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Overview of Google Interview Components
Interviewing at Google is a multifaceted process. While much of the process is in line with that of other tech companies, there are some unique factors.
The breakdown from start to finish is as follows, with a detailed explanation to follow:
- Online application and resume review (plus a potential assessment)
- Recruiter phone screen
- Hiring manager phone screen (and potential project work)
- Onsite/face-to-face interview
- Hiring Committee
- Team match
A multi-step operation like this takes time, and Google is known for having a longer hiring process than many other tech (and non-tech) companies. It’s not unheard of for an interview process to last several months or even longer. We’ve also had clients reach final stages and miss out on an offer, only to hear from their recruiter a few months later with an offer to not only consider another opportunity but fast-track the process. (Recently we saw this happen where a Software Engineer was turned down for an L6 role only to be contacted a few months later for an L7 role - for which they interviewed for and received an offer!)
It’s also worth being aware of Google’s leveling structure. They level their roles numerically and it’s helpful to know the level of role you’re considering. As an example, let’s look at the Software Engineer individual contributor leveling ladder:
- L3: Entry-level Software Engineer (including new grads exiting a Bachelor’s program, sometimes those with Master’s degrees)
- L4: Software Engineer (this level can include recent graduates from a Master’s or PhD program)
- L5: Senior Software Engineer
- L6: Staff Software Engineer
- L7: Senior Staff Software Engineer
- L8: Principal Software Engineer
- L9: Distinguished Engineer
While the exact titles will be different across disciplines, L3-L9 are used across teams to denote the role’s level. For example, Engineering Manager levels include L5 and L6 (Manager), L7 (Senior Manager), L8 (Director), and L9 (Senior Director). Interviews can vary based on level and when you negotiate your offer you’ll definitely want to be aware of the leveling structure.
One piece of important intel we received from a few Googlers that we spoke to is that the company often tries to down-level its candidates. After the hiring committee and team match process, you can ask for interview feedback and if you're borderline between levels you can interview again for the higher level.
Deep Dive into Google’s Interview Steps
Now that you know the basic steps to the Google interview, let’s break them down into specifics, starting with the online application.
Online Application and Resume Review
Like most companies, Google relies on an online portal for candidates to submit their resume and application. Unlike many other organizations, Google shares up front what they look for and how they view resumes (you can find that information here). They recommend writing a specific resume for the Google role you’re targeting, focusing on aligning your skills and experience to the job description in a specific yet concise way. A cover letter is not required (and, per Google, “may or may not be considered”) so it’s up to you if you find it useful to include one.
Referrals from current Googlers can make a difference. If you know someone at the company, reach out to them and see if they’re comfortable referring you. Note - they will have to answer questions about you and why Google should consider hiring you.
You may apply for up to three jobs every 30 days; the goal is to focus on quality (roles that you’re truly excited by and qualified for) rather than quantity.
In some cases, the next step is a brief assessment after you submit your resume. This isn’t included for every job, but could be a coding test or something similar. For example: for software roles, the code assessment consists of a couple questions focused on algorithms and data structures and should take about 90 minutes of your time.
Recruiter Phone Screen
Once you’ve cleared the resume screen and potential assessment, it’s time to start talking with Google recruiters. The 30-minute recruiter phone screen allows the recruiter time to introduce themselves and the Google process as well as ask some high-level, mostly non-technical questions. It’s also a time for you to ask questions of them. Recruiters we spoke with shared that they strive to be on your side throughout the process and will provide specific details about what to prepare for your interview. They want to ensure you feel equipped with anything necessary to succeed in your upcoming interviews, so make sure you ask for any information that would help.
You should be prepared to be asked about your compensation expectations during this call; Google’s recruiters want to be sure your expectations and the budgeted salary band are in line. That said, you’re not obligated to offer up your expectations. Take a look at our article about negotiating Google offers for some intel before this conversation.
