How to project "Googleyness" in the Google TPM Interview

From YouTube to Maps to worldwide search to Ads to Android, some of today's most used technologies are driven by the successful product managers at Google. Technical Program Managers (TPM) helps Google in executing path-breaking ideas from inception to launch.

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You'll find Google in virtually all the "best places to work" lists, and that too near the (if not at the) top. A report published in 2018 by LinkedIn found Google was the best at attracting and retaining more than 70,000 employees, with benefits like free food, massages, and even after-death benefits.

The greater the benefits, the more difficult it gets to achieve them. Over the years, Google has continuously rethought and reiterated its grueling interview process. In 2013, the company admitted that posing impossible brainteasers to job candidates had been "a complete waste of time." But one thing that has stuck throughout, albeit with minor revisions, is the quality of "Googleyness" - a term with different definitions over the years. In general, it is referred to as a set of qualities and traits that, if you possess, will make it easier for you to crack the interview. 

In 2017, Google made a small but rather significant update to its official definition of Googleyness. The purpose of this was to "avoid confusing Googleyness with culture fit, which can leave room for bias."

What exactly is Googleyness?

In his 2015 book "Work Rules," Google's former Head of People Operations Laszlo Block defined "Googleyness" as:

"Attributes like enjoying the fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life."

While that definition has changed, and there's no strict definition to go by, Googleyness reflects your personality and encompasses several elements. How easily do you gel with people different from you? Is it easy to sit around you, relax, do some good work, and enjoy your company? Are you someone who lifts the room's spirit and energies with your ideas, suggestions, laughter, or just icebreakers? That's all what "Googleyness," vaguely, encompasses. 

Projecting "Googleyness" in the Google TPM Interview

From YouTube to Maps to worldwide search to Ads to Android, some of today's most used technologies are driven by the successful product managers at Google. Technical Program Managers (TPM) helps Google in executing path-breaking ideas from inception to launch. The role of a Technical Program Manager at Google is to help drive company strategies, align teams, collaborate with cross-functional stakeholders, and deliver on multiple complex projects.

This is a valuable role, and utilizing both your left and the right brain. As in, the job allows you to be both technical and creative, in parts. Every day brings new, fascinating challenges, and the way to solve them is totally up to you as a TPM. However, since there's "technical" in the name itself, the role of technical nature, and so the interview is also reasonably technical. It's recommended you brush up on all the essential technical concepts required for your job description. 

Google news is a trait that can be learned how to project or attain - we'll talk about it soon - but technical know-how is something you'll have to be on top of before everything else. Know the concepts of data structures, algorithms, system design knowledge, databases, and anything needed for your job description.

With that settled, and with the assumption that your technical portion is covered, let's talk about some ways you can follow to project "Googleyness" in the Google TPM interview. Here's another comprehensive guide on how to become a technical program manager.

Do the right thing

During your interview, give examples from your previous experience of managing programs where you've managed to make the right call and do the correct thing in situations of conflict or confusion. Talk about how you’ve resolved disputes, what your measures were for determining right from wrong, and how you ensured everybody was on-board with your solution. As a TPM, you'll be working with various multi-functional teams, which means you'll be tackling different perspectives and approaches. By projecting that you're always striving to do the right thing, you'll automatically be a good fit for the TPM role. 

Be inquisitive

When faced with a question you don't know the answer to, do the right thing, be honest, and admit to it.. However, don't concede defeat. Explain your thinking process to your interviewer; talk about how close to the answer you've arrived or what approach you have taken. That will open avenues for discussion and show your inquisitive nature to the interviewers. And ask questions! Show that you can ask relevant questions and diagnose your way towards an answer. Inquisitiveness is an important trait when it comes to "googleyness." 

Be goal-oriented.

As a TPM, you'll be managing the vision and goals of the company. Your responsibilities will be to tackle the technical aspects of taking a product from inception to launch, and beyond. Without being goal-oriented, you’ll find it really hard to pull this job off. Your answers, throughout the interview, should reflect this goal-oriented attitude of yours.

Whether you're talking about your past work experiences or future aspirations from the roles you'd like to pick - always remember to make things goal-oriented. So, instead of saying, "In future, I want to expand to [x] and [y] verticals," say, "I see myself expanding to [x] and [y] verticals by [z%] in the next two years." By putting a number there to specify a goal, you're solidifying the impression that you indeed look at things from a goal-oriented perspective and always strive to achieve those goals. 

