Ask Annie

So you want to work at Google

April 7, 2011: 10:05 AM ET

Contrary to myth, new college grads don't need a 3.7-or-higher GPA to get hired at Google, says a new book. What they do need: Passion for technology and a track record of stellar achievement.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I will be graduating from an Ivy League college in a couple of months and I'd really like to go to work for Google. The only problem is, I've heard that the company won't even interview anyone whose grade point

Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

average is below 3.7, and mine is barely 3.0.

That's mostly because I've spent a lot of time working at a tech startup in Boston instead of studying, just because it interests me more. For the past year or so, I've also put several hours a week into pro bono work for a local nonprofit, setting up a fundraising database, streamlining their bookkeeping, and developing their social media presence. I think these things are fine additions to my resume, but will my so-so GPA disqualify me? — Busy Off-Campus

Dear BOC: Your timing is terrific, since Google (GOOG) announced in January that it is embarking on a hiring spree this year. Alan Eustace, vice president for engineering and research, revealed in a blog post that Google expects to surpass its 2007 record for new hires. That year, the company added more than 6,000 people to its payroll.

The reason: Enormous growth in Google's Android mobile operating system, Google Apps platform, and Chrome browser, as well as other early-stage projects like Google Voice, robot cars, and an all-Web PC operating system. "We'll hire as many smart, creative people as we can to tackle some of the toughest challenges in computer science," Eustace wrote.

To boost your chances of being one of the people Google brings aboard, you might want to take a look at a new book, The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Any Top Tech Company. Author Gayle Laakmaan McDowell, a Wharton MBA, is founder and CEO of CareerCup.com, a job site for tech professionals.

Before launching that business, McDowell interned at Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL). Then she worked in Google's engineering division for three years, where she served on the hiring committee, interviewed more than 120 job candidates, and pored over piles of resumes.

The experience gave her a clear understanding of which resumes get noticed and which ones land in the circular file. As the title suggests, the book includes samples of each, along with detailed notes on what kinds of experiences to include in your resume and how to present it.

You'll be heartened to hear that a 3.0 GPA doesn't necessarily wreck your prospects at Google. McDowell acknowledges that the 3.7-or-higher-GPA myth is widespread, but she discounts it. "When I joined Google, my team of eight people included three who didn't have college degrees at all," recalls McDowell. "And our next college hire had a GPA that wasn't so hot."

She adds: "Academia is merely one way to distinguish yourself, and there are plenty of others. So if your GPA, or your school, doesn't stand out, look for additional avenues. Besides, you'll need to excel in multiple areas to get your resume selected."

Your question suggests you've already got "multiple areas" going for you, so consider a few of the other things McDowell says Google looks for:

Passion for technology. Do you read tech news sources, and can you talk about the latest developments and trends? Do you enjoy thinking up new ways of applying or improving technology? Be ready to tell an interviewer about it.

Passion for the company. At any top tech enterprise, McDowell says, hiring managers want to see that you're familiar with the company's products -- and if you have suggestions for how they could be improved, so much the better.

Creativity. "If you're asked to design something from scratch, can you brainstorm lots of features you'd want?" McDowell asks. "When you're asked to solve a problem, do you push back on assumptions or constraints?" An example or two from your current or past activities would serve you well in an interview.

Initiative. This "might be something as nontraditional as putting on a photography show," says McDowell -- or starting a blog, launching a business, or pitching in at a nonprofit. "How have you gone above and beyond?" she asks. "What have you done outside of work"  -- or in your case, outside of school? Emphasize accomplishments that nobody required of you but that you took on out of sheer enthusiasm.

Of course, tech companies value these traits in all job candidates, not just new college grads.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Can you communicate how you can help the company? Passion, creativity, initiative, and a 'getting things done' attitude are all signals of that," McDowell says.

So don't let your 3.0 GPA stop you from applying -- and good luck!

Talkback: If you've gotten a job at a tech company lately, what do you think contributed most to your being hired? If you're a manager who hires IT people, what's the most important thing you look for? Leave a comment below.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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