Google made a small but important change in 2017 to how it thinks about ‘Googleyness,’ a key value it looks for in new hires (GOOGL)

Over the years, Google has rethought how it handles its infamously grueling interview process — in 2013, it admitted that its infamous practice of posing impossible brainteasers to job candidates had been "a complete waste of time."

But one thing that hasn't changed at Google is the importance it places on new hires having the so-called quality of "Googleyness," a vague term that's had several different definitions over the years. In general, however, it's been used to having the qualities that make a person successful at the search giant.

However, in 2017, Google made a small, but important, update to its official definition of Googleyness, The Information's Nick Bastone reported on Thursday. According to The Information, Google changed its hiring manual at the time with a new directive to "avoid confusing Googleyness with culture fit, which can leave room for bias."

That same year, Google faced a scandal around the firing of former Google engineer James Damore, who claimed that biological differences accounted for the lack of women in tech in a memo that would go on to become viral. The report isn't clear on whether the change to the definition of Googleyness came before or after that episode.

The concept of "culture fit" used to be standard operating practice in Silicon Valley, as fast-growing companies looked to prioritize hiring only the people that they were sure would gel with the rest of the team. However, that idea has come under fire in more recent years: It can lead to a homogenous workplace as managers let their own biases color their idea of who fits the company, according to HR expert Rachel Bitte.

Cultural fit-based hiring can often lead to workplaces where most people share the same race, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and are usually "skewed in favor of applicants from the most privileged backgrounds," Bitte said.

At Google, the change, made two years ago, is said to have been slow to propogate across the company. Several employees told the Information that "Googleyness" had long been used interchangably at the company with "cultural fit."

A Google spokesperson told the Information that Googleyness means what it has always meant, including the ability to work in ambiguity and incorporate feedback. A spokesperson for Google did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

What is Googleyness?

In his 2015 book "Work Rules," Google's former Head of People Operations Laszlo Block defined "Googleyness" as:

"Attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life."

In 2013, an ex-Google employee told Business Insider that "Googley" traits include:

    1. Doing the right thing.
    2. Striving for excellence.
    3. Keeping an eye on the goals
    4. Being proactive.
    5. Going the extra mile.
    6. Doing something nice for others, with no strings attached.
    7. Being friendly and approachable.
    8. Valuing users and colleagues.
    9. Rewarding great performance.
    10. Being humble, and letting go of the ego (at least sometimes).
    11. Being transparent, honest, and fair.
    12. Having a sense of humor.

These similar but different definitions show that Googleyness is still a vague term. Google's public information pages on hiring do not mention Googleyness, and only allude to a "unique hiring process."

The shifting definition of Googleyness comes as the search giant continues to address the gaps in diversity in its workforce. Google's 2019 diversity report showed that only 33% of its employees are women. It further showed that black employees are still the most likely to leave the company, followed by Latinx employees — although it also shows that they left at lower rates than in the year before.

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