Forget the Brainteasers. Google’s HR Boss Says Behavioral Interviews Are Better

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Jun 24, 2013

Those peculiar interview brainteasers used by tech startups and adopted so widely that Glassdoor has an annual list of 25, are out at Google, the company that if it didn’t invent them, made them infamous.

Calling them”a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, told The New York Times  “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

His comments, published last week in The Times, have exploded all over the internet. Not only have bloggers and business pubs discussed what Bock had to say about Google’s hiring discoveries, but so have search firms.

ACATalent observed, “Scientific methods like behavioral interviewing cut to the core of why a candidate might or might not make a good hire.” CyberCoders, writing for its tech candidates reported that Google has done away with the brainteasers, saying, “This is good news because you can prepare for these questions much more thoroughly than the brainteasers.”

Bock also told The Times that Google doesn’t ask for college transcripts, except when the candidate is a recent grad.  “We found that they don’t predict anything,” he explained. And in another startling revelation, he reported that the company that has one of the largest cadres of PhDs in the world, is sometimes now 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.”

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