Legal Business Blogs

Guest post: Lessons in recruitment from Google

Loyal readers of Adam Smith, Esq. know that we think there’s much that can be learned for Law Land from other industries.

Today’s column is in that vein, and our texts for today come from The New York Times and Above the Law.

The first text is Tom Friedman’s recent ‘How to get a job at Google,’ based on a conversation with Laszlo Bock, the SVP of people operations at Google. Here are some highlights (emphasis mine):

‘G.P.A.s [grade point averages] are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.’

‘There are five hiring attributes we have across the company … For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.’

The second, he added, ‘is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead?’

What else? Humility and ownership. ‘It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in.’ And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s ‘intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.’ It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. ‘Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.’

The attribute Google cares about least? Expertise. Google has learned that anyone who’s innately curious and has generally high cognitive ability, and is willing to learn, can, every once in awhile, come up with ‘an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.’

Our second text?

‘Greetings from anonymous recruitment director’ at Above the Law. The author is self-described as ‘a recruitment professional who has worked in large law firms for 20 years… I am based in New York City, and I “run” the recruitment department of one of the largest law firms in the world [including] summer associates, LLM’s, lateral associates, and lateral partners.’ Here are some counterpoints to what we heard from Google:

[R]ecruitment is a machine that has no scientific foundation. Partners love to believe that they have a well-refined sense of who will make a good hire. But, in truth, partners just like to be liked. They like people who unabashedly want what they have themselves have chosen. Aside from this, there is no real formula.

You need accept the fact that chance plays a larger role in the process than anyone cares to admit.

As they say on late night, ‘What could go wrong?’

The beauty of where we are vis-a-vis state of the art hiring techniques is that we’re nowhere.

You think I jest? Not at all.

Think how far we could advance if we just ran (say) a pilot program to select 10% of our recruits using 50% of the tools so widely accepted in Corporate Land. We need invent nothing; all we need do is to copy (or steal) a little bit of what has a proven track record.

Think of the analogy to Third World countries that never were able to develop a landline telephone infrastructure in the 20th Century. Suddenly they’re liberated to jump-start to wireless, since the developed world has done all the hard and expensive work of inventing everything it takes. Better yet, they have no legacy infrastructure they need to jettison or retire.

We could do this with recruitment.

Suppose you’re the first firm in your market to try this small-scale experiment. If it failed, what would you have lost? But what if it worked? The tools are becoming available now.

Think about it.

Bruce MacEwen is president of Adam Smith Esq, the legal research and consulting company. Click here to visit the website.