Google received much attention from its headline-grabbing admission that college GPA and SAT scores "generally didn't predict how a person performed after a few years in the workforce." The other admission by Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations, was that Google's famous "brainteaser" questions are "a complete waste of time." At Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International, we couldn't agree more.
People have been debating the value of GPA and SAT scores in the workforce for years. What raised many an eyebrow in the recruiting world, though, was Google kicking their brainteaser questions to the curb. Google had established quite an employment brand by using its innovative approach to torture hapless job candidates, asking questions such as, "If you could be any superhero, who would it be?" When I Googled "Google brainteaser questions," I got 336,000 hits.
Many other organizations adopted similar approaches based on the notion that such questions could give an interviewer insight into a candidate's psyche, creativity or ability to innovate. My favorite personal example came from my wife, who is a registered nurse. Several years ago, she interviewed for an emergency room job at a hospital in downtown Detroit. The brainteaser question was: If you were a fruit, what kind of fruit would you be?
Hmm. So if my life is on the line, I wonder, would I get better care from an apple or banana? Luckily, this hospital was looking for bananas with bachelor's degrees, so my wife got the job.
Why is it that Google eventually found these popular types of interview questions worthless? There are three reasons.
First, it is very challenging to link answers to these questions to job performance. Let's see, would Batman or Spiderman be a better software engineer? Now, that is a real brainteaser.
Second, anyone can find Google's brainteaser questions and suggested answers all over the Internet. By now, everybody knows that if you were shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender that would start in 60 seconds, you should simply jump out.
Finally, there isn't much structure in how the brainteaser answers are evaluated. There is too much subjectivity on the part of the interviewer built in, leading to unreliable ratings. For those who have seen the movie "The Internship," you can see a hilarious send-up of a fictitious Google interview team evaluating Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson with brainteaser questions. The interviewers all hear the same answers but reach different conclusions about whether Vince and Owen would be good Google interns.
So what is a better alternative?
Google is turning to interviews based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. For example, if you're looking for a person who would be responsible for driving change in your organization, you might ask the following behavioral questions: Describe some ways you changed the way your work group operates. What prompted you to make these changes? Tell me about a time when you encountered serious resistance to a change you were attempting to bring about and how you responded to it.
Forty years ago, Pittsburgh native and DDI founder Bill Byham introduced the first structured behavioral interviewing system, which remains the worldwide gold standard for behavioral interviewing. Now, there is a mountain of research that shows structured behavioral questions are among the best tools to suss out talent in job interviews.
That said, if the questions are not clearly linked to the job, if interviewers are not properly trained or if there is no process to integrate all interview data, then whatever is asked will be no better than Google's brainteaser questions. I could use the same tools as Tiger Woods to play golf (e.g., golf clubs, spikes, snappy clothes and a caddy) but I wouldn't expect to get similar results. Not in this lifetime.
If organizations are serious about their "interviewing game," they need to take a systematic approach that includes defining targets related to the job (knowledge, experience, competencies and personal attributes), designing an interview process that is linked to those targets, training all interviewers on how to use the process and then providing interviewers with tools to support the process. This includes structured interview guides and automated resources to reinforce or refresh interviewing skills that may take on some rust with time.
Tormenting potential employees, no matter how heroic they might be, is no way to build an organization.
Jamie Winter is manager of the Selection Solutions Group for the talent-management firm Development Dimensions International, which is headquartered in Collier.