyway. It doesn’t really lead me to think that I’d be valued as an individual, but more as a “replaceable field unit”.

  14. I think they need people who are intelligent to the extent that they get so wound up in solving the problem that they will not think twice about giving away their ideas for a monthly salary.
    It takes a certain kind of nerd to not make the connection between, ‘I have the talent to solve this problem’ and ‘my ideas are worth lots of money’.
    And that is what I think google is selecting for.

  15. I had a bad experience with Google recruitment too.
    Till the interviews everything went smoothly, I’ve passed the phone screens without problem, I was contacted by my recruiter by phone to arrange date of an interview that suits me, every of my mails was answered within a short time span.
    Then I’ve attended the interviews, which I was quite happy about, despite the nature of questions, which were similar to the ones described by others. I was promised to get the response within two weeks. Then something started to break. I mailed my recruiter to confirm that all the documents I’ve provided were ok. No response. After two weeks I asked when I could get the response, no reply. Mailed different recruiter, no reply. After one month and several unanswered emails I decided to try to contact the manager of the local Google branch. He told me that I became a “statistical error” (nice), but everything looks great, the papers wait to be signed, and they should be in touch with me before the end of the week. But this didn’t happen, still no reply to my mails. Then after one more week, standard rejection template without any human comment regarding the delay. I don’t mind this, I still have a job I like, just wanted to try myself, but I didn’t like the way it was done.
    To summarize, I’ve waited 1.5 months during which my emails were totally ignored and my calls landed at the voicemail (despite the fact they responded within one day before the interviews). I don’t mind that I was rejected and I don’t want to judge their recruitment strategy, I’m not going to force anybody to hire me, if they don’t want to. However I don’t think the way they did this was fair. Maybe it’s the corporate world, where we are “statistical errors”.

  16. An organization of Google’s size is called a ‘corporation’. It seems there is no escape from all the woes this brings – like dehumanization of the company, people becoming ‘statistical errors’ and “professional” recruiters/HR specialists being employed, who ruin the recruitment process. If the corporation is a successful one certain degree of arrogance sets in – why care, if still everyone wants to work for us?
    And indeed, why should they care. “Corporatitits” is a subtle illness. And it doesn’t kill – IBM, Motorola, Microsoft all suffer from it much more than Google are still live and thrive. They are just not that fun to work for anymore – each is just another corporate sweatshop. And Google – it seems – is headed that way.

  17. As a HR professional I have to contribute my thoughts. I don’t claim to know very much about technology (despite being married to a very smart engineering professional) but I do know about getting good people. And putting people through a process that ignores their skills and interests is not it.
    There is also no excuse for a HR professional to take the line I don’t know about IT and I am just ticking off a list. Get off your butt and learn the basics. Show some professional interest in the company you work with. If you don’t like IT find a company to work for that you are interested in.
    HR has a pretty crap reputation as it is, as too many insiders are there to save the world, not grow a company. Putting ill fitting people into a one size fits all process does nothing to improve our profile.

  18. I went through their process, and I would say they don’t do a very good job of evaluating how good someone actually is at software development.
    After many years in this biz, I am quite sure of that.
    Their results (the software they spit out) seem pretty good I suppose, but I didn’t consider any of the engineers I met exceptional. Maybe they end up with people that make a good cog in a larger wheel?

  19. I’ve never through their itnerview process (I’m in the wrong country), but this is not a new problem, because I noticed the same thing years ago:
    First, Google’s interview process is designed to create a mono-culture of yeahsayers. Every interviewer can veto you out. This makes a nice cult but I’m conviced that professionally this kills something. In my team we have very different personalities. Sometimes there’s friction, especially towards deadlines. Both these things elevate my team.
    Second, they -only- hire theorists with the skill set mentioned here various times. Like little copies of Sergey and Larry. This is a very serious mistake. These are the guys who get 20% of their time to “be creative”. In my 20+ years of experience in software development, the creative minds did almost without exception not equal the guys interested in the best of algorithms, distribution or other such problem sets. For those people, such problems or what low level algoritm works the best is pretty mundane an boring. For that you have the theory guys. I understand you need to tackle scale when making stuff for Google from the start. I’m also convinced that there will never be any real innovation from Google. So far, they have been copiers, and then trying to do it better, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not, and add sellers.
    All said, you can’t really blaim them for hiring theorists and sales folks only. Copying and add selling has been good for them.
    In the long term, they can be beaten by some random Chinese or whatever firm who don’t hire 100K+ employees, or token celeb employees, or giving away 20% time and free meals, that focusses on search, simply by innovation.
    This is why Google’s latest series of adventures is primarily based on creating a barrier of entrance to the market as big as possible. It will be hard to impossible to beat them on computing power.

  20. Hi,
    I just had an email from Google SRE Team but apparently after I read this blog I am not going to continue further with them. Thanks for sharing this info !

