An inside look at Google’s data-driven job interview process

September 4, 2013

If you interview for a job at Google, don’t expect the person making the hiring decision to be your prospective boss.

When it comes to evaluating job candidates, “what we’ve found is you’re much more objective if you understand the space but do not necessarily have a stake in that person actually joining,” said Sunil Chandra, Google’s vice president for staffing and operations.

And that’s why Google, the Silicon Valley giant known for its attractive workplace benefits and whimsical office culture, uses panels of varied employees — not potential direct supervisors or peers — to handle its worker selection process.

First, a small group of staffers interviews the candidates. Then a second committee reviews all materials about the applicants, including those they submitted on their own behalf as well as interviewer feedback.

“That comes from the thesis of removing any kind of trace of subjectivity,” Chandra said.

As with so many aspects of its human resources operations, Google’s job candidate interview methods are heavily data-driven. The firm recently generated buzz in the talent industry when it said it had done away with the notorious brain teaser component of its interviews after statistics showed the ability to ace them had no correlation with success at the company.

But that’s not the only way analytics have shaped the process. Google used to conduct many interviews before settling on a job candidate and making an offer. But through analytics, the company has determined that after four interviews, they don’t achieve a much greater degree of confidence about whether the interviewee is a good fit for a position. As a result, they’ve capped the number of interviews that they’ll put a candidate through.

Data also have led Google to conclude that speed is of the essence when it comes to hiring recent graduates.

“When we’re on campus, we’ve found over the years of analysis there actually is an inflection point in terms of the length of time you take to make an offer and students’ availability,” Chandra said.

So for these roles, they might move faster to fill the job than they would for a more senior position, Chandra said. On average, Google takes about 45 days to hire.

While science is deeply embedded in Google’s hiring protocol, Chandra said there’s one aspect that remains a bit of an art: Determining an individual’s “Googliness,” the company’s term for how well someone will fit into its workplace culture.

To understand someone’s “Googliness,” Chandra said they’re looking to figure out, “Are you innately curious? Are you someone that just wants to know more about stuff? Are you someone that likes working in teams and likes getting people together?”

That Google uses hiring panels to interview new workers means that a broad swath of its workforce must be trained in how to question job candidates.

“Hiring is pretty much part of everyone’s job, it’s part of everyone’s DNA,” Chandra said.

That’s why sometimes a job candidate will face a fifth interviewer for a position at Google, even though the company’s data show four interviews is the sweet spot. That fifth person is a “shadow interviewer” who is simply training to conduct interviews for future job seekers, and that person’s analysis isn’t included in the decision-making process.

For all of the emphasis on efficiency in Google’s job interview procedures, its initial applicant screening process seems to focus more on thoroughness.

The company receives a deluge of Web applications each year from 2 million to 3 million people, a figure that does not include the legions of other candidates Google identifies through referrals, career fairs and other sources.

It’s easy to imagine that amid a volume that crushing, many applicants might get skipped over or forgotten. But Google says that’s not the case.

“We’re really concerned about false positives and false negatives, so we spend a lot of time reviewing pretty much every application we get,” Chandra said.

To make sure they don’t miss out on top talent, Google employs a team of full-time screeners to sift through applications. The company would not say how many people are employed in these roles, but it said the group is “sizeable.”

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Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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