Want to hire top talent? Google says ignore GPA and do this instead

We all want to make the best hiring choices possible

Hiring is an expensive and time consuming process, so you want to get it right. Increasingly, companies are looking for a way to take hiring from an art to a science. If data can help you find the perfect customer, why can’t you use it to find the perfect employees? Information is increasingly available, so the challenge is figuring out which 21st century skills will predict the most ideal hire, which is exactly what Google decided to do.

How DO you find the right person?

In 2013, Google decided to put their hiring process under a microscope, looking at every candidate hired, fired, and promoted from the time that the company was incorporated in 1998. Project Oxygen was designed to see if Google was looking for the right skills to hire the best managers and have the strongest teams. Prior to the release of the report, Google was giving preference to “computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.” Because if you’re trying to dominate the tech world, you want to have the top STEM minds, right?

Well, not exactly.

Of the 8 most important skills of the top employees at Google, STEM skills ranked last. In fact, the ideal Google employee:

  1. Is a good coach

  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage

  3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being

  4. Is productive and results-oriented

  5. Is a good communicator - listens and shares information

  6. Helps with career development

  7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team

  8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team

– Google Project Oxygen Findings

It was these 21st century skills that set employees apart. Perhaps the “top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it”.

Based in part on these results, the SVP of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Block, now says that GPAs are worthless in the hiring process, recognizing that grades as a metric are actually inversely correlated with innovation. And looking for candidates who went to an elite university doesn’t tell you as much as you might think, according to Guy Halftech, CEO of Knack, and more and more employers are ignoring this data point. Google is actually moving away from requiring post-secondary education at all; they now have teams where 14% of their staff have never been to college.

Your B-Team might be better than your A-Team

Google also thought of their best teams as being made up of top engineers and scientists, using highly specialized knowledge to create the most cutting edge technology. But after the results of Project Oxygen, Google wanted to do some more research on the teams that were actually turning out the results. It turns out, “the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.”

So what do these so-called B-teams have that sets them apart? A range of 21st century skills that might be seen as “soft skills”, including empathy and emotional safety.

“To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

– Cathy Davidson in Washington Post

Technical skills are great, but if they aren’t backed up by emotional intelligence, the innovation just doesn’t happen.

So how do you find these candidates? Change your interviews

Google has shifted to behavioural interviews, because asking someone how they handled a difficult situation gives you 2 pieces of information: how they reacted to something, and how they define a difficult situation. Companies are also starting to add some play to their job interviews. Playing in a job interview might not sound like a good idea, but more places are beginning to use this as a way to get to know a candidate and collect some data. MaRS Discovery District has been using the Empathy Toy in their hiring process to see how candidates problem solve and communicate with their potential managers. Knack has developed a whole suite of digital games that allows them to collect a bunch of data and test for social emotional skills in a more objective way. For example, their game “Wasabi Waiter” has applicants play as a server to track how well they respond to social and emotional cues in the game.

“We measure everything from creative abilities to emotional and social intelligence, to how you think and make decisions … how you interact with emotions, understand emotions, how you learn new information, how curious you are about the world.”

– Guy Halftek, CEO, Knack

Looking beyond GPA to see a person

Google and other companies are trying to find a data driven way to look beyond the available stats and the gut instinct to see a clearer picture of their candidates. They are looking for the skills that don’t show up in grades or even on resumes. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck hopes that this shift in focus makes its way back to current students, helping them to see that grades aren’t everything.

“It’s important for students to know that grades and test scores, although important in today’s world, do not tell them what they are capable of achieving in the future. Many people’s abilities blossom later when they dedicate themselves to something they value and are deeply interested in.”

– Carol Dweck, Psychologist

Instead, as Google has discovered, the best predictors of someone’s success are 21st Century skills like communication, emotional intelligence, and empathy.

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