How to recruit top talent: Google’s hiring secrets

Top view of dark wooden desktop with creative and abstract crumpled paper lightbulb, coffee cup bomb, plant test-tube, eraser key and magnifier. Idea concept


Truly talented employees are becoming more and more scarce. There is increased competition from top companies who are out to hire the best, not to mention a shortage of critical skills in in-demand fields such as IT.

If you’re going to implement an effective talent attraction and retention strategy, it’s worth learning from the best. In his book, ‘Work Rules’, and at various conferences around the world, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, has shared some of Google’s most successful hiring secrets.

Secret 1: Embrace structured interviews and assessment data

Traditional unstructured interviews are not effective

Unstructured interviews are one of the most popular methods of assessing candidates before making an offer. However, despite the high face validity of this method, it is actually one of the least accurate ways to get to know someone and find out their strengths/weaknesses.

A 2000 study by researchers Prickett, Gada-Jain and Bernieri found evidence that ‘first impressions’ within the initial 10 seconds of meeting an applicant had an effect on the remainder of the interview. While first impressions predicted the outcome of the interview, these predictions did not predict success down the line. This reliance on ‘first impressions’ is known as confirmation bias – the human tendency to look for cues and interpret information in way that confirms existing biases.

The bottom line – subjectivity is part of human nature and affects the validity of an unstructured interview.

Make use of structured competency-based interviews with clear rules

In order to make the interview process more objective, Google makes use of a standard set of validated questions for a specific role, with clear guidelines on how to rate answers. In particular, Google asks two types of structured questions:

  • Situational: Open-ended questions that ask the applicant what they would do in a hypothetical situation, such as ‘What would you do in XYZ situation?’
  • Past behaviour: Open-ended questions that ask the applicant to provide an example of performance in their previous roles, such as “Tell me about a situation in which you had to deal with conflict with a colleague. How did you handle it?”

Gather other objective information

As Bock says, “Without us realising, our brains conspire to make bad hiring decisions.”
Structured interviews are one way in which Google combats confirmation bias and human subjectivity. Their ultimate goal is to predict performance down the line, an aim they achieve by combining their interview process with objective talent assessment of leadership potential, cognitive ability and conscientiousness.

Secret 2: Do not leave the interviewing and hiring solely in the hands of managers

Think about who to include in the interview

With a strong focus on non-hierarchism, Google often includes a diverse group of people within a typical interview. This includes the line manager for the role, a member of HR, one or two peers and subordinates who would end up reporting to the applicant.

It is important to consider the viewpoints of people who would work under the new hiree. They can offer completely unique input to assist with the hiring decision, as they often look for different types of competence compared to HR and line managers.

Quality always comes first – make sure you hire high potentials

Beyond this, Bock warns companies against hiring in a rush just because there is a short-term need and line managers have a gap to fill. If this approach is followed, potential moves toward the centre line over time until organisations are left with a mostly average group of employees.

Google’s secret? Get the best quality talent available, even if it means that you grow more slowly.

Beyond including varied viewpoints in their structured interviews, Google also takes the recruiting decision away from managers. An independent committee analyses the interview and assessment results from a completely objective standpoint, and then makes their decision.

Secret 3: Focus on retaining talent

Once top talent is through the door, it is important to keep employees happy, engaged and performing at their peak.

One way to determine an employee’s wants and needs is to assess motivators and drivers. Another way is to have a strong overarching organisational mission, and connect this with the personal mission of a candidate. Most popular workplace motivational theories, such as Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’, emphasise the need for employees to find meaning in what they do. This ‘meaning’ needs to be above and beyond financial incentives.

Helping others, serving customers, giving back to society, encouraging flexibility, emphasising creativity – each of these are organisational missions that can add value and engagement to an employee’s tenure with the company.

“Our challenge as recruiters is to draw the connections between the jobs we have and the people we want to hire. Every single job can be a calling. It doesn’t matter whether you work at a textile factory, Google, or at your company.”  – Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google

LinkedIn, Wired