Google HR Boss: We Don’t Care Where You Went To College

by / May 5, 2015

Companies pay too much attention to where job applicants went to college, what their name sounds like and how well they answer brain teasers, Google’s top human resources executive Laszlo Bock told a packed room of business leaders, academics and public servants at the Forbes Reinventing America conference in Detroit on Tuesday.

What they should be focused on instead is curiosity, leadership ability, culture fit, and lastly, whether people can actually do the job, Bock said. “That has been one of the keys to our growth, making sure we get the right people in from the beginning,” Bock said. “If you get that right, you hire amazing people, they’ll be fine, and they’ll do amazing things.”

Google has learned along the way. In its early years, the company strongly considered where applicants went to school, going after top talent from big-name universities. Then it looked at the data. What Bock and his team found was that there was no relationship between where employees went to school and how those people actually performed in their jobs.

Grades also aren’t everything at Google. “A B or a C in computer science or physics or calculus or anything—like it or not—is going to carry more weight with employers than an A in history,” Bock said. “Take something quantitative because it will differentiate you in the labor market.”

Hiring smarter from the start saves companies money down the road, Bock said. Curious thinkers will learn on the job and require less training. But too many companies rely on tired interview questions or brain teasers that don’t reveal much about whether a person will actually be motivated on a day-to-day basis. Worse, lots of companies are bogged down by old assumptions and implicit biases.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found in a 2003 study that job applicants with white-sounding names like Emily or Brendan were 50 percent more likely to get an initial interview than job applicants with black-sounding names, like Lakisha or Jamal.

“It’s not that we are bad people or out get anyone, but we all have these biases,” Bock said. “You have to be very careful about those biases and prejudices that we have.”

Once someone actually gets into Google, Bock said his department also looks at compensation differently. Most HR managers try to keep salaries within a limited range for any given position. But that creates a discrepancy between the productivity of the best workers and their salaries. The best employees are anywhere from 50-200% more productive than the average employee. “It makes no sense to pay them just this much more,” Bock said, holding his fingers an inch apart. “LeBron James is way better than just about anybody playing sports, and he makes a lot more money. And no one looks at that and says it’s unfair.”

It’s not just big companies like Google that can think about human resources in a different way, Bock insists. Sure, the tech giant has 30% margins, huge reserves on its balance sheet, and a reputation that draws 2 or 3 million applications for a few thousand jobs a year. But he points to companies like Zingerman’s, a Michigan-based grocery store that allows its floor-level shelf stuffers see the economics of their departments so they have a stronger connection to the business. He also called out a T-shirt manufacturer in Mexico that allowed its employees to set their own production goals, doubling output, increasing profits and boosting employees’ performance-tied wages.

“If you trust people, they should do the right thing,” Bock said. “Mission is important, the most important thing—and it’s not a mission like shareholder value.”

via Dan Alexander at Forbes

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