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Google staffing boss: Our old hiring procedures were 'worthless'

Brainteasers, grades, test scores 'don't predict anything'

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Want to land a job at Google? Just doing well at school and being good at solving puzzles and brainteasers isn't going to cut it anymore, according to Laszlo Bock, the Chocolate Factory's vice president of "people operations."

Over the years, prospective Google hires have recounted tales of the company's elaborate interview process, in which candidates are grilled on all sorts of hypothetical problems that often have little to do with the actual job on offer.

But in a recent interview with The New York Times, Bock said Google has rethought how it handles hiring since its early days, and a lot has changed.

"We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time," Bock told the NYT. "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."

Candidates' past academic performance wasn't predictive either, Bock said – a stunning admission for a company that's notoriously stuffed to the gills with PhDs.

"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," Bock said. "We found that they don't predict anything."

Although Google's Mountain View headquarters is often called a "campus" and it has many of the characteristics of a university grounds – from the richly stocked cafeterias to the abundant supply of company-branded clothing and merchandise seen on nearly every employee – working at Google isn't all that much like going to school, as it turns out.

"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 NYT. "You're also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently."

In fact, Bock said, Google is increasingly hiring candidates who have no formal education, to the extent that you now see teams at the Chocolate Factory where 14 per cent of the team members have no college background.

The bottom line, he said, is that Google's earlier hiring practices simply weren't effective. When Google studied its employees' performance and compared it to how the same employees scored in interviews, there was no correlation.

"We found zero relationship," Bock said. "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."

So how does Google plan to handle hiring from now on? According to Bock, the online giant is leaning toward behavioral interviews that emphasize the candidate's own experience, with questions such as, "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," Bock said. "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."

Naturally enough for a company whose stated goal is to manage all the world's data, Google is also trying to crunch its own data to figure out what works and what doesn't work when hiring and assembling teams.

"We're trying to figure out which teams perform well and which don't," Bock said. "Is it because of the type of people? Is it because of the number of people? Is it because of how they work together? Is there something in the dynamic? We don't know what we're going to discover."

But although the Chocolate Factory is busy compiling multiple data points about its employees and figuring out ways to analyze them, Bock admits that there will probably never be a magic formula for staffing a company, particularly one as large and complex as Google.

"There are ... things that are specifically true only about your organization, and the people you have and the unique situation you're in at that point in time. I think this will be a constraint to how big the data can get because it will always require an element of human insight," he said. ®

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