#edGY: Interviewing the Interviewers: Google

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EVER DROPPED your curriculum vitae into the hiring inbox of a large company and wet your pants wondering what its interview process would be like?

Some companies do it quick and easy — a glance at your CV, followed by an interview before they decide if you are the right candidate. Others have a set of processes to go through, including several rounds of interviews, assessments and tasks.

Whatever it may be, going through a recruitment exercise can be daunting for most people, especially when it is a multinational corporation like Google. What attributes do successful candidates share and what hiring strategies actually expose those attributes?

This week, #edGY speaks to Zeffri Yusof, the head of communications and public affairs of Google Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to get a glimpse into the hiring process of the US-based Internet giant.   

Google has been known as a desirable company to work for due to its impeccable working culture and environment. It definitely gives you a case of office envy as employees can let off steam by playing a game of table tennis or foosball, take catnaps and be well fed thanks to the free flow of food. As at 2013, the corporation’s staff strength is more than 47,000, based in 70 offices located all over the world, including Malaysia.

Thanks to the 2013 comedy film The Internship, we now have a glimpse of the nitty-gritty realism of working at Google, although the movie’s plot is somewhat ludicrous. Actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two unemployed salesmen who apply for summer internships at Google. Landing the coveted internship does not mean a guarantee of a job, but in order to be hired as a staff, they must compete against bright university students by enduring a series of “mental Hunger Games”.

Some Googlers (Google employees) loathe the movie, but it kind of hit the nail on the head in portraying Google’s culture. So, what is it like working for Google and what does it take to land a job there?

Just like Vaughn’s and Wilson’s characters, you must show a sense of Googleyness to win the position. That is one of the most important attributes if you are thinking of joining the fast-paced technology empire, says Zeffri, who has been with the company for more than three years.

“If you’re a genius but not a people’s person, maybe you’re not Googley. If you don’t have the team spirit or a sense of responsibility, then you’re probably not Googley either,” he explains.

“That Googleyness is something that we measure and we call it a cultural fit. Is this person as Googley as the other person that you know? It’s something we would look at when we interview a candidate.”

Googleyness is not the only criterion the hiring team looks at. What’s more, if you submit an application online (you can apply through its corporate website), it does not mean you will be handpicked for an interview immediately. Keep in mind the millions of young hopefuls who are competing for the same post.

According to Zeffri, Google looks for individuals with strong leadership abilities, those who are able to take the lead and know when to step back when needed to. It also looks to hiring those who have a variety of strengths and passions, not just isolated skill sets. Zeffri also stresses the importance of candidates knowing their “stuff”.

Speaking from his experience, Zeffri says he attended 10 interviews before he was offered the job. Previously, it was 20 interviews, but now, Google has refined the sessions to six or seven. There will be the usual phone interview, followed by a series of face-to-face interviews and individual qualification assessments. He says reading plenty of books on Google’s hiring process prepared him for the painless interviews.

It is easy to spot if someone has exaggerated his qualifications in his CV, he says. With thousands of job applications pouring in every day, Google has hiring down to a science.

“The key is to frame your strengths as ‘I’ve accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z’. Most people would write a résumé like this, ‘I wrote editorials for so and so’. Instead say, ‘I wrote 50 editorials compared with an average of 6 by most writers’. Which means you stand out among your peers and that really differentiates you. Most people don’t put the right content on their résumés,” says Zeffri.

“That is why we have that formula. If we find their résumé interesting, we will call them, but maybe ask them to quantify their achievements using this formula, and if somebody already writes that way, it stands out. That’s why we are letting this formula out of the bag. We really think résumés should be written this way.”

Zeffri reveals that apart from the usual academic qualifications and relevant working experience, Google welcomes individuals who have completed interesting activities outside the typical classroom setting, such as volunteering overseas or working holiday. However, those experiences must demonstrate what the candidate has learnt and be able to put them in context, says Zeffri.

“After the phone or face-to-face interview, there will be a stage where you have to write a really long résumé because we want to know your accomplishments. I probably wrote a very extensive résumé at the end of my interview cycle. It was like kind of a dissertation on myself, but it was an interesting exercise,” he says.

Congratulations! You have made it to Google!

Nooglers (a term to describe new Google employees) usually have to undergo the corporation’s onboarding process, which involves practice-based learning and cognitive training for at least six months. The reason behind this is to foster long-term relationships between Nooglers and senior employees. The process will reduce the feeling of isolation among new recruits and help the staff stay connected, making them more productive and motivated.

Apart from the cool working culture, this approach is seen as one of the measures to retain young talent in the company. Google is a relatively young company (it just reached its sweet 16 mark last month) and its employees are mainly in their mid-twenties to early thirties.

Zeffri, who is in his forties, jokes that he is the oldest staff member in the Google Malaysia office but the working environment and the people he works with keep him young at heart. There are about 40 Googlers at the Malaysian office.

“So, what the Google Malaysia division does is working with large customers, advertisers in sectors ranging from travel and banking and finance to consumer goods. Our teams help with the digital campaigns and provide analytical research and insight based on Google analytics.

“We also have a marketing team, communications team and government relations team as well as the guys who do Go, Maps, Street View and those kinds of stuff. We don’t have developers here, we have our development teams concentrated in other regional offices,” he explains.

Before Zeffri joined Google, he was a journalist with an English daily and later worked in a public relations agency for 10 years. What he loves about working at Google is the ability to witness some of the awesome app inventions and services created by its teams.

“Google is where it is today because of Googlers. I cannot speak highly without sounding corny, but really, if you populate a place with fabulous people who have an eye for the future and an eye for Googleyness, it creates a fun-fulfilling work environment.

“The movie [The Internship] is a 50:50, as a lot of it are Hollywood eyes, but generally, yes, the spirit is there. Most people have mixed feelings about the movie, but I thought some parts were funny. Granted, it did take some liberty, but the heart is in the right place,” says Zeffri.

Zeffri Yusof talks about ‘Googleyness’ and reveals a golden formula

This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 20 - 26, 2014.