4 min read

Tips on Applying to Large Tech Companies

By now I have almost a decade of combined experience working for two of the biggest technology companies in the world - Amazon and Microsoft. Throughout my tenure I spoke to many bright candidates who wanted to get a job at a big tech company. The sad reality of job search in tech is that many deserving candidates do not end up getting offers even when they are perfectly qualified for the roles. There are, however, some frequently asked questions and recurring anti-patterns in applications that I hope to address with this post.

Get Yourself Referred

Your are much likely to get a response on your application if you can get someone on the inside refer you for the position directly to the hiring manager. In fact, if you could only take away one point from this narrative, it should be this: find a way to get yourself referred by a company employee. Applying directly through the company website rarely results in any kind of response, since big companies receive plenty of applications, not all of which tend to be equally relevant for the open roles. Internal employees typically have access to an internal version of the “Careers” website where identities of the hiring managers are listed for every opening. Getting the hiring manager to consider your resume directly increases your chances of getting hired by anywhere between 20 and 100 times.

In practice, it still means the chance goes from one basis point to about five percent. It is almost impossible to get hired by a big tech company if only one person wants you there, even if this person is the hiring manager. Most companies make hiring decisions collegially - sometimes people on the hiring loop might have veto power, e.g. Amazon Bar Raisers. So if your resume impresses the hiring manager and they decide you are a good fit, you would still need to go through an interview loop with several other company employees. Should you totally botch those interviews, the hiring manager would likely be unable to extend you the offer.

How To Sell Yourself

Big companies can usually afford to hire specialists. You will want to structure your resume and application accordingly. Some candidates try to pitch themselves as a “jack-of-all-trades”, e.g.  that they could do both data science and software engineering. While this may be an advantage for a startup, in large companies such applications come across as unfocused. A better idea would be to create two separate resumes, one for data science jobs and another for software engineer jobs, and send in separate applications. Someone skimming your resume can then easily assess fit between the candidate and the role.

Visa Issues

Besides the usual disclaimer, my experience would only be relevant to those seeking employment in the USA. Most international candidates would need an H-1B visa to get employed legally. The nice part about working for a big tech company is that they hire plenty of international employees. As a result, big companies have an established process of handling immigration and visa-related issues. Contrary to what many candidates think, their visa status is almost never taken into consideration during interviews. I have conducted hundreds of interviews and in the overwhelming majority of cases I had no idea of the candidate’s visa status. The cost of visa processing is generally negligible as a percentage of the total cost of hiring new employee, even an entry-level one.

I must point out that the above does not apply to smaller companies such as startups. The legal operation for handling international candidates generally requires a large fixed cost to set up, even though the marginal cost of handling an extra candidate are fairly small. As such, a small company will likely not have an established process to hire international candidates, and may end up deciding that the process is not worth the hassle. The bottom line is, if you are not a US resident, you are much more likely to get a job at a big company since they will not be deterred by the visa issues.

A final note to those of you who are still in school - your chances of getting an H-1B visa will improve considerably if you have a Masters or PhD degree from a US school. You can familiarize yourself with the details, but the effect is large enough not to be ignored. If you are working towards a PhD, get a Masters degree before going on the job market - you may not end up getting a PhD by the time the visa lottery commences, and most PhD programs can award you a Masters degree once you pass all your qualification exams.