FAQs: Getting a (Google) Internship

I was fortunate enough to intern with Google at their EMEA Headquarters in Dublin this past summer. I enjoyed it more than I imagined possible and would do it all again if I could. I have since gotten a lot of questions about applying to Google and ‘standing out’ amiss the piles of applications. 

The Google Internship is considered one of the most prestigious internships in the world and thus, they get thousands of applications each cycle resulting in a low acceptance rate. Below, I am going to detail my answers to some of the questions I get asked most often. Notably, a lot of the answers are applicable to many other internships/job applications. 

If you have an additional question, submit it via my website & I’ll share an answer! 

Q: Did you know someone at Google or apply via referral? 

No. I applied via the website (careers.google.com). 

Q: How do I stand out when applying for a job? 

This is the question I have been asked the most! The answer is relatively simple to understand but difficult to implement… 

Standing out essentially means catching the recruiters attention as one of the best candidates for the position. The best way to do that is to actually be one of the best candidates for the role. This can be achieved in 3 steps:

1. Understand the type of candidate they are searching for

This goes beyond simply understanding the qualifications or linguistic abilities they’re looking for. This step includes understanding the person they want on a holistic level…What is their culture like? What type of people thrive in it? What key characteristics do they value? What type of experience is relevant to the job? What’s the job description? What are the non-negotiable skills? 

2. Understand yourself relative to their ideal candidate 

Once you’ve taken time to understand their ideal candidate, you have to be honest with yourself about your suitability for the role. Are you a suitable candidate? Do your experiences, skills, values and working style align with that of the organisation and of the role? 

This is an extremely important, often underrated step. Many a times, I get people messaging me saying “I want to work for Google too!” but are only drawn to the brand name with little to no understanding of the company culture (it’s more than free food) or even the role they would want. 

While Google’s brand is certainly appealing, that is not why I applied. My decision to apply to Google came after I undertook step 1 (understanding) thoroughly. After my first internship with Bain & Company, I realised that a crucial part of my experience was my alignment with the company’s culture. I became fascinated with the concept of company culture and it’s effect on an organisation’s success. This lead me to learn more about Google’s culture and what it’s like to work there.  

I spoke to a few Googlers & Xooglers (ex Googlers) with the intention to gain insights from their experiences, identify common misconceptions and objectively decide if it would be a good fit for me. Notably, I did not slide into anyone’s DMs asking for a referral. This is a trend I’ve noticed that can come across as entitled, naive and even ignorant. I find this request particularly annoying if I have barely ever spoken to the person, never worked with them or generally have no insight into their professional capabilities. Referring someone is putting your brand behind them and it’s borderline nonsensical to ask someone that barely knows you to do that for you. 

What I suggest instead is this: after rigorously researching the role and company on the internet, note down any additional questions you have. Then approach people with authentic curiosity and a desire to better understand. Your goal should be to understand if the company and role really is a good fit for you because in all honesty, being unhappy at a job with a prestigious company is as easy as being in a miserable relationship with a gorgeous supermodel (it’s incredibly simple). 

Having worked for a few ‘big’ brands, I can tell you for free that the excitement of being associated with the brand is not sufficient to overshadow not enjoying your day to day work. So do yourself and the company a favour and try to find a role where you can excel, add value, grow and be happy. 

If you find that the role reflects who you would want to be and perhaps not who you are just yet, I would say apply! Sometimes we underestimate ourselves and our abilities and at the end of the day, we don’t know who else is applying. You may be the best suited applicant or the recruiter may see something in you that you’re not able to see in yourself. 

That said, you should also work on building relevant experience. This is a continuous process that I strongly recommend regardless of whether or not you get the role. Personally, I am constantly looking at what roles I want to take up in the future and then working on gaining relevant skills and experience now. 

Also, interviewers aren’t stupid. They can see right through candidates who are more drawn to the brand/opportunity location/perks than the actual role or company mission. Don’t be that guy. It won’t get you far. 

3. Invest time and effort into figuring out the best way to present yourself 

If you do not do steps one and two properly, you’re at high risk on wasting your time by completing step three. Simply because if you’re not at least half suited for the role then you’re wasting your time and the company’s time by applying. You are better off carefully selecting 10 opportunities and applying to them then blindly and hurriedly applying to 40 opportunities. Of course you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. But by applying to too many opportunities, you risk not investing the necessary time into the opportunities that you are most well suited for. 

As you know, securing job opportunities is increasingly difficult so every detail counts. I customise my resume and cover letter for each and every opportunity I apply for. This has worked extremely well for me. I almost never put all my work experience on my resume simply because it’s not all relevant (and I don’t have space as I usually opt for a one pager). Notably, a lot of companies ask for all your work history at some point or at least the link to your LinkedIn so don’t worry too much about trying to include everything. 

When it comes to putting together a resume, I detailed my key tips in my last article. I use Novo Resume as I appreciate the visual appeal. 

Q: How do I prepare for the interviews?

At the risk of making this article 10 pages long, I am going to try to keep each answer short but if you would like me to elaborate, use the hashtag #MoreDetails & the relevant topic in the comments. For this particular question, I may even elaborate with a video! 

When it comes to preparing for an interview, there are 3 key areas I focus on (yes, I like threes a lot!).

1. Interviewer: understanding who they are, what the role in the company is and what past experience they have. 

2. Commonly asked interview questions: making sure I am comfortable answering all the commonly asked interview questions. From “Tell me about yourself” to “what are your strengths and weaknesses”. 

3. Role-based & company knowledge: understanding the company’s business model, key activities, competitors and latest projects. This also includes familiarising myself with the latest news about them, their vision and expansion plans. On the other hand, role-based knowledge is about understanding key elements of the role and any products or technical skills associated with it. 

For example, the role I interviewed for with Google was sales & (digital) marketing centred so I spent some time learning about the digital marketing industry, notable statistics as to why digital marketing can be more effective than traditional marketing and the advantages of Google marketing solutions over their competitor’s products. 

Q: Should I write a cover letter? 

My take- if you can then yes. If you’ve taken my above advice then you should have a relatively concise list of opportunities you’re applying for which you believe you stand a chance at. Thus, it makes sense to do everything in your power to position yourself as the ideal candidate. 

Notably, I usually use cover letters to explain my thinking/reasoning behind certain decisions which I couldn’t elaborate on in my resume. For example, why I dropped out of ‘Africa’s number 1 university’, University of Cape Town, to start again at the African Leadership University.  I also use cover letters to elaborate on the most relevant projects I have worked on which showcase a skillset likely to be useful in the role I am applying for. 

Overall, a cover letter should concisely describe why you are interested in that particular company and that particular role and what experiences and skills position you uniquely to succeed in that role.

Q: Can you refer me or share my resume with HR/a hiring manager? 

Refer to answer 2 🙂 

There you have it! Answers to the questions I am asked most frequently about applying for an internship at Google. I hope you found the answers useful! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via the “Ask a Career Question” feature on my website 🙂