If candidates don’t know how to improve things they probably aren’t right for the job. That’s the view of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who likes to challenge people to offer more in job interviews than a customary knowledge and praise of the company’s products.
Wojcicki rose through the ranks of YouTube-owner Google via the product management side of the business, so she’s all too familiar with disruptive pressures facing companies in the tech sector. That’s why she likes to ask candidates how they’d improve a particular product, be it one of YouTube’s or another commonly-used offering.
“If people can’t name a single thing about how to make a product better that they use a lot, then that’s probably not a good indication that they’ll be a good product manager,” she told a conference, which was arranged by the New York Times.
Another question she likes to ask candidates is how they manage their email. She said this can offer insight into their organizational skill set and how they like to work—whether it be during the day, night, or between meetings. It also could yield some tips for her own message-management habits.
For the record, Wojcicki keeps all her email in one box and never deletes messages, just in case she wants to find an old one years later.
Here’s some of her other nuggets of advice.
1. Use hiring committees. To find the best talent, Wojcicki advises companies to create a hiring committee of between five and 10 experts, rather than letting the decision rest with one or two managers. That way, alternative motives for rushing a hire, such as wanting to fill a role as soon as possible, get smoothed out by the group. It also makes it easier to deal with bad hires, she says, given that everyone was invested in the decision.
2. Ensure hires act like owners. Having been at Google since its early days, Wojcicki said a key strength of the company’s culture is a willingness to embrace change, particularly if it’s recommended by new hires with new perspectives. “And that’s an owner’s point of view that we’ve had at Google,” she said. “If you’re an owner of the company and you see something that’s not working fix it, change it—because it’s all of our company and we need to be the owner.”
3. Create small teams for big goals. As a behemoth like Google grows, it’s important to explore multiple frontiers, while maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. YouTube, Wojcicki says, has a small team adding new features to its core product and another creating an app for emerging markets, just to name a few. “As the company grows, you need to keep finding the small team and big goals, to keep finding those opportunities to stretch,” she said.
4. Hold regular staff meetings. The more cynical CEO, and employee, might see staff meetings as mere posturing to show everyone really cares about what they’re doing—rather than actually working. Wojcicki disagrees, suggesting that her weekly staff gatherings help her develop as a leader. “It means I always need to answer the questions that employees are asking and I need to be in touch with what’s on their mind,” she said. “So I can never be more than a couple of days out of sync with the company, and that’s very valuable for employees and leaders.”