Google Says You Shouldn’t Use Google Technique to Interview People

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The New York Times has an intriguing interview today with Laszlo Block, Google’s head of HR senior vice president of people operations. He says that most job interviews are basically a waste of time: Google has gathered mountains of data and discovered that there’s “zero relationship” between how job candidates are scored by hiring managers and how well they eventually do on the job. Also: GPA and test scores are pretty much useless if you’ve been out of school more than a few years. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve never understood why anyone would care even slightly about that stuff once you’ve got some real-world job experience to evaluate.

But what about those famous Google brainteasers? Those are great, right? Not so much:

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.

Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.

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.

Actually, this advice has been conventional wisdom for quite a while among people who know what they’re talking about. But it’s hard! And no one likes to do it. Most people are convinced that they have a mystical ability to evaluate others just by chatting with them and “sizing them up.” Well, guess what? You probably don’t. And you especially don’t in the very formalized setting of a job interview.

Still, this belief is based on hundreds of centuries of evolved human nature. I don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

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