Google finds that in hiring practices, what’s old is new again.

Google hiring practices
Google Gone Retro: Its hiring practices look more familiar than different today.

Has Google made an about-face when it comes to the way it hires staff?

Over the years, there have been numerous articles written about Google’s unorthodox and highly selective recruitment and interviewing process

The company seemed to take a certain delight in the degree to which it subjected job candidates to mind-bending suitability tests and humiliating proctology-like HR examinations.

So I was a bit surprised to read this June 19, 2013 article in the New York Times, in which staff business reporter Adam Bryant published excerpts from an interview he had with Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google.

A major objective of the interview was to determine to what degree so-called “Big Data” can be used to help find the right candidates fill leadership and managerial positions in companies.

Instead of giving us all sorts of ways in which Big Data is helping to do that, Mr. Bock focused instead on the limitations.  And in the process, he revealed that Google has made attempts to harness more experiential data to come up with more effective hiring practices.  Here’s what he said:

“We’ve done some interesting things to figure out how many job candidates we should be interviewing for each position, who are better interviewers than others, and what kind of attributes tend to predict success at Google.

On the leadership side, we’re looking at what makes people successful leaders and how we can we cultivate that.”

And what about some of the more infamous Google hiring practices, such as looking at college transcripts from a million years ago or asking people to solve impossible “challenge questions” or equations?  Bock revealed these learnings:

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time.  How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?  How many gas stations in Manhattan?  A complete waste of time.  They don’t predict anything.  They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

And about GPA stats, Bock revealed that after all of the data crunching, Google’s HR department came to this conclusion:

“GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless – no correlation at all, except for brand-new college grades where there’s a slight correlation … we found that they don’t predict anything.

After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different.  You’re also fundamentally a different person.  You learn and grow.  You think about things differently.”

So now Google has reverted to the tried-and-true formula of structured behavioral interviews, consistently applied across all applicants. 

This includes using standardized behavioral questions to listen to open-ended responses, which then makes it possible to see how candidates actually interacted in real-world situations, as well as what they consider to be “easy” or “difficult” situations in which they found themselves.

Regarding leadership qualifications, according to Bock, Google has found that these are ambiguous or amorphous characteristics:

“For leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions, and that there’s an element of predictability.  If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want.”

Where “big data” comes in to play here is in twice-a-year employee surveys that Google conducts on all of its managers, evaluating a variety of factors. 

Those factors are the fundamental ones — things like sharing information, treating all team employees fairly, and providing clear goals and performance standards.

But Bock cautions that leadership success is highly dependent on the context; what works at one company isn’t necessarily right for another firm.  “I don’t think you’ll ever replace human judgment and human inspiration and creativity,” he notes.

I was pleased to read these comments, because I always felt that attempting to develop a radically new paradigm for job hiring, while being an interesting and novel endeavor, was also somewhat presumptuous on the part of Google. 

At the end of the day, human nature is what it is:  fickle, unpredictable, fallible.  No amount of “re-engineering” is going to change that.

HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you’re interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.

The employment cunundrum: “Workers, workers everywhere … and ‘nary one to hire.”

Labor shortage in the midst of high unemploymentThese days, conservative estimates are that ~13 million Americans are seeking employment. And yet, more U.S. companies are reporting that they can’t find qualified workers to fill their open positions.

In fact, more than half of American employers surveyed by Manpower Group, a leading staffing group, report that they’re having trouble hiring qualified workers. That’s nearly 40% higher than what was reported in the company’s 2010 survey.

The most obvious reason for the incongruity is the disconnect between the background and capabilities of available workers and the skill sets companies are seeking.

But there may be a few other factors at work as well. Spokespersons for Manpower Group suspect the following:

 The 2009 recession made it very easy for companies to find qualified candidates … but those days are now over.

 Employers are less willing to invest the time or dollar resources to train new employees for specialized or unique work.

 Employers may be less willing to hire candidates from outside their area so as to avoid incurring relocation expenses … even as job candidates may also be less willing to consider moving because of the soft housing market.

Melanie Holmes, a Manpower vice president, puts it this way: “Employers are getting pickier and pickier. We want the perfect person to walk through the door.” She and other specialists contend that companies need to get more realistic about the situation and react accordingly.

The Manpower survey results were part of a large global research study of ~40,000 employers worldwide. The trends it sees of greater difficulties in hiring were clearly evident in several other countries, besides just the U.S. (India, U.K. and Germany), whereas in China the trend was just the opposite.

More results from the 2011 Manpower Group survey can be found here.