How to get a job at Apple

Update: Tim Cook’s in charge and Apple’s started hiring hackers

It’s the dream ticket. The chance to work in one of the most exclusive tech playgrounds in the world, rub shoulders with renowned designers, engineers and even jockey with Tim Cook for position in the lunch queue. But how to get a job at Apple? It’s a tricky question, but we think we have the answer.

We’ve consulted with Apple employees past and present, done some digging, trawled through fine print, and found there are several tried and tested routes to a job at Apple. Want to jump from the dole queue to Apple’s inner sanctum? Read on, and we’ll give your career a leg up.

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1 iPhone application developmentStudy up

Being a stereotypical brainbox is, generally speaking, not the best route into Apple. Sure, you need smarts, but you also need the right personality. We’ve heard countless times from our contacts within Cupertino that it’s attitude as much as aptitude that makes a difference at an Apple job interview, even now that the enigmatic Steve Jobs has passed. That said, if you’re studying, honing your skills and transforming yourself into the perfect Apple candidate, there are a few tips that’ll help you along the way.

Step 1: Study the right things
Whatever your discipline, there are things you’ll need to specialise in if you’re to do well at Apple. If you’re a programmer, that means shunning technologies Apple hasn’t invested in. At times that might seem painful, such as turning your back on Flash, and even Java, and instead concentrating on Apple certified standards.

Windows fanboys, however, might be surprised to know that the door to the Cupertino campus isn’t entirely shut to you. Apple requires your services: Don’t forget there are Windows versions of two major Apple products: Safari and iTunes, both with hectic release schedules, so don’t feel discounted.

Apple has tons of developer resources to point you in the right direction here.

But what if you’re not a code-monkey? What if you’re looking for a place in the hallowed halls of Apple’s Industrial Design department? Our contact at Cupertino says this is “considered the “best” place to work within Apple. They have a beautiful specially designed office environment, and all the equipment they need, with a great sound system. They are considered to be Steve’s “blue eyed boys” who appear to get everything they need.”

Obviously, competition is fierce, so you’ll need to get yourself noticed, which brings us on to the next step…

Step 2: Study in the right places
Apple’s Senior Vice President for Industrial Design is Jonathan Ive, a soft spoken Brit born and raised in Chingford. He studied at the Newcastle Polytechnic, now Northumbria University, originally on the Design for Industry programme, and was later awarded an honorary degree. That might be a long way from Cupertino, but Apple’s design boss still has close ties with his alma mater.

Rumour has it Ive often heads back to his old university, giving guest lectures and searching out the most talented students for recruitment to Apple. If you’re seeking a route to his notoriously secretive inner sanctum, you could do worse than following in his footsteps.

Step 3: Never stop studying
It should go without saying that Apple won’t hire you unless you’re up to speed on the latest and greatest tech. To that end, you should enroll yourself into Apple’s developer programme, even if you’re not actually a developer.

It offers access to all of Apple’s latest documentation, guidelines and design instructions. If you’re thinking of becoming an Apple interface designer, you might not write reams of code, but you’ll need to know its Human Interface Guidelines document back to front and inside out.

1 CV 400Make first contact

Getting your foot into the door at Apple is, obviously, step one in finding a place on the payroll. It’s not as tricky as you might think though, and regardless of the type of job you’re after, we’ve got tips to help you.

Route 1: Get a referral
It’s easier than it sounds, and getting yourself talent-spotted is often a direct route into the Cupertino campus. In the earlier days of Apple, recruiting was often done on the recommendations of existing employees and while there are more spaces to fill now, Apple still places emphasis on referrals.

Apple staff are usually happy to recommend newbies for upcoming jobs (as long as you have the relevant experience and skills, of course), and they even get a payment for the privilege.

Back in the 1980s, Apple’s rewards for employee referrals were pretty weak: just a gift token that could be exchanged in the company’s on-campus store. Now though, the stakes are much higher, starting at $250 and up to $5,000 per successful referral, depending on the position.

