COMMENT: What it’s like to interview at Google, Amazon and Twitter as a non-engineer

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Google interview

I recently graduated with high marks from a consensus top-five MBA program in the U.S. One of the best aspects of attending a “target” business school is that prestigious companies from a number of industries come to interview you on your own campus. Unless your resume is a mess, you are basically guaranteed a chance to sit down with at least a few companies on your short list. First the banks and consulting firms came through, and then the big-name tech companies had their opportunity later in the semester. Eyeing a corporate strategy position outside of finance and consulting, I interviewed with Google, Amazon and Twitter. While they may be unique to me, these were my experiences.

What are you asked as a non-engineer at Google interviews?

As I sat down to look at what jobs Google had available, I was awestruck by the sheer number of open positions. As a non-engineer, I found it rather difficult to nail down one or two specific jobs that would be a fit. Product and project manager jobs all sounded similar; I felt like I needed to pick a vertical or business line and hope it was the right one for me.

On the day of the interview, I sat down with two Google PMs. The very beginning was somewhat boilerplate: why do you want to work here, what makes you a good fit for the culture etc. And then all of a sudden, they started hitting me with crazy questions, almost as if they tried to lull me into a sense of security and then surprise me. The first non-standard question I was asked was what my evacuation strategy would be if I was the mayor of San Francisco and a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the city. It felt like a total 180-degree turn from where the interview was going, but I was prepped not to freak out at strange hypothetical questions and to stay composed. The manner in which you respond to the question and explain your rationale was more important than the actual answer, I was told.

While I felt like I handled myself well after finishing my response, my sense of optimism waned considerably as the interview went on. The two interviewers would simply not let up. They just kept on asking follow-up questions about my earthquake answer. I had to defend arguments that, quite honestly, I made up on the fly and couldn’t have prepared for.

By the end, I left with the sinking feeling that they didn’t like my response. In short, it’s easier to tell someone the process matters more than the answer with brain teasers and hypotheticals when you aren't the one who has to constantly defend it. I found Google’s interview to be exactly that: a defensive challenge. I didn’t prepare myself well enough to handle the barrage of follow-up questions.

What are you asked as a non-engineer at Amazon interviews?

Describing my interview for a strategy role with Amazon is somewhat difficult. I remember the vibe I felt walking away more than I do any specific questions. To me, the three people who I interviewed with gave off the impression that Amazon can be a bit cultish. Again, it's just one isolated experience, but that's what I felt. They referred to CEO Jeff Bezos as “Jefferey.” There was an air and an attitude about them that made me feel as if they were talking down to me.

As with Google, questions were asked and re-asked again and again. But they didn’t feel like follow-ups as much as statements: "we didn’t like your last answer." Every question skewed toward the negative, like “how could you handle this role considering you have no work experience in finance?” By the end of the two hours, I was so annoyed that I felt like I was almost subtly fighting with them. I don’t know if they were just testing me, but by the end, I really didn’t care.

What are you asked as a non-engineer at Twitter interviews?

My final interview was with Twitter, which felt like a breadth of fresh air. It was more conversational. I only met with one person, and he was the hiring manager for a specific role. The questions weren’t too tricky; they were more about getting to know you. He explained what he did and then allowed me to hit on some of my preparation and creativity. I wasn't pigeonholed with a specific hypothetical but was rather asked to pitch an idea that would help Twitter increase engagement. A natural conversation ensued.

Unsurprisingly, the only second interview request I received was from Twitter. But I turned it down to go work for a startup. I went to business school because I wanted to work in corporate strategy at an innovative company. Looking back, I think my biggest mistake was equating tech companies and Silicon Valley with entrepreneurism. They are plenty innovative, but to me they gave off more of a corporate vibe than I was prepared for.

Alex Dotson is a pseudonym

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