Google’s Secret to Hiring “Googley” People

I was a few months out of college and at a crossroads. Should I continue on my non-profit venture, or make the giant leap to work for someone else? On a whim, I applied to an opening at Google. The application process was so fast and simple, I was concerned. It was like I had just shot my resume into outer space, hoping for a response.

A few days later it struck me that I actually knew someone at Google, my friend Cliff who had volunteered with me a few years back. I thought it would at least be nice to get his advice. I reached out to Cliff, and he offered to refer me. Within 24 hours I had an email from a recruiter requesting a phone screening.

Long story short, I got the job and later came to understand why my email to Cliff made all the difference. Google receives well over 75,000 applications a week and despite the complex algorithms that aid recruiters in the hiring process, Google would be the first to admit: it is difficult to glean much from a résumé.

If you ask a recruiter at Google what they are looking for in a new hire, they will say “Googliness.” Best explained, “Googliness” is essentially a smart, collaborative, humble, optimistic, and not-afraid-to-be-goofy person. But how on earth can you identify these blend of traits in a pool of 75,000+ applicants per week?  

For starters, Google asks its well-connected Googlers to refer new Googlers. In his book, Work Rules, Google’s former Head of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, recommends that companies have their best-networked people source great hires. Google practices what Laszlo preaches by incentivising its employees with a bonus if their reference successfully lands the job. But how does a Google referral ensure applicants will have a high degree of Googliness?

Our company, Imperative, published a report based on a recent national survey of US workers. The survey found that 28% of the workforce, or 42 million people, are “Purpose-Oriented.” These Purpose-Oriented people have a psychological orientation towards work whereby they see it as a source of self-fulfillment and serving others. According to the report, employees who believe work is about purpose outperform their colleagues by every measure. They are more likely to be in leadership roles, advocate for their company, have longer tenure, build stronger work relationships, and adapt to change more easily. You could say they are “Googley.”

While at Google, I worked with many such Googley, Purpose-Oriented people who clearly came to work for more than gaining status or a paycheck. These people were the culture-carriers who went out of their way to engage in new projects and organise events and were also the ones getting promoted. According to the Purpose Index, 20% of the workers in the technology industry are Purpose-Oriented. However, I can say that my “Googly” colleagues far outweighed this percentage.

Google’s next door neighbor, LinkedIn, used the Imperative measurements to gauge how their proportion of Purpose-Oriented employees stacked up against the technology industry average. We found out that LinkedIn recruits twice the industry average: 41% of their employees have a purpose orientation to work. In a recent post, LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman, attributed the high ratio of Purpose-Oriented workers to higher engagement, higher levels of loyalty, and performance.

Reid emphasised a key point from the Imperative research: Purpose-Oriented employees are 69% more likely to be promoters of the company. For Google this means that such “Googley” employees are more likely to go out of their way be ambassadors of the company and to refer others to open jobs. What’s more, for the employees who see work as a means of serving others and experiencing fulfillment, their peer group is inclined to be like-minded.

Combining Google’s strategy, Imperative’s research, and LinkedIn’s success creates this formula for building teams: :

  1. Attract Purpose-Oriented applicants by trusting your existing Purpose-Oriented employees as referrals.
  2. Once hired, keep these people by connecting them to fulfilling and engaging work.
  3. Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Whether we call them “Purpose-Oriented” or Googley,” the key for employers is to find and keep employees that drive a positive culture and high performance. Like for Google, they may be just a referral away.

To learn how you can screen for purpose and welcome amazing purpose-oriented sales talent into your organisation, visit Hire On Purpose


Arthur Woods is the Co-Founder of Imperative, a breakthrough assessment and learning system that provides the first place for people to uncover and apply what intrinsically motivates them and gives them purpose in their work. Imperative partners with forward-thinking organisations to equip them with the tools, system and support network to drive purpose for their people. Are you ready to Unlock The Power of Purpose?

Image Credit: The Internship movie, 2013, Twentieth Century Fox