Landing an entry level job interview at Google, Facebook and Amazon
Breaking into my first high tech job was hard. I wish advice and proper job search tools existed. I hope my decade of tips make it easier for you.
Luke: I can't believe it! Yoda: That is why you fail.
Dear New Grad,
When the need arises to venture out into the high tech industry, two types of engineers emerge: those who become perfectionists about learning technical material to "win over" interviewers vs. those who "discover" the other side of their brain, capable of self-marketing.
When I started in my career looking for entry level positions and seeking job interviews, I was the first type of engineer. Things turned out okay I guess; through a series of happy accidents, inevitable frustrations, and persistence, I got knocked out of my default "perfect introvert learner" mode. Life forced me to learn to brand myself, get people interested, negotiate and "close" interviews. My having worked at two employers, each #1 in the world at the time, is probably evidence that even if you do it the hard way like I did, you'll probably be okay. But I'm inclined to see great engineers get to the top of the pile faster, instead of learning to deal with social B.S. - There are not enough good engineers doing great work!
I wish the following article was written and the tools it mentions existed. I figured out this "obvious" stuff the hard way. Hopefully you don't have to. If you continue to run into challenges, contact me personally for advice. Feedback is also appreciated.
- Write a two page resume
- Get your own domain name
- Boost your reputation (Google PageRank SEO)
- Invert your job search funnel
- Maximize your network value
- Pay acute attention to what your network wants
- Improve yourself after graduation
- Speak with authority about a niche area of your expertise
- Fail quickly, fail often, like a shotgun
- Never answer questions about your salary
Write a new draft. Today. Now.
Just write it. Don't make excuses about how little post-degree experience you have. If you don't lay down your resume, you will not find out where the white-spaces are; and you won't focus your efforts on the gaps.
Don't worry about the experience chicken-or-egg problem during your entry level job search. I hear you say "how can I write about my experiences if nobody is willing to hire me yet to gain experience?" Just believe in this process. Write the darn thing down. If you can't think of what to write in a certain section, don't stop at the thinking stage. Skip that section and write the rest of it.
Revise it a few times to highlight the impacts you've made and the value you've created from past employers' (or university organizations') perspective. Don't just list your abilities; translate them to value that you created for other people. If you are really struggling with lack of stories to tell, you must start creating stories. Make up your own project. Tutor yourself in something from technical books. Then write about it. The employer can be fictional. Ever heard of "fake it before you make it"?
Register a domain with your full name, and publish your resume online. The age of paper resumes is almost over. The last person who asked for my paper resume was past the retirement age.
What you need is a searchable web site that shows up when recruiters are looking for your skills. This is why you need to write a resume from their perspective, not your own. Inevitably they'll be looking for a problem they're trying to solve with this entry level job, without knowing the exact skills required. You want your web site resume to show up in their results by covering their possible search terms. The keywords in your resume will do that.
My proof-readers told me that they didn't understand this section, so I'll first explain what the heck Google PageRank is.
Google search engine was founded based on the principle that PhD white-paper thesis documents (and later, analogously, Internet Web Pages) have a reputation that can be measured by how many other documents cite them. For example, if nobody uses your research paper as a reference to argue anything, your paper probably didn't have much value. If, on the other hand, you wrote the Theory of Relativity like Einstein did, thousands of people will cite it. And based on so many citations, one can argue that that research paper was reputable.
In the Internet world, Google started ranking web pages based on how many other web pages pointed to them. The two co-founders, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, conveniently called this ranking mechanism Google PageRank: a play with the words Rank and Page (a pun for Web Page, and Larry Page). It turns out that this is a pretty good way for sorting your search results, when you search for anything. That's how Google beat Yahoo, since Yahoo used to have human beings manually rank the reputation of web pages.
What does this have to do with you, you ask?
When employers Google a certain skill and your resume contains that skill, it will show up in their search results. However, many candidates compete for those skills. Google ranks your resume in the search results based on its reputation, i.e. based on how many reputable web pages are pointing to your resume. If you and another candidate are in the running for a job, and the other candidate has more web pages pointing to their resume, they'll show up higher in search results; they'll be noticed first by recruiters; and they're much more likely than you to be contacted over and over for entry level positions. In other words, in the digital age, they're eating your lunch.
