Some people love Google’s hiring process. Others hate it. Either way, the subject always generates strong emotions.
I have had the good fortune to go through the hiring process and also to have led a team through the hiring process as part of a potential acquisition. While the acquisition never happened, I passed the interviews and found the entire experience truly eye opening.
My takeaway is that Google’s hiring process is not just a little better, but significantly and fundamentally better. And not necessarily for the reasons most people think.
Hire for foundation
In an interview with Google, the focus is not ‘are you capable of doing a specific and narrowly defined job’. The focus is on your foundational abilities in a specific functional area.
If you’re applying for a job as an engineer, you need to be on top of your data structures and algorithms. If you’re applying for a job as a product manager, you need to deeply understand what building winning products is all about (no matter the industry) and have the ability to keep pace on a technical level with Google engineers.
Why does this matter? Focusing on a strong horizontal foundation rather than day-to-day vertical expertise means that Google employees learn faster, are more agile and are more able to respond to a rapidly changing business.
You might think this focus on fundamentals is obvious, but few companies actually do it. Startups are actually the worst offenders because of the extreme pressure to show results while being unproven and unknown, making hiring for them more difficult.
Hire for excellence
Google looks for people with intellectual horse power and who achieve excellence in their field.
Some people find it strange that Google has asked people in the past for undergraduate GPA. Is this really relevant to job performance?
Well, intellectual horse power is developed and refined at school, and knowing a candidate’s GPA provides an early data point for how much this person excelled at his or her “job” at the time.
When you’re hiring for your startup, look at a candidate’s measurable results over time for as long a period as possible. Look for patterns of excellence.
Hire for vision
Google thinks different, and looks for people with creativity, initiative and vision. People who question the status quo and with the ability to reinvent it. Projects like Adwords and Gmail (among others) are exceptional in this dimension.
Foundation and Excellence are not enough. They help you win the game the way it’s played today. Vision helps you change the game’s rules (or create a new game) so you win tomorrow.
Your startup needs people with vision. Not people who can predict the Next Big Thing, but people with vision in their specific discipline. People who every day focus on and can see new and better ways to do things.
Hire for drive
Google wants people with the passion, drive and determination to change the world. People with an inner fire who aim for the “impossible” and for whom failure is not an option.
Google’s view is that it is better to achieve 65% of the impossible than 100% of the ordinary. And this is literally how it sets goals and measures success.
Knowing what needs to be done and doing it are not the same. You need both capability and motivation. Hire people for your startup that can show a track record of moving mountains. People like this will energize your organization. And they want to work with people just like them. Which means once you start hiring this kind of person, attracting more people just like them becomes easier.
Google would rather leave a position empty than fill it with someone sub-standard. This is what every startup should do.
A rockstar engineer can produce more than 10 times the output of a mediocre one. And bad engineers or product managers can exact tremendous costs on your startup. Sustained bad engineering puts a startup on a path toward failure. And beyond a certain point it is essentially unrecoverable.
Stretch as long as possible before each new hire in your startup. If you can, do a contract project with a candidate before extending the offer. Hire people that are smarter than you. Make sure you formalize your hiring process. And never compromise.
Google is a complex and unique company and there are many reasons why they have been so successful in recruiting the best of the best. Your startup can’t completely replicate the Google environment, but you absolutely can increase the chances your startup will succeed by adding rigor to your hiring process and hiring like Google.
Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with Google and these views are based on my personal experiences interacting with a wide range of Googlers.