How to Hire Better

If we want to transform our teams or our organizations, improving our hiring practices is the single best way to do it, writes longtime Google Chief People Operations Officer Laszlo Bock.

It takes will and patience.  But it works.

Google intentionally front loads their investment in people by focusing on hiring right.  Period.  Hard stop.

Yesterday we looked at how Google spends money up front to identify and hire exceptional talent rather than invest in training in a quest to turn average performers into superstars.

Finding exceptional talent doesn’t have to cost more, writes Laszlo in Work Rules!, his excellent book about his years at Google. It does require, however, a radical change in thinking.  It starts with making two big changes.

1: Hire slowly.  At Google, the goal is to hire only the top 10%.  Achieving this goal requires a lot more applicants and a lot more interviews.  

2: Only hire people better than you.  Laszlo writes: “Every person I’ve hired is better than me in some meaningful way.”

Google’s hiring process is intense.  

It starts with the fact that managers do not hire who they want.  In fact, the hiring manager does not participate at all.

What?!?

That’s right.  At Google, to ensure objectivity, the hiring committee does not include the hiring manager. In fact, for leadership and management roles, Google “flips the script” and includes one or two people on the committee who will work for the person being hired. That sends a strong signal.

So, if the hiring manager doesn’t interview prospective candidates, who does?

The short answer is: everyone else. Each Googler spends an average of 1.5 hours every week participating in the hiring process.  Note: up until 2013 when they streamlined the process, Googlers spent 4-10 hours a week on hiring!

Google’s research has shown four interviews are enough to predict whether a candidate should be hired with 86% confidence.  Each additional interviewer only adds one percent more predictive power.

The goal is to maintain an objective standard for every new hire.  To do this, Google gathers varying perspectives on each candidate.  The first contact is done by Google’s professional recruiters who do a robust screening.  

The hiring committee always includes at least one person who is familiar with the job being filled but does not have a direct stake in it.  The goal is to gather a disinterested assessment: someone with a strong interest in keeping quality high across the organization.  Note also: each member of the hiring committee’s input is weighted equally.

The hiring committee compiles a 40-60 page packet on each candidate.  Those who are recommended for hire then go to a group of senior leaders who review the materials.  They are charged with ensuring Google stays true to the high-quality bar set by its founders.  This group meets every week and looks at between 20 and 300 candidates.  They have three options: yes, no, or request more information.

Finally, for many years, CEO Larry Page would have the final say on every – yes, every – candidate.

The message is clear: hiring is taken seriously at the very highest levels.

Throughout, Google focuses on eliminating “false positives:” i.e. candidates who look good in the interview but who don’t perform well.  Laszlo tells us Google would rather miss on hiring two great performers to avoid hiring a lousy one.  

The reasoning?

Because bad performers have a toxic effect on an entire team and require substantial management time to coach or exit.  

If this is true at Google – a very big company – it’s all the more true for us at smaller organizations where awful hires have an even bigger impact.  

“The reality is, there are some employees you should get rid of,” says former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  “But the goal of recruitment should be to have no such employees.”

Should we anticipate obstacles to increasing the quality of our hiring?  

You better believe it, Lazslo tells us.  

Managers will hate the idea they can’t hire their own people. Others will argue the quality bar doesn’t need to be so high for every job.

His advice?  

Don’t give into the pressure.  Having a stringent hiring bar and exhaustive focus on recruiting will transform our organizations.  

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Reflection:  What steps is my organization taking to achieve objectivity in our hiring process?

Action:  Have a conversation around how we might improve our hiring process.

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