Google receives between 2.5 and 3.5 million job applications a year.
It only hires about 4,000 people.
Senior vice president of People Operations, Laszlo Bock presides over the ultra-selective process.
We sifted through those interviews for the most surprising takeaways. Find them below.
Google doesn’t look for experts.
“We would rather hire smart, curious people than people who are deep, deep experts in one area or another,” he says, noting that people with strong learning ability can generally find the right answers to unfamiliar questions. “But somebody who’s been doing the same thing forever will typically just replicate what they have seen before.”
Google does 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 maths. 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 rigour 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 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 labour 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 looks for employees who know when to step up and take a leadership role.
Bock doesn’t care for “traditional leadership.” Did you take the fast track to becoming president of the chess club or vice president of sales?
“We don’t care,” he insists. “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.”
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:
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