  21. I am of the opinion, anyone who rejects a company solely on the interviewing process does not necessarily have all the facts about a company. In addition, it appears those who have received the polite rejection notice are utilizing this forum to vent rather discuss factual information. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. πŸ˜‰

  22. I knew I wasn’t the only one! I’ve 16 years of experience in HR with companies like Enron (HR MGR) and Halliburton (Regional HR MGR) with a BA/BUS degree with honors from a major state university. I applied there, with my wife’s (Google employee) referral, for several different level of HR positions from coordinator on up to management. Well I didnt even get an interview, a phone call, or anything other than the email that said, “sorry, not a good fit, blah blah blah”
    When my wife asked the recruiters how I could have possibly turned down, citing that there must be some mistake…here is what the recruiter responded with; “David does not have the depth and breath of experience for this role”. WTF? I’ve probably got more experience in my left pinky than they will ever have in their entire existence. All sorts of things run through my mind about the REAL reason I was rejected. It certainly isnt for lack of experience. Could it be my affiliation with Enron (Kenneth Lay, known conservative) and Halliburton (Dick Cheney)? Google is well known to be more of liberal oriented with its politics. Don’t ask me how I know, I just know.
    I do know that they give a lot of preference to Stanford graduates. Could this be because the two founders are alumni? Or could it be that I have no “industry experience”? Come on! Are you kidding me? You think after 16 years at Enron and Halliburton that I couldn’t hack it at freakin Google? Whatever.
    I just don’t get it. Forgive any typo’s…I was in a hurry to write this as I have an interview with Cisco Systems. Ciao!

  23. I interviewed with ThoughtWorks up in Chicago last week and had an experience similar to that of a number of the other posters. After a number of phone interviews and a coding problem, ThoughtWorks scheduled an in-person interview. After a two and a half hour flight up to Chicago at the crack of dawn, the HR representative had me take a logic assessment, followed by a “Wonderlic” test and a behavioral analysis questionnaire. The logic test was fairly straight-forward, reasonably challenging, and related to coding, but a Wonderlic test? What’s the point? I half-assedly scribbled answers in and was asked to take it again. Following the tests, I interviewed with two developers followed by a project manager. The developers, a Ruby guy and a Java guy, were both nice guys and seemed like they knew their shit, as did the product manager. As expected, I wasn’t extended an offer following my sloppy interview; the interview process doesn’t warrant the effort. They seem to be successful with their consultancy, but they’re looking for a certain type of person and want to maintain selectivity with a superficial selection process.

  24. I don’t know about you, but I had a vastly different experience with Google. While I’m not sure that I’m allowed to say much about the specifics of the interview, my general observations are as follows. i) They did _not_ ask me any questions on areas/topics that I said I knew nothing about. ii) They asked me (lots of) questions on topics I said I knew something about, which is only fair. iii) They always assumed that I knew the answer to every question they asked, and acted like their job was just to coax the answer out of me, which works wonders for your confidence. And I found that in general, they were very fair in the interview process – asking me what I know, helping me relax, and giving me an opportunity to talk about myself, my work, and my interests in general.

  25. I had a similar experience to that described in this blog. The SRE team contacted me asking if I was interested in opportunities at Google. I’m doing pretty well for myself which I explained, but opportunity is opportunity so I went along with it. Soon after, I was told that I couldn’t be moved forward.
    It like having a hot chick come up to you at a bar and invite you over to her place, only to be turned away at her doorstep. You feel pretty stupid, especially when you having heaps of fun with mates in the first place.
    This isn’t really a new experience for me. It’s the reason why I started my own business in the first place: applying / begging to work for other people just doesn’t suit me. But now that I’m looking for staff myself I wonder if I would use similar recruitment methods. Ethically I don’t feel it would be right, but at the same time I understand that it is important to find staff that fit the culture.

  26. It seems that nothing has changed in four years. This is exactly the process I just swam through. I think this is rather all about going to work in the engine room – feeding technical guys to the underworld gods that power Google.

  27. Hey!
    Just had interview for level tech support Google Syd.
    They asked all sort of question Wht to do if Internet didn’t work?
    N they kept on asking unless I stopped after I reached web servers!
    Then I got email saying I don’t have tech skills?
    I am confused was it an overkill?

  28. Having read all about Google I wanted to convince myself about these people and tolerated them as far as the phone interview. I am 20 years career veteran, consulting for 18, have enjoyed my consulting career a lot, have had many clients, countless interviews, as well as I have interviewed a lot. That brief Google experience convinced me that all of what is written about them is correct. Unlike the vast majority of interviewers that I have dealt with, who are generally reasonable people, the Google one was hostile, dominant type who clearly tried to subdue me in a way, by even interrupting me twice. This of course would not fly with me and then his questions went so far off any relevant technology subject I had to state my position. Anyway, my stance is that it they are clearly full of themselves and believe that they are more special than anybody else, a cult of geeks who like to ego trip during the interviewing process, as I sensed. I think I can do just fine without Google, thank you very much…

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