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Now hiring: nontraditional thinkers



Published: Sat, October 28, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Google looks for problem solvers when it hires.

WASHINGTON POST

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Google's culture begins and is maintained with a rigorous hiring procedure. Experience and grade-point averages for recent college graduates matter, but also factored in is "whether someone is Googley," said chief culture officer Stacy Sullivan.

"It's an ill-defined term -- we intentionally don't define that term, but it's ... not someone too traditional or stuck in ways done traditionally by other companies," Sullivan said.

Tough interviews

Each prospective hire is interviewed by at least five staff members, who ask a series of questions intended to make them understand how the candidate thinks about solving a problem. Getting the right answer is not necessary.

Abraham Egnor, a 25-year-old hired three months ago, fits the Google look. At work, Egnor wears his black hair long down his back, colored with a tint of green, a black T-shirt, backpack, cargo pants and sandals.

He said the interview process was tough. "I got a sense one of the persons who interviewed me was being somewhat antagonistic to see how I would respond," he said. "He said that I don't have a college degree, so how would I know certain things. My response was there may have been things I didn't learn -- I don't know. But I think I pick up on things very quickly."

"We skew toward people who like to solve problems -- the bigger the problem, the better, rather than those who settle in and say, 'OK, I'll do that for 30 years,"' said Laszlo Bock, Google's vice president of "people operations." Learning continues on the job across a wide range of subjects through Google's "tech talks."

Ambassadors of culture

On a recent visit, chief executive Eric Schmidt moderated a discussion about women and war with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda to a standing-room-only crowd. In the back, a Google employee with a long silver braid held his pet African Grey parrot on his finger.

Google executives know it will be hard to replicate such experiences as it opens offices in other cities and countries.

Sullivan said she's thinking of ways to export the culture, such as tapping longtime employees to serve as "Google ambassadors" and develop videos about what it means to be Googley.

But Sullivan doesn't want it to be too formal. That would be un-Googley.

"We're not trying to solve a problem," she said. "But we want to ensure we're thinking about it and watching over it. Our culture is one of our most valuable assets."




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