The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Working at Google seemed like a dream job. The reality has been a tedious, pointless nightmare.

A day in the life of a human resources 'talent channels specialist.'

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The banner atop the Google Careers portal caught my eye back when I was one of 3 million hungry applicants: “Do Cool Things That Matter.” It speaks at once of the tech industry’s casual hipness and its passionate purpose. It spoke to me.

But while it probably describes some jobs at Google, it hardly captures my experience these past two years in the company’s human resources department. And so I’m handing in my resignation this week.

There is nothing cool about my job as a “talent channels specialist,” a type of recruiter charged with soliciting new applications from qualified people who haven’t thought to apply or who might need persuading. I scour LinkedIn, a factory farm of fluff, for engineers with a specific skill set and then send hundreds of canned messages to unsuspecting professionals each week.

Google HR uses the TextExpander program, which populates email templates with salutations, job description links and questions. All we have to do is press two keys (mine are semicolon followed by the letter “C”). There’s also space for fill-in-the-blanks: one for the candidate’s name (“Hey Mark”) and another at the end for the day of the week (“Enjoy your Thursday!”), so the message is personal.

We then hold 10-minute phone calls with interested candidates, conversations comparable in depth and variation to a drive-through order at Burger King. Our mouth muscles get so accustomed to the spiel that we can think full separate thoughts — about our next career move, say — while talking. We might feign curiosity in a candidate’s ideal role, pitch them on working at Google and finally ask a few technical questions from a spreadsheet that gives us the correct answers, thankfully, because computer science is Greek to us.

HR “specialists” don’t participate in second-round interviews. We merely collect times of availability from candidates and then wait for the results. If a second interview goes well, we hand off the candidate to another recruiter. If it doesn’t go well? TextExpander: semicolon followed by “NO” populates a sympathetic four-paragraph rejection email. We then return to step one: LinkedIn.

That’s it. The whole job. Seriously. Repeated 40 or so times in each workday.

Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.

As for doing things that matter? Remember: It’s about 10 times more difficult to get into Google than Harvard University. So we recruiters can close our sticker-covered laptops at the end of each day and walk down the brightly painted hallways — royal red, lime green! — confident that almost no one we contacted will get hired. The lucky few applicants will be shuffled from one high-paying tech job to another.

In some ways, my experience is not so different than that of other twenty-somethings in corporate America. Yet Google’s low-level HR employees are barraged by higher-ups about Passion! and how we are Changing People’s Lives!

At first, I drank the Kool-Aid. Who doesn’t like being told they’re important?

Later, I began to wonder if I was crazy, eating alone in the cafeteria and wearing ear plugs so I wouldn’t have to overhear one more random Googler claim, without irony or visible self-consciousness, to have held “a mini-pow-wow on 360 wellness,” or to be “a product expert across a myriad of domains hoping to sync and gain best practices.”

I can’t tell who believes themselves and who is just acting, because everyone participates. Every email has an exclamation mark, or ten. Google HR is a special type of hell ruled by the tyranny of positivity. It’s a privileged hell, for sure, but it’s hell, and its primary trait is hollowness.

I criticized Google. It got me fired. That’s how corporate power works.

Having excised coolness and mattering from the careers page slogan, we’re left with: “Do Things.” I envision it right above an image of two guys in T-shirts pointing to a monitor, furrowing their brows, innovating.

But that first word, “Do,” isn’t quite right. It implies action-orientation. What have I actually done for the last two years as a talent channels specialist? I raise my eyebrows and can conjure nothing.

My resume will have that holy header, Google, above a few bullets — though after this essay I can probably forget about references — but what words will follow the bullets? Evangelized? Shaped the world? Facilitated cross-functional optimizations? How will I answer some future interviewer who inquires: What did you do as a talent channels specialist?

“Things,” I’ll say.

I wanted to shame an accused con man. I didn’t realize how much power I had over him.