Gayle Laakmann McDowell worked at three of today’s biggest tech companies, Apple, Google and Microsoft.
She wrote a book, The Google Resume, about how to land a job at the companies and what makes candidates stand out.
Some of the rumoured tricks, like having a perfect GPA, are mostly hot air, says McDowell. Others, like attending an elite university, do determine how attractive candidates are to Google and Apple.
Here are some common missteps people make when applying to the tech giants, particularly when they’re young and just starting out.
These could be the difference between an interview and a non response.
To purchase a copy of The Google Resume, head over to Amazon.
Yes, where you went to school does matter to the tech giants. Of course there are exceptions, but McDowell says an Ivy League or other top university will get you noticed.
If you went to a lesser-known college, she suggests searching the alumni database, networking, or asking professors for help finding another way in.
Most students who want to graduate with jobs know they need to get a relevant internship while they're in school.
But freshman year? McDowell says that's the time to start.
'Your path to getting your dream internship junior year starts freshman year, or even before,' says McDowell.
'Some students lift boxes at the university mail room during the year and bus tables during the summer; others go do something a little more...'interesting.' I don't think I need to tell you which role will help you more.'
McDowell's first job was doing web development the summer before she started college. She encourages Google hopefuls to find similar work experience, whether it's working for a relevant professor or calling a startup interning for free.
Sure, it sounded fun to be an art history major when you were in college. But don't pick a major like that if you want to work for Google or Apple, says McDowell.
'This is where I'm supposed to say, 'It doesn't matter what you major in, as long as you find something you love!' But I'm an honest person and I have to tell you: It does matter.'
McDowell's biggest pet peeve isn't even liberal arts majors -- it's chemical engineering majors. 'Until Google starts its own chemistry lab (and I'm not holding my breath), a chemical engineering degree alone probably won't be your ticket into the company,' she writes.
She encourages students to pick majors that are directly relevant to Google or Apple. Finance, accounting, marketing or computer science majors have the best shot of being noticed by a tech recruiter. At the very least, minor in one of those fields.
Volunteering can be a great way to buff up your resume. That said, McDowell warns: 'don't serve soup in a soup kitchen.'
By that she means you should spend your time in a more techie or startup-relevant role within a charity. 'No employer will look at your resume and say, 'So, just how many ladles of soup did you say you could do per hour? We've needed a Senior Soup Ladler around here for a while.''
Instead she suggests hunting for a sales or marketing position, or offering to help a charity with its website and design.
Writing and communications skills aren't just necessary for media jobs. They're important in any career you'll have.
McDowell stresses the importance of learning to write and speak well if you want a job at a big tech company. You have to express yourself in a way that is clear, clean and professional.
If you b-lined it out of class and never stuck around to hang out with your teachers, McDowell says that was a mistake.
She says she routinely grabbed coffee with one of her professors and eventually he 'went to bat for her' and wrote multiple letters of recommendation for job applications. They were strong enough to help her get jobs at Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Wharton.
Professors aren't just impressed by how you do in their classes. McDowell suggests helping them with research projects, asking for help and attending office hours, or becoming a teaching assistant.
If you want to work at one of the top tech companies, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of multiple positions in the organisation. McDowell calls this being a Generalist.
'The best program managers, the best marketers, and the best developers have something in common: They each understand the others' roles,' she writes. 'Start from your role and work outward.'
'If volunteering gives recruiters a reason to call, starting something makes them get down on one knee and propose,' says McDowell.
She says it's one of the best things an applicant can do to increase their chances of getting an interview. That said, if you start something you should see it through. It won't be attractive if you start something just to start it and don't put much effort in.
If you're not up for starting a full-fledged business, it's also attractive to keep a blog or organise a new club.
Most people think tech companies, Google in particular, harp over candidates' GPAs.
McDowell says there is little truth to that rumour.
'The top companies look for the top candidates -- people with a track record of success. Your GPA is one point on that graph, but there are other points, too, and you can recover from any low point,' she writes.