Smarts Are No Longer Enough

At Google, GPA’s are no longer the gold standard for hiring. Laszo Bock (Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, went on record in a New York Times interview, “GPA’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring and test scores are worthless…we found that they don’t predict anything.”

This is a hiring paradigm shift that is true in many organizations today. Soft skills are at the the top of Google’s hiring attributes which include: leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn. My coaching experience with many hiring managers across a wide variety of business, confirms these are important to most companies.

Most tech professionals face a big challenge when it comes to career success. Excelling in math, problem solving, computing and analytics are no longer enough, they must also demonstrate they have “soft skills”, team and leadership abilities and emotional intelligence. Consider this quote from Google Executive Eric Schmidt “The smartest people in the room sometimes can’t really communicate very well,” adding, “We select not just for intelligence but for the ability to communication with each other and as teams, nobody is a solo actor at Google any more.”

My coaching guidance around Google’s 5 Top Hiring Criteria:

1. Leadership. Google defines emergent leadership as the ability to step in and lead when faced with a problem, while also being able to step back and relinquish power as a team player. This is the dance of leadership–sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. What matters is your assessment of which approach is the right solution for the team (and business) and your ability to influence, persuade and help others engage.
2. Humility. This is a big challenge for superstars. Hanging on to “ownership” and promoting ones work, idea, process and/or product is often a slippery slope —it can be tough to let go. Many tech professionals wrap their identities up with their ideas and view any debate or challenge to their work or credit as threatening. Most tech companies prefer open minds to creatively explore (with their team) the best way forward or the next “new thing.” They need smart people to do it but when their corresponding egos prove problematic to team and collaboration they can decide the smarts they are getting aren’t worth the pain. High achievers can fight too zealously when their skin is in the game (aka, “My idea, I’m the genius”) My tip: identify solutions without attachment. Granted, confidence and being able to persuade others to get on board is critical to influence. But its a fine line between communicating a point of view and allowing your ego run and bite you because others perceive you as arrogant or not a team player.
3. Collaboration. You know it already–there is no “I” in team but do you behave that way? You simply can’t succeed in business today without the ability to work effectively with peers–all kinds and styles of peers. Every 360 review I conduct validates this. Collaboration is a give and take equation—sharing information while demonstrating respect for the opinions and expertise of others. Creative exploration of best solutions to complex problems requires collaboration. If this is your challenge area, invest in my coaching to develop your skills or risk your advancement potential.
4. Adaptability. In our today’s business reality of continual and constant change, its no surprise that adaptability is at the top of the list. Hiring managers want to hire (and promote) people who are flexible –not rigid. Creatively problem solving requires intellectual flexibility. Bulldozing change won’t earn you a reputation for adaptability. During stressful times, demonstrate emotional adaptability (embracing change vs. fighting it).
5. Loving to learn. Demonstrating you are a continual learner is a HUGE career advantage. A wise university leader once told me, “Our objective is to teach our students to learn, to develop a life long love of learning.” This turns out to be smart hiring prep, Bock affirms Google wants people able to “process on the fly” to draw smart conclusions from independent information. Being curious with a passion for learning is essential to career success.

It’s no longer good enough to have technical skills or academic smarts to get hired or promoted. You need more, as it turns out, much more, to succeed. On the plus side, these 5 attributes can be developed. But I never said it would be easy – having a coach for this kind of work is the best investment you can make in your future success.

10 common hiring mistakes

One of the most important decisions any manager will make is whom you hire. I liken it to deciding whom you will marry; it’s a decision that ultimately can determine your future workplace success, satisfaction — or misery.

Many green managers simply don’t prepare or spend enough time on the hiring process.

They often succumb to the short-term pressures of “needing to get someone in the chair” right away versus taking the time to determine what skills, talents and abilities they need and then finding the “right fit.”

Seasoned managers, on the other hand, know the pain and cost firsthand of a bad hire (experts estimate that it can cost two to three times an employee’s salary to rehire someone).

10 common hiring mistakes

1. Not creating (and then prioritizing) a list of key requirements for the position. Consider what special experience, talents, strengths and abilities you need in a candidate and then identify what skills are important. Although you can teach skills to a new hire (like how to use a software program), core talents are natural gifts that a candidate either has or doesn’t. What characteristics are a good fit with your team and company culture? Likewise, identify what you don’t want. I recommend starting with the core qualities required for success, such as integrity, IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence), judgment, problem solving, passion, communication and people skills.

2. Not prescreening. Initial phone interviews can save managers time and headaches. It typically only takes a 30-minute phone interview to discover if the candidate has the knowledge and experience you need. If you delegate the prescreening task to HR (or someone else), determine your minimum criteria for passing the candidate on to your face-to-face interview.

3. Not considering a wide enough potential hiring pool. Best hiring practice means making a choice from several qualified candidates. If you didn’t find enough qualified candidates via your first cast, cast a wider net. Try recruiters, networking Web sites such as LinkedIn, Career Builder, Monster, Craigslist, etc., and industry/association and collegiate sites.

4. Not having others on your team interview the candidate. Have at least three people interview at least three qualified candidates.

5. Not checking references. Although certainly not foolproof (many companies will only offer dates of employment and job title), references offer you an opportunity to ask questions about the candidate related to these areas:

  • Key responsibilities in previous position
  • Reason for leaving (be sure to ask any candidate why he or she left the previous two jobs)
  • Important contributions to the position or company
  • Relationships with staff, attitude and outlook at work
  • Strengths and weaknesses — and most importantly, whether they would rehire the candidate

Coach’s tip: Ask candidates if you can talk to their last or current employer. If you can’t, this is a potential red flag.

6. Not challenging candidates to prove to you how they can think on their feet during the interview. Offer a potential difficult job scenario you anticipate and test them by asking them how they would respond. Consider giving them an on-the-spot writing assignment that can help you glean their creativity, judgment, communication and writing style.

7. Not asking “behavioral” questions during the interview. Here are some to ask:

  • Give me an example of when you … .
  • Describe how you managed or resolved a difficult situation.
  • Tell me about a time when you … (took initiative, went beyond what was expected of you, broke the rules, etc.).
  • Tell me about the largest project you worked on.

8. Not paying enough attention to their appearance or nonverbal cues. Dress, hygiene, tone/pace of voice, handshake and odd nervous habits can tell you a lot. (For example, slouched body posture or lack of eye contact can indicate a lack of confidence.)

9. Not giving the candidate opportunity to ask questions. Ideally, an interview should be split between you and the candidate talking. You can learn a lot by the questions they ask. (Do they ask basic questions they should know if they looked at the company’s Web site?) Take note if their questions demonstrate true interest in the nature of the work/team or are limited to benefits and vacations or their first promotional opportunity.

10. Settling when you can’t find the “right fit.” You are far better off to re-advertise and get the right person on board.

Lastly, factor in “chemistry” and your intuition. My experience (and that of my clients) tells me you can save yourself a lot of grief down the road by paying attention if your gut is screaming at you, “Something’s not right.”

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: