In a widely reported interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Google senior vice president of “people operations” Laszlo Bock debunked the notion that their employee selection included brainiac quizzes. You don’t have to solve the riddle of the Sphinx to get a job at Google.
Google’s data-crunching prowess applies to its own hiring outcomes, and it has found some interesting things. For example, it doesn’t hurt to have a high GPA and test scores right out of college, but that’s not the most predictive thing about long-term job performance (and can be misleading). In fact, the number of non-graduate employees has increased over time, so that up to 14% of the members of a team may not have a degree. To get at deeper traits in a candidate, Google uses behavioral interviewing techniques. The aim is to uncover the way people have acted to solve problems in the past, and to gain insight on their strengths and limitations.
In a follow up interview with Tom Friedman, Bock elaborated on the traits Google seeks in an employee. In making a new hire, Bock described Google’s goal of finding independent, productive people who can work successfully with a team. These people will have certain characteristics:
- Show general cognitive ability: More than IQ, this trait involves being able to process information in a fast-paced environment, synthesizing it to recognize opportunities, and act on it. Your college transcript doesn’t always reveal this. Googlers are famously inventive, and this ability to learn on the job and adapt helps make this huge company nimble.
- Meet the skills and experience requirements: Most jobs at Google are highly technical, and their coders have to be cutting edge. The thing is, these skills cannot win a job for you—they are necessary but not sufficient.
- Demonstrate emergent leadership: Google seeks people who will step up to the plate and lead when they see a valuable approach. And they want them to step back and follow when someone else has a good idea. This isn’t traditional structured organizational leadership—it is leadership that creates conditions where people understand the limits in context, but feel free to innovate.
- Have a genuine sense of humility and ownership: These seemingly contradictory traits contribute to the team-oriented problem solving that is basic in the Google workforce. Good employees take responsibility for team outcomes, but respect the contributions of others to this end.
Google’s Careers page sums up these traits in language that is typically Google, seemingly clear and simple but a little opaque at the same time. They are looking for: Leadership, Role-related Knowledge, How You Think, and Googleyness. “Googleyness?” That’s “We want to get a feel for what makes you, well, you.”
Friedman summed up in a different way that may be clearer. In a time when group endeavors are more important, the soft skills like leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and eagerness to learn are crucial. In our emerging information-based economy, these traits have to be part of your background research.