How do you hire more than 6,300 engineers, product specialists and salespeople in the most competitive tech talent market in a decade? That's the dilemma Google is facing in its biggest hiring year ever.
To find the candidates it wants as quickly as possible, the search engine company is using software to sift through old resumes, reaching out to less prestigious universities than in the past and speeding up its hiring process. Chances are, if you apply for a job at Google, you'll get a yes or no on whether you'll be hired within weeks rather than months.
The company has streamlined its notoriously arduous interview process, reducing the number of interviews a candidate goes through from 14 to four. It has also toned down the emphasis on candidates solving brain teasers to prove their cognitive athleticism.
But the core of the company's hiring philosophy -- that consensus should be reached on every candidate by a committee of managers -- hasn't changed. Nor have standards slipped, said Todd Carlisle, director of staffing. "The standards have not dropped a single degree," he said. The company still operates one of the tech world's most elaborate and demanding systems for finding new employees.
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CEO Larry Page has the option to approve every hire. He regularly receives an electronic spreadsheet that allows him to review -- and potentially veto -- each candidate, even its administrative assistants.
"We try to make it really efficient for him...and he can sort of say, 'Why are we hiring a secretary in that location? I thought that was going to be a really small office,'" said Carlisle. "And we can say, 'Yeah, it's small now, but we plan to expand it to 300 people.'"
While the interview process is shorter, it's not necessarily easier, which has the dual effect of weeding out sub-par applicants as well as making the ones who get offered jobs feel like rock stars.
Interviewing at Google "is so hard and arduous, if you make it through, you feel like you actually accomplished something," said Avichal Garg, a former Google product manager who left after two years in 2005 and has since founded his own startup in San Francisco called Spool. "It becomes part of the lore of the company."
Compensation, Internships and the Myth of the Startup
Google raised the salaries of all employees by 10% this year, and according to a recent report in the New York Times, new engineering graduates are offered as much as $105,000 a year to start. That pay is buttressed by a bonus structure that can add tens of thousands of dollars to an employee's compensation, say some ex-Googlers. Google declined to discuss specifics about compensation.
Carlisle said the company asks about salary expectations early on to make sure both parties are in the same ballpark. Managers don't want to find out at the last minute that an applicant thinks they're worth 10 times more than Google is willing to pay.
Another way that Google finds candidates is through its internship program, which pays top-flight undergraduates about $6,000 a month, according to two current interns. The company has 1,000 technical interns this summer, a 20% increase from last year, said Stephanie Chenevert, a manager of engineering talent and outreach programs at Google.
Alexander Blessing, a master's candidate in computer science at Stanford, said that he turned down internships at both eBay and Facebook to work with Google's people analytics team this summer. Google will pay him $8,000 a month, more than Facebook's offer of $7,500 and eBay's $6,000. But money wasn't the deciding factor, Blessing said. Google offered him the chance to work on human-computer interaction, his research focus at Stanford.
Converting Blessing into a full-time hire will be a challenge. He wants to start his own company, though that's complicated by his immigration status as a German citizen. If he has to take a job after graduation to obtain a visa, he'll go to a startup rather than a large company, he said.
"I want to do my own thing," Blessing said. "I don't want a standard routine at Google."
To dissuade desired candidates from joining a startup, Google hiring managers argue that the company is as flexible and entrepreneurial as any new company without the usual constraints on resources. Engineers work in small teams of four people or so, but don't have to compete for access to computers or server space.
Moreover, a few years at Google can accelerate the path to founding a startup later on. Both potential investors and hires are attracted to those with a Google pedigree, said Dan Siroker, CEO of Optimizely, an A/B testing company, and a former Google product manager.
"It's a stamp of legitimacy," Siroker said. "We advertise that ex-Googlers run the company."
Back to the Future
If you've interviewed with Google in the past and didn't get a job, you could be getting a follow-up phone call soon. Because of fierce competition for the best technologists, Google has developed a program to take a second look at candidates it interviewed years earlier but passed over. The company has more products than it had years ago, Carlisle said, so there could be a spot for someone now who didn't quite fit before.
"We didn't used to have YouTube or social networking. We weren't into TV," Carlisle said. "If you applied in 2007 and didn't get a job, we have programs that go back to see if you're a good fit now."
The company is also being less rigid about denying qualified candidates simply because there isn't an opening related to the person's expertise.
"Something that's changed is, if there's a great person but we don't have an obvious place for them, we say, 'Let's find them a job at Google,' " Carlisle said. "We shop a candidate around. Maybe you're looking for a communications job, and we look deeper into the resume to see if there's something that indicates you could be a good fit for a policy analyst job."
Google isn't alone in its intention to grow headcount significantly this year. Facebook, LinkedIn and other tech companies are also beefing up their staff. To aid its efforts, Google has streamlined some of the bureaucratic hurdles that kept it from updating its offers when competitors attempted to outbid them.
"If we're engaging with a candidate and we find out they have a counter offer, it used to take us 10 days to get our act together and get back to them with our offer. We can now turn that around much, much faster," Carlisle said. "A lot of other companies, I'll admit, do better than us, but because we want to keep our standards high and want to look at the total candidate, we haven't been as nimble, and we're much better at that now."
Expanded University Universe
Google is also recruiting college grads from schools other than the usual suspects such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and MIT. Colleges such as the University of Victoria in Canada and Emory University in Altanta rarely saw Google recruiters in the past. Now it's more common.
"We started to realize that there are small, good liberal arts schools, and if we can get the top two or three people there, they are just as good, if not better than the 50th person at MIT," Carlisle said.
The company is spreading its recruiters out among more schools, rather than concentrating them at the most elite universities, Carlisle said.
Despite expanding its reach, Google's recruiting is complicated by students with more career options, Chenevert said.
"Students are becoming more and more discerning with their decision making," she said. "They're really informed about the opportunities that are available to them."
Wall Street Backlash
Of the 1,916 people Google hired in the first quarter of 2011, more than half are working on YouTube, the Chrome web browser, mobile and enterprise technologies, said Jeff Huber, Google's senior vice president of commerce and local, in a conference call this year with investors.
During that same call, analysts grilled Google executives about its increase in spending, much of it on new hires, along with wage and bonus increases. The company's research and development costs increased 49.8% from last year's first quarter to $1.2 billion.
Investor resistance, however, isn't likely to change the company's plans. Google believes it must continue to hire the best employees to maintain its long-term dominance, according to former employees.
"If you're going to change the world like we want to do, you need some bodies," said Carlisle. "The market is tight right now, but there's a ton of people out there. We don't want to miss the round of great people that could be working here."
Write to Joseph Walker