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Google’s Weird Interview Questions: ‘A Complete Waste of Time

by
John Zappe
Jun 24, 2013, 1:26 pm ET
Laszlo Bock

Laszlo Bock

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 “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. 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.

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.”

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, John. A few of things:
    1) What kept them so long from acknowledging this, when it’s been known for years?
    2) How do they know they aren’t doing similarly mistaken and wasteful practices right now?
    4) Doesn’t this implicitly say that there success has been despite (as opposed to because of) the way they hire?
    4) What about all the companies that have (mistakenly) emulated these erroneous practices?
    5) What about the tens or hundreds of thousands of qualified
    people they’ve rejected for erroneous reasons?

    Cheers,

    Keith “Better Late Than Never” Halperin

  2. Richard Araujo

    “How many cows are there in Canada?”

    Correct answer: I don’t know, nor do I give a damn.

    I do see this as a positive myself. At least they’re looking to see if the evidence says their methods were good, as opposed to deciding they were good and looking to support and continue that position regardless of the evidence.

  3. Dan Smith

    Yes Keith, I agree with all that you question. I have been a recruiter for over 20 years and was in management for 20 years before that recruiting my own staff.
    It is so frustrating being restricted by clients who require a “College Degree.”

    What a candidate learned in school 20 years ago has little or nothing to do with how they perform. If I were in charge of the hiring process, experience and quantifiable accomplishment would be the number one draw. Candidates with college degrees would be way down on the list and the last to consider.

    Academia in the US does and has produced floods of educated idiots. I’ll take a candidate with “Street smarts” over the one with that piece of paper any day of the week………
    Education produces great teachers but as we’ve all heard and know, those that can do, those that can’t teach……..

  4. Dan Smith

    I should add…… Healthcare is one field where a strong CV is very important to a job offer. It still doesn’t change my view point…..

  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Dan. I think you have this type of situation when you get the GAFI Principles (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) supported by large quantities of money, great marketing, and luck…

    Cheers,

    Keith

  6. Selina Kerley

    Google aren’t the only ones! I think the key to these oddball questions is seeing how people think on thier feet, use thier imagination and whether or not they have a sense of humour. Obviously some questions do kind of step over the line, but I think “How many cows are there in Canada?” could throw up some interesting responses that could give you a good insight into the personality of your prospective employee.. http://goo.gl/2VObrT

  7. Sunil Potnis

    Major problem besides these odd questions is the people who interview have no idea how to interview and what to look for.

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