Yvonne Agyei, the tech giant’s international HR head has revealed the secrets of what Google look for when hiring new talent, with a keen focus on who the person is above what they know.

  • General cognitive ability – an assessable level of intelligence, often tested through logic-based questions, though these are grounded in technical realities rather than the abstract brain-teasers that have become legendary in Silicon Valley.
  • Role-relevant knowledge – the least important attribute, according to Agyei, who said Google would be happy to hire someone who ticked their other boxes but needed to be taught technical capabilities.
  • Leadership – the ability, or potential, to manage is essential in all roles, said Agyei, because even someone hired into an entry-level position might be leading within a year or two given the fast-paced nature of the business. “Plus, we are a really flat organisation and you’re likely to be in meetings with people more senior than you. You need to be able to offer your opinions.”
  • Googleyness’ – this intangible quality “isn’t the same as cultural fit”, said Agyei. It is best explained as a sense that the hire is ‘good for Google’ and that they have a particular tolerance for ambiguity. Engineers, for example, are hired into a general pool and won’t be told where they will work (and who they will be led by) until they have accepted an offer. The business believes Googleyness is what makes people work well together, and is investigating whether it can quantify and account for this quality among its most successful teams.

To some extent the age old recruitment philosophy of employ the attitude and train the mind, reaffirming that behaviour is harder to develop in people than skills.

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