I was a VP at Google for 10 years. Here’s the #1 skill I looked for in job interviews—few people had it

During my 10 years at Google as a VP, there were weeks where I spent up to 40 hours conducting job interviews. So to make things easier, I always had one skill that I looked for in candidates before anything else: self-awareness.

Sure, your experience and skills matter, but they can be learned. And when someone is highly self-aware, they are more motivated to learn because they are honest about what they need to work on. They also relate better to their colleagues and managers.

Plus, it’s a rare trait: Research shows that while 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10% to 15% actually are.

I always look for two words: Too much “I” is a red flag that they may not be humble or cooperative; too much “we” can obscure what role they played in the situation. There has to be a balance.

I usually learn something revealing when I ask about their specific role. A positive response would be: “It was my idea, but credit goes to the whole team.”

I also ask how their colleagues would describe them. If they only say good things, I investigate what constructive feedback they have received.

Then I will say: “And what have you done to improve yourself?” to check their orientation towards learning and self-improvement, and to see if they have taken this feedback to heart.

If you are not self-aware, how would you know? Here are some telltale signs:

  • You consistently receive feedback that you disagree with. This does not mean that the feedback is correct, but it does mean that how others perceive you is different from how you perceive yourself.
  • You often feel frustrated and annoyed because you don’t agree with the team’s direction or decisions.
  • You feel exhausted at the end of a work day and can’t figure out why.
  • You can’t describe what kind of work you do and don’t like to do.

Becoming more self-aware is about understanding why you work the way you do, and what you can contribute to your team:

1. Understand your values.

Knowing what is important to you, what energizes you and what drains it will help you understand how you work.

With this insight, you will be able to express your values ​​and understand when they conflict with each other, or with the values ​​of others.

2. Identify your work style.

Spend a few weeks writing down the moments when you feel like you’re reaching new heights at work or reaching new lows. You will start to see patterns.

If you have trouble trusting your own instincts, ask someone whose judgment you respect, “When have you seen me do my best and worst work?”

3. Analyze your skills and abilities.

In an interview setting, you should be able to talk confidently about your strengths and weaknesses.

To have a more tactical sense of self-awareness, ask yourself two questions:

  • What can you actually do well? What skills do you have and which do you need to build on?
  • What are your skills? What are you naturally good at, and what abilities have you acquired over time?

Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, has another great exercise, where he sets aside 15 minutes to think about meditation.

“I ask myself: If I start over today, what can I do differently? Did I make a mistake? Can I improve tomorrow? Sometimes I write down something important,” he says. “But most of the time, the thought is enough.”

Claire Hughes Johnson is a consultant for Stripeauthor of “Scale people,” and lectures at Harvard Business School. Previously, she was Stripe’s Chief Operating Officer, and spent 10 years at Google, where she oversaw aspects of Gmail, Google Apps and consumer operations. Claire also serves as a trustee and current board president of Milton Academy. Follow her further Twitter.

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