Good Hiring Means Focusing on What Counts

Susan Hall
Slide Show

Interviewing Tips for Hiring Managers

Ten tips to help you engage job candidates and make the right hire.

We've been hearing lately that the hiring process that tech companies use is broken, specifically that of Google. Though Google has been revamping its hiring process, the kvetching continues.


Business Insider points to a blog post by Pablo Villalba, a founder at a startup called Teambox, who interviewed at Google, apparently just for fun. (That set off bells in my head because the interviewers might have picked up on the "just for fun" part.) Villalba says his strength is product design, but the Google interviewers were only interested in his ability to code. He maintains that Google's neglect of usability and marketing is turning people away.


Anyway, lots of people posted their own horror stories and the discussion moved to Hacker News, where a user "ChuckMcM, " who said he interviewed "lots of folks," wrote a long reply, basically saying the problem was that Google wanted things it could quantify and it couldn't necessarily quantify what it needed. Wrote ChuckMcM:

The process was aimed at finding smart people who get things done. That, like the phrase "largest integer" is easy to say and rolls off the lips but when you need to actually write out what it means gets a bit squirrely.


The first challenge is what does "get things done" mean? Well for college students it means you got your diploma and at the same time you contributed to some FOSS project. For people with 0 -5 years experience it means you shipped a product where you did most of the coding. For people with 5-15 years experience it means you shipped a product where you did most of the coding. For people with 15 to 25 years experience it means you shipped a product where you did most of the coding.


... Google wanted smart people but the definition of smart was "you write a lot of code" and "get things done" was "that code shipped in the product/project." Fundamentally they didn't have any way to judge or evaluate the 'goodness' of what someone did if it wasn't writing code. Designers don't write a lot of code and they don't generally have a good metric for what constitutes good which can be empirically tested. The process has a hard time accomodating that. And if you're "good" at spotting problems in a process or getting folks organized around some better way of doing things? That's not measurable either.

Google also had a huge data-mining project to determine what constitutes a good manager. The results, which the company uses in manager training, were described in The New York Times as "so forehead-slappingly obvious - so, well, duh." But it's just so Google to go about it that way.


This sounds like a cultural problem. A company run by engineers tends to be so "engineer-y" - focused on measurement and exactness. And CEO Larry Page has said he wants to return the company to its startup roots. This lengthy excerpt from "In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives" at Wired delves into Page's idiosyncrasies and quotes early Googler Megan Smith saying of Page: ""He's always measuring everything." It says he also wants to personally sign off on each hire and so far has vetted more than 30,000 candidates.


But in a culture of measuring everything, as my colleague Ann All has written, you have to find the metrics that matter and that doesn't always translate into ability to code for every position the company needs to fill. It's hard to measure customer experience or delight with your product. Steve Jobs knows that. But then his sales figures show he understands those things.

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