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Google admits its famous job interview questions were a ‘complete waste of time’

Jun 20, 2013

Over the years Google’s notoriously tough interview process, including oddball questions and insanely difficult brainteasers, has generated mounds of intrigue. Speculation around the infamous cloak-and-dagger interview process has generated millions of pageviews online and even spawned a best-selling book last year called “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?: Trick Questions, Zen-like Riddles, Insanely Difficult Puzzles, and Other Devious Interviewing Techniques You Need To Know to Get a Job Anywhere in the New Economy.”

So it’s pretty surprising that Thursday in the New York Times’ Corner Office interview series Google’s Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock confessed that the whole thing was utter nonsense.

We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” said Bock. “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.”

He also issued this pretty damning confession on the overall success rate of the interview process:

Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring. We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess, except for one guy who was highly predictive because he only interviewed people for a very specialized area, where he happened to be the world’s leading expert.

Here are a few of the famous questions that apparently have no bearing on whether you are smart enough to succeed at Google or “anywhere in the new economy,” whatever that even means:

  • 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?
  • How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?
  • How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?
  • A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?

Another thing that has no bearing on your success? College G.P.A. “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless,” says Bock. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”

So what does work for Google interviews? “What works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people,” Bock says. This includes asking a candidate to describe a real-life situation in which they solved a difficult analytical problem. This has the added benefit of showing the interviewer what the candidate considers to be a difficult analytical problem “rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up,” says Bock.

So there you have it. Now you don’t need to feel like you’re professionally unqualified if you don’t know how many golf balls fit in a school bus (around 500,000) or how much to charge to wash all the windows in Seattle (about $10 per window). See Business Insider for more answers you’ll never really need.

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