Since he took over as the head of People Operations — also known as HR — at Google in 2006, Laszlo Bock has helped the company grow from 3,000 to 53,000 employees.
Today, Google receives around 2 million job applications a year. It only hires about 4,000 people, giving it a lower acceptance rate than Yale or Harvard.
So what exactly does Google seek in those fortunate few?
Find them below.
Google wants “Googleyness.”
In “Work Rules,” Bock writes that Google looks for a hard-to-name quality known only as Googleyness.
While he says that it “isn’t a neatly defined box,” Googleyness does have its trademarks.
Here’s his description:
Attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn’t), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don’t know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Add it up, and you’ve got Googleyness.
Google wants “role-related knowledge,” not deep specialization in one area.
Elsewhere in “Work Rules,” Bock writes that “by far the least important thing we screen for is whether someone actually knows anything about the job they are taking on.”
The reason? People who become experts at solving certain problems in certain situations will only replicate those same reliable solutions in unexplored situations.
To get to fresh thinking, you need a more general background.
“For technical roles, such as those in engineering or product management, we assess expertise in computer science quite extensively,” Bock writes, “but even there our bias is to hire people with a general (though expert-level) understanding of computer science rather than specialized knowledge in one field.”
Google wants people with “emergent leadership.”
“What we hire for is not so much expertise or experience as learning ability,” Bock told Max Nisen at Quartz. “We talk about emergent leadership, the notion that we don’t want you to be the sort of person who’s jumping in the captain’s chair all the time, we want you to jump in when there’s a problem, but even more importantly, step away when the problem or the need for expertise goes away.”
He said elsewhere that Google doesn’t care if you were the president of your chess club in high school or if you made a beeline to becoming a sales executive. The more imporant thing is to know when you should step in and display leadership — and step back when you shouldn’t.
Google want people with high “cognitive ability.”
“If you hire someone who is bright, and curious, and can learn, they’re more likely to come up with a new solution that the world hasn’t seen before,” Bock explained in a Google+ Q&A. “This looking for cognitive ability stems from wanting people who are going to reinvent the way their jobs are going to work rather than somebody who’s going to come in and do what everybody else does. We recruit for aptitude, for the ability to learn new things and incorporate them.”
Google seeks out people with “grit.”
Bock spoke with The Times about a time he was on a campus talking to a student double-majoring in computer science and math. The student was thinking about switching out of computer science — it was too difficult.
“I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English,” he recalls. Taking computer science “signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer.”
As breakthrough research in education shows, grit — the ability to keep slogging through difficult work — is more important for success than raw IQ.
Google wants diversity.
Bock tells Quartz that Google always asks itself if candidates “bring something new and diverse in terms of perspective and life experience.”
That desire for diversity in understandable. In the demographic numbers that Google revealed early last year, the company was seen to be startlingly homogeneous; 70% of its employees are men, and 60% are white.
Google wants to know whether candidates can tackle difficult projects.
The company used to be famous for asking cranium-crashing brainteasers, like “what is the probability of breaking a stick into three pieces and forming a triangle?” But it found they weren’t that helpful, and have since moved on.
Now, Google’s interviews include questions about the candidate’s concrete experiences, starting with queries like “give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”
By asking people to speak of their own experiences, Bock says, you get two kinds of information: “You get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”
Google wants candidates with analytical skills.
Basic computer science skills will do, Bock says, since they signal “the ability to understand and apply information” and think in a formal, logical, and structured way. But there are options beyond CS. Bock says that taking statistics while he was in business school was “transformative” for his career.
“Analytical training gives you a skill set that differentiates you from most people in the labor market,” he says.
Google expects people to meet ridiculously high standards.
“We don’t compromise our hiring bar, ever,” Bock says. Because of this, job listings stay open longer at Google than you’d expect, he says — they have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding The One.
But Google doesn’t care about GPAs.
GPAs and test scores don’t correlate with success at the company.
“Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained; they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment,” Bock says.
While in school, people are trained to give specific answers. “It’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer,” Bock says. “You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”
Google wants to know how much candidates have accomplished compared to their peers.
When Bock was explaining how to write resumes to Thomas Friedman at the Times, he said that most people miss that the formula for writing quality resumes is simple: “I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.”
For example, Bock explained that a lot of people would just write, “I wrote editorials for The New York Times.”
But a stand-out resume would be more specific about their accomplishments and how they compared to others. Bock gives a better example: “Had 50 op-eds published compared to average of 6 by most op-ed [writers] as a result of providing deep insight into the following area for three years.”
Google wants to see people who take ownership of projects.
With that sense of ownership, you’ll feel responsible for the fate of a project, making you ready to solve any problem. But you also need to defer when other people have better ideas: “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”
Google wants to see humility, too.
You need “intellectual humility” to succeed at Google, he says. “Without humility, you are unable to learn.” This is a common problem among the well-educated; elite business school grads tend to plateau.
Success can become an obstacle, Bock says, since successful, Google-bound folks don’t often experience failure. So they don’t know how to learn from failure.
Instead of having an opportunity to learn, they blame others. Bock explains:
They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, “Here’s a new fact,” and they’ll go, “Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.”