Use LinkedIn's "my homepage" field in your editable profile to point your LinkedIn Profile Page to your resume web site. This boosts your web site's rankings on Google and makes it come up higher in Google results. Use every opportunity you can get to have other reputable people point to your web site.
A techie friend asked me recently "that's so 10 years ago, that STILL works?" -- The answer is of course that still works. The only difference is that most people are so overwhelmed by junky social media news that they're burned out. They think to themselves "how am I ever going to stand out in this noise?" The answer is simple. You're not competing with noise. You're competing in a very niche channel, namely, in the search results for some very specific skill-related queries. Your colleagues are almost your only direct competitors in the entry level job search. Those of us more aware of Google PageRank get more "inbound marketing", also known as "sweet jobs that come to you".
Which reminds me of another principle you should keep in mind:
You will make the sale (succeed at job interviews) 95% of the time when you RECEIVE an unsolicited call from a prospective customer (employer). You will lose the sale (fail at job interviews or the screening process) 95% of the time when you MAKE an unsolicited call to a prospective customer (employer).
Jeffrey Gitomer, 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling
Read that quote twice. Then read this section twice. Yes, exactly! Most of your job search performance doesn't even depend on your performance. It depends on whether you're approaching the process with the right framework in mind.
I now hope my non-techie proof readers are happy! (My lovely wife, ahem)
Connect to as many people in your industry as possible. Be indiscriminate; others are!
- Connect to friends, because they know recruiters.
- Connect to recruiters, because you're helping them find candidates when they need candidates (i.e. you and your friends).
- Connect to respected people whom you can help: being connected with them increases the odds that people will want to connect with you. The higher ranking they are, the better. Have faith! It's lonely at the top. They will connect.
Why connect to people at all? Because firstly, you want to invert your relationship with job search. You want the entry level positions to find you, not spend all of your time finding the job. That's why you build a network. Instead of spending 100% of your time on job search, enlist 1% of the time of 100 recruiters. That's how successful business people operate. So should you.
And secondly, the law of Network Effect says that the power (or value) of your network is the square of the number of connections you have. Compare someone who has 100 connections with someone who has 1,000 connections:
The former can reach about 10,000 second-degree contacts (smaller than one large corporation). The latter can reach about 1,000,000 (almost all movers and shakers in an entire industry). 10x connections give you 100x leverage. Could you improve your manual job search by a 100x factor if you worked on it 24/7? No! Be lazy. That's how a good engineer works.
You might be surprised to find out that recruiters use the same algorithm to evaluate candidates that search engines use to evaluate web pages: Google PageRank. Your probability of getting a job interview depends on three metrics: (1) the size of the network that knows you, (2) the reputation of your network, and (3) the keywords in your resume.
Once you've reversed the search to an inbound one, you need to focus on actually providing the value that the recruiters are looking for.
Most folks, such as engineers, make the mistake of burning themselves out on trying to sell a skill that doesn't resonate. It's not that your skills are outdated or that you lack interpersonal skills. It's that recruiters and hiring managers have their own language for things that they're attracted to. Learn how to rephrase your values in their terms.
A well-known secret between book authors is that for the same exact fresh content, changing the book title can make or break the book's income success! That's human insanity, but it's true. People choose to pay for a book by its cover. Same is true for the set of skills you're marketing. Give them attractive names!
I advised a friend to change her resume title from "Astrophysics grad" to "Data Scientist". It's a different label for the same exact kind of work. But the difference in demand is phenomenal. Google PageRank cares about using highly-ranked keywords, but that's only because human-beings do. Learn to brand your skills the way people want.
Almost 80% of what you need to know at your first job is stuff you'll need to learn after graduation. It's a myth that universities prepare you for the job market. They only prepare you for a lifetime of learning.
Once you get feedback on your first few application attempts, if the gap is technical rather than marketing-related, there is an easy solution. Often reading a 50-page $10.00 technical book related to your skills over a few weeks can put you years ahead of others competing for the same jobs.
I've known people who were miserable for six months at a time, wondering what critical skill they missed out on that their fellow students learned in university. I'll tell you exactly what that skill is: self-improvement after graduation.
No expert, even your idol, knows everything.
