Internet search giant Google is known for its largesse when it comes to employee measures, and the recent death benefits policy may reinforce the belief. But while the company does not have “infinite money” to pump into benefits, at times core values take precedence over everything else, says Laszlo Bock, senior vice president, people operations and global HR head. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Anumeha Chaturvedi.
How has hiring at Google changed over time?
Earlier, we used to ask everybody for academic results. We now do it only for new graduates. We have narrowed down selection criteria to four categories: first, the focus on general cognitive ability —an assessment of how bright candidates are, whether they are capable of learning. Second, leadership traits. Cultural fit or “googliness” comes third. Are candidates like Google – are they comfortable with ambiguity, non-hierarchical and conscientious; do they take responsibility for what is around them? The fourth aspect, and the least important, is expertise. Over the past year, we have decided to limit the number of interviews to around four to five sessions.
Tell us about the new death benefits policy. Have changes been made to existing policies?
We have launched the death benefits policy in the US and are in the process of doing so in different countries. The constraint is finding insurance partners who will work with us, besides legal and regulatory issues. Today, the policy has three components — life insurance payments, the stocks that vest immediately with the spouse at the time of an employees’ death, and annuity payments to next of kin. We do not have the insurance infrastructure for annuity payments in India, but we provide the first two.
We are looking at a review of benefits in each country. We are trying to identify certain things that are important to Google from a values perspective — the death benefits, for instance. Insurance benefits for LGBT employees is another example. We have developed a programme called optimise your life, which deals with physical, emotional and financial health. We are also conducting a study that we expect to go on for many years on what makes great teams work. It will have a longterm beneficial impact on how we nurture people.
Are there policies tailored for India?
Exclusively in India, we allow employees to add up to five dependents for health insurance. Our reimbursement for employees’ studies too is more generous here than in other countries. One of the things we’re exploring specifically for India is what can we do to make Googlers’ families healthier. We have a significant proportion of youngsters and it is hard to get people excited about healthcare. But we feel that if we can help their parents, we can help them too.
How does the company manage to be so generous with its initiatives?
While framing policies, we look at the return on investments as well as the right thing to do, regardless of cost. For instance, women have a harder time in their careers as they face choices like whether to have children or not. What we do around maternity leave is much more generous than the minimum statutory requirements in some countries, but we feel people should have the choice of coming back to work if they wish to, and that it is the right thing to do.
How do you train and retain employees starting their careers with the company?
Apart from the orientation programme, we have a number of rotation programmes, like the online management associate programme which allows employees to rotate on a number of jobs and functions. Nearly 70% of the training is delivered by Googlers to other Googlers. This helps in reducing costs, as we do not have infinite money.
What does it take to crack interviews at Google?
Most of the advice people get from outside is wrong. We discourage people from asking questions like, ‘Why are manhole covers round’, or, ‘how many gas stations does Mumbai have?’; their primary purpose is to make the interviewer feel smarter than the candidate. We’ve been training people globally for this, and have not reached a 100% compliance rate, so if people got such questions, I apologise. We are asking more structured questions on cognitive ability and leadership, and the best way to get a job at Google is to think about the experiences you have had that demonstrate these attributes.