Google gets around 3 million applications a year now, according to HR head Laszlo Bock, and hires 7000. That means only one in 428 applicants end up with a job, making it far more selective than institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Those are pretty thin odds, but when Bock joined in 2006 from General Electric, Google’s hiring process was even more daunting—especially since the company’s future was by no means a sure thing.
“My last week at GE the CEO of my division took me aside, and said ‘Laszlo, this Google thing is cute, but I don’t really think it’s going anywhere. When you’re ready for a real company we’ll hold a job for you, and you can come back any time,'” Bock said in a speech at LinkedIn’s Talent Connect conference yesterday
It took some convincing to get people on board back then, Bock says. Many were taking pay cuts to join, and they had to run the guantlet to do so: “Hiring took 6 to 9 months and people sat for 15 to 25 interviews. It was an awful experience.” The company was also notorious for asking impossible brain teasers, which Bock says he hates and is still working to eradicate from Google interviews.
Things are a bit more orderly now that Google is perhaps the most sought-after employer in the world, with a workforce of more than 50,000.
Even at such a high volume, Bock said Google has managed to get smarter and faster about hiring by following a few core rules:
Without a high and uncompromising standard, companies end up regressing to the mean with hires, Bock says. If one person hires another who is slightly less competent, it sets off a chain reaction that results in an undistinguished talent pool filled with average people.
“It’s why performance distributions look the way they do,” Bock says. “You have to draw a line. Hiring managers are biased, they want to fill jobs fast, and [you] face pressure to hire people you probably shouldn’t.”
Google has one very simple solution: It took hiring power away from the hiring manager. Instead, the decision-making power lies with a committee tasked with making unbiased decisions. But in order for that to work, they need to have standardardized feedback from interviewers.
Bock takes great pains to remind his coworkers that most people are terrible interviewers. Research shows that people are quick to form lasting impressions based on bad or no data, and trained interviewers aren’t any better at avoiding those biases than a layperson.
Bock has previously described what Googles wants, in order of priority: general cognitive ability, emergent leadership, “Googleyness,” and role-related knowledge.
The company standardizes the search for these factors with structured interviews. Not everyone gets the same exact interview, but they do get the same type of situational and behavioral questions, and there are clear criteria for what good, bad, and mediocre answers look like.
“You get a sense without case interviews, which are coachable, or brainteasers, which are ridiculous, of what they will do in a job,” Bock said.