How Google is changing the way people are recruited – and what NFPs can learn to do differently too

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Nobody can dispute that Google is innovative. So when the technology giant turns its considerable data-analysis powers to the issue of recruitment, it’s worth taking some notice.

Google hires about 5,000 new staff and receives over 1-million resumes each year, so they’ve been crunching data from tens of thousands of interviews to try to work out who are the best people to hire.

In an interview with The New York Times, Google’s hiring boss, Laszlo Bock reveals that after looking at all the data, Google has found that university grades “are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.”

As a result, Google is hiring more staff with no formal higher education qualifications at all. Bock say that “the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time … So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”

That would be a pretty radical prospect for most Australian not-for-profit organisations, going by the preponderance of job ads on that require a degree as an essential selection criteria.

So if they’re not concerned about education, what are the positive attributes that Google is looking for in candidates when they recruit?

1) Learning ability

That’s the ability to process on the fly and make sense out of disparate fragments of information. Google wants people who don’t go to pieces when a random question is fired at them. This might seem like a difficult attribute to measure but they have developed a structured test so they can fairly rank applicants on their cognitive learning ability.

2) Emergent leadership

Google’s hiring boss looks for “…emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

3) Humility and ownership

Humility and ownership is also critical. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in (to try to solve any problem – and the humility to step back and accept the better ideas of others)… Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” A big part of this is what Google calls ‘intellectual humility’, “Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

4) Expertise

The least important attribute Google looks for is expertise. An expert will know the established way of doing things but they say hiring a clever novice is more valuable because they may find an answer that is totally new and innovative, which Google finds huge value in.

What can NFPs take from this?

Such a fresh approach to finding talented and passionate people – a more human strategy – is one that should appeal to community organisations.

It recognises that success isn’t necessarily found in classrooms, textbooks or certificates. In comparison, traditional screening techniques look kind of robotic.

While it may seem unconventional, we all know of amazing people who didn’t go to univerity or who probably wouldn’t be their exceptional selves based on education, psychometric or IQ tests.

Many not-for-profit jobs in Australia require a degree in a specific area because technical skills are needed. But many jobs at Google are also highly technical – requiring maths, computing and coding skills – yet Google has realised that the best skills aren’t always gained through a degree.

Though formal training may still be essential for a social worker or a mental health nurse job, there are a myriad of other jobs in the NFP sector where less emphasis on formal qualifications could help find better people.

While Google acknowledges that “good grades certainly don’t hurt” – and that getting a degree can be a valuable part of building your career – its leadership in this area may be starting to change the way many organisations look at who and how they recruit.

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