How Google Hires
Maybe you’ve heard the rumors that Google spoils its employees with outrageous benefits?
Have you heard of their latest high-tech warmed (or cooled) toilets with washing, drying and the mysterious ‘wand cleaning’ functions?
No wonder the tech giant receives over 2 million job applications every year! But what makes Google so unique and appealing to jobseekers everywhere? Google (now a subsidiary under Alphabet) has been voted the number 1 best company to work for by Fortune for the 7th time in 10 years.
The key to Google’s success has always been its people, or ‘Googlers’, as they call themselves. Google makes sure that it not only recruits the right talents, but that it also nurtures and retains them.
Out of the 2 million job applications received every year, only about 5,000 are hired. How does the most sought after employer by jobseekers sift through its mountainous pile of job applications to find the right hire? Google takes hiring very seriously, to the extent that nearly every employee is involved in some part of the recruitment process and all job offers have to be signed off by the top executives. Employees are trained on their interviewing skills and coached on how to give insightful feedback. The interviews and feedback are tracked so that over time the good interviewers can be identified.
Research has shown that the best predictors of job performance are work sample tests, general cognitive ability assessments and structured interviews. A combination of these assessment techniques are used in Google’s hiring process. A candidate may be given a sample piece of work that is similar to the job they are applying for and also attend behavioral and situational structured interviews with assessments of cognitive ability. Google has even developed an internal tool called qDroid that provides a guide for its interviewers to identify structured questions that are effective in predicting performance for the job they are conducting the interviews for.
Generic, structured questions might sound boring compared to brainteasers or creative questions like ‘what song best describes your work ethic’ , but having a standardized set of questions help interviewers distinguish between good answers and brilliant answers. All the candidates are scored against a consistent matrix. This whole process aims at removing any conscious or unconscious bias and to assess each candidate as objectively as possible based on data.
Even in its recruitment efforts, Google downplays on hierarchy and emphasizes on power of the individual. Hiring committees are set up to assess hiring decisions and no single hiring manager is able to make the final call to hire without first going through the hiring committee. This prevents hiring managers from hiring their own friends.
A hiring committee consists of 4 to 5 Googlers which includes senior managers, directors, and experienced employees from that domain or even a Googler not involved in the domain of work being applied for. Including cross-functional Googlers in the hiring process (whether the hiring committee or interviewer) provides a more objective perspective as these Googlers do not have any interests in the role being filled but will want to uphold the recruitment quality of the company. The hiring committee is separate from the interviewers, although its decision is based on the feedback forms provided by them.
With such a sophisticated recruitment system in place, it is no surprise that Google refuses to compromise on candidate quality when it comes to finding the best fit. Bock, Google’s ex head of HR for the last 10 years is famous for advising people to always hire candidates that are smarter than themselves, no matter how long it may takes to find them. Google also prefers ‘generalist’ over ‘specialist’, as ‘learning animals’ are more capable of adapting to changes in a dynamic industry. Other than being smart, a candidate must possess ‘Googleyness’. This includes, among other things, ambition, creativity, intellectual humility and passion. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, uses the boredom test as an indicator of a candidate’s Googleyness. Eric believes that if you are not able to pass time in conversation with someone without getting bored, then you should probably not hire him.
Behind the dazzling benefits of free gourmet food and gaming rooms, Google has succeeded in providing the environment and space for creativity and innovation to grow. The building blocks of the Google culture are based on freedom. The freedom to explore your own projects of interest during 20% of your salaried time gives breathing space for passion and creativity. You become co-creator of the company.
Another important aspect of the culture is transparency, as very little is kept from even front-line employees. Most of the company’s confidential source code is easily accessible even to a newly-hired software engineer and presentation slides of board of directors’ meeting are shown to employees so that everyone is in the know. This builds trust and reduces the amount of redundant work done due to lack of transparency. In addition, every employee is given a voice, through the Google-O-Meter, to impact and shape the company. Google is also notably known for its relatively flat organizational structure, boasting fewer managers per number of employees and thus reducing unnecessary layers of bureaucracy.
Last but not least, a key point in how Google retains top performers, is through compensation. The variance in compensation is enormous as the company believes in rewarding its employees according to their contribution and impact. There are extreme cases where stock award of $10,000 and $1,000,000 were paid to different employees working in the same area. This ensures that top performers are acknowledged and retained whilst the worst performers can be analyzed to help them grow.
The Recruitment Process
Imagine that you have managed to secure an interview with this legendary tech giant, thanks to your impressive work experiences and immensely good karma from some past life. Now starts the famed elusive hiring process at Google.
The whole hiring process is an experience in itself. Your first encounter will be with the gatekeepers:
Sourcer: Main role is to guide you through the process up until the onsite interview (if you make it that far). As their title suggests, their main role is to scout for talents and link them to the company. They are employees of Google and because their performance metric is related to the number of candidates receiving offers, they might just help you prod your Recruiter to move things forward.
