What makes a good contractor? A lesson from Google

By J&C Team

If you’ve seen last year’s film The Internship – where Hollywood funny men Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn blag work experience at Google – you’ll know that in addition to free cafés, slides and onsite sleeping pods, the company also boasts a rigorous approach to finding the right employees. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Laszlo Bock – the man with overall responsibility for hiring at the world famous technology giant – explained the five key attributes the company looks for when recruiting and they make interesting reading.

Although Bock’s hiring philosophy is centred on coaxing out the types of creative, technologically-savvy individuals most sought after by Google, it does offer some valuable advice for employees across all spheres.  As specialists in contract and interim recruitment, the team at Venn Group was especially interested in how Google’s key attributes relate particularly to contractors, who often have to demonstrate a very specific set of qualities and capabilities.  So, here are Google’s five top candidate attributes, together with our advice on why and how they’re important if you’re considering venturing into the contract arena.

No 1 Learning ability

In his interview with the New York Times, Bock states, “For every job…the No 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability and it’s not I.Q.  It’s learning ability.  It’s the ability to process on the fly.”  This skill is one that’s particularly relevant for contractors – it’s about being savvy, astute and able to think on your feet.  There tends to be no honeymoon period with a contract role, so the most successful individuals are those who can quickly assess a situation, run with it and come up with a solution.

No 2 Emergent leadership

Bock explains that the second most important quality is, “leadership – in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership.”  By this he isn’t talking about the list of senior positions a person has held throughout their career, but about the ability to step up to the plate when required and also to step back when it’s not appropriate to get involved.  This is an important consideration for contractors – as someone who effectively ‘lands’ in a professional environment, you have to be willing and able to take the bull by the horns.  Equally though, you have to be politically aware, and understand when it’s right to involve other stakeholders in an organisation.

Nos 3 & 4 Intellectual humility and ownership

These two attributes go hand in hand. Bock states, “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in….and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.”  How does this relate to contracting?  It’s about caring about the outcome of problem – great contractors are motivated by the idea of leaving a lasting legacy that comes jointly with the accomplishment of a successful project.  It’s also about being a team player, accepting other people’s points of view and acknowledging that, in certain professional situations, you can learn a lot from those around you.

Bock adds, “Without humility, you are unable to learn…successful bright people rarely experience failure and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure”.  As a contractor, you will have a lot of exposure to different organisations and situations and perhaps a greater chance to make mistakes.  But the upside is that you have a greater opportunity to learn from those mistakes and put your learnings into practice in your next role.

No 5 (Lack of) expertise

Bock explains, “…the expert will go: “I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer.”  Basically, Bock is talking about fresh thinking – and this is largely what a contractor can bring to the table.  You may not have the luxury of past experience within an organisation or an in-depth knowledge of a particular industry, but this has a flip-side – as a contractor you’re able to see a problem from a new perspective and often come to the same answer, or perhaps an even better answer, than an individual who’s been involved for years.

If you’re a current contractor – or perhaps someone who’s considering contracting as a career path – Google’s employee philosophy has some valuable lessons about the qualities you will need to succeed – whether or not you aspire to nap in a sleeping pod during your coffee break!