Podcast: My Open Secrets to Career ‘Success’

The first article I published on LinkedIn, long before I started this website, garnered 2, 993 views. One of those viewers was a Liberian girl named Cyrene Williams.

Unbeknown to me, she was inspired and even went on to find me on Instagram. It wasn’t long before she told me about a podcast she had started, Talkay, aimed at steering conversations on social, cultural & political issues and driving the youth to action.

To my surprise, Cyrene asked me to feature on her podcast and delve deeper into some of my key career insights and hear about my personal career stories.             

In the podcast, linked below, we touch on the following topics:

  • What drives my ambition
  • Career failures I have encountered & how I deal with them
  • My job searching strategy
  • Achieving balance
  • What went wrong the first time I applied to Google
  • How I network without awkwardness

Have a listen and let us know what you think!

As usual, use the hashtag #moredetails if you have any further questions 🙂

Crafting Powerful Cover Letters

I vividly remember writing my first cover letter. I was perplexed, there was so much I felt I could say but I wasn’t sure what to prioritise or where to start. Naturally, I binged on “How to write a Cover Letter” articles as I searched for direction. I scraped together a one-page document and submitted it as a cover letter. Since then, I have written and edited more cover letters than I can count as a Career Development intern and a budding young professional.  

I have come to understand that writing a cover letter is essentially telling a story. More specifically, it’s about telling your professional story through which you carefully position yourself as the most ideal candidate for the role.

That still sounds a bit abstract so I’ve broken it down into three key questions. A powerful cover letter frames your story such that it answers these three key questions:

1.Why are you interested in this company?

Of all the companies in the world, why are you applying for this one? I know you don’t always have a deep attachment to the company you’re applying to and sometimes it’s just one of many on a list. Even if that is the case, it’s important to take time to understand what’s unique about this company (whether it be its mission, experience or culture) that attracts you to it and places it, even marginally, above other companies in its industry.

This section is particularly important if you’re applying to a big brand which likely gets thousands of applicants, many of whom solely want to be affiliated with the company and its brand. To stand out, you need to show an appreciation for the company that goes beyond its strong reputation and is rooted in the core identity of the company.

2. Why are you interested in this specific role?

At this stage, the reader understands why you are attracted to this company but why are you applying for this particular role? What do you perceive the key skills of this role to be? What potential impact do you envision making if given this role? This section is an opportunity to exhibit that you understand the expectations of the role and then take it one step further by painting a picture of how you, given the role, can go beyond the job description and positively impact the company.

3. Why should the company select you over all other applicants?

What skills have you acquired that uniquely position you to succeed in this role? What characteristics and soft skills do you possess that make you an invaluable addition to the company? In this section, it’s important to sway away from saying things such as “I am better than all other applicants because of xyz”. Rather, expand on experiences from your resume which show the reader that you are capable and inclined to succeed in this role. Try to avoid explaining small details of your past experiences and instead elaborate on the skills you learned and the results you achieved.

While answering these questions, the key aspects of a killer resume still apply. Namely, storytelling, brevity with a focus on impact and attention to detail. Cover letters should generally be one page and no typos or grammatical errors should be present.

The letter should flow and it should not seem like you were simply answering a list of questions. To take it one step further, I usually format my cover letters to align with the company’s branding (do this with caution as you do not want to come across as unprofessional).

Below, I have attached one of the cover letters which I used to apply to and secure one of my internships. I hope reading it helps you see how to apply to concepts detailed above.

Cover Letter Example

As usual, let me know if you have any further questions and use #moredetails if you’d like me to elaborate on something.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

FAQs: Getting a (Google) Internship

I was fortunate enough to intern with Google at their EMEA Headquarters in Dublin this past summer. I enjoyed it more than I imagined possible and would do it all again if I could. I have since gotten a lot of questions about applying to Google and ‘standing out’ amiss the piles of applications. 

The Google Internship is considered one of the most prestigious internships in the world and thus, they get thousands of applications each cycle resulting in a low acceptance rate. Below, I am going to detail my answers to some of the questions I get asked most often. Notably, a lot of the answers are applicable to many other internships/job applications. 

If you have an additional question, submit it via my website & I’ll share an answer! 

Q: Did you know someone at Google or apply via referral? 

No. I applied via the website (careers.google.com). 

Q: How do I stand out when applying for a job? 

This is the question I have been asked the most! The answer is relatively simple to understand but difficult to implement… 

Standing out essentially means catching the recruiters attention as one of the best candidates for the position. The best way to do that is to actually be one of the best candidates for the role. This can be achieved in 3 steps:

1. Understand the type of candidate they are searching for

This goes beyond simply understanding the qualifications or linguistic abilities they’re looking for. This step includes understanding the person they want on a holistic level…What is their culture like? What type of people thrive in it? What key characteristics do they value? What type of experience is relevant to the job? What’s the job description? What are the non-negotiable skills? 

2. Understand yourself relative to their ideal candidate 

Once you’ve taken time to understand their ideal candidate, you have to be honest with yourself about your suitability for the role. Are you a suitable candidate? Do your experiences, skills, values and working style align with that of the organisation and of the role? 

This is an extremely important, often underrated step. Many a times, I get people messaging me saying “I want to work for Google too!” but are only drawn to the brand name with little to no understanding of the company culture (it’s more than free food) or even the role they would want. 

While Google’s brand is certainly appealing, that is not why I applied. My decision to apply to Google came after I undertook step 1 (understanding) thoroughly. After my first internship with Bain & Company, I realised that a crucial part of my experience was my alignment with the company’s culture. I became fascinated with the concept of company culture and it’s effect on an organisation’s success. This lead me to learn more about Google’s culture and what it’s like to work there.  

I spoke to a few Googlers & Xooglers (ex Googlers) with the intention to gain insights from their experiences, identify common misconceptions and objectively decide if it would be a good fit for me. Notably, I did not slide into anyone’s DMs asking for a referral. This is a trend I’ve noticed that can come across as entitled, naive and even ignorant. I find this request particularly annoying if I have barely ever spoken to the person, never worked with them or generally have no insight into their professional capabilities. Referring someone is putting your brand behind them and it’s borderline nonsensical to ask someone that barely knows you to do that for you. 

What I suggest instead is this: after rigorously researching the role and company on the internet, note down any additional questions you have. Then approach people with authentic curiosity and a desire to better understand. Your goal should be to understand if the company and role really is a good fit for you because in all honesty, being unhappy at a job with a prestigious company is as easy as being in a miserable relationship with a gorgeous supermodel (it’s incredibly simple). 

Having worked for a few ‘big’ brands, I can tell you for free that the excitement of being associated with the brand is not sufficient to overshadow not enjoying your day to day work. So do yourself and the company a favour and try to find a role where you can excel, add value, grow and be happy. 

If you find that the role reflects who you would want to be and perhaps not who you are just yet, I would say apply! Sometimes we underestimate ourselves and our abilities and at the end of the day, we don’t know who else is applying. You may be the best suited applicant or the recruiter may see something in you that you’re not able to see in yourself. 

That said, you should also work on building relevant experience. This is a continuous process that I strongly recommend regardless of whether or not you get the role. Personally, I am constantly looking at what roles I want to take up in the future and then working on gaining relevant skills and experience now. 

Also, interviewers aren’t stupid. They can see right through candidates who are more drawn to the brand/opportunity location/perks than the actual role or company mission. Don’t be that guy. It won’t get you far. 

3. Invest time and effort into figuring out the best way to present yourself 

If you do not do steps one and two properly, you’re at high risk on wasting your time by completing step three. Simply because if you’re not at least half suited for the role then you’re wasting your time and the company’s time by applying. You are better off carefully selecting 10 opportunities and applying to them then blindly and hurriedly applying to 40 opportunities. Of course you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. But by applying to too many opportunities, you risk not investing the necessary time into the opportunities that you are most well suited for. 

As you know, securing job opportunities is increasingly difficult so every detail counts. I customise my resume and cover letter for each and every opportunity I apply for. This has worked extremely well for me. I almost never put all my work experience on my resume simply because it’s not all relevant (and I don’t have space as I usually opt for a one pager). Notably, a lot of companies ask for all your work history at some point or at least the link to your LinkedIn so don’t worry too much about trying to include everything. 

When it comes to putting together a resume, I detailed my key tips in my last article. I use Novo Resume as I appreciate the visual appeal. 

Q: How do I prepare for the interviews?

At the risk of making this article 10 pages long, I am going to try to keep each answer short but if you would like me to elaborate, use the hashtag #MoreDetails & the relevant topic in the comments. For this particular question, I may even elaborate with a video! 

When it comes to preparing for an interview, there are 3 key areas I focus on (yes, I like threes a lot!).

1. Interviewer: understanding who they are, what the role in the company is and what past experience they have. 

2. Commonly asked interview questions: making sure I am comfortable answering all the commonly asked interview questions. From “Tell me about yourself” to “what are your strengths and weaknesses”. 

3. Role-based & company knowledge: understanding the company’s business model, key activities, competitors and latest projects. This also includes familiarising myself with the latest news about them, their vision and expansion plans. On the other hand, role-based knowledge is about understanding key elements of the role and any products or technical skills associated with it. 

For example, the role I interviewed for with Google was sales & (digital) marketing centred so I spent some time learning about the digital marketing industry, notable statistics as to why digital marketing can be more effective than traditional marketing and the advantages of Google marketing solutions over their competitor’s products. 

Q: Should I write a cover letter? 

My take- if you can then yes. If you’ve taken my above advice then you should have a relatively concise list of opportunities you’re applying for which you believe you stand a chance at. Thus, it makes sense to do everything in your power to position yourself as the ideal candidate. 

Notably, I usually use cover letters to explain my thinking/reasoning behind certain decisions which I couldn’t elaborate on in my resume. For example, why I dropped out of ‘Africa’s number 1 university’, University of Cape Town, to start again at the African Leadership University.  I also use cover letters to elaborate on the most relevant projects I have worked on which showcase a skillset likely to be useful in the role I am applying for. 

Overall, a cover letter should concisely describe why you are interested in that particular company and that particular role and what experiences and skills position you uniquely to succeed in that role.

Q: Can you refer me or share my resume with HR/a hiring manager? 

Refer to answer 2 🙂 

There you have it! Answers to the questions I am asked most frequently about applying for an internship at Google. I hope you found the answers useful! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via the “Ask a Career Question” feature on my website 🙂