When preparing for your Google Interview you’ll quickly come across the four key attributes that Google looks for in candidates. At number three, sits a term that often evokes immediate confusion in the reader – Googleyness (also sometimes written as Googlyness or Googliness).
It’s not a word used in everyday language, and you won’t find it in a dictionary. So, what exactly is Googleyness, and more importantly how do you demonstrate that you have it in an interview? How do you pass the Googlyness interview?
Laszlo Bock’s Definition of Googleyness
Before we start unpacking the traits that you’ll want to demonstrate to show your Googleyness, let’s turn to a Google expert for an explanation.
Former Google Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock defined “Googleyness” in his 2015 book ‘WorkRules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead’ as:
“Attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn’t), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don’t know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.”
Now that we have an idea of what qualities we’re looking for, let’s break down how you can show-off your Googleyness.
#1 Enjoying Fun
Google employees work hard but they also value having fun and finding enjoyment in their days. This doesn’t have to be a big show of being the “fun guy” or a daredevil. You don’t need to bungee jump into your meetings. It can be as simple as taking time to have lunch at a café with a friend or colleague. Grabbing a co-worker for a quick game of pool, darts, or air hockey. It can be finding something quick and fun to do on a Friday morning to get your team energized for the day and into the Friday-spirit.
Provide little anecdotes in your storytelling that show you like to have fun and choose to add fun examples into your answers when appropriate. This will go a long way in demonstrating your Googleyness throughout the interview.
Enjoying fun is a thread that is woven into everything that Google does, and it shows up in the most creative ways, like this description on using data in your answers on their interview tips page.
“The ‘equation’ we suggest goes a little something like this. Accomplished X as measured by Y doing Z. Here’s an example: ‘Increased tail wags of Dooglers by 75% over two days by placing dog treats outside of conference rooms.’ “
They could have used any standard item to explain their formula for including data in your answers. But that would have been boring. Measuring the tail wags of Dooglers is so much more fun!
Another great example of Google’s ongoing theme of infusing fun into everyday life in the Google Doodle. There is now a dedicated team of imaginative artists and engineers who’ve created over 4000 doodles. Their job is to “enliven the Google homepage and bring smiles to the faces of Google users around the world.”
#2 Intellectual Humility.
In Laszlo Bock’s words “It’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you might be wrong”. This boils down to having curiosity. Being humble enough to know that there is always something new for you to learn and being interested in the world around you in order to do so.
How do you demonstrate this? Use examples in your storytelling that show you’ve had areas for development, that you’re dedicated to growing and improving. Being committed both to accepting help and helping others. An example of this could be letting someone else take the lead on an important piece of work, taking advice rather than having to always figure things out alone, or trusting that your colleagues have the required skills to do the job and letting them get on with it. Think about how you can talk about learnings and show your curiosity throughout your interview.
In fact, it's such a big theme at Google that curiosity about better understanding yourself is one of the first areas covered on the Google Career Page.
“Self-reflection. While we’re sure you’re ready to dive into the depths of the job search, we recommend starting with an often-overlooked first step: focus on you”
“If we hire you based on your skills, we’ll get a skilled employee. If we hire you based on your skills, and your enduring passions, and your distinct experiences and perspectives, we’ll get a Googler. That's what we want.”
“A strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees)”
Hold yourself to a high standard of accountability. Never make an excuse in your interview or pass the blame for something that went wrong. Own the stories and examples you share. Always refer to ways you can improve and give examples of how you’ve put the work in to get better throughout your career.
This could look like investing in continuously upskilling yourself, working on better understanding yourself and your personality type. Working on understanding other personality types so that you are better equipped at handling conflict and de-escalating tension.You could give examples of times when you realized you had made a mistake and took the opportunity to improve your knowledge on the topic to avoid any future oversights.
#4 Comfort with ambiguity
“we don’t know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity”
Googleyness is about embracing the unknown. Not just tolerating the unfamiliar, but really appreciating it. Celebrating finding yourself in a place you didn’t expect. Finding the joy in being surprised and dealing with unforeseen circumstances instead of resisting the reality you now occupy.
Here you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to question if you don’t understand, show empathy in challenging times, and keep your cool when faced with an obstacle you didn’t expect.
You can be almost certain that you’ll get stuck on an interview question at some point. Continuing to work through the problem and focusing on finding a solution rather than getting frustrated and flustered is how you can display your comfort with ambiguity.
