The traditional way of pursuing a career — going to college, building a strong résumé — might get you in the door at Google. But right beside you might be someone who took a completely different path.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman explored the company’s hiring theories in a two-part feature titled “How to Get a Job at Google” (here’s part one and part two), in which he talked shop with Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations.
Some of the company’s practices might seem counterintuitive, including an increase in hiring those who did not attend college. Bock emphasizes that degrees and high grade point averages certainly help, but students that target their careers with the right degree path and work ethic have an advantage.
“My belief is not that one shouldn’t go to college,” Bock says. “Most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going, and what they want to get out of it. The first and most important thing is to be explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education.”
Following is more from Bock and Friedman about getting on at Google. Much of it also applies easily to people seeking their first job in sales.
On résumes and interviews: Most résumés are lacking the proper detail and content, Bock says. He presents it as a formula: “I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.” Using Friedman’s position with the Times as an example, he shows how that works. Instead of “Wrote editorials for The New York Times,” he offers “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.”
Similarly, Bock explains that in job interviews, candidates should detail the thought process behind their professional or academic achievements. “What you want to do is say: ‘Here’s the attribute I’m going to demonstrate; here’s the story demonstrating it; here’s how that story demonstrated that attribute.’”
What Google looks for in a job candidate:
General cognitive ability – Bock explains that this is the ability to learn. “It’s the ability to process on the fly,” he says. “It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”
Leadership – Google wants “emergent leadership,” Bock says. A VP of sales title is great, but they’re looking for more. “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,” he says. “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.”
Ownership and humility – Bock says the goal is to work together. Contribute your portion and let others do the same. “Without humility, you are unable to learn,” he says.
Expertise – What might be first on many companies’ list is fifth on Google’s. The previous four elements take priority, Bock says.
And also, grit – Bock dissected a Wall Street Journal story from 2011. It detailed how a college student changed majors — from electrical and computer engineering to psychology — because she found the former classes to be too hard. In the process, she changed her career goal to public relations and human resources. “I think this student was making a mistake,” Bock says. “She was moving out of a major where she would have been differentiated in the labor force.”