Hire Like Google: 5 Ways to Interview Like Laszlo Bock

March 24, 2014 at 3:07 PM by Rob Stevenson

The following is a guest post from our friend Jacob over at OfficeVibe.com. OfficeVibe provides tools to measure and improve company engagement, as well as track and improve company culture, some of the most crucial facets of building any organization. 

Most companies know that hiring is the most important thing to get right, but it’s often easier said than done. AllScreen_Shot_2014-03-24_at_2.53.15_PM companies are challenged to find amazing talent, quickly. It’s almost impossible to do, but hopefully the tips I share can help.

This is also important for job seekers to understand--if you go into an interview and you don’t necessarily have all of the skills, you can show them that you have a lot of these soft skills, or other qualities that make you an attractive employee.

Recently, the New York Times interviewed Laszlo Bock, the Senior VP of People Operations at Google. Surprisingly, Bock notes that they don’t put much emphasis on a college degree. He said Google had determined  “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also claims the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time”.

In the interview, he lists 5 things that they look for when assessing new candidates. Let's go through each one and talk about how they increase employee engagement.

1. The Ability To Learn

In the interview, he claims the number one thing that they look for at Google, is your ability to learn new things quickly. When I would hire software developers, the one thing I would ask them is if they had any side projects that they did outside of work or school. This was important to me, because it showed that they were curious enough to explore new things and learn.

Companies today work at such a fast pace, that it’s important to be agile, and be able to shift gears quickly. Especially in smaller companies, you’ll often find people “wearing many hats”, so it’s important to be able to learn quickly.

The way that they do this at Google is through behavioral interviews, where they’ll ask how they approach certain difficult situations, or examples of when they were able to network to get a new client.

2. Leadership

The second thing that Laszlo talks about is leadership. What’s interesting is that he makes a distinction between traditional leadership and a new kind of leadership. The new kind of leadership is much more in line with flatter hierarchies and using data to make decisions. So things like stepping up and leading when a problem arises, but of equal importance, understanding when to take a step back and let someone else lead.

I’m a huge fan of this one, and based on my experience, the best leaders serve more as coaches or mentors than as a boss. As a coach, you need to help others around you grow, and teach employees your skills so that they can learn to be as good as you.

Sample questions that you could ask candidates are:

  • What can you do for this company?
  • What experience do you have that would help you in this role?
  • What were your responsibilities at your current (or last) position?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What can you contribute to this company?

3. Humility

This one is especially important for managers, and for what’s known as the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). In traditional environments, it’s usually the HiPPO that has the last word, but in more flat organizations, and more data-driven organizations, they rely on metrics to make decisions instead of gut instincts.

Understanding when to be humble, and when to listen to the ideas of others will be one of the keys to your success. It’s important to realize that you don’t always have the best ideas, and as an organization, you’re better off working as a team.

Sample questions you could ask candidates are:

  • Tell me about a time when it was necessary to admit that you made a mistake. How did you handle that?
  • Can you describe a past situation at work that led you to grow as a person?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you were faced with a major obstacle (work or otherwise) and how you overcame it?

4. Adaptability

Being able to adapt and be flexible is also something to look for in candidates. Like I mentioned earlier, candidates need to be agile, and willing to shift gears.

Fun Fact: 91% of HR directors think that by 2018, people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty.

For any job seeker reading this, things like being able to manage your stress levels as things change (they change often), and happily accepting new roles and responsibilities are what an employer is looking for.

Sample questions to ask (anything related to change):

  • How adaptable are you to change?
  • How would you handle working on a project, and another one comes up last minute?
  • How do you deal with a project where the deadline was just moved up by a week?

5. Collaboration

Studies have proven that multiple people working on a project improves the outcome over one person working on it. Even without looking at the data, it makes a ton of sense. Humans are very social creatures, we learn from each other, we talk to each other, and ideas come from that discussion.

There are many tools you can use to collaborate, so some questions you could ask could be about their experience with certain tools.

Sample questions to ask:

  • Do you work better alone or as part of a team?
  • What don't you like about teamwork?

As you can see, these soft-skills are more important than ever, and will make a difference in how you look for candidates.

Any other ideas of what to look for in candidates? Let me know in the comments!

Jacob is the Head of Content of Officevibe, an employee engagement platform. When he’s not reinventing the world over a glass of scotch, he likes to learning new skills.

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