X by Y by Z

How to get a job at Google. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

With 100,000 employees worldwide already, Google still gets another 2 million more applications each year.

Given the crazy volume (20X!), it makes sense that Google proactively tells applicants how to improve their odds. Among its tools are a series of YouTube videos (linked at the bottom) detailing best practices for resumes.

As we approach Labor Day, perhaps you’re looking for a job. Or maybe you’re on the other side, looking for employees. (Lots of that going on right now.) And since I’m a big fan of letting larger companies do the work and mooching off them whenever possible, let’s look at what Google advises.

I’ve organized this into three sections below: basic advice, the XYZ formula, and a final piece of advice that’s from me—not Google—but that I’d love your feedback on.

Even if you don’t want to work at Google, or if you don’t have literally millions of people applying to work for you, I think there is some good stuff here.

Section 1: Basic stuff

More than half of the advice Google gives is on things like formatting your resume. I assume that if they spend this much time on “best practices,” they must see a lot of “not-so-best practices.”

So let’s fly through it, and then get to what I find to be the more interesting part in section 2.

  • Resumes should only be formatted as PDFs.

  • No “objective” section if you’re applying for a specific job, as you should create a custom resume for every position.

  • Black text only, clean fonts and sizes, consistent formatting. 

  • Check for typos. Then check again. Then ask someone else to check.

  • Use bullet points. No big blocks of text. (Meta, since you're reading this in a bullet point.) 

  • One page only. (Possible exception: If you’re applying for a technical or engineering position and have a long list of relevant projects to reference.)

  • Experience first, education at the bottom—unless you’re a recent graduate.

  • Skip the years of graduation on your education section if it was more than 10 or so years ago. Age discrimination is real, and fear of being accused of illegal age discrimination is also real.

Section 2: “X by Y by Z”

I find this part more interesting, and after learning it, I’ve applied it to many other situations in which I’ve tried to articulate value.

The key point here originally comes from Laszlo Bock, a former Google senior vice president of personnel operations. In short, Google suggests articulating experience on a resume in a very specific way:

"Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]."

Just like that, over and over. Let's shorten it to “X-Y-Z” for our purposes, so I don’t have to keep rewriting that mouthful. It means that good resumes should be chock-full of accomplishments with quantitative results. Let’s use a few examples from the Google videos themselves.

Imagine an applicant for a technical position who wants to point out that he or she placed second in a hackathon.

  • OK: "Won 2nd place in hackathon."

  • Better: "Won 2nd place out of 50 teams in hackathon."

  • Best: "Won 2nd place out of 50 teams in hackathon at NJ Tech by working with two colleagues to develop an app that synchronizes mobile calendars.”

Here's another example, intended for a business applicant who wants to show how much he or she contributed in a client support role: 

  • OK: "Grew revenue for small and medium business clients."

  • Better: "Grew revenue for small and medium business clients by 10% QoQ"

  • Best: "Grew revenue for 15 small and medium business clients by 10% QoQ by mapping new software features as solutions to their business goals."

One point about jargon: Use shorthand like "QoQ" (for “quarter over quarter”) only if you're absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the resume reviewer will know exactly what you mean.

Section 3: The thing Bill likes

Obviously, this is all just for step one in the recruiting process: the resume and application. And I think you can reverse-engineer some of this if you’re doing the hiring instead of trying to get hired—even asking applicants to format their applications in the same way, if you think it would work.

All of that said, I’d like to add one more suggestion of my own design and request here.

It’s that while I don’t really love to seen a poorly written “objective” on a resume, I do really appreciate a “summary”—something that sums up the resume, adds a human touch, and even answers obvious questions that aren’t addressed elsewhere.

I’m reminded of a fantastic applicant I had for a remote position whose contact information and last job were located in Brazil. But I was pretty sure she was American. There had to be a story, right?

I interviewed her, half-hoping there would a fun explanation like, “Well, the good thing about Brazil is that there’s no extradition treaty…”

The explanation was more mundane (but nice). Still, I think I would have liked seeing something on the resume itself, like:

Effective digital marketing expert with experience taking brands from day one to viral hits. American expat living in Brazil for family reasons; have worked remotely with success for multiple US and Canadian clients.

What do you think? Summary or no summary? And what other good advice have I missed here? Let us know in the comments.

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Here are the links I promised, including two articles by Bock (here and here), and the two key YouTube videos, How to: Work at Google—Resume Tips and Create Your Resume for Google: Tips and Advice.


About last Friday: Ironically, in a newsletter about public mistakes, I made a mistake. I incorrectly formatted the main “Comment” button. Neither Kate nor I caught it, so many thanks to the readers who pointed out the problem. There’s no easy way to include a link here to another page’s comments, so let’s do this:

If you had a story to share about how you successfully managed after making a big public mistake, reply to this email and let me know. If we get enough good stories, I’ll include them in another newsletter.


7 other things worth your time

  • At least one person is dead and President Biden has declared a major state of emergency for the area after Hurricane Ida knocked out power to the entire city of New Orleans Sunday, hours after blasting ashore on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the US. (CNN, AP)

  • It feels as if the world is already moving onto the next story. But of all the poignant things I’ve read after 13 American service members were killed in Afghanistan in last week’s massacre, I think this memorial, published on Facebook by a Marine named Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who was a very close friend of one of those killed, Sgt. Nicole Gee, will stay with me longest.

    “My very best friend, my person, my sister forever. My other half. We were boots together, Corporals together, & then Sergeants together. Roommates for over 3 years now … Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.”

    (Gee posted this photo of herself on Instagram not long before she died. Caption: “I love my job🤘🏼.”)

A post shared by @nicole_gee__

Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. I’ve written about some of this before at Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.