Land the Job: Google VP reveals 6 things she listens for in interviews

I’ve picked up quite a bit on what to look for in a job candidate in my three decades at the helm of major businesses — and specifically, in my nearly 15 years at Google, where I’m currently vice president of global partnerships.

When it comes to hiring the right people, Google sets high standards and requirements across role-related knowledge, leadership expectations and diversified perspectives. I also apply the foundation of my value system, which came from my father, called the four Cs: Concentration, culture, courage and character. 

Of course, they aren’t often easy to spot — or, for an applicant, to display. So here are six important things I always listen for during job interviews:

1. Talk about transferable skills, experience

Depending on what position you’re applying for, you must have some sort of relevant experience. But expertise can be garnered in a number of ways, not purely academic.

Perhaps someone without a master’s degree has gained tremendous experience through interesting personal projects or hobbies, like a side hustle they started outside of work.

For example, if you’re interviewing for an entry-level marketing position, it’s okay to not have 10 marketing internships under your belt. Perhaps you organized a community service event in your hometown. Tell me about the creative strategies you used to get people to pay attention, care and participate.

2. Ask questions—lots of them

This shows natural curiosity, which is a valuable asset in just about every workplace. But move beyond questions you can easily find answers to on your own (e.g., through a Google search).

Instead, focus on coupling a fact with an open-ended question to draw out a personal perspective on a strategic topic. Consider doing this in essential areas such as strategy, product and industry positioning, nurturing high performing teams and inclusive leadership.

For example, “Your team is already performing well in [X], but what about enlisting someone to do [Y], which I believe could help improve [Z]?”

Two other questions that I wish more candidates would ask during job interviews:

What does your team need that isn’t being done now?

How can I contribute in ways that go beyond the job listing responsibilities?

3. List accomplishments, but don’t make it all about yourself

I admire and respect people who embrace a “we” mindset, because people don’t achieve big successes on their own.

I want to hire people who uplift, not undermine, team spirit.

I want to learn about your accomplishments, but it’s always a bonus when a candidate acknowledges the help and guidance they received along the way, no matter how small or big.

If you only talk about the successes you claim to have done on your own, it tells me you’re not a team player, and that you don’t pull together with others or share credit. I want to hire people who uplift, not undermine, team spirit.

4. Take ownership of your mistakes

Messing up and having the courage to talk about it is a quality I always take note of — in a good way.

We all make mistakes. Tell me about a project that didn’t go as planned. What was your thought process? How did things pivot? What did you learn? What would you do differently if it happened again?

Problems are going to come up, no matter how smart and capable you are at your job, and I want to understand how you’ll respond when they do.

The way you tell the story is just as important. Don’t trail off or go off tangent (something that people tend to do when talking about their oversights). Have a story planned and make sure the details are concise and easy to follow.

5. Personal agility

The rapid acceleration of technology has created a work culture where business transformation is the norm. Make sure you study the company and identify what unique perspectives you can bring.

For example, I look for candidates who are eager to be helpful to our clients, so that when an industry evolves, such as news and media, we have the right talent to come up with creative strategies to meet the needs of our partners.

This is also about thinking fast, leading with innovation and readily accepting new ideas that come from everyone and everywhere.

6. Show that you work well with others

Finally, collaboration is key. Building a team is about more than a single hire. It’s about how skills and strengths complement each other. I’ve embraced the notion of hiring in multiples, as it helps us avoid tokenism and makes sure no one person is the “only” of anything in a workplace.

Define the quantifiable benefits you bring. Self-awareness is a big one. Team members, particularly leaders, can transmit their feelings, whether positive or negative, to others. And if you’re self-aware, you’re more likely to spread encouragement and positive energy.

Bonita C. Stewart is the Vice President of Global Partnerships at Google. Named by Crain’s in 2014 as a Woman to Watch in Tech, Bonita also pioneered the concept for Howard West, a computer science immersion program for historically black colleges and universities. She is also the co-author of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive.”