What do Australian CFOs and Google have in common when it comes to hiring?

What do Australian CFOs and Google have in common when it comes to hiring?

November 3, 2014 by Stella Petrou Concha

In an interview published in the New York Times last year, Laszlo Bock, head of human resources at Google, said “GPAs are worthless as a criteria (sic) for hiring, and test scores are worthless… We found that they don’t predict anything.” Instead, says Bock, Google looks for learning ability, leadership, humility, and tenacity, with the least important factor being “expertise”.

But this claim has met with strong reactions from academics, who claim Google is falling into the trap of “range restriction” in that they’re setting the bar very high to begin with, simply by being the world’s top tech company. But the question is, isn’t this the way all high profile organisation hire?

We interviewed four CFOs from top Australian companies to find out how they identify talent and what they look for when interviewing job candidates for finance roles compared to how Google makes hiring decisions, and how it ties in with the changing attitudes of finance executives at some of Australia’s largest companies.


Gareth O’Brien, Finance Director at Elgas

When identifying talent, O’Brien looks at business cognition and emotional intelligence. He says that business cognition is “looking for whether the candidate can cut to the chase and show the sharp decision-making skills specific to the important metrics in the business”. This shows him their level of confidence and business acumen all rolled into one. Emotional intelligence, says O’Brien, is about tenacity, curiosity, personal accountability, self-confidence, and inner strength.

Damien Frost, Executive VP, Finance, at Knauf

For Frost, a lot of the talent identification process is gut feeling. He talks about a “spark” that happens in an interview, which helps you to drill down and then get the response that you wanted to hear. He cites the example of a candidate who came to Knauf recently: “She had the ability to question and challenge the status quo with her proactivity in identifying issues where people didn’t necessarily think there were issues, formulating the solutions, and walking in with the solution for a problem you didn’t know you had. That’s talent. I identify talent when I meet someone who can think critically and challenge the status quo.”


Siobhann Langan, Finance Director at Hasbro Pacific

Like the other executives interviewed for this article, Hasbro’s Siobhan Langan places a strong emphasis on personal traits such as perseverance, honesty, and reliability. Langan says she looks for “someone who can facilitate finding the solutions themselves. This is possible at every level in an organisation and gives people the sense of empowerment and an understanding of what drives and motivates them. These are good building blocks for talent. Aptitude to make decisions and solve problems. Can they answer a question quickly and join the dots? Can I build on them to develop them into a leader?”

Aptitude to make decisions and solve problems. 

Can they answer a question quickly and join the dots? 

Can I build on them to develop them into a leader?

Marc Armstrong, Group Financial Controller at Coffey International Ltd

Coffey’s Marc Armstrong also cites attitude, and in particular drive, as a key identifier of talent. He looks for a “humble individual with an appetite to learn and grow. A hunger and a drive. You can teach skills but you can’t teach attitude and ambition. I characterise hunger by looking at the balance of how clear they are on their successes and their abilities, but also how they are understated in the way that they sell it.” Armstrong adds: “I characterise the ambition and the drive to learn and grow by seeing someone who has a clear and thoughtful map of where they have come from and where they are going in their career. I want to see someone who is reflecting on the past and planning the future.”


Its your attitude not your aptitude that determines your altitude

So what do these stories have in common?

It seems that emotional intelligence (EQ) is a unifying factor for many of these executives when it comes to identifying talent and potential in finance candidates. Most specifically: curiosity, formulating solutions to problems, and the ability to learn and be developed into a future leader. Even Google recently came out and said they’re putting less and less importance on traditional measures of ability such as IQ and educational results in their hiring process, leaning more in favour of leadership and personal attitude.

So what’s the message for you in all of this?

One thing’s for sure: you need to get sharp on your interview skills and the way you express your EQ attributes. How would you answer that crucial question, “Give an example of where you’ve shown resilience”. You better prepare for it because it’s coming your way. If Google is focused on non-technical questions, and our local CFO’s want to know about your values and personal traits, it’s pretty clear to me where your focus needs to be, and it’s not technical!

Where to from here?

Take my advice. Prepare your answers to EQ questions. Practice them in the mirror, and get ready to answer probing questions from the likes of Gareth O’Brien from Elgas, who wants you to cut to the chase and sharpen up.


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