February 6, 2011 7:34 pm

Google tries new angle on hiring

Google is seeking to streamline its famously convoluted and quirky hiring process as it aims to recruit record numbers this year and increase its intake of people with entrepreneurial, rather than purely intellectual, talent.

The new approach includes a new “rule of five” that limits the number of interviews a candidate can attend to no more than that number, said Laszlo Bock, head of human resources. In the past, would-be Googlers were often subjected to 12-14 interviews, he added.

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The company is also trying to cut out the kind of intellectual mind games its interviewers have often used to test the brain power of potential hires.

That has involved “questions like why is a manhole cover round and how many ping-pong balls does it take to fill an aeroplane?” Mr Bock told the Financial Times.

The abstruse problems were part of a process designed to maintain Google’s vaunted intellectual elitism, but also came to be seen by some candidates as marks of the company’s insularity and intellectual arrogance. Mr Bock said they were being cut out because, like IQ quizzes, they tended to favour candidates who were adept at a certain kind of test. He also said Google wanted to counter the natural bias in its interviewers to hire people like themselves.

The streamlined approach and change in style come as Google has embarked on a hiring binge designed to cope with an unprecedented global expansion.

It is seeking to recruit “well above” the 6,300 people it took on in 2007, its last record hiring year, Mr Bock said. He refused to be drawn on the precise target, but, hinting at an ambitious goal, he said: “It’s not 10 per cent above.”

The effort to draw in more entrepreneurial talent echoes recent comments by Google’s top executives that dealing with growth as the company’s headcount continues to soar, is the biggest challenge they face. Larry Page, who is due to take over as chief executive officer in April, said he wanted to revive a start-up spirit at the company.

Mr Bock acknowledged Google employees often say they feel the company has become slower and more bureaucratic since it has grown. However, he said this was largely an issue of perception, and few had concerns about bureaucracy when asked about their own experiences at the company. “Yes, it’s a larger company, but it’s still a company that wants to change the world,” Mr Bock said.

Google has experimented with a number of different operating arrangements to try to give its employees a stronger sense of identification with smaller business units, he said. A recent decision to relax its famous corporate secrecy and reveal its progress in a number of new markets, including display advertising and the mobile internet, was also partly designed to bring a new focus to the spread of its operations.

“The rap out there for a long time was that we’re a one-trick pony,” Mr Bock said, adding that evidence it was making progress in areas other than search had helped in its hiring.

Google cut back on its recruitment as the financial crisis hit in 2008, and even laid off some workers, but was quickly forced to ramp up its hiring efforts again.

It is currently receiving 75,000 applications a week.

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