Be proactive. Go the extra mile.

"Googleyness" requires proactiveness. Here too, give examples of your past experiences. Where you went the extra mile to solve the problem at hand, how you managed to coordinate between cross-functional teams by putting in extra efforts and being proactive in your approach.

To strengthen the fact that you're proactive, try to look for some gaps that you can fill as a TPM for Google. Or even if you can't fill the gaps, try pointing out the opportunities - this will show a degree of proactiveness on your part, where you've gone the extra mile to look into the role you're applying for and have already done your research. 

Be humble, approachable and respectful of others.

Humbleness is a highly valued trait, especially if you're responsible for working with complex teams. Make sure to be humble throughout the interview, and always give answers in a way that invites discussion. Since as a TPM, you'll be responsible for solving queries of people you're managing, you must be approachable, and Google values this immensely.

Don't ever be haughty during the interview or give vibes of unapproachability. You want to be friendly, understanding, and respectful of the people you're working with. 

Value users and colleagues; empathy is key.

During the interview, don’t ever look down upon your ex-colleagues or your previous companies. There are always different perspectives involved in a story, and even though your view might be valid, if it looks down upon people, you should reconsider. With Google, empathy is the key. You want to understand different perspectives, ideas, and values and then make decisions, not be irrational and disrespectful. 

Google caters to possibly the largest audience in the world today. They can't do without empathy, and neither do they want to hire people who lack empathy - empathy goes on to add a lot of weight to the "Googleyness" factor. 

Be honest, fair, and transparent.

It might be the first time you're interviewing for the TPM role at Google. But the odds are, people who're interviewing you have seen many yous and will see many more yous. The point being - you don't want to appear fake or dishonest in any way whatsoever. It's better to accept your fault or shortcoming than try to lie your way through it. 

If you're dishonest with the interviewers, they'll catch it before you know, and it'll set a negative tone for the rest of the interview - and they'll be highly critical of all your answers after that. Be transparent, say what you feel is true, back it up with logic and reasons, and always be open to changing, having discussions that could potentially change your thoughts. 

Have a sense of humour.

Whatever the market cap, its success, the revolutionary products it has given the world, Google is still a young company full of lively people who are as creative as they come. From technical people to designers to marketers - everybody working for Google is best in business; they're always thinking out of the box, questioning things, and taking it easy all the while. That's the valid key to success, too - taking it easy!

So having a sense of humor will go a long way towards positively impacting your TPM interview at Google. Don't be afraid to crack a joke or some clever wordplay during the interview if something comes to your mind. But make sure to read the room and the atmosphere, and again - don't crack jokes that could come across wrongly. The idea is to be funny, not offensive. 

Preparing for the interview

As we mentioned earlier, since this is a fairly technical job role, the technological know-how is of utmost importance. And since we're not talking about that in this article, we'll not cover how to prepare for the interview's technical aspects.

However, in terms of preparing for the "Googleyness" element, one thing you must do that most candidates often fail to, is in-depth research about Google as a company, its workplace, the job role, and the people at Google. Before you invest hours preparing for the interview, you must take some time out and ensure you know the company and its atmosphere.

Google is one of the most prestigious companies to work for in the whole world, and therefore it can be tempting for you to apply quickly. However, giving things time, and knowing more about the company and the role, can only go on to add to your confidence during the interview. 

If you know TPMs who work (or worked) at Google, it's a good idea to talk to them to test the waters before you dive in. In addition to that, here’s a couple of reliable resources which you can also look at - they give a good understanding of Google’s culture, and how you can incorporate that into your preparation: 

Google strategy teardown (by CBS Insights)

In conclusion

Cracking the TPM interview at Google is by no means an easy feat. However, it's not impossible either. The key is to be true to yourself, your goals, and your skills, and take things easy.

As far as the "Googleyness" factor goes, if you follow the tips mentioned above, you'll be a lot closer to gaining good "Googleyness" points during the interview. It's all on you and how you take things forward.

Remember - seem approachable, be humble, tell the truth, and crack a few jokes. That should be helpful!

If we've missed something, let us know in the comments below!