Laszlo Bock on job hunting in this environment and life beyond Google
Watch the following fireside chat that Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP, People Operations 2006-16 conducted with Xoogler’s founder Christopher Fong on Tuesday September 19, 2023, a few days after Google announced that they cut about a third of the people who worked in recruiting.
Laszlo built and led Google’s people function as the company grew from a few thousand to almost 75,000 Googlers and as revenue grew from $6 billion to $90 billion. During Bock’s tenure, Google was named the Best Company to Work For more than 30 times around the world and received over 100 awards as an employer of choice. During this fireside chat, Laszlo shared: If you were impacted by a Reduction In Force, nobody is weighing your soul, character, or contribution. It is just a spreadsheet. It is part of your history, not your future.
How to handle moving on from Google
Job hunting strategies during these market conditions
How leaders should act during these tough times
Should you take the first job or wait for the perfect job
How to counter ageism
The best way to network while looking for a job
Should you be an advisor to startups
Additional Q&A that Laszlo responded to after the fireside chat
QUESTION: Is it ever a good idea to apply on linkedin or online for a VP level role? Or do you always need to find a referral? Sometimes I don’t have a strong connection to companies I am interested in.
LB: It never hurts to apply online. But it’s always better to find a referral. If you don’t have a strong connection to the company, then see if you can find someone who not only can make an intro, but can make an intro to someone who is willing to spend 30 minutes with you and make a referral on that basis.Also keep in mind that some industries are more liberal with titles than others. For example, a VP role in banking might be comparable to a manager-level role in tech. Even within tech, VP titles can mean very different things. At one point Google had one VP for every 200 employees, while Yahoo! one VP for every 50 employees. In other words, a posted VP role at Yahoo was equivalent to an L7 at Google.
QUESTION: Advice for an impacted new mom? I have a 5 week old and want to take the time to bond with her, but will I be majorly set back career-wise by not jumping into networking and job searching while it’s fresh.
LB: Most employers will understand that new parents want to take time to spend with their newborn. Jobs open up all the time, so don’t worry about getting the search timing exactly right. Indeed, there’s an argument that you should wait so you don’t have to compete directly with all the other folks newly on the market right now. And even if taking a break does slow your job search, there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s a good trade-off.
However, this one is a deeply personal decision. Your heart will tell you the answer.
QUESTION: How has Google’s approach to hiring evolved over the years? What are some tips for startups hiring, to filter for the best candidates?
LB: I don’t know how it’s changed since 2016.
At minimum, you should use a process similar to what we had in the 2008+ period (job criteria, structured interviews, hiring committees, etc). You can find details of the process in my book, Work Rules!. (I donate 100% of my book income or you can get a free copy at your local library.) I know the process worked because from 2006-2016 we would back-test the hiring process periodically by anonymizing the hiring packets of 200 hired employees and sending them back through the review process to see if they would get hired. We found that the quality of hires went up over the period (eg, on average an “A” candidate in 2007 would have been scored much lower – or not even hired – in later years).
QUESTION: What do you see as the future of Recruiting? 1) Will recurring layoffs be a part of the gig now, and 2) Do you think it’s a viable career path with the impacts of AI?
LB: Recurring layoffs have always been part of recruiting and will continue to be. The scale of reductions is often hidden by the large proportion of recruiters that are on contract (letting a bunch of contracts expire and not replacing people reduces the staffing team) and in the usage of search firms.
ATS systems and assessment products have been around for a long time, and there’s more demand for recruiters than ever. AI may make some parts of the recruiting process more efficient (eg, resume screening, hourly-worker hiring or coding assessments), but hiring managers aren’t going to fully trust a machine to make hiring decisions for a long time … or maybe ever.
QUESTION: As much as I absolutely love my job as a recruiter, based what’s happening in the industry with recruiting teams getting heavily impacted and underpaid, I feel as though recruiting is incredibly undervalued. I’m actually wondering if it’s advisable to switch functions, or if you think this undervalue of recruiting is temporary?
