Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
JOB SEARCH / MAR. 02, 2014
version 3, draft 3

The Traits that Google is Really Looking For: And What You Can Apply to Your Next Job Search

Google is hiring. And guess what? It doesn't necessarily mean you need a perfect GPA on that noteworthy college degree anymore. After all that hubbub on their ridiculously difficult brain teasers, you can now rest easy. Google finally concludes that all those questions proved to be inaccurate metrics for gauging whether or not prospective hires actually performed well on the job.

The case of Intellectual Humility

Google's head of people ops, Laszlo Bock, would prefer applicants to have, at some point in their life, experienced failure. In fact, he's cited the avalanche of applications from “highly successful and bright” people as sort of becoming a problem, as these people have likely rarely faced failure. Bock's rationale for this need to experience failure is to establish the applicant's intellectual humility.

This does not mean being mediocre, in any way. This just means that Google is interested in knowing how a prospective employee will handle failure and move on from it. Will he/she push on despite all facts to the contrary? Will he/she listen to the discrepancies that resulted from actions taken and apply appropriate countermeasures to correct the discovered mistakes?

This intellectual humility also means that, armed with your set of impeccably researched arguments, you will fight strongly for your cause. However, once you are presented with relevant facts that have recently come to light, you have the ability to stop, sit back, and rethink your premises in a “if that's true, then, well now, that changes things” kind of way. You can comfortably accept that in light of new facts, your assumptions may not be right and you're fine with improving, thank you very much for the FYI.

And this is where the second case comes in.

The case of the Ivy League graduate

In the early boom days, Google has been notorious for its hiring practices. It's been said that their recruiters don't even consider for a minute any application who's CV owner is not a graduate of an Ivy League University, MIT, Cal Tech or Stanford.

Recently, however, this has been changing as Google moved from Alma mater discrimination and elitism to a more liberal, almost enlightened approach. According to Bock, there is a fundamental flaw common to most Ivy League graduates, and that is that their intellectual humility is drastically low.

Being “highly successful and bright” individuals, Bock observes that these people tend to get egoistic when it comes to their accomplishments. But on the other hand, they blame failures for all other factors except themselves. So unless you can display a refreshing sense of self accountability to match your skills, then you better think of hiring a personal development coach, because not too many employers, as exemplified by Google, are too impressed anymore of geniuses with an attitude.

The case of flexible, “emergent leadership” versus “traditional leadership”

Experience within a linear leadership structure is not something that impresses Google anymore. In fact, they have shifted their search focus from the “traditional leadership” types, meaning if you're head of your school paper, President of the Student Council, and such other examples of static hierarchical leadership positions, to what they call the more flexible and intuitive, “emergent leadership” position types.

This flexible, emergent leadership means knowing when it's appropriate to take the lead and knowing when to relinquish the reins.

For example, you find yourself in a situation where the problem the team is tackling is something directly related to something you have a lot of knowledge and experience with, you proactively take responsibility in guiding the team to an efficient resolution. On the other hand, you can comfortably step back and let another person take the lead once your team delves into another member's area of proficiency.

The issue of swift and highly adaptable cognitive ability versus traditional school-based training

Google values a person who does not rest on the laurels of his diploma source. In fact, in another radical and game-changing move that will uplift many talented job seeker's hearts, Google has actually started hiring more people who didn't go to college.

Their justification? If you're someone who managed to find your way in life without the spoon-feeding benefits of school, then you're the kind of talent they're interested in employing.

Learning on the fly is valuable to Google. This means that as new business processes or needs result to new procedures or matters that need to be implemented, this ideal person can quickly learn and adapt quickly to whatever it is that comes along, whether it's a new programming language that needs to be applied, a script that needs to be edited or recreated, a massive repository of web content and data that needs reconstruction, or another of the odd day-to-day professional curve balls.

It is this ability to quickly learn as they go along that Google now finds a more valuable trait than just a top percentile GPA from a top-tier University. So if you have the ability to still be resourceful in gaining expertise even without traditional sources of learning or information, then this might be your unique selling point against other applicants.


Not all employers are alike when it comes to the qualities they look for in the people they want to hire. In the not-too-distant past, hiring practices were heavily biased to only the graduates of top-tier Universities. This is understandable from an employer and business-owner's perspective, as they would want the best people working for their company. But as emerging business practices and trends evolve, Google might just be leading the way to a more broad-based and perhaps, even more effective approach to finding the right talent.

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