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Recruiters Share Their Methods of  Selecting for Success

Good grades and graduate degrees fall short of indicating success in the real world, according to leading recruiters at Google and the British Army. The recruiters spoke to 49 school representatives on October 14 at the Graduate Management Admission Council’s second-annual European Professional Development Conference, hosted by IESE Business School in Barcelona.

At the conference, titled “Selecting for Success,” the recruiters not only shared what they do and what they look for, but also how they define what they’re looking for. The audience, with moderator David Bach, professor of strategy and economic environment at IE Business School, asked the recruiters, “What do they know?” In other words, “What do you want from us and our students?”

Schools should select students with strong non-academic skills, and then take the time to help them demonstrate such skills to employers, the recruiters said. “An MBA is arguably becoming a commodity,” said Alison Parrin, Google’s career development program manager for Europe the Middle East, and Africa. “You spend a lot of time in bringing them out academically, but you don’t necessarily do all you can to give them the employability skills that come out in interviews.”

Panelist Lt. Colonel Eilean Cunningham, head of operations at the British Army Recruiting Group Headquarters, explained her team’s pursuit of the best people—the people with the “X-factor,” something beyond educational achievement that helps a candidate stand out from the rest.

“Whilst intellectual potential is important, it is not everything,” Cunningham  said. “We need particular people with a certain something; people we can rely on who are flexible and can deliver with calm reflection and authority under pressure.” She runs a national recruiting operation that searches for 15,000 young men and women into the British Army each year, including some 700 graduates for officer training at the country’s elite Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

For Sandhurst, each candidate’s physical fitness, cultural fit, and that X-factor is reviewed during a 72-hour assessment. “We test them and their ability to do the right thing – they must have moral courage and the ability to think outside the box. We look for their ability to thrive in a group, and whether they can they earn respect of their group,” Cunningham said. To ensure the operation is transparent, this assessment is open, and anyone can ask to observe the process. After initial feedback, one in three candidates will complete the rest of the assessment for admission.

At Google, which receives in excess of 1 million CVs each year, recruiters read each one individually and assess four initial criteria for success. First is general cognitive ability, measured by looking at a candidate’s academic record, for instance. Up next are the candidate’s roles and promotions. Talented generalists pass Google’s third criteria, showing that they can swap technical disciplines easily, and demonstrate leadership through their work or extra-curricular responsibilities. Finally, there’s what Parrin called “Googliness. That’s something that makes you different, special, and interesting to us.”

Google is admittedly meticulous in its search for the best people. High-achieving candidates who meet Google’s initial four requirements then face up to eight interviews before they can land a job at Google. New hires must be compelling: Founding CEO Larry Page gets a detailed report on each person that company managers hope to hire. And they won’t settle for second-best. A role in the Czech Republic has been vacant for two years. “We are ready to wait, for the right person,” Alison said.

For more information about the conference, please contact the GMAC London office at emea@gmac.com.

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