by Tomiwa

How I got interviews at Google, Facebook, and Bridgewater and what I learned

In the summer after my 3rd year of university, I decided that I wanted to work at a top tech company such as Google or Bridgewater. There was problem, though. I didn’t go to a target school, my grades were just okay, and my work experience consisted of being a janitor and IT Tech support. I knew if I wanted to get a chance at these top companies, I would have to get creative.

The original post can be found on my blog.

This article details how I was able to get interviews at companies like Google, Facebook, Bridgewater, and others. If you think you have some sort of weakness or background that precludes you from getting a shot at these companies, hopefully you’ll see that you can get a chance at companies like this as well.

Note: I’ve also included a Google Slides summary of this article.

How I got interviews at Google, Facebook, and Bridgewater (Tech Version)
How I got interviews at Google, Facebook, and Bridgewater (Tech Version) Advice for people who need experience to get…docs.google.com

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Rethink the Old School Method

Make Something Useful or Interesting

Tell People About It

Reasons Why You Won’t Do It

Case Study: Tomiwa’s Story

Appendix: Sample Email

Ok, let’s get started.

Rethink the Old School Method

When applying for jobs, most of us do the exact same thing: apply to the same postings as everyone else on the career center portal, send in a résumé that is virtually identical to all the other résumés, and if we’re feeling extra diligent, maybe even write a “customized” cover letter (you know, swap the company names).

Then when we ask why we aren’t getting many responses, we are told it’s because we need to use more “action words” in the cover letter or change the font size on the résumé.

However, this doesn’t address the real underlying issue. Only relying on résumés and cover letters is ineffective, because outside of name dropping, the school you went to, or an impressive company you worked for, it’s really hard to prove why you deserve a chance.

So we end up just writing a bunch of corporate jargon and buzzwords that no one actually wants to read. Which is probably why most résumés are never actually seen by humans but by computers scanning for certain “keywords” or humans scanning for certain “buzzwords” 😉 .

These strategies may have worked in the past, but in this modern internet age, there is definitely a better way to do this.

Provide Tangible Proof of Your Merit

The best way to prove how deserving you are is to make something interesting or useful and share it on the internet. When I say make, people often think that, since I am a software engineer, I expect everyone to learn how to code or be a visual artist.

Not necessarily. Making something can go beyond coding and artsy stuff. A blog post or slide deck is a very underrated way of quickly showing someone how smart, hardworking, and generally deserving you are.

Here are a few more examples of things I have recommended that people do in the past.

Make Something Useful or Interesting

I Strongly recommend writing a blog post on the topic/field that you are interested in. Easy topics to start with are taking something you learned in class or online and writing it in your own words. You can also look at a case study/stock pitch on something that you’re interested in.

For example, here is a blog post I wrote when I learned about machine learning and here is a blog post from when I still thought I wanted to go into private equity (I still do, but not right now). Remember you’re not sending it to your university professor who is contractually obligated to read your 7,000 word essay. If it’s not well written, entertaining, or informative, it won’t get read (yours truly is still working on getting 2/3).

I recommend sites like Medium and Atila Blogs as an easy way to get started and share your blogs with the people you want to read it.

Don’t know what to write about? See this slide for more details

Now, for all you engineers and technical people: you probably already know the importance of having a Github account. But people may not have the time and cognitive load to read your source code. You should take the extra step of writing a short blog post explaining wat you built and how you built it. At the very least, you should have a well written README.md explaining how someone should read your code: see this slide for more information.

If you don’t enjoy writing, or you are a more visual communicator, you can also pretend that you are going to give a presentation on a topic you’re interested in and turn it into a slide deck. I personally really like Google Slides, but Slideshare seems to be really popular as well.

And lastly, if you are doing anything in the creative (fashion, music, arts) or lifestyle (fitness, cooking, travel) field, I recommend you get either a YouTube or Instagram account and put your portfolio there. I usually recommend starting with Instagram, because it’s less intimidating to put a 30 second clip or a few photos on Instagram than creating a YouTube channel.

Tell People About It

Now that you’ve built something interesting or useful, you want to tell people about it.

I think everyone should have a website where you can post all your content and give people links to see it. People often feel daunted by the idea of a website. Things like like WordPress (what I use) or Squarespace make it really easy. Blogging platforms like Medium are another easy way to start.

If starting a dedicated website seems like overkill, setting up a Medium or Atila page is probably a good idea.

The mistake most people make about posting things on the internet is that they think the goal is to get traffic or “go viral.” The goal when you first start is to actually just create content specifically for the targeted people you are trying to impress and think of what brings them the most value.

Another benefit of posting on the internet is serendipity. If you write something interesting, people are likely to randomly come across it and share it with friends. Then the magic of the internet does the rest.

Another challenge I had was that I don’t have an extensive network, so it was tricky getting access to people who could provide me with an opportunity. We have the internet now, so you can just follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of all the companies you are interested in applying for and use LinkedIn to find people who are in your 1st-2nd connections that work at these companies.
  2. Put their names, titles, companies, and emails into a spreadsheet

Draft a brief email that’s personalized to each person. Keep in mind and provide the following things (and check out the sample email at the end of this article):

  1. Who you are and what you want from them (within the first two sentences). It should be brief, direct, and polite. The question of how direct to be is very situational, and if you are unsure, write an email draft and show various people who you think have good judgement and get their opinion
  2. I used to be vague, but I realized that people are busy and they generally don’t want you to ask for a 15 minute “coffee chat” if what you really just want is an interview or a referral.
  3. Include their name in the subject header
  4. Share what you have done and why you deserve this opportunity.
  5. Attach your resume and a link to your LinkedIn, website, blog, and so on.
  6. Send the emails at about 6am in the recipient’s local time so they see it when they are going through their morning mail. There are many Gmail extensions for this. You are using Gmail, right?
  7. You can send me any sample emails or content you have and I’d be happy to edit them for you.
  8. Most people will not reply and some will only reply if you follow up with them. I recommend that every three days you send a follow up email, up to a maximum of 2–3 follow up emails (use those Gmail extensions to make it easier). The attached email also includes some sample follow ups to get you started.

