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'Internship' may help Google land employees

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SAN FRANCISCO — As soon as the credits rolled on "The Internship," Rachel Kang, a 20-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore from Torrance, headed straight back to her apartment to Google jobs at Google Inc.

"I have always loved Google. I think everyone does. The movie just cemented my appreciation even more," Kang said after seeing a sneak preview of the film last month. "I do think a lot of people will be even more drawn to the company than they are now."

That's just what Google wants to hear.

For years, summer internships at Google have been some of the technology industry's most coveted. Now a 20th Century Fox film is selling a new generation on working at Google.

In "The Internship," Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play middle-aged watch salesmen who, finding themselves suddenly obsolete in the digital age, crash Google and with a bit of old-school charm and hustle, triumph over a group of 20-year-old summer interns to land full-time jobs there.

Chief marketing officer Lorraine Twohill said Google lent its brand and its campus to the feel-good buddy comedy to get more people to feel good about Google. The movie hits theaters June 7.

"We are a company that is very serious when it needs to be, but we have always had a great sense of humor," Twohill said. "We wanted to show that side of us to a very large mainstream audience."

Google isn't just selling the world on its products, which are prominently featured in the movie. It's pitching its corporate culture. Google's perks such as free gourmet food, nap pods and beach volleyball courts get plenty of screen time too.

Observers say being cast as the young, hip place to work could help Google battle other technology giants such as Facebook Inc. and start-ups such as Dropbox Inc. for top talent.

"Google has an incredible hunger for talent. It needs to continuously consume talent," said marketing expert Andy Smith, coauthor of "The Dragonfly Effect." "This movie will build awareness with a mainstream audience."

This year, Google will hire 1,500 summer interns in North America from a pool of 40,000-plus candidates. The summer internship program is the No. 1 source of new hires for Google, which has nearly 54,000 employees.

Google executives say they are not sure whether the company will get a flood of resumes after the film opens next week. But Google is taking full advantage of its role in "The Internship" to promote itself to college students.

The company has posted on its job website a scene from the movie in which Vaughn and Wilson are asked to answer a brain teaser that Google used to ask prospective hires: "You're shrunken down to the size of nickels and dropped to the bottom of a blender. What do you do?" (The answer comes later in the movie: "If you shrink your strength to weight ratio, it allows you to jump way higher"). Accompanying the movie clip are interviews with real-life Google interns.

With its high salaries, perks and college-like campus, Google has long been a top destination for summer interns, who recently rated Google the nation's best place to work, according to career website Glassdoor. The highlights: A software engineering intern can expect an average monthly pay of $6,463, plenty of face time with managers and autonomy on projects, the Glassdoor survey found.

With three new wellness centers and a seven-acre sports complex with a roller hockey rink, basketball courts, bocce and shuffle ball and horseshoe pits, Google for the fourth time was named by Fortune magazine this year as the best company for.

"Everyone wants to work there," said Jeff Ma, chief executive of San Francisco start-up TenXer Inc., which competes for job candidates with Google and tries to recruit Google employees. "This is probably just an additional factor to help it seem cool to work at Google."

Ma knows all about the attention a Hollywood film can bring. The 40-year-old former MIT student was the inspiration for "21," the film about a reluctant whiz kid recruited by his MIT math professor, played by Kevin Spacey, to join a team of card counters.

"It won't necessarily increase the overall volume of people or the quality of the people applying, but it will help Google remain very relevant as a young person's elite place to work," Ma said.

Google already gets lots of interest from college students searching for a summer job that hands them real responsibility and does not involve such mind-numbing activities as fetching coffee or making photocopies, said Kyle Ewing, Google's talent and outreach program manager.

One of those interns was Raymond Braun, 23, who ran a gantlet of job interviews to land a spot as a summer intern in 2010 and again in 2011 while attending Stanford University.

"It honestly felt like I was going to Disney World," said Braun, who now works full time at Google.

Braun said he was paired with a mentor who checked in with him regularly. He helped organize Gayglers — gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees — for Gay Pride Week. And, with his fellow interns, Braun was treated to an evening cruise around San Francisco Bay aboard a four-story ferry with a dance floor, dining area and karaoke deck.

The most rewarding part of his internship, Braun said, was working on "Life in a Day," a crowdsourced documentary that stitched together moments from their lives on a single day in 2010 that people uploaded to YouTube. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and streamed live on YouTube.

He and others at Google say being a Google intern isn't quite the way it appears on the big screen.

Vaughn and Wilson definitely pass the "layover test" for new hires as in who would you like to be stuck with in an airport. But it's a far-fetched idea that the two goofy washouts would land internships at Google in real life.

In the movie, Vaughn and Wilson enroll in the University of Phoenix (they dub it "the Harvard of the West") to qualify for internships at Google. In order to get an internship at Google, students have to be enrolled in a full-time degree program (or in a graduate program).

Vaughn and Wilson get an offer from Google after taking part in a Google Hangout video chat at a local library. In real life, interns go through at least two 45-minute interviews, and engineering interns are asked to code or solve a technical problem.

Unlike in the movie, interns are not placed on teams and pitted against each other to compete for a small number of full-time jobs. There are no quotas for the number of summer interns Google hires, Ewing said.

And the people who run the internship program are not mean-spirited like Roger Chetty, played by Aasif Mandvi, Braun said. Mandvi's character reveals himself to be likable at the end of the film, something that was not in the original script. Filmmakers say they did not make the change to appease Google.

By and large, the movie shows Google as a fun — and meaningful — place to work, Kang said.

She was won over by a scene in which a tireless Google employee, played by Rose Byrne, underscores the corporate philosophy of "Googleyness," a combination of intellectual curiosity and a passion to change the world that the company says motivates its staffers. "I actually believe," Byrne tells Wilson, "that what we do here helps make people's lives a little bit better."

"It's true. What Google does is very beneficial," said Kang who uses Chrome as her Web browser, Gmail for email, YouTube to watch music videos and Google Docs to share college lecture notes with friends. "I can't imagine living without it, even more than Facebook."

"Watching the movie gave me a sense of hope that I can find a job after graduation," she said. "And it just made the workplace seem really amazing."

jessica.guynn@latimes.com

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