If you've been working with a certain toolset or set of skills recently but briefly, you're already more of an expert than people who have had that same skill on their resume for years; because your knowledge is more up-to-date. The rest of the journey depends on attitude and some imagination.
The insecurity during screening and interviews usually stems from the impostor syndrome, observed in high-achievers. Instead of letting your own doubts lessen the value impression in the eyes of the recruiters, do the following:
Identify the final goal you're trying to achieve by going through this job interview -- suppose it's a 6-figure salary. Get yourself to completely believe that you already have it. Exercise visualizing over a couple of weeks exactly how it will be to have already achieved that goal. Talk to the recruiter as if you already have a 6-figure income from somewhere else. Don't lie. Just believe it. Talk with 6-figures in your back pocket. You will relax when reaching the end-goal of survival is no longer perceived at the mercy of the recruiter.
You might even find that they value your more relaxed approach, to the tune of raising their expectations about what they should pay you.
Too many people confuse being rejected with being "found out". The more we know, the more we doubt our own competence. 
Even a child knows that she's more likely to hit the bullseye by throwing multiple times in a row or at the same time. She won't give up and hide as soon as the first throw misses. Somehow when we grow up, we become less child-like, to our own economic loss.
It's simple statistics: with job interviews, most people put all their eggs in one basket. Friends with PhDs and advanced degrees are actually more likely to show up to as few as only one job interview per year (the one company they want to work for), fail, and then go back to another year of dissatisfaction. It's the effect of perfectionism through excellence, combined with lack of confidence because of knowledge: the smarter you become, the more you want to protect that self-image.
Instead, observe the following: if the odds of failing with one recruiter are as bad as 90% (or pick your own number), the odds of failing with 25 of them in a row are 90% ^ 25, i.e. 7%. In other words, if you tried 25 times in a row, you'd have 93% chance of failing at failing (note: succeeding!). This should be fantastic news, even to those of us with the terrible record of 90% failure. 
The shotgun approach (Breadth-First-Search for the engineer among us) applies as much in hunting birds as finding jobs and even raising millions of dollars to build a company. Find the most interested people first.
The fastest way to kill your chances with a recruiter is to tell them how much you're making. There is no correct answer. As soon as you answer the question, you've turned yourself from a potential valuable candidate to a data-point for negotiating with other candidates.
Practice ways of not answering this question before going into job interviews, such as "Sorry, but I'm not comfortable sharing that information at this stage of the process. I'm looking for a fair market salary for the values that I bring to the table." Many recruiters are pushy ex-car-salesperson negotiators and are fishing for early data-points. If they repeat their question, simply repeat the above answer, until they're embarrassed and stop asking.
If they repeat the pattern over three times, simply give them a 5 second silent-treatment, then ask "are you making me a job offer?", then go back to repeating the above answer. It's ridiculous, but they completely expect this and respect you for being a powerful expert at negotiating. Negotiation doesn't start at the end. It starts at the beginning. And caving in to their question reduces their respect in your professional standing.
Never answer a salary question until you have a written offer -- this is your undeniable right.
The above formula may sound too simplistic. It's because success is simple; it's made of what you know, but not with faith. Success is reserved only for people who take the first step with faith. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"; and most walls you perceive today are going to prove to have been imaginary, once you've taken those faithful first steps. 
- Microsoft and Google
- The reverse is also true and is called Dunning-Kruger effect.
- This is exactly the method I used personally to climb from six months of unemployment immediately after graduation to a mid-level engineer at Microsoft, only 18 months later as my second job.
- The engineering networks that I've been closely involved with (University of Waterloo, Carnegie Mellon University, Microsoft, Google, Silicon Valley startups, etc) have hundreds of people seeking career advice. Almost all of the individuals that seek my advice have skipped all of these steps. When they're told about these steps, most acknowledge them with "a-ha" moments, but few, almost none, implement them seriously. The ones who do implement these have already got their dream jobs.
Amin Ariana is a software entrepreneur in San Francisco.
Special thanks to Abby Denzin for reading early drafts of "Landing an entry level job interview at Google, Facebook and Amazon".
Readers shared their thoughts on this essay:
Simple and Clear. Most useful and realistic article I have read so far. I couldn't agree more with you, really appreciate it.Good job Mr. Amin Ariana.
Thank you for all the helpful tips!
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