Google’s hiring philosophy begins with this simple but powerful insight: the best talent is not looking for a job.  

The odds of hiring a great performer on an inbound application are low.

This week we’re exploring Google’s impressive hiring and recruiting practices, as outlined in Laszlo Bock’s terrific book Work Rules!

Job boards like Indeed and Monster produce many applicants but almost no hires.  So, in 2008, Google stopped posting.

What has Google found to be the single best source for qualified candidates?


At one point, more than half of all Google new hires were referrals.

Then, in 2009, the rate at which Googlers were making referrals began to decline.

So, Google did what we all do when we want to incentivize performance.  They doubled the recruiting bonus from $2K to $4K. 

No movement.

Lazslo writes they learned Googlers weren’t recommending friends, family members and peers to apply for a job at Google to earn a few more bucks.  

Paying a bonus is an extrinsic motivator, i.e. the motivation comes from outside ourselves. Googlers were making referrals for intrinsic reasons.  Intrinsic motivation comes from inside, and includes the desire to give back, curiosity to learn more, and a sense of accomplishment from completing a task.

So, what did Google do?

They gathered groups of 20 to 30 Googlers for “sourcing jams” – essentially aided recall exercises.  

“Who is the best finance person you’ve worked with?”

“Who is the best Ruby programmer?”

When asked about potential referrals, we likely have a few people who come to mind. But rarely will we do an exhaustive review of all the people we know.  

So, during the sourcing jams, Google encouraged current employees to methodically go through their LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ contacts.  When someone identified a possible candidate, a Google recruiter was standing by to immediately reach out to the candidate. 

Jogging people’s memories increased the volume of referrals by more than 1/3.


Next, they rebuilt their in-house staffing team which turned out to be significantly more effective and much less expensive than using outside recruiting firms.

Internal Google recruiters generate a list of possible candidates which they then review with Googlers who have subject-matter expertise or may even know the individuals.  If a current Googler knows the candidate, they reach out and make the initial contact. 

Here are Lazslo’s three steps to creating a high-octane recruiting machine:

Step 1: Turn every associate into a recruiter by soliciting referrals.

Step 2: Ask your best-networked associates to spend even more time sourcing great hires.  For some, that may turn into a full-time job.

Step 3: Experiment.


Reflection:  How might my organization use referrals to generate better new hires?

Action:  Act on these insights.

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