Staffing and recruiting pros get it right: Google admits its famous “brainteasers” are useless for hiring

Back in March I wrote about how Google used a special algorithm to aid in hiring. Now they’re making hiring news for a different reason. Really, does any other company make as many headlines concerning hiring in traditional media sources as Google? The answer is most likely no, which is why when the tech giant admitted that its famed brainteasers, which were used to determine the qualifications of candidates, weren’t the best practice, both staffing and recruiting professionals took notice.

Brainteasers found useless in hiring at Google
The New York Times reporter Adam Bryant interviewed Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people and operations at Google, and there were some surprising clips. According to the news source, Bock claims that internal studies the company has done have found that brainteasers were pretty useless and more traditional hiring methods are actually worth their salt – surprise!

“On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart,” Bock told the news source.

Bock went on to say in the interview that structured behavioral interviews are a better method for assessing potential candidates, according to the news source. The real key to the entire process is consistency to determine which individual is the best for the position.

“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.’ 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,” Bock told the news source.

GPAs fall out of grace with Google
A Google study has found that brainteasers are worthless in determining the candidate who will best perform. In addition, the company’s past reliance on grade point averages is also a waste unless a person is just a couple years out of college.

“After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different,” Bock told the news source. “You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.”

The company also found that selecting leaders from outside the organization required a more detailed approach.

“On the leadership side, we’ve found that leadership is a more ambiguous and amorphous set of characteristics than the work we did on the attributes of good management, which are more of a checklist and actionable,” Bock told The New York Times. “We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.”

Besides providing an “AHA” moment for hiring managers who may have been reluctant to forgo traditional interview methods for the less-orthodox options Google touted for its success, this may also demonstrate the evolving trends in hiring. But I think that staffing and recruiting pros, with their deep experience and recruiting software can and do beat Google at the hiring game with great regularity.

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