How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Recruit (and Retain) Top Talent
Upgrade Your Hiring Process With Criteria From “The Four”
The war for top talent is real. Research from McKinsey & Company reveals that 82% of organizations don’t believe they recruit highly talented people. And of companies that do, only 7% think they can retain them.
In his book The Four, author Scott Galloway deconstructs how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google were able to achieve staggering success. And while he manages to construct a compelling list of factors, there was a glaring absence of one key determinant: recruiting and retaining top talent. The importance of this critical component cannot be understated.
How a company hires has a direct impact on who they hire (and for how long). Without well-defined guiding principles and intentional screening questions, companies are leaving too much to chance. To help you upgrade your hiring processes, I’ve compiled a list of considerations that decision-makers from each of The Four make when bringing on the best people:
In a 1998 letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shared the three questions that he asks people to consider before making a hiring decision:
Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you’ve admired in your life, they are probably people you’ve been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.
Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company five years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, “The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!”
Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: “onomatopoeia!”
On an episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes, Apple CEO Tim Cook explained his company’s hiring criteria when Charlie Rose asked him how they find the right people. Carmine Gallo, writing for Forbes, synthesized Cook’s framework into five points:
People that work with a passion and an idealism. Passion is a word that you hear again and again among Apple recruiting managers. Many potential employees make the mistake of thinking they need to know everything about Apple’s products. Knowledge helps, of course, but one Apple recruiting manager told me, “We’ve learned to value a magnetic personality just as much as proficiency.” Apple has found that the best way to build a special workplace is to hire for attitude and train for skill.
People that don’t take no for an answer. This is why recruiters ask themselves, ‘Can this person have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs?’ Apple looks for someone who can offer fearless feedback. Someone who has an opinion and will stick by it. “I have people all around me every day that don’t agree with me,” Cook said. According to Cook, Apple looks for people who have a strong opinion and can debate and defend their point of view because they want to make things better.
People that don’t accept the status quo. This goes back to Steve Jobs and the famous ‘think different’ ad campaign. Jobs was describing Apple’s customers in the ad, but it served as a metaphor for the people Apple wanted in its inner circle. According to Jobs, “They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. They are the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world.”
People that are inherently not satisfied with things. They know things should be different. They focus on it until they find an answer. Job candidates at Apple headquarters or the Apple Store aren’t given a test, but they are put through several rounds of interviews with up to ten people or more. The purpose is not to find someone who has all the answers; the purpose is to find someone who may not know the answer but is determined to figure it out.
People that can’t be told things are impossible. In 2001 nearly every retail analyst and expert told Steve Jobs that Apple Retail would surely fail (and many said so publicly). It’s in Apple’s DNA that when they’re told something is impossible, they work doubly hard to prove their critics wrong. Anyone interviewing with Apple should have a story that reflects this very quality — a desire to prove the naysayers wrong.
During a 2015 Q&A in Barcelona, Mark Zuckerberg gave the audience his primary guiding principle for hiring:
I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person. “As long as you have that as your rule for picking the people that you work with, you’re not going to go wrong,” he said.
To that end, Facebook’s most-asked interview question is a great way for organizations to determine if a candidate is a good fit.
On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day? Zuckerberg said that one of the ways Facebook is able to attract such a high quality pool of applicants is by being upfront about what the company stands for.
Google’s former SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, is the author of Work Rules! Though he left Google at the end of 2016, his principles remain at Google and its parent company Alphabet. In his book, Bock revealed his criteria for recruiting top talent:
Set an uncompromising high standard. “Before you start recruiting, decide what attributes you want and define as a group what great looks like,” Bock wrote. “A good rule of thumb is to hire only people who are better than you…do not compromise, ever.”
Find candidates on your own. Google works with some recruitment firms, but only in specific situations in which outside expertise is a requirement, such as building a new team in another country.
Put checks in place to assess candidates objectively. “Include subordinates and peers in the interviews, make sure interviewers write good notes, and have an unbiased group of people make the actual hiring decision,” Bock wrote. “Periodically return to those notes and compare them to how the new employee is doing, to refine your assessment capability.”
Provide candidates with a reason to join. “If a candidate was on the fence about joining Google, Jonathan would simply give them the stack [of employee profiles] and say: ‘You get to work with these people,’” Bock wrote. “Make clear why the work you are doing matters, and let the candidate experience the astounding people they will get to work with.”
In order to thrive, not simply survive, an organization needs to be able to attract, hire, and retain top talent. It goes without saying that you should ensure your candidates can actually do the work they’re being hired to do. But if we’re talking about attracting and retaining top talent, then you’ve got to prioritize fit. And that requires a well-thought-out and strategic process.
To overcome larger organizational challenges, you need to make some changes in your hiring process to improve your results and land the candidates who will excel in your organization.
Don’t jeopardize your company’s success with run-of-the-mill considerations such an employee’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Go further. Become intentional about how you hire in order to see a noticeable impact on the calibre of who you hire.