Over the weekend, the New York Times ran an article by Thomas Friedman that discussed Google’s hiring practices. The article, “How to Get a Job at Google,” featured excerpts from a June interview with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of People Operations at Google.
I was struck by the similarities between Google’s hiring philosophies and those that guide our MPS admissions process. Our admission criteria were developed in partnership with our MPS Industry Advisory Council, so they closely reflect industry hiring values. It follows then that if you’re wondering what it takes to be successful in the dairy processing industry, don’t take it from me. Take it from Google.
Bock, the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies, noted that Google had determined that “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”
Our MPS program does have a minimum GPA threshold, but we consider grades as only a piece of the admitting puzzle. Beyond grades and test scores, we evaluate our applicants using many of the same criteria that Google employs.
From the Friedman piece:
Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” But Google has its eyes on much more.
“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock. “For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”
The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”
And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.
“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.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.
The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.”