Breaking Into Big Tech Careers

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 1am

It’s a good time to be a recruiter at a big tech company. Instead of sifting sand to find a diamond, they’re sorting diamonds to find particularly lustrous diamonds.That also means it’s a tough time to be an applicant to a big tech company. It can feel like having an MBA from a Top 10 school is table stakes and if you haven’t created a machine learning algorithm that’s working on ending world hunger, you’re out.

Fear not. I polled my friends who career switched into big tech companies by taking detours through MBA programs and found three common themes we emphasized while applying.

One note: this article is only intended to apply to non-engineering roles.

Emphasize Your Data Skills

If you take only one piece of advice from this article, let it be this: when in doubt, talk about data.

Everyone knows tech companies devour data at staggering scales and convert it into better products. But here’s something fewer people know: they often have more data than they know how to use, and aren’t even measuring things that might help their businesses.

These companies know they need people who tell compelling stories based on properly measured and analyzed data. Position yourself as one of those people by preparing stories about novel ways you’ve used data to advance a business.

Researching Companies Will Help You Answer Tech Job Interview Questions

Telling companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook you love their products is like telling the super-popular high school cheerleader she’s pretty: they’re happy to hear it, but they’ve heard it before.

The key is to demonstrate deep knowledge of the tech industry and the particular company to which you’re applying.

But don’t stop there. Also demonstrate passion for how these companies make money.

Let’s take a specific example. If Facebook asks, “What is a recent event that affects our core business?” answers like, “Google+ is gaining traction” or “your stock performance has investors rattled” are both weak answers, because they’re common knowledge. Better answers would touch on the challenges of retargeting mobile ads across devices, or the rise of ambient apps that potentially preempt advertising needs.

In later stages of the process, learn about the specific group to which you’re applying. These companies might make cool products, but if they need experienced sales leaders, pitching your whizzbang product idea won’t get you a job. Tech companies are ultimately like any other company: they want to believe each new hire will add value in relevant ways.

The Airport Lounge Test

My friend who transitioned from consulting sales to Google put it this way: “If you were stuck in an airport lounge for 5 hours when a flight is delayed, would you enjoy being with this person?” The goal when applying to tech companies is to come off as interesting, smart, and friendly.

Don’t confuse this with needing to be a gladhander who swirls an Old Fashioned and chattering about geotargeted ads. The trick is to have the social awareness to read the interviewer so the interview feels conversational and friendly, but still professional and important.

How to Prepare for a Tech Job Interview

This is the easy part. Read TechMeme, TechCrunch, and The Verge for news and commentary, lurk around Reddit’s technology area to see what users care about, learn about the business side through topic-focused sites like Search Engine Land and Mashable, add company blogs to your RSS reader, and do a smattering of informationals, and you’ll opine like Michael Arrington in no time.

And, of course, don’t forget all the interviewing fundamentals MBA programs teach. Tech companies might have quirky public personalities, but the people who run them expect you to be prepared and polished... and friendly.

About Juston Payne

Juston Payne works on Google’s Play Store. He worked at foursquare while getting an MBA from NYU Stern. He writes about social media and technology at and Tweets from @justonpayne.

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