They're renowned as some of the toughest interview questions in the business. But, despite their legendary difficulty, the reason we love Google’s left-field posers for job applicants isn’t too hard to decode. After all, a job with the internet giant holds the promise of instant socio-economic advancement without any of the tedious grind, doesn't it?
It's certainly an alluring myth. All you need to do is say the right thing at the right time and voila, you will be instantly elevated from the lumpen non-Google-employed waster that currently greets you in the mirror each morning to a slickly dressed tech-enfused wunderkind hotly tipped for the governership of Venezuela once Project 'Goo' World Order really takes off.
Well, that would be the case if the internet giant didn’t keep on moving the damn goalposts. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Google's head of people Laszlo Bock revealed the five key “hiring attributes” that are necessary for employment with the big G. (Reports that these tenets were handed down from a mountain top in the form of an engraved stone tablet are unconfirmed).
If you were expecting Bock’s criteria to include the likes of ‘crazy brainy’, ‘mad coding skills yo’, or even ‘an intuitive understanding of moral relativity’, well, you wouldn’t even have got a foot in the front door of the Googleplex. See below for the list of must-haves and ask yourself, are you good enough? Really?
You don’t know much, but you can learn
Bock admits that while “good grades certainly don’t hurt” (and yes, this includes maths and coding qualifications) the main cognitive skill is “learning ability”. Google doesn't want to know that you can survive in the specific and often artificial environment of a top university, they want you to be able to “process on the fly”. “It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information,” says Bock. “We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive."
You know when to shut the hell up
When a problem arises, do you step in to take charge? Do you do this even when there isn’t a problem because you feel like no-one is paying attention to you? Have you been on The Apprentice? If you answered ‘yes’ to the last two then Google doesn’t want to hear about it. They say they want “emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership” and that means knowing when it’s appropriate to get involved. “What’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power,” says Bock.
You know when you’re beat
Hand in hand with shutting the hell up is shutting the hell up and embracing your betters. Bock describes the ideal employee’s “end goal” as knowing “what we can do together to problem-solve”. Humility and ownership are apparently the key things here. You should feel responsible enough to get involved but humble enough to step back. “I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back,” says Bock.
You’re oddly proud of your mistakes
Unsurprisingly, Google’s biggest hiring problem is that they’re bombarded by applications from “successful bright people”. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing but Bock says that these people “rarely experience failure, and so they don’t know how to learn from that failure”. Bock notes that such individuals “commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot.” What he wants instead is “intellectual humility” - owning up to your mistakes essentially.
You’re no expert
And what’s the least important attribute for Google hires according to Bock? “Expertise”. This is because if an employee has all the characteristics listed above (the ability to learn, intellectual humility, emergent leadership, etc) then 99 per cent of the time, when faced with a problem, they’ll come up with the same answer as an expert. And for that final one per cent, they might say the wrong thing but they might also come up with something “totally new”. “And there is huge value in that,” says Bock.