Technology firms hiring looks beyond applicant test scores

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Conventional wisdom says a flawless grade-point average, perfect SAT score and a cum laude degree gives a college graduate a golden ticket for a dream job. But in a technology sector shaped by dropouts who started empires out of their garages, first-class academics aren't necessarily a guaranteed path to the company of one's choice.

"In all of my years working with startups, I have never once seen a young company list an SAT score or GPA among the qualifications for new hires," said Gary Gardiner, manager of entertainment and education initiatives for the Downtown-based startup accelerator Idea Foundry, in an email statement.

Mr. Gardiner's observations can ring true with tech companies at all stages thanks to an environment ripe with self-taught software engineers, computer programmers and Web designers.

And while academic prowess will never be considered a disadvantage, companies -- including search engine giant Google -- have moved the criteria down from one of the most important measures for a job candidate to a highlight that comes second to the individual's active thought process and compatibility with the company's culture.

Last week, Google announced it had amended its hiring policies to place less emphasis on grade-point averages and SAT scores, and to instead focus on a candidate's role-related skills, analytical processes and overall fit with the company, dubbed "Googlyness" on the company's "How We Hire" Web page.

Laszlo Bock, Google's senior vice president for people operations, told The New York Times the company now only requests GPA and SAT scores from recent graduates because the scores generally don't predict how an individual will perform after a few years in the workforce. Mr. Bock also said, thanks to the change, the company has increased the number of employees who have no college education under their belts.

Google, which is hiring at least 75 employees for its engineering and shopping operations department in its Bakery Square office, declined to comment for this story.

But Don Charlton, founder and CEO of West View-based hiring software company The Resumator, said the search engine company may have amended its policy after realizing how many premium candidates it was missing out on because of the academic requirements.

"They were so focused on hiring people coming out of top universities they realized they let a lot of people slip through the cracks," said Mr. Charlton. "They had such a tight lockdown on the types of people that could get into [the company] they realized the amount of people they had passed by based on tests."

Mr. Charlton, whose software helps businesses recruit job candidates through marketing, applicant tracking, recruiting, referrals and analytics, said tech companies generally seek high-skilled candidates who demonstrate they are team players and can roll with the punches of an often turbulent industry.

However, Mr. Gardiner added that it is mostly companies younger than three years old with fewer than 10 employees that tend to emphasize passion, expertise and a willingness to work for less. More mature companies that are beholden to investors usually lean toward a more traditional hiring model.

"Once a company grows beyond this early formative stage, the hiring decisions begin to be made by people other than the original founders and C-level executives, and slowly standardized test scores begin entering the conversation," Mr. Gardiner said.

For 4Moms, a Strip District-based manufacturer of high-tech infant lifestyle products, hiring qualifications depend on what the position entails. The 8-year-old company, which is funded in part by Boston-based Bain Capital Ventures, is hiring 75 employees for engineering, supply chain, sales and marketing positions to support a $1 million expansion.

Kate Sundy Hong, 4Moms public relations and social marketing leader, said the firm requires college degrees for engineering and other high-level positions but allows room for flexibility in some professional jobs.

Degree requirements aside, one of the most important aspects of who is chosen to join 4Moms is whether the candidate clicks with existing employees. This feature is so important, said Ms. Hong, that the company now uses a designated person to assess candidates' "cultural fit" during job interviews.

Google's new policy also features an interview process that includes potential team members as well as an independent committee of employees tasked with assessing feedback from interviews.

Ms. Hong said the combination of highly collaborative work, long hours and rapid growth makes finding someone who blends into an existing team critical to a technology and engineering company's success. Noting that 4Moms grew from 42 to 103 employees in a single year, she said one of the main reasons expansion has succeeded was because they made sure new hires were experienced, competent and fit seamlessly into an already well-run team.

The best way to continue to grow, she said, is to follow that same philosophy with the next 75 hires.

"This time next year we expect to be double our size," she said. "If we didn't pay attention to cultural fit when hiring and bringing on people who continued the culture that made us successful, there's a high likelihood the company wouldn't be as successful as it is today."

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Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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