Many of you probably already use LinkedIn for networking but I think Twitter is lowkey another very underrated way of networking. I actually got an interview at Coinbase by sliding in the dms on Twitter. Note that networking on Twitter if very different from LinkedIn. See this slide for more details. My twitter: @tomiwa1a

Reasons Why You Might Not Follow This Advice

I have given this advice enough times and I have been ignored enough times to know why people won’t try the things I suggest in this article. Here are a few of them:

I’m too busy

This is the most common response I get, and personally the most frustrating. There is no such thing as being too busy, only priorities. So you don’t think allocating time to do this is a priority for you. You see the immediate benefit of getting good grades. But you don’t see the immediate benefit of learning something that you’re not getting a grade or getting paid for, and you don’t see the benefit of sharing something online.

In my opinion, this is a big mistake. In the long term, personal development and developing your network will be the best investment you can make in yourself.

Posting on the Internet is bad. What if a potential employer doesn’t like what I post?

A lot of us have been scared by anecdotal stories of someone doing something dumb on social media and the backlash they faced. The reality is that for every one horror story, there are 10 times more stories of people posting something useful on the internet that opens more opportunities for them. We just don’t talk about them as much.

Only post something positive that you think will be interesting or helpful for someone and that you are willing to stand behind. There will be a small subset of the population that will always be upset regardless. Consider that their disapproval may be a blessing in disguise, because why would you even want to work with such a person? The vast majority of people who read what you post will find it useful, and you will have built up goodwill amongst that group of people. This will be a net positive for you.

I put skin in the game and only recommended advice that I have taken myself. Let me tell you my story.

Case Study: Tomiwa’s Story

After my 3rd year of university, I had previously worked in IT support and as a janitor for my last two summer “internships.” I really wanted to get an internship more related to software engineering, so I set my sights on Google, Facebook, and the rest.

All I needed was one chance to prove that I was a capable engineer that gets things done, but how could I prove I deserved that chance? I didn’t go to an Ivy league school, my “network” wasn’t that strong, I did side projects instead of extracurriculars, and my grades were just okay.

So I knew I couldn’t rely on the same strategies everyone else was using — I had to get creative.

I took a tutorial on machine learning (and I really recommend that site for anyone looking to learn python). If you’re looking to learn coding, I also really recommend learning Python and JavaScript, but that’s another blog post. Most people who take the initiative to learn things online stop there. You started well by learning something by yourself, so you need to finish well by sharing what you learned with others.

I decided to take what I learned and gave a tech talk about it at my work. Then I created a pretty cool machine learning algorithm that outperformed the sp500 over a 7-year period and wrote about how I did it.

Finally, I did what everyone these days does when they do something noteworthy: I went on social media and told people about it. I used every single channel available to me and posted it there. I also compiled a list of recruiters and engineers in the companies I was looking for and emailed them about what I built (all like I outlined above — as I said, I only give advice that I have taken myself. Skin in the game, my friends).

Long story short, by the end of the fall I had interviewed with companies like Facebook, Google, and Bridgewater, amongst others.

Unfortunately, I only made it to the second round of both Facebook and Google, and there were visa issues with Bridgewater. I was disappointed, but overall I was happy that I at least got a chance and made it this far, considering where I started.

I also consider it a blessing in disguise, because that nudged me even more to start my own company, Atila.ca. Like I said, looking at my resume or LinkedIn, there is nothing particularly special about me. So say to yourselves “if Tomiwa can do it, so can I” and let’s get to work.

If you know anyone trying to get a job interview or just get noticed for an opportunity, share this article with them. I think there is some advice here that can really help. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email [email protected].

Here’s that Sample Email and follow-ups

You can use these emails as a starting template, and feel free to leave a comment below or email me, [email protected], if you want me to review your resume, emails or any thing you’ve made.

Email Subject: Sally, Software Engineering and Business Student — Feb 9 *

Hey Sally**,

My name is Tomiwa Ademidun, I am currently a 3rd-year dual degree student in Software Engineering and Business at the Ivey Business School at Western University. I noticed that you work at Stripe, which is a company I really admire and I would really like to work for.

I would like to find out more about how you were able to become a Software Engineer at Stripe, your experience at Stripe and any advice you may have on software engineering internship opportunities.

More specifically, I know that one of the best ways of getting an interview is through the referral process. Obviously, your credibility and reputation are very important and you want to make sure that you refer someone who actually deserves to be referred.

I have included links to an article about a cool coding project I did this summer, my website and my GitHub. Hopefully, after reviewing my work and talking with me you can decide if I am deserving of a referral.

Kind Regards,

Tomiwa Ademidun

* I Probably could have come up with a better email subject tbh. Let me know if you guys have any tips for good email subjects.

**Obligatory, not their real name.

Follow Up 1

Hey I was following up on my last message to see if you have had a chance to respond.

Follow Up 2

Hey Sally,

Just following up on my last message. Looking forward to hearing back from you when convenient.

Sally ended up not replying at all, but that’s okay because Steve** replied. Most people are like Sally — but don’t give up because all you need is one Steve and then its showtime.

Originally published at atila.ca/blog/tomiwa on April 6, 2018.