Why Google Wants New Hires Who Are Humble And Argue

If you're going to make it at Google, you clearly need smarts. But you also need humility. Google's Human Resource VP explains.

Google used to be known for having an idiosyncratically intense hiring process: solve a Rubik's cube while doing a headstand, guess the total number of pubs in England, that sort of thing. Those rigors would yield an interview score, one that would be tagged to candidates and follow the successful ones into the Googleplex.

The correlation between the interview score and on-the-job performance?

"Zero relationship," says Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of "people operations" (aka human resources) at the search giant.

Instead of the brainteasers, Google now opts for a refreshingly human hiring process. As we've written about before, they want you to have done awesome things and be able to explain how you got them done.

They're looking for a multifaceted qualities. As Tom Freidman writes at the New York Times, these include: learning ability, appropriate leadership, humility, ownership, and expertise. The most surprising is humility--because it's not exactly the quality you'd expect from a company made up of the smartest folks in the room. Here's why Google values being humble:

Humility enables growth

Sounding at least at little bit like a Jedi master, Bock says that if you don't have humility--intellectual humility, to be specific--then you'll never be able to learn. But the problem with people attracted to the Googles of the world is that they're probably insanely successful; Friedman says that "many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau." Since they rarely get the experience of failure, they don't know what to do with it. For all the ballyhoo about failing fast from tech elites, the uber-educated often don't know how to fail and learn.

Bock explains Google's view:

Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure ...They, instead, 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 or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved.

Then who does the best at Google? According to Bock, it's the people who "argue like hell" and be "zealots about their point of view," but when a new fact emerges, they'll be able to admit that the situation has changed--and they're not right.

"You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time," Friedman says.

Hat tip: The New York Times

[Image: Flickr user jfleischmann]

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14 Comments

  • Dominick Mezzapesa

    LOL sounds exactly like me. My sanity has been called into question by fellow workers LOL

    I can work like a madman, and if I am right then even on small matter I'll argue till they either give up or call me crazy and walk away...BUT if it turns out I was wrong or even if new fact come into play that will shed doubt on my position I will be the first to apologize and admit I was wrong

  • Savage Nation

    One must remember Google is an Intelligence Agency. They were a Pentagon (DARPA) Startup Company. They ARE the NSA, CIA, DIA, NORTHCOM, et. al. So the normal or even abnormal Silicon Valley rules do not apply.

  • Stephen Hauer

    For Me, it is not so much the Answer… as much as How the Interviewee Handles Answering It..

    [] How did you come by your Spending Money when you were in HighSchool & College ?

    [] How was your College Tuition paid for ?

    [] If I hit the Buttons on your Car Radio, what Stations / Genres would I hear.

    [] When did you Cry last ? Why ?

    [] What is your Birth Order in your Family ? And, how has it Influenced You ?

  • I laughed when I saw the "When did you cry last? Why?" question. I would likely bomb that interview because I'd have to say, "Last night watching the season 5 finale of Murdoch Mysteries because Dr. Ogden and Detective Murdoch finally admitted they love each other and there was a fireworks kiss and everything." Boy howdy :-)

  • Scott Kuhn

    And you would instantly FAIL the interview because they weren't looking for a guarded smart ass answer.

  • It would be interesting to see if women would be more sensitive that question than men or vice-versa.

    However, that question in an interview setting is definitely inappropriate for some jobs. I can see it being relevant in fields like: social work, nursing or counseling.

  • Robin Fletcher

    Absolutely love this article for the point it makes about the importance of humility. (And I don't mean the posture of humble...in clothes, polite banter, and non-verbal messaging...but in psycho-emotional humility that is essential to vigorous, Socratic thinking and dialogue.) It's crucial to growth, smart growth, of every kind - professional & personal. Good on Google's leadership for its focus on this exceptional human quality.

  • There is nothing "good" about Google. It's a for-profit empire who has come to the realization that it has no heart; now it wants to play nice by hiring a few bodies who have empathy and humility? Token empaths - if you will - so it can continue it's worldwide Googlization without a guilty conscience. . .

  • I think you're right. The people who get these jobs had better have a strong support system already in place, because corporate personality types will use them for all the life and emotion they bring to the table, then turn and eat them alive for those same qualities. They can't help themselves. I hope I'm wrong, but the atmosphere at American workplaces does not bode well for those new hires.