- Before she joined Google in 2001, Sheryl Sandberg had no experience in tech.
- In a job interview at eBay, then-CEO Meg Whitman told Sandberg it’s important to hire for skills, not specific experience.
- Sandberg evolved this approach as the COO of Facebook.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg as his COO in 2008, he was poaching top talent from Google.
Before Sandberg helped build Google’s AdWords and AdSense platforms into essential pillars of the company’s empire, she was the chief of staff to the US secretary of the Treasury — an impressive position, but one that had nothing to do with tech.
When she left politics in 2000, she decided to move to Silicon Valley and find a job. It was a meeting with Meg Whitman, who is now the CEO of HP and was CEO of eBay at the time, that taught her an important hiring lesson she would take to Google and then Facebook.
After a series of interviews that ended with the interviewer telling her she didn’t have the necessary experience, Sandberg decided to take a different approach. She remembered telling Whitman, “I don’t have any relevant experience. I’m going to acknowledge that. But I’d still love to come work with you.”
Whitman responded, according to Sandberg, “No one has any experience, because no one’s ever done this before. I want to hire people with great skills. Hopefully you have great skills.”
“I really took that lesson to heart,” Sandberg said.
When she joined Google and was tasked with building a team that would develop a large-scale ad platform, she decided that she was not going to limit her candidate pool to those with digital advertising or sales experience. Instead, she decided to focus on skills.
“I was going to go hire the best and brightest,” she told Hoffman. “People who were going to bring their passion and dedication and work hard.”
In a 2006 talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Whitman said that at eBay, her general hiring philosophy was to hire “ahead of the curve.” That is, fill key positions with people whose skill set exceeds the current requirements. That way, the company could grow into these leaders.
Whitman explained that when she interviewed someone, she had them describe learning moments in their career, and kept digging until she could discern what she perceived to be that person’s strengths and weaknesses. She would then check those out with referrals.
Whitman said that “pattern recognition is gained through experience,” but this doesn’t contradict the lesson she taught Sandberg several years before the Stanford presentation. When Whitman interviewed Sandberg, she needed to know how Sandberg approached her job in politics. Her experiences were important in the sense that they either demonstrated management skills required to be an executive at eBay or they didn’t; her experiences did not have to demonstrate that she had previously held a job exactly like the one she was applying to.
Sandberg told Hoffman that she has paired the approach of hiring for skills with Zuckerberg’s approach to hiring: “You should never hire someone to work for you unless you would work for them.”
You can listen to the full episode of “Masters of Scale” wherever you get podcasts, or find it below.
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