Adam Bryant of The New York Times interviewed Lazlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, in June 2013 about what he looks for in applicants. What Bryant learned might surprise you. For those of you new college graduates, it wasn’t where you went to school or what your GPA was. In fact, 14 percent of Google's teams are made up of people with no college education. Before students cancel their Fall schedule, Bock is very clear that there are a clear set of skills that Google is looking for. I have said for a number of years that a college education teaches someone critical thinking. That’s it. The English Lit class or Abnormal Psych course is not going to get you the offer at Google.
Google says that it will assess for technical skills if the job is technical, and 50 percent of its jobs are technical. I tell people that technical skills alone are a red herring. I tell people that in many instances, someone gets hired for technical skills and gets fired due to a lack of behavioral skills. So up to this point Bock and I agree. If you are hiring for a technical job like coding, the candidate needs to be able to code. So, if we have done our assessment of our candidates and everyone successfully demonstrated the ability to code, now what? This is where in my work I begin to assess for behavioral skills. So does Google.
Bock says that Google looks at five attributes. I call them behavioral competencies. Google’s list is:
- Cognitive ability
- Humility and Ownership
- Fierce position
- No Content Knowledge.
Before you start getting irritated, this is Google and they want to be a bit non-conformist. Whether I am working with startups or old line Fortune 100 companies, you need to look under the hood and push for a definition of terms. I don’t care what label you attach to something, when someone is doing this thing really well, what does it look like? What does the person do or say?
Once you push back the cover, Google has that same level of specificity. Cognitive ability is not what you measure in an IQ test for Google; it is ability to learn. I absolutely agree with learning ability being critical to one’s success. Warner Burke at Columbia University is close to having a test to be able to measure that. He will sell millions of those tests to companies.
The second attribute Bock cited was leadership. When you push a little further, Bock wants to assess a person’s ability to step up and lead when appropriate and also defer to someone else with an idea better. Some people would call that situational leadership. The thing with situational leadership is that it assumes you are always the leader. In Google’s view, great leaders need to also know when to hand the leadership role over.
Google’s third attribute is humility and ownership. I sometimes criticize companies’ competency models when they define behavioral descriptors with “ands” in them. If I am assessing a candidate and they possess part of the description but not the other part, how do I rate them? Looking beyond the label, Google wants to assess the ability to collaborate. That can be assessed.
The fourth attribute Google describes as big ego and little ego. They go on to say the person needs to take a staunch position on an issue …. unless or until they are confronted with information that changes the situation – for example, new information. They then go on to describe the attribute in a term that I would use, which is flexible/adaptable.
The final attribute is “No Content Knowledge.” I am accustomed to trying to evaluate an ability that “is” demonstrated rather than one that is absent. What Google is looking for is someone with a fresh perspective and not a preconceived notion about something. They want a person with the naiveté of not having faced an issue before, but the self-confidence to offer a viable solution. For me, we are back to the ability to learn new information and propose a solution based on that information. In my mind, that brings us back to four attributes or competencies. In fact there may be a few more that I could wring out of Google’s process, but I am out of space. It sounds like a fun place to work. I know they have a ton of applicants. Many are called and few are chosen. I have a friend whose daughter is a Googler, and we will have to compare notes.
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