I advise all my clients that you can make a career change — but you can’t change everything all at once. Together, work through interim steps, building the experience, skills, clout and relationships and that will ultimately put their career on the path to that dream role.
My client, Vijay Padmanabhan, is a great example. Our work together focused on making his extensive experience in government and academia relevant to private sector employers. After just six months of actively searching for jobs, Vijay broke into the tech sector by landing a role as Policy Advisor at Google.
I recently had the pleasure of touring Google’s headquarters in San Francisco with him and sitting down to discuss how Google hires, how’s he’s settled into this role, and what his next moves might be. Here’s what he had to say:
Shannon Houde: Tell me a little bit about what you are doing now.
Vijay Padmanabhan: I am working on the Trust & Safety team, which is a global team with about 600-700 employees. Within that, I am in the small policy group, I think the whole team is 25 people. It’s a very interesting position because our organization is dedicated to respecting and protecting the user.
We write the rules to protect users and our loyalty is ultimately to them. The team is very diverse in terms of backgrounds and skill sets. You need a lot of different skills because job is not just about writing rules but also implementing them so having a lot of different mindsets is crucial. People come from everywhere – engineering, public policy, academia, you name it.
Landing the dream job
Houde: What do you think was the key to your success from our coaching program?
Padmanabhan: We identified what I’m really good at doing, what I like doing, and then looked at finding a role where I could actually do those things. For example, I didn’t know terms like “stakeholder engagement.”
I wasn’t thinking about myself in terms of skills. It’s all about identifying what you like to do at work and finding the right language to present that as relevant for your audience. That’s the key. Ask yourself, what are the skills you really want to develop? In my role now, I get to do what I love and what I am good at but I am also always looking to continue growing and developing new skills and relationships.
Houde: How long did it take you to make your transition?
Padmanabhan: I think we worked together for 6 months before I got this job, which is pretty fast, considering I didn’t really put myself out there until about 3 months in when we had been prepping for a while.
Houde: How did you find the job?
Padmanabhan: I basically followed your advice religiously that you should not just send in blind applications. Rather, find someone in the company you can talk to first. When I was looking for jobs and I found something I was interested in, I would first scour LinkedIn and find someone, or someone who knew someone, who would talk to me or introduce me personally to someone who I could talk to live. I did this outreach mostly through email.
Google posts all of its jobs publically so I found it online, but then I was also able to find someone in the company who put my application forward personally. We were connected on LinkedIn and I reached out to him. You can find the listing, but you are going to have a much better chance if a Googler puts you forward. It’s like you said, you increase your chances by 70 percent across the board if you can find an internal contact at the organization.
Houde: That’s right. Things are so competitive now that you do have to do everything you can to get that extra leg up. Use your first and second connections on LinkedIn to get in front of a real person. I am still a stickler for phone calls, too, if you can get a phone number.
Just yesterday I had a client, a Yale graduate, who was applying to Clif Bar. She got on LinkedIn, had a second connection to the hiring manager, who also went to Yale. She used Rapportive, a Chrome extension, to guess her email address. And we then crafted a very short three-line message directly to the hiring manager. She is interviewing there this week so stay tuned.
In terms of your own skills, what do you feel you are using the most?
Padmanabhan: The role is very heavy on stakeholder engagement– internal more than external. To succeed you have to build and develop the right relationships with different internal organizations, for example, with the Product team.
So I reach out and meet with different members of that organization, explain what my policy team does, learn what their priorities are, and then do issue spotting on areas where my team can help users that also affect product decisions.
Houde: What is the key to issue spotting?
Padmanabhan: It’s really about figuring out what the other person is trying to achieve, what their goals are and then try to convince them why what you are doing is helpful to them. A lot of the time I’m developing the process for issue spotting, it’s a very entrepreneurial role.
If you are the type of person that just wants to be given a project, that is not really what this work is about. To be successful on this team, it’s more about, ‘let me go out and find a project or make a project’.
Houde: What surprised you about moving into tech?
Padmanabhan: Mainly, the diversity of backgrounds of people in here. Almost no one on my team comes from tech. Most of the profiles are of people that have done a lot of different things.
Houde: So then what do you think is the common factor for hiring to this team?
Padmanabhan: Google is looking for people who have the skills to succeed in this particular environment – problem solving, stakeholder engagement, communications. It’s hard to find the whole package of people who are effective and aggressive at delivering on these.
Houde: That’s interesting because I see a lot of people selling themselves to have these skills, so I am wondering what’s the next layer at Google to really find the right people. Do you think this is one reason the interviews are hypothetical as opposed to competency-based?
Padmanabhan: Yes, they are looking to see how you think. You have to be entrepreneurial no matter what your job function. This environment can be a very critical environment since it’s driven by engineering and testing. You have to find a way to frame your contribution in a way that engineers appreciate.
This is the common language. If you come from a different background, the way decisions are made may seem alien to you. Here, things are very data driven, critical by nature, and you have to prove your worth and your value add constantly.
This article was originally published on GreenBiz