Power Players

This is what Google learned after interviewing one job candidate 16 times, according to Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet Inc.
Marlene Awaad | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Eric Schmidt joined Google as CEO in 2001 and led the tech company for the next decade as the company grew from a start-up to a corporate behemoth, whose parent company, Alphabet, now has a market cap of over $740 billion.

Very early hiring strategies largely involved hiring co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin's friends from Stanford University.

"They were super smart, somewhat disorganized kinds of people," Schmidt told Tyler Cowen on the "Conversations with Tyler" podcast.

But as the company grew, hiring strategies evolved.

"The recruiting started off as informal, but it ultimately became very, very structured," Schmidt said.

There were fumbles along the way. "We did all sorts of things [wrong]. My favorite example is that we would interview people to death," Schmidt told Cowen.

"We interviewed this one gentleman 16 times, and we couldn't decide."

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That was way too many interviews, of course. "So I picked a random number, which was half, and I said, 'We should have a max of eight,'" Schmidt recalled.

"We've since done a statistical analysis," said Schmidt, who is now a technical adviser to Alphabet, "and the answer today is four to five interviews."

In selecting candidates to consider, Google didn't look for prior related experience, Schmidt said.

"We were famously focused on the school you went to and your GPA and not your experience. This caused all sorts of consternation, but it produced people who were both young in a sense of inexperienced in business," Schmidt said. "It produced people that were aggressive and ignorant of what they were doing, so they didn't know what they were doing, but they could make mistakes."

Google needed a team that was willing to change direction nimbly.

"Our argument was that, in a fast-growing company, we need people who can pivot around whatever the new challenge is, and we weren't convinced that the people who had experience — since this was a new field — that that experience would allow them to pivot into the new problems," Schmidt said.

And hiring from elite schools was a way of piggybacking on the work admissions departments had already done, Schmidt said.

"In our model of the world, the fact that top universities had sorted through these people was a pretty good piece of data for us to understand whether we should spend," Schmidt said. "It was a good selection process."

But Google has updated its hiring strategies. "Today, we are not quite as snooty as we were back then," Schmidt said. "But in the early days, we were quite rigorous about this."

Yet Google (like other Silicon Valley tech companies) still seems to have trouble diversifying its largely white male workforce.

Also in the first years of Google, Page and Brin didn't believe there was a need for managers.

"They hired a bunch of managers, and then they decided they didn't like the managers, so they got rid of all the managers," Schmidt told Cowen. "This is called 'the disorg.'"

Page and Brin thought management got in the way of work being done. (Eventually managers were again brought in.)

Entrepreneurs reveal the top lessons from their time at Google
Entrepreneurs reveal the top lessons from their time at Google

As the company grew, Schmidt noticed Google was retaining unnecessary employees, who he called "glue people": "Everyone likes them ... but you don't actually need them," Schmidt said. "They make the system less efficient."

When he realized this was happening, Schmidt and Page reviewed every job offer before it was made until the company was "many thousands of people," Schmidt said.

According to its most recent quarterly earnings report, Google's parent company, Alphabet, had 85,050 employees.

Today, "real humans" read job applications. Then there are phone interviews and on-site interviews with typically four current employees, and hiring committees review an applicant's resume, references and work samples. If the hiring committee wants to hire a candidate, the application is then sent to a senior leader within the company for further review.

See also:

Top Google recruiter: Google uses this 'shocking' strategy to hire the best employees

Entrepreneurs reveal 5 things they learned from working at Google that helped them get ahead

This Silicon Valley billionaire got ahead by crashing meetings with the co-founders of Google

Why this billionaire used to crash meetings with Google’s co-founders
Why this billionaire used to crash meetings with Google’s co-founders