“It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.”
— Lyrics from “It’s Hard to Be Humble” by Mac Davis
I was reminded of this song when I read an article in Fast Company about the hiring practices of Google. The title of the article is “Why Google Wants New Hires Who are Humble and Argue.”
Google has been notorious for its quirky hiring processes and interview questions that included questions like “How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?” and “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?”
Over the years, Google has gone back to evaluate how well their hiring practices worked in determining the success of its employees. Turns out, not so well.
In 2009, Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research, wrote in his book, Coders at Work, “One of the interesting things we’ve found, when trying to predict how well somebody we’ve hired is going to perform when we evaluate them a year or two later, is one of the best indicators of success within the company was getting the worst possible score on one of your interviews. We rank people from one to four, and if you got a one on one of your interviews, that was a really good indicator of success.”
In 2013, Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Block told the New York Times that they found those famous brainteasers they had been using as part of the hiring process were a complete waste of time. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”
Academic performance and GPAs had been stressed, even for hires in the 30s and older. The company admitted that their research found that after two to three years, academic performance and grades were unrelated to performance.
So what is Google looking for now? In addition to technical expertise, leadership and ownership, the company sets a high priority on humility.
“Without humility, you are unable to learn,” said Laszlo Bock, again in an interview with the New York Times for the article “How to Get a Job at Google.” They have found that the most successful people at Google are those who are willing to argue for their point of view, but when they learn a new fact or hear an opposing view, are able to be persuaded. “You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time,” Bock said.
Other people have recognized that humble people make the best and most successful employees. Michael Hyatt, a former CEO and New York Times best-selling author wrote in the article “What Should You Look for in the People You Hire” that he has a standard formula for when he is recruiting people: “H3S.” Two of these qualities are being honest and being hungry. By that he means someone who is always setting goals and wishes to exceed expectations. The third quality is being humble.
“A humble person is open to correction and not defensive. He is quick to admit mistakes and apologize … He is conscious of the contributions others have made to his life, his projects, and his career. He is quick to give credit to them and express sincere gratitude,” he wrote.
I’m glad to hear Google has come around to what is really an old-fashioned way of hiring — finding people who are willing to listen to others and learn from them.