In Bo Bennett’s words: “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.” I had to memorize and remind myself of this, saying it over and over again after I received multiple rejections in a row. In fact, I was rejected by almost all the companies I applied to. To make a long story short, one year later, I’ve received internship offers from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. With all these choices, I ended up selecting the latest one in Silicon Valley. This is what I did.
I’m currently in my senior year at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, working part-time as a freelancer, and in my spare time, I’m trying to bootstrap different startups, one at a time. For this reason, I started https://dutylabs.ro - a software consultancy company mainly focused on machine learning, web development, and mobile apps. If you need help with one of your projects in this area, feel free to write us an email directly on the website.
In my high school years, I was a competitive programmer, so when I started university, I was already familiar with general computer science concepts. However, it turned out that only knowing your algorithms and data structures is not the key ingredient to landing a job at Big 4 companies.
Maybe it was my lack of communication and friendliness… We’ll never know.
The first interview that I had for a software engineer position was with Google. Not knowing what the interview experience is like is intimidating at first. I remember being very nervous but excited at the same time. The interview itself was very impressive. I met one engineer from the London’s office who was working on Google Shopping and an engineer from YouTube in Zurich. After the interviews, I was expecting a positive outcome since I managed to solve the coding problems and even had time in the end to ask my interviewer more questions about Google’s company culture and what a typical day looks like in the office. It turns out, that success was not the case; A rejection arrived in an email two weeks later.
Google has a policy that they don’t provide any feedback regarding your interview performance. I guess I’ll never find out why I was rejected. I’m assuming that I must have appeared nervous, and I was still very young and inexperienced - I just entered university a couple of months before. I also knew that one area I lacked in was communication and friendliness.
Among my friends that also applied, I was the only one that got rejected. It was a tough time. Looking back, I think I did a great job not letting this get me down, and instead focused my energy on continuing to improve my existing skills with the goal of making it next year.
For those who are currently in my position, here is a simple algorithm you can follow to increase your chances of success for the next time you interview with a Big 4 company:
Don’t assume that if you didn’t get it the first time you won’t get it at all.
This is a huge trap. I heard many stories from current Google employees that did not get the job their first time interviewing. All of them have something in common: they did not give up. Instead, you must learn from this experience, try to get feedback, and improve as much as you can. Google has a whole webpage of preparing for interview resources.
There are many reasons why you may have been rejected. Maybe you were inexperienced; perhaps you simply did not connect to the interviewer, maybe they already reached the number of hires they wanted. There are so many maybes, and while some of them are things you can control, most of them are not, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Pick yourself up and try again.
Make a list of things you should improve
This is crucial. Make a list of skills that you want to improve. It can be small or significant goals, depending on what you want to work on. For me, I knew I had to get more comfortable speaking in English (my native tongue is Romanian), be more friendly and open, and prepare a few sentences to describe myself - no bullshit really, but my honest achievements and aspirations.
Start improving - Practice with peers
After you’ve realized your weak points, start working on them, one at a time. For example, I knew I had to improve my English and be completely comfortable talking to a stranger who could become a coworker or even a friend. That’s where Pramp helped me a lot. I remember I finished 3 sessions on Pramp, all with a different partner. Each session helped me to gain more confidence in my abilities.
During my sessions on Pramp, I met a Microsoft engineer’s wife and so she was able to tell me more about Microsoft’s culture; I also met a cool guy from Santa Clara that I still keep in touch with (if you see this, I hope we’ll meet next summer). At the end of the interview session on Pramp, you can ask them to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever social platform you prefer. You can continue to help each other in your journey to landing a dream job even outside the Pramp session. And if you are searching for a job, you should definitely consider continuing to practice on Pramp, since once you get excellent feedback, the Pramp Team will reach out to you with job offers, and help you skip the resume and phone screening!
Improve your coding skills
Interview coding is different than real life coding. You have to code on a whiteboard or a simple plain text editor. This presents opportunities to ask questions. You don’t remember what the name of the method that converts a string to an integer is? Talk to the interviewer and ask for help. They may not know the exact answer, but tell them what you decide. Remember, your code won’t be compiled, but you must make sure that your answer is very close to a code that compiles.
There are also a lot of good books about interview problems. In particular, I find the following two to be useful: Cracking the coding interview and Programming Interviews exposed. Choose one, and stick to it from start to finish. You can scan through the pages you are already familiar with, but make sure you understand every piece of advice and realize why it was worth mentioning.
Believe in yourself and be prepared for the worst to happen
I know this next bit may sound incongruent. I’ve just told you how to ace the interview, and now I’m going to tell you to be prepared for the worst to happen. As I said, there are so many factors out of your control.. Failure or obstacles during the interview should not stop you from focusing on proving you are the right candidate. Believe it! You should also be prepared to answer the question “Why do you believe you are the right person for the job?”
The good thing is that as you apply to more companies, the probability of things out of your control happening will decrease - given that you worked hard and prepared yourself.
The only offer that you get can be from your “second choice.” We all have a hierarchy of the companies that we would like to work for. The thing is that even if you land the second choice, it can be a classic case of “sometimes you get what you need.” You may find out that the company is an excellent fit and you would not trade the experience.
The first offer I received after preparing myself for the next round of interviews was from Microsoft Dublin. The people were very friendly, they flew me in, rented a lovely 4-star hotel room for me and they even reimbursed me for tickets to the Zoo (thanks Microsoft!). However, at that time, I felt like I didn’t t fit into Microsoft’s culture and I really wanted to land an internship in the US.
At the same time, I also passed the interviews with Google, but they were looking to do placements for potential projects, so there was no offer on the table. As Microsoft usually gives you only a couple of days to decide (I don’t think that putting pressure on you is going to push you to accept, but anyway), I decided to turn down their offer and hoped I would eventually get an offer from Google.
Don’t be afraid to take risks
It turned out that my dreams came true: last summer I joined Google Photos as an intern at their headquarters, in Mountain View, California. I loved the experience and looking back I think it was the best decision I made, even though at the time it felt really stupid (or at least that’s what my mom thought). Don’t be afraid to take risks. The thing is, you are already taking risks applying to a company since there is always the possibility that you may end up being rejected.
After you accept an offer, make the most of it. Email your next mentor, ask what resources you need to read before starting (although you are not required to, inquiring will show that you are excited and interested in how to bring the most to the table). On your first day, don’t code! Meet all your team members, make sure you ask them about their professional background and what their experience is. Just be friendly.
I hope that these tips will work for you! If you need more information or you’d like to chat, feel free to tweet me @cr_rusucosmin
Some helpful resources for the ones who want to apply:
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