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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Google: brainteaser questions are a ‘complete waste of time’


Google gained a reputation for its use of ‘creative’ questions in the interview process as a method of differentiating between candidates. How many ping pong balls can you fit in a Boeing 747? Why are manhole covers round?

Now Laszlo Bock, Head of HR at the search engine giant, has told the New York Times that brainteasers are a complete waste of time.

He added: “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

What does work, then?

“Behavioural interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.

“Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”

“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.”

What else did Laszlo say?

  • The qualities required for leadership are more ‘ambiguous and amorphous’ than the ones identified for management, which are more of a ‘checklist.’
  • People need to know leaders are consistent, fair and predictable – consistency provides employees with ‘tremendous freedom’

Perhaps the most interesting conclusion from Lazlo was when he was talking about an internal meta study of tens of thousands of interviews. They compared how the interviewer had scored the candidate and how that person ultimately performed in their job.

What they did find? No relationship between them at all.

The whole interview is lengthy and well worth a read.

2 Responses

  1. Predictive validity and interviews

    The predictive validity of interviews is not much greater than the predictive validity of graphology!  Google's technique is a cleverly designed tool to entertain the interviewer and at best assess whether the interviewee would fit in socially to the work environment.  

    Any HR professional who chooses to use single interviewer selection techniques must accept that they may ultimately need a fat chequebook to pay for poor recruitment decisions.  Either that or get people to start submitting handwritten cvs…

  2. Interview Questions

    The problem with experienced based recruitment is that it makes it very difficult to assess the potential in school/university leavers who may not have the expereince to compare with other applicants but may have bags of potential.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence