What Google Wants

March 2014

Learning is foundational to my coaching clients’ success. An important part of what I do is support clients in learning new skills, thinking habits, and ways of being. Recently I came across an op-ed column in the New York Times titled “How to get a job at Google” by Thomas L. Friedman (2/22/2014). Laszlo Bock, the person in charge of hiring at Google (the Senior V.P. of People Operations) talks about the keys things Google looks for in those they consider bringing on board. Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, I’m not looking for a job at Google, I can barely turn on my computer.” Yes, and if you are in a role where you are leading, hiring, working on a team, or just trying to do better in the job you have, it is worth a few minutes to reflect on what Google values in its prospective employees.

The first thing Google wants to see is general cognitive ability, which is not IQ. Rather, it is the ability to process on the fly, and pull together disparate pieces of information. On some Google teams, as many as 14% of the employees have no college education. They want folks who have the ability to learn. The second sought-after skill is “emergent leadership” which goes beyond traditional leadership. Google wants people who will step in and lead at appropriate times. Just as important, they want those who know when to step back and let others lead. Mr. Bock maintains “…what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.” In other words, leaders who understand they don’t have to have all the power, or be at the head of the pack. They value collaboration. When was the last time you willingly stepped back, to allow someone else to lead? And I’m not talking about stepping back just as the project is about to go over the cliff. I’m talking about relinquishing power when things are humming along, and the letting go is hard to do.

Bock also talks about humility and ownership. The balance of passionately fighting for something you believe in, while also having intellectual humility that enables you to accept new data that can change the way you see things. You may have noticed that in the corporate world, humility is an uncommon attribute. Yet humility is a powerful leadership skill that is worth cultivating. It makes leaders real, and the ability to have both a “big ego and a small ego in the same person at the same time” is a mark of true humility.

The least important of the five things Google looks for is expertise. They believe that people with high cognitive ability, innate curiosity, a willingness to learn, and emergent leadership skills can bring enough smarts to the table to learn other skills quickly. And, sometimes those unfamiliar with how things should be done (or have always been done) provide new ideas that are hugely valuable to the team or organization. Do you have what Google wants? Which of these attributes could use a little work? Please let me know if I can support you in this learning. Just search Google for “Sharon Keys Seal, executive coach.”

Warm regards,

Sharon Keys Seal

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