Google catching flak over hiring procedures

Bolstered by the US$4.2 billion it raised in a second stock offering in September 2005, Google Inc. has been on a hiring spree and is still looking to fill more than 1,000 positions. But for some software developers and other IT workers, Google’s arduous and secretive hiring process has started outweighing the glamour and perks it offers.

And now, the search engine vendor says that it is taking steps to simplify and shorten its hiring procedures.

The existing process didn’t help to sell one systems administrator on the idea of working at Google. The systems administrator, who asked not to be identified, said he and a number of his co-workers at an e-commerce company in the San Francisco Bay area were called by Google recruiters on their home phones or personal cell phones during the summer. He went for an interview at the company, where he met with multiple software engineers.

He said they were friendly but declined to answer basic questions about the position, the technology he would work on or even the amount of hours he would likely work.

“I’ve interviewed for jobs with defense contractors doing classified work who were more open than Google,” said the systems administrator, who ended up taking a new job outside of California at a Wall Street financial services firm.

He added that none of his former colleagues joined Google, either. “We were all a little spooked out,” he said.

In addition to Google’s secrecy, its demanding application process makes some job candidates reluctant to pursue opportunities at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

A female executive who interviewed for a managerial job at Google earlier this year said the lengthy interview process eventually led her to pull herself out of consideration. “I had to tell them, ‘Look, I can’t keep taking full days off to spend with you guys,’” said the executive, who later took a job as a marketing vice-president at a multinational software vendor.

“I see a lot of people with one to three years of experience that want to join Google, but I think they’re having problems finding expert-level people,” said Kate Del Rio, director of recruiting at MRG Global Inc., a Sacramento, Calif.-based IT and business staffing firm.

“Google has that image of being a young, hip company, but for older, seriously technical people, that dot-com era stuff doesn’t really appeal to them,” Del Rio said.

From March 1 through mid-September, Google placed at least 6,971 ads for jobs, mostly for positions in engineering or IT, according to data from Simply Hired Inc., a Mountain View-based company that operates a job search engine. That’s an average of almost 35 ads a day, noted officials at Simply Hired, which claims that its database eliminates double-counting of the same ads from different sources.

Google, which had 6,790 full-time employees at the end of March, hired 1,152 people during the second quarter to increase its workforce to 7,942. The company wouldn’t disclose its head count as of the end of September, saying only that it now has more than 8,000 workers. Google listed 1,103 job openings worldwide on its Web site as of Sept. 30, about two-thirds of them at its headquarters.

Sunny Gettinger, a Google spokeswoman, said the company continues to get “a great rate of offer acceptances” from job candidates “at all levels of their careers.” But she added that Google is trying to streamline its procedures.

According to Gettinger, since the beginning of the year, the average number of job interviews per candidate “has gone down to just over five,” and the company has decreased the amount of time it takes to make job offers.

“The process is dynamic, and we continue to evaluate it and make changes as necessary,” Gettinger said.

Even for temporary positions, applicants generally have had to interview with committees of six to 10 Google employees, ranging from senior managers to recent college graduates, said a woman who worked as a recruiter for Google until earlier this year.

Phil Carpenter, vice-president of marketing at Simply Hired, said that Google is being affected by the revitalized job market for developers and other IT workers. “Demand is strong, and applicants are in the driver’s seat,” he said. “Google continues to be an employer that is interesting to many people, but there are lots of other choices to be had.”

However, Carpenter said the “non-scalability” of Google’s hiring practices is also an issue. “There’s a cachet associated with an arduous recruiting process, but there are also repercussions,” he said.

Moreover, Google’s casual and nonhierarchical work culture isn’t appealing to some prospective employees.

“It might be fun if I was just coming out of school,” said a software development manager who declined an offer to interview at Google. “But sometimes hiring really smart people and setting them free isn’t going to get what you want.”

In response, Gettinger said Google’s “culture of collaboration” remains a big draw.

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