The phone interview process includes at least one call (or video interview) with a hiring manager or a peer in the department you’d be joining; some roles include two calls at this stage (e.g. one with the hiring manager and one with a peer). These calls are 45-60 minutes long – if you’re a software developer, expect to code, and if you’re a product manager, expect to talk strategy and customer needs.
Like the earlier assessment, some roles include a project while others do not. In the event you're asked to complete a project, expect something like a case study or code samples. This is to give the hiring team a better idea of how you’d perform on the job and give you a better understanding of the work you’d be doing at Google.
The face-to-face (or onsite) interview round is the most comprehensive part of the process. During this portion, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and have facetime with multiple Googlers. If your interview is in-person you would be brought to one of Google’s campuses. The onsite interview typically comprises up to six ~45-minute interviews back to back (if physically onsite, there is usually time for lunch, as well).
These interviews are structured with clear rubrics; each candidate for a role is evaluated against the same qualifiers and hiring bar to ensure fairness. In fact, new interview questions have to go through a vetting process before they can be used in interviews; they’re assessed for quality, fairness to candidates, and objectivity. Interviewers ask open-ended questions to dig into the qualities they are assessing - often, these qualities include things like how you solve problems, how you collaborate with a team, and how you exhibit leadership.
During your interviews, use data to tell a story about your past experiences. Practice using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, and Result (a Google pro tip is to structure the results information in two parts: the business results and what you learned and how you applied it). Prepare ahead of time by thinking through your accomplishments and experiences and coming up with some examples. Think of your answers in the format of “I accomplished X by doing Y, as measured by Z.”
Be sure to share your thought process as you answer questions; Google’s interview guide states: “When we’re talking with you about your work and the position in question, express your ideas, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to work the problem with us. Why? Because the questions often leave room for clarification. Are you making an assumption? Tell your interviewer that and explain why you’re making that call.”
Multiple Googlers have emphasized this point: most interviews are nuanced and there is not one single “right” answer. Rather, they want to see how you think!
Along those lines, you should ask clarifying questions whenever you’re presented with an open-ended or case-style question. A large part of Google’s hiring philosophy revolves around the ability to navigate ambiguity, and if you ask questions to clarify and add structure to the interview query, it shows your willingness to collaborate with the interviewer and dig deeper. One Google employee shared that asking these types of questions can actually elevate you a bit from “candidate” to “collaborator” (and potential colleague!) in the interviewer’s eyes, as it gives them a view into what you’d be doing together on the job.
What about trick questions? In the past, Google had a reputation for asking brain teaser questions like “Why are manhole covers round?” or “How many pennies, if stacked on top of each other, would equal the height of the Empire State building?” Understandably, candidates often wonder if this still takes place, so much so that the question is on Google’s interview FAQ page. The good news is their answer is a resounding “Nope.” Specifically, they write, “Our data showed that brain teaser questions didn’t predict how well someone would do on the job so we no longer ask them. Instead, we do sample work tests and ask structured interview questions.”
You should be aware that, if you aren’t being considered for a specific team from the get-go, Google interviews for a range of potential levels. If you’re targeting L3 roles, your interviewers may ask questions to assess your skills up to L5; this is to see if there is potential to up-level you based on available teams and needs.
For example, you may be asked something like, “The team wants to improve the user experience by launching feature X. How do we test the feature to determine the impact?” What recruiters and hiring managers are looking for is how you answer the open-ended questions - that will help position your level accordingly.
An L3 answer might show an ability to complete the given scope of the project with assistance from a manager, while an L4 would be able to complete the given work on their own. An L5, on the other hand, would show an ability to determine the scope and execute on their own, and an L6 would take on creation of the scope for themselves and their team.
A facet of Google’s interview process that you may not see at all companies is the Hiring Committee. This is a group of “objective” Google employees who were not part of your interview; they review your interview feedback (absent demographic information like name, race, or gender) and determine how to move forward. The idea is that this will reduce bias and subjectivity, because the Hiring Committee has no preconceived notions of you as a candidate and is instead relying only on objective interview data.