Recruiter: Your main point of contact throughout the whole hiring process and should update you on any developments within 48 hours of any interviews. She will liaise with the hiring committee and manage the whole candidate process.
Coordinator: They are responsible for logistics and scheduling interviews. Unlike the Sourcer, they do not have any stake in your success and are there purely to ensure that your experience is as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Candidate Host: They are like the Google ambassador/ host during your onsite interview. After the meet-and-greet with your Candidate Host, he or she will help set you up for your exciting day of grueling interviews.
Before you get to fly out to one of their marvelous offices complete with bean bags and foosball tables, there are a few hoops you have to jump through. Depending on the position you are applying for, there will probably be two rounds of phone screenings or Google Hangout interviews. The first round will be a very basic level phone screening by your recruiter, to verify that you do actually know something about the job and are not lying on your resume. Most should pass this test unless your resume is a fake.
Now that we have weeded out the fakers, the real game begins. Your next round of phone interview will be test your technical knowledge, most probably conducted by a Google engineer in the position you are applying for. Be warned, since this is the first round of technical screening, the interviewer has a whole lot of weeding out to do.
You will probably be talking to an interviewer who expects you to fail and would rather be working on his pet project of developing the next Google Toothpick (or has that already been invented?). Also, if the interviewer starts you out with methodological questions but switches to something trivial like asking you to describe your most interesting project, it might be a sign that you have lost his interest. Most likely, he is now playing Pac-Man on the game machine and muttering intermittent ‘uh-huh’ to your replies.
Phone screens will typically last 30-60 minutes. Your interviewer will then have to submit a report about the interview and assign you a score.
If you receive an invitation to an onsite interview, congratulations! You are one of the elite few that Google deems technically competent to meet in person. Google does not release official data on the proportion of candidates that received the coveted invitation, but speculation by CareerCup has it that around 35% of phone screen candidates proceeded to onsite interviews.
Now that your recruiter has prepared you on the details of your onsite interviews and what to expect, do yourself a favor and trust your recruiter if he tells you to dress casual. Google’s offices will feel more like a densely-packed university campus than a typical corporate space. Think jeans and T-shirt. Theoretically, you should still get the job offer no matter your dress code if you are an exceptional talent. But picture yourself in an interview with 3 or 4 Googlers in T-shirts and jeans whilst you are wearing a $700 suit and tie. Your interviewers probably do not mind much but it would affect your composure if you feel out of place. Plus, you want to portray yourself as a good match for the ‘Googleyness’ culture.
Expect 4 to 5 interviews for the day, they will last 30 to 45 minutes each. Your interviewers will be a mix of potential teammates, cross-functional colleagues or even potential subordinates. Each interviewer will form their own questions to ask you and submit a written feedback about the interview which includes a score of 1 to 4. They will have to state and justify their assessment, which is then submitted to a hiring committee that looks through all the feedbacks collected from your interviewers plus your resume and work experiences before coming to a final decision. In between these interviews, a Googler will take you out to lunch. Your lunch buddy will not submit any ‘feedback’ on you so feel free to ask any questions that you might be embarrassed to ask in a formal setting.
If the panel decides that you are a good fit, your file will be submitted to senior level management for review and this adds another layer of objectivity. Once this is approved, the compensation committee (which is separate from the hiring committee) will determine the remuneration package Google is ready to offer you. The whole package is then submitted for a final executive review. If all is well and the goddess of fortune is in your favour, your recruiter will contact you with details of your offer! Again, successful candidates are estimated at 25% of those that attended onsite interviews.
As you can see, there are many layers of reviews and approval before the final offer can be extended (if it is). This ensures a lot of objectivity, so do not feel discouraged if you think you messed up an interview or feel that a certain interviewer does not like you. The interviews are “blind”, which means your performance will not be revealed to other interviewers so as to remove any bias.
How your interviewer ranks you in the feedback form is obviously very important. Google has established clear criteria in the feedback form against which to assess each candidate, namely general cognitive ability, leadership, Googleyness and role-related knowledge. Note that technical skills come last among the stated four elements. Generally, Google believes that if you possess the insights of the first three qualities, you will be able to navigate your way through the rest. That being said, technical questions will still be extremely challenging so you might want to brush up on your professional knowledge. We do have good news though: brainteasers such as ‘how many piano tuners are there in Tokyo’ that Google interviews used to be notorious for have been discouraged due to its lack of predictive ability of candidates’ competency.
If you are one of the top 0.04% of applicants to actually get hired, do send us a postcard from your new luxurious office! In the usual (but unfortunate) event that you do not qualify, you may consider re-applying after a 6-month gap. In any case, we are sure you have probably enjoyed the experience itself, as 80% of those interviewed and failed reported the experience as positive and would still recommend that a friend apply.