Advice for Job-Switchers and Newbies From Google’s Hiring Chief

Mark Lennihan/AP File Photo

Google HR chief Laszlo Bock discusses the extremely data-focused approach to hiring and management he has created at the search and tech giant.

Google HR chief Laszlo Bock has been just about everywhere lately, promoting his book on the extremely data-focused approach to hiring and management he has created at the search and tech giant. His team’s research has helped the company stop asking older candidates for GPA and test scores, and determined that the optimal number of interviews is only four.

His latest venue was a Reddit AMA yesterday, where Bock offered some valuable and specific tips for employers, older applicants and job-switching lawyers.

For over-40 engineers

Google employees tend to be on the young side, but Bock had some encouragement and a word of advice for an over-40 developer that should apply to everyone: Always phrase your accomplishments in a very specific way.

Google hires people of every age … our oldest Googler is over 80! Best advice is to make clear the impact of your work. Basically, for all your accomplishments use the format “accomplished X by doing Y as measured by Z.” Please apply!

The best possible interview question

It turns out there isn’t one, something Bock is still trying to teach employees who rely on Google’s infamous and officially discouraged “brainteasers”:

There’s no best question—it’s all about drilling down into the answer and verifying that the person actually did the work. The attribute underpinning productivity vs. slacking is conscientiousness, which you can assess with structured interview questions. Also, references can actually help on this one—if the person isn’t reported to be in the top 10%, move on.

For lawyers looking to swap careers

Many lawyers facing an oversaturated job market are looking to take a leap into another area. Here’s Bock’s take on how attorneys can market themselves outside of law:

For most employers, it’s tough because they look for specialized expertise. In my experience most people switching fields take a step back / pay cut. That said, look for something that’s as adjacent as possible (e.g., policy, communications) and work from there. You can describe a lot of your legal experiences in ways that also highlight skills that are relevant to those fields.

He also suggests applying for any job at Google that looks good, because the company cares “way, way less” about the field you’re coming from, and more about specific individual traits.

How to join the new wave of HR

For his own human resources team, Bock has a highly defined strategy: Only a third of his people are hired from traditional HR backgrounds, a third come from top strategy consultancies, and a third have at least a masters in a highly analytical field.

Here’s his advice for an MBA student looking at an HR focus:

1. Take statistics and/or operations. Most people in OB/HR (most people with MBAs, in fact) don’t have a deep background in these areas, but they are essential for separating reality from opinion.

2. Get exposed to lots of cultures—take tours, interview classmates, try a stint in consulting. It’s important to really feel the difference yourself because you’ll be a more compelling and credible advocate later.

And for someone starting off in an HR rotational program:

Get exposure in compensation or analytics—important to differentiate yourself in the labor marketplace, and most HR people don’t rotate through those fields.

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