Working at Google: Pros and Cons
When it comes to workplace perks, there are few companies with a better reputation than Google. From free cafeteria food and onsite dry cleaning to the ability to use 20 percent of your time to work on anything you want, the company is pretty much legendary for its treatment of its employees. But Gayle Laakmann McDowell—a former recruiter at Google, and author of The Google Resume—warns that there are other aspects about working there that anyone thinking of applying should also consider.
"One thing you need to realize about Google is there is a very, very flat management structure," said McDowell in a recent interview. "There were about 4,000 or 5,000 people when I started, but I was only three, maybe four levels from [then-Google CEO] Eric Schmidt. "
"That flat management structure has some big pluses and minuses. When you have such a flat management structure, that means when you join, you have a lot more leadership, a lot more influence than you'd have in an equivalent role at a different company. "
"But it also means that moving up in management […] is a lot harder—you're not jumping up and managing three people, you're jumping up and managing 20."
With that in mind, McDowell offers an opinion that may be surprising to those for whom a job at Google may seem like a one-way ticket to career Valhalla:
"I think it's a fantastic company to join and work for for a couple of years, and if you don't want to move up it'll be a fantastic place for you. If you do want to move up, you may be better off at a company where […] you'll have less influence when you start, but you may have more influence in a couple of years."
"At Google you have more leadership but the incremental steps are much, much further apart."
"In other words, you'll be able to get into a management role quicker at Microsoft than you will at Google."
Benefits and Perks
Having said all of that, McDowell remains upbeat about Google as an employer, calling it "a fantastic place to work." And, yes, there are things she misses about it: "I think one big benefit that I didn't totally realize when I was there is that one of the nice things about Google is that it allows you to take a lot of risks without bearing the risk of it. You also don't bear all the reward but you can go and play with a new idea in your 20 percent time. So it allows you to do that and accept this really cool opportunity to play around with an idea you're really excited about without quitting the company, taking no salary for a year or two to launch something new."
And it's not just the time that's important—it's having access to the resources to be able to use that time to maximum effect:
"From a technology perspective the infrastructure is really, really rich, and that allows you to get something out the door quicker than you’d be able to at another company, and you also just have tons of experts in a lot of different areas at Google."
As for all the perks that make the headlines—the free food, the on-site dry cleaning and workout facilities—McDowell stresses that, in the end, they really don't make much of a difference to employees' happiness:
"I've never thought all the perks at Google really mattered. I though they were cool the first couple of weeks I started but after that all the perks really don't matter that much."
Read Part 1 of Vault's interview with Gayle Laakmann McDowell: How to Get Hired by Google