Liane Hornsey Reveals Google Hiring Process Secrets (Full Video Interview)

Consistently attracting top talent has as much to do with the company’s internal workings as its meticulous hiring process


Attracting top talent is a constant struggle for CHROs all over the world, especially when the global job market remains highly competitive. So how does the Silicon Valley giant, Google, manage to secure the brightest and best every time? Former VP, Global People Operations Liane Hornsey shares the reasons why Google prides itself so highly on its hiring process with GDS Group.

How to Hire the Right Employees

According to Hornsey, one of the major strengths of Google’s hiring process comes from the conviction that every ‘people’ decision they make will be the most important one so far.

“We put a lot of effort into ensuring everyone we hire would be accretive to the culture.”

This is reflected in the many ways that Google’s approach to working-life differs from many other companies that rely on formality, rigid structures and arbitrary target numbers to focus their employees—rather than inspire them.

The Flat Organizational Structure

For Hornsey, formality has its place but should not define a company. She explains that data-led decision making is an area where Google considers formality a virtue. Conversely, there is no need to add accessory layers of formality such as a set dress code or a vertical organizational structure, especially as this could impede the progress of highly talented employees.

Managing High Performers

As Google already attracts the best talent from all over the world, Hornsey reports part of the challenge is maintaining development opportunities throughout everyone’s career.

The solution? Rotation and mobility: every employee is encouraged to work on new projects or change job roles, which allows people to build skills and talents on top of those that caught the company’s eye over the hiring process.

“My problem is I hire brilliant people. 95-99 percent of my people are high talent…so we don’t use traditional methods.”

As for managerial roles within the company, Hornsey outlines some of the ways Google supports its talented individual contributors as they take this important step in their careers.

Some of the ways that the company provides support include:

  • Mentoring and leadership programs
  • Career advice “gurus”
  • Lower expectations for brand new managers.

But Hornsey points out that many are happy to stay as individual contributors and that pay and promotion scales accommodate these employees as well.

“Give bright people additional skills, additional learning and additional knowledge.”

Treating all employees with such respect, regardless of managerial expectations, helps the company maintain a healthy hands-off approach. One that famously goes much further than many organizations would be comfortable with.

How to measure employee absenteeism: Don’t

Google rigorously measures outputs, basing its success on final results alone. Encouraging the right behaviour is therefore more important than enforcing it, which is another reason why the precision of the hiring process is so critical.

The aim is not to penalise employees for circumstances outside of their control, but to enable them to deliver results as consistently (and flexibly) as possible.

Work Life Balance at Google

Google is also renowned for its lack of formalized working hours. Outcomes are rigorously assessed, but other than that employees are free to leave whenever they need to.

“People need work life balance, but it’s different for every individual.”

Liane Hornsey was the VP, Global People Operations at Google from 2006 – 2014 during the time she sat down with GDS Group – HR Insights. She is now the Chief People Officer at Palo Alto Networks in Santa Clara, California.