But let’s take a step back. During your interview, each interviewer is taking notes and rating your interview performance on a scale of “Strong No Hire” to “Strong Hire" based on the rubric for the role/level. After the interview, all of this feedback is collected and compiled to share with the Hiring Committee (including everything from before the F2F). Be aware that if the interview feedback is weak across the board, the candidate may be declined outright without Hiring Committee involvement.
The Hiring Committee reviews the packet and assesses your candidacy based on the following:
- Role-related knowledge and experience (known internally as RRK): Does the candidate have the right expertise, experience, and competencies to succeed in the role?
- General cognitive ability (GCA): How does the candidate solve challenging problems? How do they learn new things?
- Leadership: Does the candidate show evidence of stepping up to lead and take initiative? Will they collaborate and lead well cross-functionally?
- Googleyness: How does the candidate stack up against Google’s company values? Will they mesh well with the culture? Considered here are qualities like bias for action, collaboration, and comfort with ambiguity.
After the Hiring Committee has gone through their assessment, your recruiter will contact you with one of four possible outcomes:
- Google wants to make you an offer!
- Google wants to hire you, but needs to match you with a team first (more on that below).
- The company needs more info, so you’ll be invited for a few more interviews then go through another Hiring Committee evaluation.
- Unfortunately, it’s not a fit this time and they need to decline you for this role.
In the event that your recruiter says they want to make an offer but need to find a team for you, what does that mean?
For a lot of Google roles, you’ll have interviewed for a specific team from the beginning. In that case, you’ll receive an offer (or a decline) for that team. However, if something changed along the way (another candidate accepted an offer, the role was put on hold, etc.) or if you weren’t matched with a team earlier in the process, you’ll find yourself at the team matching stage toward the end.
Historically, this usually happened post-onsite and post-Hiring Committee (which is part of why the overall Google process can take so long). More often nowadays, team matching happens before the onsite or even earlier in the process, especially with recent hiring freezes on some teams.
If you need to find a team match, your recruiter will share your packet of info (remember, this includes interview feedback, your resume, and any assessments or projects you’ve completed) with teams who have a hiring need. You may have conversations with multiple teams to determine the best match. Some people wrap up team matching in a week, whereas for others, team matching can stretch out for months.
If a mutual fit is found, your offer (or the rest of the interview process) will move forward accordingly. If they can’t identify a fit, your candidacy may be put on hold until something new opens up.
The good news is that Google is slowly phasing out this part of the process, with most teams moving toward identifying a team fit earlier in the process and interviewing for that specific team. However, not all teams have changed their process yet so you should be prepared for either scenario.
(A Google employee shared with us - that in the event you’re matched with a team you aren’t excited about - it’s fairly easy to eventually transfer to a different one within the company once you start. In fact, it can be as simple as a 30-minute coffee chat with a hiring manager! Google generally discourages employees from switching teams within their first year, but it does happen.)
Google Software Engineer Interviews
While the process detailed above is standard across most of Google, there are idiosyncrasies for specific roles. What does a Software Engineer interview process look like at Google?
It’s likely that the recruiter phone interview will be non-technical and high-level. You should expect the subsequent phone interview with a hiring manager or peer to be more technical in nature. You will likely work with your interviewer in a shared document or online coding platform to answer questions and solve problems; expect data structures, algorithms, and behavioral questions.
At the onsite stage, you should expect an even deeper dive technically. You will be assessed on your skills in data structures and algorithms, system design, and leadership.
The exact breakdown depends on your level; level 3 and 4 will include four data structure and algorithm interviews and one interview focused on leadership and Googleyness. At level 5 and 6, you can expect three interviews digging into data structures and algorithms, one on system design, and one on Googleyness and leadership. As with all Google roles, software engineers are evaluated on their functional skills but also how they problem-solve and collaborate.
If you receive an offer at the end of the process, our guide to Software Engineer Negotiation may be helpful!
