For years, the question has been “Are you smart enough to work at Google?” but it appears that hiring requirements have undergone a shift in the proverbial goalposts. Being able to answer brain-teasers like “Can you swim faster in water or syrup” were showcased in the best-selling book for would-be mega-earning geeks. Applicants have prepared themselves for fiendishly difficult interviews, by cramming up on such tests, studying the online cheat sheets, and generally bracing for an all-out assault on their overall intelligence.
Now, perhaps the smart alecs who are so good at trivia and puzzles may not be such great candidates to ride around on the red and yellow bicycles at Google HQ and relax by the corporate pool (tables). Maybe they will not be the ones to take the chute to the cafeteria after all?
Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations, in other words, the head hiring guy, at Google, has defined what they want in a candidate. Surprising to some, he is not necessarily looking for amazing grades, although he did say that “they don’t hurt.” Instead, more and more Google employees don’t actually have a college education at all. In some departments, this is up to 14 percent.
Bock has identified five key attributes they look for in every part of the company. It is above all a technological business and so coding skills are assessed if it’s a technical position, that said, he still favors “general cognitive ability” over and above IQ. Defining what he means by this Block explains, “It’s learning ability.” This includes being able to pull together disparate bits of information, and picking things up on the fly.
Number two on the list is leadership, but not necessarily the traditional kind. You may have been team captain of this and that at school, but that’s not the proof they’re looking for. The willingness to step back is just as important as the ability to lead. Letting someone else take over when that is the best option is as critical as holding onto your own power at all costs. Google calls this “emergent leadership.”
Having the humility to accept that someone else has had a better idea is a real bonus. This ties into what Google like to think of as “ownership” where everyone contributes their own bit to the problem-solving, and then recognizes what the others contribute. “Without humility,” says Bock “you are unable to learn.”
Over-confidence in highly-qualified graduates can insulate them from the crucial quality. Having come from an environment where all they have ever known is success and with almost no experience of personal failure, the hotshots from the top schools often bomb out.
Having a big ego and a small ego at the same time is the solution to this lack. Someone may be sticking fiercely to a position they believe in, but if a new fact is presented, Bock like a person who will say “OK, that changes everything.” He finds that the genius types are more prone to blame others when something bad happens, and if all goes well, its all down to their own brilliance. He calls this the“fundamental attribution error.”
Last, and certainly least, that they look for, is “expertise.” They don’t like it. Bock much prefers non-experts to experts in a field. He finds that the latter apply the same old techniques they have used before, where non-experts are much more inclined to find new answers. The value in the new approach is potentially much greater than that in the tried and tested method.
To conclude, coming from a brand-name college and having unsurpassed reasoning and analytical skills may not be the passport into Google a lot of people would suppose. Being a person who retains innate curiosity about anything and everything, is always willing to learn, modest, and generous is perhaps a better hit list. Making a lot of mistakes, and owning up to them, is a pretty good trait too.
So if anyone asks you “Are you smart enough to work at Google?” the right answer now is probably “Well, I don’t know that much, but I can learn.”
The Google goalposts have shifted. They have learned from experience (a quality they much admire) and now look for curiosity over credentials. Gone is the focus on GPAs and the infamous interview teasers. Having an “extended adolescence” in a costly college may impede progress in life, when you could be out there, making your own way in the world, and becoming one of the “exceptional humans” that the likes of Laszlo Bock admire. Its a bit of a no-brainer really.
By Kate Henderson