What does it take to get a job at Google, one of the world’s most successful computer companies? They want innovative people. Laszlo Block, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, contends that besides knowledge of the job, he wants a job candidate possessing leadership and humility. Add an ability to collaborate with others and being willing to learn and relearn a topic.
Block admits that many jobs at Google require an understanding of mathematics and coding. It does not hurt to have good grades from an Ivy League school, but such achievements do not guarantee future success outside of academia. Block and Google have greater expectations.
Does a candidate possess an emergent leadership along with a degree of humility? It does not matter if someone was the president of their math club or can read computer code. The more important question is this: to complete a project, can that person invent a never before seen code or a new form of mathematics? When faced with a problem, can someone solve it in an appropriate time frame? If not, can the person in charge of the project be humble enough to step back and accept ideas from other team members or outside sources? Block calls such a concept intellectual humility and believes true leaders, the kind Google wants to hire, possess such talents.
The problem with Ivy League students or anyone in the top five percent of their graduating class is simple to identify. That person has rarely failed in their studies. They can memorize complicated formulas, but how well do they think outside the box? Put a known mathematical theory in front of someone, provide the information to plug into the equation, and the problem gets solved. Ask someone considered brilliant at coding how a computer program works; the candidate can explain it. Ask a paper smart candidate to create something new, something never before seen, with factors never before studied in the classroom; many cannot. It is a new concept rarely encountered for the academic elite.
For someone graduating in the upper quarter of their class, when something goes right, it has to be because of their superior brilliance and education. He or she memorized a chart or plugged in the right numbers—they read the Cliff Notes. When something goes wrong, the excuses mount. There was a lack of resources. The data was flawed. There was not enough time. The terms of the project changed. It was someone else’s fault. Some may claim responsibility. Block wants people willing to defend their ideas; but when new facts come into play, can the person put aside his ego when he gets stumped?
Thomas Edison failed numerous times at creating a long-burning light bulb. What made him great was that he kept trying and innovating until he got it right. Block looks for people possessing both big and small egos who are able to collaborate with each other. Can someone learn on the fly? More important, can he or she relearn on the fly?
As for experience, Google’s senior vice president of people operations believes there is a place for it in Human Resources and Finance. When A happens, follow B. When B happens, do C. For other departments, Block wants people bold enough to experiment and find new answers.
Google attracts extensive talent. It can afford to look beyond someone’s G.P.A and their college pedigree to find the exact fit they want. Block and his company do not care where someone learned something. Knowledge is knowledge. What he wants are people with both leadership and humility: someone who can collaborate with others and has not only the ability to learn, but to relearn without blaming others. If anyone is interested in working at Google and they possess the qualifications Block seeks, submit an application.
Editorial by Brian T. Yates