Our insider tells us that getting work at Apple on the back of a referral, and often after freelancing for Apple as an outsider, leads to a less intense hiring procedure. We’re told that, if you’re a “known entity” rather than a CV crossing a recruiter’s desk, you’ll get an easier ride. No practical tests at the interview stage, no intense interview, and more team introductions than interviewer inquisitions.

There’s also a chance you’ll start work sooner. Where previously we’ve heard Apple can take months to hire a new employee, our insider says recommended applicants could start within a few weeks.

Find a referee
What’s that? You don’t know anyone who already works at Apple? Try hitting LinkedIn and see if you can get an introduction through your network of contacts, and here’s another tip: don’t go straight for the department manager, but find someone who works there and ask them to refer you to their boss.

Doing this is easier than you might think. Head to LinkedIn and set up an account (if you haven’t already got one). Next search for someone matching the discipline you’re working in, who already works at Apple. For example, you might want to find a designer. So head to the search bar and type “Apple, designer”. Hit enter and you’ll see a ton of results. From here, it’s a simple case of filtering.

Scroll down and expand the “Current company” filter in the toolbox on the left, select “Apple Inc” and you’ll only see designers currently working at Apple. Now, skim the list, looking for a “2nd” badge next to their name. That means one of your friends knows them. Ask that friend for an introduction, and set the ball rolling.

For a broader search, check out Apple’s company page on LinkedIn and look for those tell-tale blue badges. Anyone sporting one is ripe for an introduction through your circle of contacts.

Route 2: Get yourself head-hunted
If you can’t get yourself referred by a current Apple employee, the next best thing is to get yourself talent-spotted by a recruiter. Apple uses both agencies, and internal recruiters. The company has plenty of eyes looking for new recruits, and you can increase your chances of being spotted by proving your abilities in areas Apple is already paying close attention.

Contribute a fantastic iOS or Mac app to the App Store, and you might find they get in contact. Apple forums, such as MacRumors are full of such tales. It’s also the way one-man-band developers find their way to the stage at Apple keynotes, hand picked to show off new iOS features, and tout the simplicities of Apple’s SDK in one fell swoop.

Want to leapfrog straight into product development? Prove your chops with hardware Apple is interested in. That’s how Hugo Fiennes went from Warwick University in the UK, to Rio and then to Apple where he heads up iPhone hardware development: By proving a long-standing and intricate knowledge of the ARM hardware at the heart of the iPhone. You can read Fiennes’ story here (PDF link).

Of course, there are as many routes to entry as there are different types of jobs at Apple. Something as simple as answering questions within the Apple support forums is also rumoured to have lead to employment too, and of course there’s the developer’s back door: generating valuable input and code to an open source project Apple invests heavily in.

That’s the route taken by Jordan Hubbard, a big name in the open source community, having co-founded FreeBSD. He moved to Apple’s Core OS Engineering Department as its manager of BSD Technologies in 1999.

BSD, for the uninitiated, is a form of Unix that grew amongst the open source community. Much of its code has been aggregated into Mac OS X, which is why Apple was understandably keen to hire Hubbard. Can you create something Apple needs? If so, you’re a shoe-in for a top job within its walls.

You don’t necessarily have to go the legitimate route to get noticed. In August 2011, notorious iPhone hacker Comex (AKA Nicholas Allegra) did a Bill Gates; he was awarded an internship at Apple after routinely jailbreaking each iOS version to come out of the gates. Apple may have just wanted to keep one of its enemies where it can keep an eye on them, but it still shows that more morally dubious coding can get you noticed.

Route 3: Get yourself bought
You don’t have to be an open source advocate, or spend years slaving away on forums to score a spot on Apple’s payroll. Plenty of people have created commercial products and found their companies bought by Apple, along with themselves and their employees. That’s the way Lala founder and CEO Bill Nguyen got his Apple employee ID number.

Last year, amid much gossiping that Apple was about to launch iTunes in the cloud, Bill Nguyen sold Lala to Apple for a reported $80 million. He didn’t just receive a large lump sum though, as Apple wanted access to Lala’s technology and team. All his employees went to Cupertino. We imagine, with a song in their heart as well as a cheque in their pockets. Similarly, Dag Kittlaus, the man behind Siri, found himself buried deep within Apple HQ after the company was bought up for use in iOS 5.