Google Product Manager Interviews
If you’re a product manager, your interview will have its own unique rubric. The hiring manager screen will focus on functional PM work: strategy, product design, and estimation.
The onsite will include deep dives into product design, analysis, estimation, strategy, technical know-how, and of course behavioral questions.
You should be ready to talk about things like:
- How you would design a given product (“If you were asked to build X product to solve Y problem, what would you do?”)
- How you would determine market readiness and pricing
- Making a business case for a certain hypothetical product
- Product improvements, whether for Google products or others
- Analytical estimation-based questions, e.g. “How many messages per second does Gmail receive?” or “Calculate the storage size for YouTube videos.”
- Setting metrics for products and how you would track and use that data (“If you saw XYZ metric drop, how would you handle it?”)
If you’re wondering what a product manager offer might look like, check out our article on product manager pay at Google.
Google Data Science Interviews
Data scientists can, of course, expect a process similar to the ones mentioned above but with some role-specific focus areas. For example, the phone screen is likely to include questions assessing your expertise with SQL, coding, machine learning and modeling techniques, and statistics. You should be prepared to collaborate with the interviewer via a coding platform or a shared document.
When you reach the onsite stage, you’ll be assessed on behavioral questions (like all Google interviews) as well as statistics, machine learning, coding/SQL, and product sense.
Sample question types include “If Product A had an XYZ feature and the team wanted to change it, how would you use data science to make recommendations?” and “While measuring time spent on Google Search per day per user, we see the average decreasing. What initial analysis would you perform? How would you drill deeper into this data?”
You can read more about Google data scientist compensation here on our blog.
Negotiating an Offer at Google
People often wonder if Google’s offers are negotiable. They are (we’ve negotiated 100+ in the last year!), but you’ll need to be strategic. We’ve given a quick overview below, but you can find much more detail in our Google Salary Negotiation article.
For L3-L5 roles, you can expect a fairly standard offer process once the company has decided to offer you the job. The recruiter will share the details with you, at which time we recommend taking some space to digest the information before digging in and assessing the offer.
There are a few tactics specific to Google and you’ll need to know them if you want to successfully negotiate. Google is known to require evidence of other offers; this means that if you plan to use an offer from another company as leverage, Google expects to see the written offer letter. This poses a challenge because some companies won’t draft an official letter until you’re ready to sign, and sharing this information puts all your cards on the table, making negotiation that much harder.
Google also relies on their brand. After all, it’s Google! They know candidates are clamoring to earn a spot at one of the best and biggest tech companies so they offer less than a competitor’s offer. If you are going to share another offer with them, make sure it’s the highest possible so Google has to offer a better amount to compete.
At L6 and above, you have a bit more leverage against Google’s tactics. For example, more senior candidates are less likely to see high-pressure tactics like a demand to share competing offers. Recruiters are also likely to try harder to get an initial compensation ask from you, rather than providing an offer first. Given the importance of senior leaders and the competitive nature of closing top technical experts, recruiters are wary of losing a candidate. If you’re going to provide a number, make sure to think it through beforehand as it will be an important anchor point for the rest of the negotiation.
This is also where a strong understanding of the role leveling comes in; we’ve seen numerous clients ask to be considered for a higher position – which, of course, comes with higher compensation, as well. In our experience, this approach works about 50% of the time and - if it doesn’t - you’ll still receive valuable information on what it would take to get a promotion once you’re in the role.
As an example, one candidate we worked with was initially down-leveled due to his interview performance; as a new-grad PhD, he was leveled at L3 instead of L4. He appealed to the recruiter, did a few more interviews, and qualified for an L4 offer. He had a strong understanding of the levels and knew that L4 is where recent PhD graduates typically come in, so he advocated for himself - and got what he wanted!
This may require you to go through a few more interviews, but the upside could be both a higher title and higher compensation, so it’s worth considering.
If you’ve made it this far - we hope you’re walking away feeling more confident and prepared for the Google interview process and confidence. Good luck!!