Recruiting and Staffing

Google’s Odd Interview Questions? They’re “A Complete Waste of Time”

From the HR blog at TLNT.

You may have suspected that those peculiar interview brainteasers made famous by Google, Microsoft, and enough other companies that Glassdoor is able to come up with an annual list of 25 were, well, a waste of time.

You were right. And no less an authority than Google’s own Laszlo Bock says so. He’s Google’s senior vice president of people operations and in a New York Times interview, he bluntly calls such questions “a complete waste of time.”

“They don’t predict anything,” he told The Times. “They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

So the Google question that made this year’s Glassdoor list — “How many cows are there in Canada?” — has no probative value when determining whether the person being interviewed can do the job.

Behavioral interviews work best

Another of Bock’s frank admissions is that college grades and test scores have almost no correlation to future job performance. No longer does Google ask for college transcripts, except for brand new college grads. For everyone else, Bock told The Times, “We found that they don’t predict anything.”

A haven for PhDs, Google these days is hiring workers who have no college degree at all.

What happened to change Google’s hiring methods is its “big data” analysis of employee performance and the criteria used in choosing candidates. A study comparing tens of thousands of interview scores against the selected candidates’ job performance found “zero relationship.” What did correlate, Bock reported, is the behavioral interview.

“What works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, ” he said, explaining:

The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.

Hiring managers don’t make hiring decisions

This isn’t the first time Bock has talked about the hiring and leadership selection process at Google. A few months ago, at The Economist’s Ideas Economy: Innovation Forum, he said the key determiner in deciding among candidates is “capability and learning ability.”

“We actually would rather hire smart, curious people than people who are deep deep experts in one area or another,” he told the forum audience. Why? Because experts tend to come up with answers that replicate what they know, rather strike off in new, potentially better, directions.

Plus, he said, Google takes its time selecting candidates and all hiring decisions are collaborative. “We don’t let hiring managers make a hiring decision.”

John Zappe is the editor of The Fordyce Letter. He was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. Never a recruiter, he instead built online employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Besides writing for ERE.net, John consults with digital content operations, focusing on the advertising side. Contact him at zappemedia@gmail.com.
  • Jacque Vilet

    Kudos to Google. I’m glad to see they value “curiosity” and people that don’t accept the “this is how we do things here” mentality when interviewing. Google is an interesting company in more ways than one. They only allow 1/4 of their HR department to be career HR people. The rest come from other fields.

    Thanks for the post John!