Eric Schmidt Explains How Google Hires

Since word of the company’s gourmet cafeterias and bring-your-puppy-to-work atmosphere first began circulating in the national media way back in 2006, becoming a Google (s GOOG) employee has held a special place in the American imagination, somewhere between graduating from space explorer school and winning the Power Ball lottery. The result: a lot of speculation — and hyperbole — surrounding the company’s hiring process.

While we’ve all heard rumors of mandatory 3.7 GPAs and the ability to answer math questions over the phone with no calculator, the world might sadly never know just exactly how Google makes its hiring decisions. But perhaps former CEO Eric Schmidt has a little more insight into the process. Schmidt discussed the company’s personnel philosophy and corporate culture with McKinsey director James Manyika at a McKinsey conference in mid-March.

  • Be exceptional. Duh. We’ve all heard the company likes to stick interviewees with brain teasers to parse out their thought process and job candidates should always be prepared to explain how they’d stick an elephant in a refrigerator or figure out how many piano tuners work in New York. Says Schmidt: “We spent more time — and pretty ruthlessly — on academic qualifications, intelligence, intellectual creativity, passion and commitment. What bothers me about management books, they all say these things generically, but nobody does it.”
  • Do your own thing. Schmidt believes the best employees are those who don’t need much managing. “People are going to do what they are going to do, and you’re there to assist them. They don’t need me, they are going to do it anyway. They are going to do it for their whole lives. Maybe they could use a little help from me,” he says. “At Google, we give the impression of not managing the company because we don’t really. It sort of has its own borg-like quality if you will. it sort of just moves forward.”
  • Don’t necessarily have a winning personality. Schmidt emphasized the importance of getting the right people, but acknowledged the right people aren’t always the most personable. “You are going to have to deal with the odd people. Not every single one of these incredibly smart people is a team player… even if people don’t want them around, we still need them.”
  •  Really love job interviews. Interviewees will be relieved to hear the company is streamlining its interview process. Schmidt said Google has brought poor saps in as many as 16 times before ultimately releasing them back to the wild. Now, he says, Google has analyzed the process and determined a decision should be able to be made in five interviews. (Well, that’s practically nothing.)

Ranked no. 4 on Fortune’s best companies to work for list in 2011 (it spent 2007 in the #1 spot), Google has taken hits to both its reputation and its personnel in recent years. Meanwhile, Facebook is fast emerging as the most highly desirable company for America’s college graduates to work for. But joining the ranks of Google’s 24,400-plus employees still sends many a techie salivating. Case in point, the company received 75,000 resumes within one week in February after announcing it would hire 6,000 new employees for the year in 2011. Maybe they all heard about the to die for reduced-calorie strawberry yogurt in the cafeteria?

Image courtesy of Flickr user bgottsab.