Do you have an idea for a next-gen web technology? Lala’s streaming service was an obvious competitor to iTunes and Siri had highly enviable technology. Can you create something similar?

Route 4: Send your CV on spec
Of course, Apple accepts applications direct to its front door too, from anyone with the correct credentials and skills. Check out its jobs page, and you’ll see there’s no shortage of opportunity at Cupertino.

Our insider on Apple’s campus says there’s no harm in sending in your CV, and Apple will often keep you on file for other openings too. However, they would “highly recommend trying to locate an insider” before doing this. A little goodwill goes a long way at Apple.

Route 5: Get an internship
So you don’t know anyone at Apple already, e-introductions leave a sour taste in your mouth, and creating a product that Jobs and Co might want to buy is off the to-do list for one reason or another? There’s one last way to get your feet under the boardroom, or at least the canteen, table: get an internship.

That’s right, Apple accepts interns, and while you’ll need to be studying for a relevant course and willing to work for lower-than-Apple-average pay, it’s a neat route in. Here at Electricpig, we’ve worked with Apple’s PR interns in the past and can say with confidence that they’re bright, enthusiastic and extremely good at what they do.

It’s not all good news though. Internships have a shelf life. Apple’s maximum internships are for 51 weeks, so expect to be back on the job hunt within a year. You’ll find internships listed on Apple’s regular job site.

Route 6: Start at the bottom
Still haven’t found a route into Apple’s corporate structure that suits you? Your options are getting thin, but there’s still the tried and tested method of working your way from the ground up. In Apple’s case, the ground floor entry is its retail stores.

Constant expansion, and customers queuing out of the door, mean Apple’s constantly hiring retail staff. Start your search at the Apple Jobs website.

But beware the competition for Apple retail jobs. Estimates currently put the number of applicants for each Apple retail job at around 200. That’s right, you’ll need to out-perform 199 other people to get that coveted Apple ID badge.

Our contact inside one of the UK’s largest Apple stores has some advice here though, and recommends showing up at an Apple Store of your choosing and asking current employees about attending a “Recruitment seminar”. These are Apple’s group interviews, where they separate the strong potential employees from the weaker ones.

It’s not crucial that you’re an Apple expert, or even that you know much about their products in detail. Instead, the advice we’ve had from insiders is to be “passionate about people, and be able to hold meaningful conversations with all kinds of individuals.”

Also, unlike the corporate environment, there are few benefits to knowing someone who already works at an Apple store.

You will, however, be expected to work well in a team. Apple’s recruitment seminars include exercises where you’ll be thrust into situations with strangers also vying for a job. If you don’t play well with others, you won’t fit in at Apple retail.

1 pillsBe prepared for the interview

You’ve got this far, but now the pressure will start to mount. If you’re invited for a job interview at Apple, whether it’s for a retail position or one within its corporate departments, you’ll need to go prepared.

Introduction, not inquisition
If you followed our advice and scored yourself a referral from somebody already working at Apple, you should find the interview process less nerve-jangling. We’ve heard tales of a single group meeting with eight people leading to a start date in just two weeks’ time where new employees come with an Apple-approved employment history.

That’s not to say you won’t be given a grilling. Apple doesn’t favour traditional job interviews with one person grilling another, alone in a room, but expect to have your knowledge of your chosen subject highly scrutinised by at least one person in each group meeting.

One thing you shouldn’t expect too much of is practical tests. From our research, it seems Apple does its homework and thoroughly investigates your previous achievements before issuing an invite onto campus. For that reason alone, an interview with Apple is cause for a sigh of relief: They like what you do and how you do it, the rest is mostly down to your personality.

If you didn’t get a referral, you’ll likely face a phone interview or two before being invited to see Apple in person. These are more like screening interviews than aptitude tests.

