To say that Google hires smart people goes without saying. You can't win the search engine wars and pave the road to fully autonomous driving without a high-capacity team at the ready. Today, 62,000 Googlers around the world work on the next generation of technology breakthroughs.

In the 2000s Google became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for grilling job applicants with brainteasers so nefarious that few made it through intact. Questions like:

  1. How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?
  2. How many times a day does a clock's hands overlap?
  3. A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?
  4. You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

(answers at the bottom!)

The problem is, they "found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time," according to Laszlo Bock, Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations. "They don't predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."

Are you putting your job applicants through the brainteaser wringer? When I ask business leaders to tell me their favorite interview questions, I often hear a litany of "trick questions" that serve up answers completely uncorrelated to a prediction of performance.

"Sell me this pencil!"

"If you were a sports car, what color would you be?"

I even had one CEO tell me that his hiring process was to thumb through the stack of printed resumes, stop halfway, and throw the top half of applicants into the trash can.  When asked why he did that, he responded, "Because I don't want any unlucky people working for me." 

There's a better way to interview candidates.

Fast forward to 2018, and Google is doing it differently. As Global Staffing Lead and Senior Recruiter Lisa Haynes describes it, the company now uses "structured interviewing" to discover who has the highest likelihood of success.

Structured interviewing is a fancy way to say that for a specific job, interviewers "ask everyone the same questions, and score them the same way." That way, they control variability in the questions and control for answers that predict success.

Structured interview questions fall into two broad categories: behavioral and situational.

Behavioral questions ask the candidate to "tell you about a time when" a certain event occurred, or a certain task or project was required, or a problem or opportunity surfaced and they had to design an approach. These questions work because a candidate's past experience in approaching similar problems is predictive of their ability to succeed in a similar role.

Situational questions are more hypothetical: "Imagine that the following event occurred. How would you handle it?" The candidate's answer will give you a glimpse into their ability to think quickly and react appropriately, as well as an indication of their approach to problem-solving.

If you're looking to up your interviewing game, create a list of five behavioral questions and five hypothetical questions. You'll end up with a 10-question interview that's good for 45 minutes and will be the most productive hiring conversation you've had in a long time.

Create one for each specific job that's open, and you've just delivered your first structured interviewing process. Better hires are around the corner.

As for the answers to the Google brainteasers:

  1. The right answer is to give a unit price for the work, like $10 per window, versus a price for the entire job (which is what most people do)
  2. 22 times (details here)
  3. He landed on Boardwalk! (groan)
  4. Jump! Your body has maintained the same muscle density so jumping 10-12 inches is an easy feat.
Published on: Jun 29, 2018