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Google Ditches Brainteasers for Behavioral Interviewing

The search giant no longer cares what kind of superhero you’d be

By Jamie Winter, MA

Jamie WinterThere’s been a big splash in the media recently about Google’s interviewing practices. Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations has admitted that the company’s famous brainteaser questions are “a complete waste of time.” While this is newsworthy, it’s not necessarily news. We, at DDI, have long said that brainteaser questions and other questions like them have little evaluative power. What I think is interesting about Bock’s comments is that Google has come to understand that structured behavioral interviewing provides a consistent rubric for how to assess people.

Forty years ago, DDI introduced the first structured behavioral interviewing system: Targeted Selection®, which is still the industry standard precisely because it provides an assessment rubric based on job-related past behaviors. This approach has delivered results for organizations for four decades and will continue to do so moving forward.

3 Reasons why brainteaser questions don’t work

First, anyone can find these questions and suggested answers all over various social media sites like By now, everybody knows if you were shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender that will start in 60 seconds, you should simply jump out.

The second issue with these questions is that it is very challenging to link them back to the specific job-related performance in a predictive sort of way. The idea was the questions could predict problem solving or creative thinking, but their data showed otherwise. There are certainly more psychometrically sound tools to predict these aspects of performance.

Finally, there didn’t seem to be much structure in how the answers could be evaluated. There was too much subjectivity—on the part of the interviewer—built in, leading to unreliable ratings. For those of you that have seen the movie “The Internship,” you can see a hilarious example of a fictitious Google interview team evaluating Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s responses to these types of brainteaser questions.

The right interview questions alone don’t guarantee results

Organizations should consider interview questions only as tools. Some tools are definitely better than others, and I would argue that 40 years of research shows that structured behavioral questions are among the best “tools.” However, you can have the greatest interview questions in the world, but if they are not linked back to the job, your interviewers are not properly trained, or there is not a process to integrate all the interview data, then those questions will be no better than Google’s brainteaser questions. That’s like saying if I used the same tools as Tiger Woods (e.g., golf clubs, spikes, clothes, caddy), I would 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 (knowledge, experience, competencies and personal attributes) related to the job, designing an interview process that is linked to these targets, training all interviewers on how to use the process, and then providing interviewers with tools to support the process, including structured interview guides and automated resources to reinforce or refresh interviewing skills that may take on some rust with time. That’s the essence of Targeted Selection®.

Google – the innovator – taking a “standard” approach to interviewing

Google is known for taking unique and internally-created approaches to their business practices. So why are they doing something so “standard” as behavioral interviewing?I was surprised they have abandoned their brainteaser questions altogether because they had developed a bit of an employment brand with their use. That said, I’m not surprised they are turning to behavioral interviewing because it gets results. They were faced with hard data indicating that the brainteaser questions weren’t predictive of performance, and so I don’t think it was a hard sell to hiring managers that it was time for a different approach. Google is certainly one of the top technology companies on the market, but they realize if they don’t hire the right people, it won’t be long before they fall behind their competition.

Jamie Winter is the manager in DDI's Selection Solutions Group.

Posted: 12 Jul, 2013,
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