From Starbucks to Google: A Q&A with Jason Warner

Jason Warner, most recently the director of North America Recruiting at Starbucks, is about to start a new professional chapter as the head of staffing for Google’s Global Online Sales and Operations Group.

What is your new title at Google? Explain your day-to-day responsibilities.

JW: My new title is Sr. Recruiting Manager for Global Online Sales and Operations. It’s a little difficult to explain my day-to-day responsibilities because I haven’t yet started at Google, but my primary marching orders are to keep the Online Sales and Operations Group stocked with top talent and to do so ahead of Google’s well-documented growth curve.

Now, if you had to explain it at a cocktail party: what are you doing and how does it benefit the average Googler?

JW: Google is known for having challenging work and great people. My job is to make sure we have the great people to do the challenging work. By the way, generally I don’t like to talk about work at cocktail parties. Motorcycles, sports, technology, sure. Work, not so much.

How will this differ from your role at Starbucks?

JW: How about I answer that question in about six months? Google is in a completely different industry, has a completely different business model, but the talent needs between the two organizations appear to be at least somewhat similar: both Starbucks and Google have huge challenges with regards to scaling the organization and hiring a lot of people. Realistically, most of a company’s growth is what I call “growth through people” — hence recruiting plays a significant role in enabling that for the business. Businesses can grow and gain leverage through a lot of mechanisms: economies of scale, innovation, acquisition, leveraging technology, etcetera, but most growth happens through the traditional mechanism of hiring more people to do more of the work that drives company success and additional value.

Why did you leave Starbucks?

JW: Starbucks is an amazing company, led by amazing leaders, with an amazing culture and huge business growth plans ahead. I’ve been asked this question by a lot of people, and my response is the same: I really don’t think of it as that I left Starbucks per se, but that I was offered a world-class opportunity at another great company (and America’s Best Place to Work in 2007), which will allow me to learn a whole different set of lessons and skills in a completely different environment. This is a great move for my career. One day I’d like to lead the recruiting department for a global, market-leading company — this lets me learn and grow my skills as a recruiting guy and as a leader of people, which are sure to add to my overall “career portfolio” and make me better at what I do.

Google’s recruiting of recruiters — is this a sign of Google’s aggressiveness in going after recruiting leaders?

JW: I do not think it is a sign of “aggressiveness” at all. I think it is a sign of Google’s commitment to hiring the best talent and building a sustainable, world-class company.

They did coffee tastings at Starbucks; what do Google recruiters do? Give me an example of your favorite part of the recruiting.

JW: I write about the topic of “candidate experience” a lot on my blog and frequently speak about this idea in the industry, as you know. We did coffee tastings with candidates at Starbucks for a variety of reasons: to celebrate our great products [and] make candidates feel comfortable during the process. Mostly we did it because candidates make decisions based on the employee value proposition that a company has to offer [such as] job, benefits, culture, pay, stock options, and other tangible and intangible benefits, but also because of the way the recruiting process makes them feel. I believe that how you treat people through the course of business ends up being very important in the long run, and recruiting is no different. The best part of the Google recruiting process was this: the enthusiasm and genuine excitement that the people I met through the interview process had for the organization and the future of the company…the Googlers couldn’t hide it if they tried. It was infectious to say the least, and this enthusiasm played a huge role in my decision. Oh, and the food. Unless you’ve eaten there, it’s kind of hard to explain how good it is. If any of your recruiter readership happens to be traveling to the Bay Area, have them drop me a line, and I’d love to host them for lunch, but not all at once.

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What made you ultimately decide to accept the offer?

JW: That is a very interesting question, actually, as I don’t believe it is ever any one thing that causes a candidate to accept an offer. For me personally, it was a host of things that added up to one great opportunity.

What are your short- and long-term goals at Google?

JW: My short-term goals are to start work on January 22 and to simply be a sponge: just to learn and observe and see how I might start to make a contribution. My long-term goals are to play a role in making Google recruiting the most effective recruiting function in the world, and to measurably amplify Google’s business results by doing so.

While Google is No. 1 on the Fortune list, what are some things that other companies that were not on the list could do and/or revise to attract and retain more quality workers?

JW: That is a really broad question with no really good short answers. One short answer is that organizations might benefit from really understanding their talent needs both long and short term, and how that talent really drives the economic engine of their company. Jim Collins calls this a “hedgehog concept,” and I think it applies directly to how organizations interact and manage talent. Once an organization understands their hedgehog concept with regard to talent, there is a lot of value in really understanding what those talent segments value out of the employee-employer relationship, and then building on that to create a best place to work environment. Finally, the secret sauce that makes it all go is great leadership and a commitment from leadership to a philosophy that really values talent. Without that, nothing is really going to work very well.

Besides your blog, what are your other plans?

JW: My primary goal is to be successful at Google and add as much value as possible, and to be a good father and husband to my family. I will continue with my blog, and I hope to continue to challenge our recruiting industry to be better than it is today. Once I get settled at Google, I’d like to continue speaking at a few conferences like the ERE Expo every year, as it keeps me connected and helps me learn. I’ve been approached recently regarding several different book ideas, and that’s something I definitely would not rule out, but that’s probably still a few years away for me. I have a feeling there will be plenty of things that will keep me busy at Google.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.