After that, you’re likely to be interviewed by your peers, rather than a manager. Expect around two days of interviews, with several different groups of people, but don’t expect a fast decision. Our source tells us “it often takes weeks, maybe even a month for them to come to a decision.”

In most cases your first interview will concentrate on assessing your technical abilities. The second, if you get one, will be to learn more about you as a person. If you didn’t get a referral you’re more likely to get a more traditional one on one interview with a manager at some stage too.

If you’re heading to one of Apple retail’s Recruitment Seminars, IFOAppleStore has a great guide to the interview process for sales assistants, but the selection process for more senior positions is more hazy.

After even more detail? Check out Glassdoor’s discussion boards. Here you’ll find reports of Apple’s interview process first hand. Some are old, some are incredibly recent. Unsurprisingly, the most frequent reports come from retail staff, so if you’re after guidance for those jobs, it’s a must-read.

Practice makes perfect
An Apple interview is likely a one-shot deal. You’re not going to want to mess it up, so do as our source says and “practice telling your story.”

You should try to find out as much as possible about the position you’re applying for, and the department you’ll be working in. If you can, try to find out what it is that the department you’re applying for is working on, what they need you to accomplish, and then be prepared to talk about it in great detail.

Identify previous experiences that would helpful to them in achieving their goals. Be clear about where you want to go. Have lots of questions prepared, and know that each group within Apple has an individual culture.

Dress for success
It’s probably a question which won’t pop into your brain until the night before the interview, but seriously, what should you wear to an Apple job interview?

Our insider put their fashionista skills to good use with this advice: “Business casual. Definitely not a suit. Certain groups dress a little smarter than others. The legal teams and some marketing types tend to dress up a bit more. Apple is proud of its diversity. You see it all… men in long skirts, kilts whatever… as long as you don’t expose too much, or wear clothes that stink, then pretty much anything is acceptable. Don’t wear a lot of perfume or cologne”

1 Polo neckKnow the internal Apple culture

We’ve mentioned several times that Apple expects employees to ‘fit in’, but how do you do that if you don’t know the internal culture? Easy. Read our simple guide!

Expect secrecy, but also treat it as a benefit
It should come as no surprise that Apple expects most employees to work in secrecy, but what might cock your head is that most employees value it as much as the company does. Our insider on campus tells us: “I find it quite good. You have a limited team that you discuss the project with and therefore a limited number of opinions to deal which all saves time.

“You don’t bore your family and friends by talking about work because you cannot share the details with them.”

Work hard, work fast
The late Steve Jobs often stated in interviews that Apple “runs like a start-up”. That doesn’t mean it struggles financially, or experiments a lot, but rather that there are small teams working with a tight focus on one project at a time.

It’s an environment described best by Hugo Fiennes: “The direct result is that we can get a lot done, very quickly. The first iPhone had only a handful of people in the core electronics team, but they were supported by hundreds of specialist from other groups including industrial design, mechanical engineering, touch, marketing and software.”

Our own insider has another take too, explaining that life working in a small group can be tough: “The only downside is if you are totally overloaded with work and aren’t allowed to bring anyone else onto the team without permission, which can take a few days to acquire.” It’s still the same, even now that Tim Cook is in charge.

Reward yourself
If all that sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. In all our research, one thing is clear: Apple doesn’t carry dead weight. Teams are small, and each employee is expected to give everything they have to make a product a success. However, there are some sizable perks that come with the job.

Apple awards discretionary bonuses to employees beyond the usual Christmas lump sum. Expect to be rewarded for devising a new process that speeds up development, increases revenue growth or reduces manufacturing time and cost. In some cases, you’re likely to be rewarded for working incessantly to meet a deadline, thinking up creative solutions to awkward problems, going above and beyond your assignment or job descriptions and coming up with new inventions which Apple later holds the patent for.

Good luck
We asked our source what they would miss most from Apple. The first response was “A CEO (who at the time was Steve Jobs) and executive team with great vision and a clear direction that ripples down through the company.” There’s been a change at the top since then, but the structure of a hard-working but diverse and talented team from top to bottom remains. Now, go polish your CV and show Tim and Co what you’ve got.

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