LB: The heads of talent acquisition at major companies and executive recruiters can make over $1,000,000 per year. That said, it’s possible some other fields might be a better fit for your skills and offer you more upside. So this one really depends on you.
QUESTION: Should we ask for X amount less when asked for our desired salary to avoid being excluded from the recruitment process altogether?
LB: This depends on how strong a candidate you are, how urgently the company needs to fill the role, and the company’s ability to pay.
But in general, no. Ask for what you want. If the company is in love with you, they will tell you that’s too high and let you know the best they can do. If they don’t love you, then you probably wouldn’t get the job anyhow.
The exception is if you don’t have the luxury of time. If you need a job now, take a lower salary as long as it covers your expenses.
QUESTION: When applying to HR roles, I was shut down by multiple recruiters and advised that the skills aren’t transferrable. I have 3 years recruiting experience. Do you have suggestions on how could I combat their reasoning?
LB: It’s crazy to say that someone with 3 years experience in staffing has no transferable skills to an HR role. You’ve touched compensation, talent management (what skills does the candidate have) and HR generalist work (coaching and counseling; managing your internal clients). Be sure to tell your story that way.
What’s really happening behind the scenes is that the recruiters have specific reqs to fill and their odds of filling that job with a “stretch” candidate are lower than if they conform to the exact job spec. So they are choosing the easy (and rational) path.
I faced the same issue in my career. At GE, I was in charge of compensation, benefits and HR operations for my business, but had not been an HR generalist. A recruiter sent me to interview for an HR generalist job at a major insurance company in Hartford, CT (I won’t say which one as a courtesy). I was told the same thing as you: “You don’t have the skills to be an HR generalist.” Perhaps they took such a conservative view because they were founded in 1810 and carried that conservatism forward 200 years.
Six months later I was hired by Google.
So the feedback you’re getting is more about that recruiter and company than about you. Ignore it and move on.
QUESTION: Is it possible in this job market to transition roles as a senior employee (e.g., if you have 15+ years work experience, but not in the field you want to enter)?
LB: Yes. But be prepared to give up something. Typically when you move into a new field you can expect to take a one or two level drop in your role and scope. This is true with the question above too: if you’re an experienced recruiter, you may have to take a level drop to become an HR generalist or a compensation person (just as if you were a salesperson going into marketing or almost any other functional change). Note that this is if you switch fields. If you switch industries, you should go laterally or move up. QUESTION: Do you have any advice for an L & D leader looking to make the next step to a CHRO/Head of People role?
LB: 1. Have your current CHRO give you a client group to support now, so you can build and demonstrate the skills for a CHRO role.
2. Consider moving to a small company for the bigger role (see notes above).
3. Look for companies where they care deeply about L&D as they will be more likely to promote from that function.
QUESTION: Dovetailing on your question, Chris, am wondering what Laszlo’s thoughts are on pivoting to the entrepreneurial route in today’s economy (assuming you have the finances to give it a shot for a year).
LB: Go for it! I’ve done it twice and it’s been amazing (and also difficult and painful and joyous and rewarding).
QUESTION: If you have experience doing similar work in a different industry (7+ years ago I was not in tech, but another field), do you recommend including that on a mid-level resume? Or just focus on more recent work?
LB: Yes. 7 years ago is still pretty recent. And you can make the argument that your experience from another industry provides you with a different perspective than more traditional candidates, which will appeal to companies interested in innovation.
QUESTION: Would getting additional certifications or an exec MBA etc. help boost our chances to be hired?
LB: Only if it’s from a top 10 program (or maaaaybe top 20). Otherwise the signaling value of the lower-tier brands is pretty weak.Note that Project Cerebro at Google demonstrated that these brands don’t predict performance, and so we did away with showing hiring committees where people went to school to avoid this bias. But the rest of the world retains that bias.