Hiring Great People – the Googley Way

Most businesses I know have some very talented people who know about the technology, products, operations and services of their businesses.  They are pretty good executing the daily tasks, and know a lot about their industry.

Attracting and keeping top talent is pretty important (and I have shared many posts on this topic in the past).   In fact, it is THE MOST important determinant of corporate success and the only thing that gives you a chance at developing a sustainable competitive advantage which – by the way – is the main goal of any corporate strategy.

If you think about it, every company has access to the same technologies, capital equipment, software products, and business services as does every other company on the planet.   If so, then these cannot be a source of differentiation.   The key is what you do with all these things that make the difference.   How do you apply them, organize them, use them to make better decisions, etc.  It comes down to the creativity, initiative and determination of your workforce that define if you will win or lose in your chosen competitive space.

So, Hiring Great People is not only important (which all of us accepts as true), but is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU DO (and few organizations consistently ACT as if this were true).  One of them, in my view at least is the search engine giant, Google.  Laszlo Bock (chief people officer), in the recorded piece he did for the Wall Street Journal offers a simple and effective summary of how he thinks his company makes hiring a successful strategic activity.

What strikes me is that none of the ideas he describes are revolutionary in themselves (elements have been done by other companies since I was in business school – more than a few years ago.)  What’s different here is the way they put these elements together and the consistency with which they are followed.

What does Google look for in a new hire?

According to Bock, four things:

1)      General Cognitive Ability.  Can you solve problems, and are you reasonably smart?   The company developed its own screening test, the infamous GLAT (for Google Labs Aptitude Test and you can take the test yourself by clicking on the link).   Some people would hate this experience, but there is a certain category of people who actually view these kinds of questions as FUN.  I’m not one of them.  Here is an example:

“Solve this cryptic equation realizing, of course, that the values for M and E could be interchanged.  No string of leading zeros is permitted.


The Answer: (from the book, The Google Story) It’s simply a matter of finding the correct digits to substitute for the letters.  This can be done by trial and error, but a more Googley way would be to write a simple computer program.   (‘Sounds easy enough, right?)  Sooner or later you might end up with the correct answer:

           777589                                      WWWDOT

–          188103                                        GOOGLE

=         589486                                      DOTCOM

And if you made the M=3, and the E=6, the answer would be 58948.   Whew! How long did that take you?

2)      Emergent Leadership.  This doesn’t relate to the traditional definition – how many people can you manage?   It has to do with your willingness to step up and proactively face problems and challenges.  They want people who can engage others and help focus energy to solve any problem.  And then, when the problem is solved, you are willing to slip back into the background.  To Bock, leadership and followership are flip sides of the same coin.

3)      Culture Fit.   You need to be happy at Google, and it is surely not for everyone (in case the GLAT question didn’t already make that point).   At Google, they are looking for people who are comfortable with a large amount of ambiguity (since the company work environment is somewhat unstructured and moves at a pretty fast pace – as does the technology around which their business operates.)  You need also to be self-driven, passionate about your life and Google’s values, and excited about collaborative achievement.

4)      Role Related Expertise.   Bock says this is “the last and least important” of their criteria.   This relates to whether or not you actually know something about the specific job you are being hired to do.

It is interesting that the company places lowest emphasis on the last point.  My observation is that in many companies, the opposite is true.   In most interviews I am familiar with the conversation tends to focus more on your academic background, demonstrated job skills, where you worked and what you did.   It seems we are too often willing to sacrifice leadership, values, and culture fit for job experience.   Hmmmm . . .

If you have 5 minutes I would urge you to view the entire clip below to hear Mr. Bock describe many other aspects of Google’s HR and people philosophy.

Watch Laszlo Bock describe How Google Decides on Hires

Other Resources:

Targeting soft skills yields hard returns for employers, how Zappo’s culture and hiring practices make a difference, by Lisa V. Gillespie, Employee Benefit News

Move Over Zappos and Google – The New Role Model for an Org That Really Gets Culture Is…, by Jessica Lee, Fistful of Talent

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Filed under Leading, Managing Teams

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