I’m not sure if there’s another company in the world that we hear about more than Google. So when I heard about the new book How Google Works, I was curious to read it. The book was written by a couple of Google executives named Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. In some ways, the book is a typical business book, touching on things like culture, strategy, communications, decision making and innovation. However, the book includes a chapter on hiring that I found fascinating, and I’d like to share some thoughts from that chapter with you.
The chapter is titled “Talent – Hiring is the Most Important Thing You Do.” Not a totally new concept to most of us, but it contains some great insights. Here they are:
- Hire people who are interesting and engaging, beyond just the skills required for the job. Often we think only about whether or not a person has the qualifications for the job. Obviously that’s important, but being around interesting people, people who have different ideas, challenges us to think, to re-examine our own thoughts. Being around interesting and engaging people sharpens the whole environment in an organization. So when you interview a candidate, spend at least as much time asking about their other interests as you do asking about their job qualifications. Consider whether they are the sort of person that will challenge your thinking on all sorts of matters.
- Ask the assistants what they think of candidates. Candidates are generally on their best behavior when they talk to people who they think will make or be involved in the hiring decision. However, checking with receptionists and other support people in the office who might have interaction with the candidate in an “unguarded” moment can reveal interesting insights. You want to know what the candidate is like when she is “being herself”, not just when she is trying to impress. Ask the assistants!
- Recognize that some of your most valuable potential employees are people you wouldn’t want to have a beer with. This may seem in conflict with the first bullet point, but it’s not. You’re looking for people who will challenge you and shape your organization, not for a new best friend. The idea is not to hire people you like, but to hire people that will be effective in your organization. Granted, we need to develop common cultures, and, on balance, it’s always more enjoyable to work with people we like. However, whether or not you would want to spend time with a person outside of work isn’t a good hiring criteria. Sometimes a person just different enough to rub you the wrong way in a social setting is just what the organization needs.
- Judge a candidate based on their “trajectory,” not based on where they are now. This may be the most helpful insight in the whole book. When we evaluate people our tendency is to consider where they are now, what skills they have now, and what they can do now. Hiring based on trajectory is all about potential. It’s about thinking about what the person could be and do 3, 5, 10 and 20 years down the road. This is how an NFL scout looks at a college football player prior to the draft. They look at the prospect’s physical frame, how much weight they could add, their natural speed and agility and how much potential they have to develop, not just how they’re performing now. We should do a similar thing when hiring for our organization.
- The job of finding people for your organization belongs to everyone, not just department heads, HR people and hiring managers. Finding good people needs to be woven into the fabric of the company. Everyone needs to understand the importance to the organization of having “top talent” from top to bottom. So how do you get there? Find ways to measure and count referrals and reward people for them. Publicly and privately praise people for a referral that leads to a good hire. Daily attention is needed to make this happen, but it ultimately leads to a stronger workforce.
Nothing is more important than hiring. Not just for Google, but for your organization. Think about which of these principles you could weave into the fabric of your organization.