Showing off this trait in your Google interview could be as simple as not letting yourself be thrown by unexpected glitches or last-minute changes on the day. Your interviewer might be delayed and running late to meet with you. Your interview room might have been double booked and you need to switch venues. Taking the unexpected in your stride and not letting it get to you shows up as Googleyness.
#5 Evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
A great example of this could be someone who left a lucrative role at a big-name company to pursue an idea you had for a startup. The venture didn’t workout and that’s why you’re now interviewing at Google. You might feel this indicates failure, when in fact its exactly the kind of ‘courageous and interesting path’ that demonstrates your Googleyness.
This story tells your interviewers that you’re not risk averse, and you’ve likely learnt an enormous number of valuable lessons through that experience.
The point to focus on here, is that everyone has their own unique, interesting, and valuable story to tell. The roles at Google are specialized and often very specific – they aren’t looking for generic, perfect-on-paper, employees to fill them. The challenges you’ve faced, the obstacles you’ve overcome and the non-linear paths you’ve taken are what make you courageous, interesting and Googley.
Do the Right Thing
Taking time to reflect on Google’s motto of do the right thing (formerly known as don’t be evil) will also prove valuable in acing the Googleyness portion of your interview.
Google makes a great effort to hire people who are honest, kind, positive and empathetic. How do you show that you’re a good person in an interview? It’s a lot easier and simpler than you think.
- Interaction with others. How you engage with EVERYONE you encounter during your interview process is your chance to show that you are friendly, positive, and polite. This really means everyone. The recruiter, receptionist, coordinator, server in the café, people you pass by - everyone.
- Demonstrating integrity. Choose examples and stories to tell that show your integrity and how you’ve chosen to do the right thing in your career.
- Positivity. Bring high energy to your conversations and focus on eliminating negative vocabulary. Choose words that have room for the positive elements of a situation and aren’t defeatist. If you’re talking about a mistake you made, think of referring to it as a learning opportunity or opportunity for improvement. Talk about the good that came from the situation. How this opportunity shifted your approach or encouraged you to adopt a new way of thinking.
- Language choice. Be aware of the words you use when describing scenarios. I’m not only referring to keeping things positive, but you might be in the habit of using ‘he’ when giving examples.The overuse of one type of pronoun can make you seem biased or ignorant to a world made up of diverse individuals. Of course, it should go without saying that using any words that are not politically correct will be damaging from a Googleyness point of view. Google is known to be an incredibly liberal company where everyone is respected. The words you use need to be fair and considerate.
Is Googleyness just another word for culture fit?
When a word that is unique to one company is used, particularly in reference to the hiring process, it’s easy to see how people interpret Googleyness as culture-fit. Google has however gone to great lengths to ensure that this confusion doesn’t stick. They even added an official update to the term, stating that it is important to "avoid confusing Googleyness with culture fit, which can leave room for bias."
Hiring for culture fit can often boil down to employing people who we identify with and instinctively feel comfortable with. This is problematic as this comfort has nothing to do with the candidate aligning with the company values but rather ‘clicking’ with the interviewer on a personal level.
When speaking about Googleyness Laszlo Bock also made a point to highlight that this didn’t mean looking for people who “look like us”.
"It isn't about whether you're a bro-grammer, or are just like us, or fit a narrow mold," Bock says.
Rather, that the goal is to discover people who are different, innovative, and who can challenge the status quo.
When it comes to defining what ‘do the right thing’ means, everyone will naturally have their own, slightly different, version.
This former Google Staff Research Scientist sums it up pretty well by saying:
“If you talk to a candidate, and he treats you as a colleague, with neither undue deference, nor condescension, that’s Googley. If he is excited to solve a problem because it’s really cool, that’s Googley. If he tells you about his excitement about working at Google in a genuine way, that’s Googley. If he can demonstrate to you that he has genuine ethical values, that’s Googley.
In short, if the candidate’s behavior shows that he is someone you want to work with, that’s what Googley is supposed to be about.”
If you’re looking for a one sentence summary of Googleyness, you could say, ‘Someone trustworthy who values and respects the differences in people, is curious and eager to learn, finds joy and the positive in day-to-day life, is innovative and comfortable with uncertainty.’
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- The Google hiring committee (rework)
- In the Plex – How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, ex-Google CEO
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