Google admits job interview brainteasers were "waste of time", GPAs and test scores don't matter

By on June 20, 2013, 3:30 PM

Remember the buzz regarding those absurdly difficult and often abstract questions Google proposed to prospective employees? The senior VP of People Operations at Google admits those challenging brainteasers -- ones like, "How many times a day does a clock's hands overlap?" and "Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco" -- turned out to be a "complete waste of time" for the company. "They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart." Laszlo Bock told the New York Times

Although Google hiring personnel would ask job candidates plenty of useful questions, sometimes they weren't quite so practical. Some examples include:

  • A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?
  • 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 many golf balls does it take to fill a school bus?
  • In a country in which people only want boys, every family continues to have children until they have a boy. If they have a girl, they have another child. If they have a boy, they stop. What is the proportion of boys to girls in the country? (question for product managers)
  • Explain the significance of "dead beef" (question for software engineers)

Equally useless in predicting the quality of a future hire are college GPA and test scores. "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." explained Bock.

Rather than issuing mind-numbing riddles and letting interviewers "make stuff up", what does work are structured interviews with a uniform rubric for assessment. More typical questions like, "Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem" provides more insight into a potential hire than most mind-bending enigmas.

So, how much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle? $10 per window, of course. Thankfully though, Google interviewees no longer need answer these types of prickly conundrums to flaunt their brainy mettle -- a move that was for the best, according to the company's data and experiences.

User Comments: 17

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howzz1854 said:

Prickly questions indeed. as a talent acquisition recruiter, that is just despicable, and disgustingly snobbish. give me an answer on how you improved productivity on your last job on a particular task will mean more than any scores or meaningless snobbish questions that only serves ones ego. shame on google HR

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

I get it they want people who can think outside the box. When someone comes along and takes the status quo (like your normal interview process) and throws it out after it's been working successfully to years, then that's just arrogant. Add it to the list of stuff that sounds cool, hip and trendy but is really just an effort to simply look cool, hip and trendy.

And Google really didn't realize that the skills people use on the job are different than what you learn in school?! I guess the founders must not have gone to college. GPA does serve a purpose though, it shows you're smart enough and work hard enough to remember something for a test. It helps weed out the lazy ones. Yeah, colleges make you take far more class than you need to prove this point, but they do charge by the credit after all.

veLa veLa said:

Those have got to be the most stupid questions I've ever heard

Guest said:

give me an answer on how you improved productivity on your last job on a particular task

Sorry, I can't answer that, it was so successful that the company patented it and it's now proprietary. They made me sign an NDA. :)

Guest said:

Explain the significance of "dead beef"

I recall disassembling POST ROM of video adapters for certain closed architecture, belonging to now long defunct manufacturer of mini computers. They were filled with 0xDEADBEEF references to the brim, but only in one particular version (it appears that not all engineers at that company were keen on this kind of "jokes", or the practice of adjusting register flags position so that 0xDEADBEEF actually had specific meaning was frowned upon after that one particular GPU - this was actually a valid combination of flags in some [status/configuration] registers).

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Having done plenty of hiring during my working career, those are ridiculously stupid questions to use as indicators of a person's capabilities or potential work performance.

I wonder if the Google HR think tank that thought those would be a hunky-dory way to screen employees is still around?

Guest said:

I wonder what kind of questions answer potential NSA workers.

-- What would you do if you had to data mine entire world ?

-- Do you read Orwells books ?

boo-ya :)

howzz1854 said:

give me an answer on how you improved productivity on your last job on a particular task

Sorry, I can't answer that, it was so successful that the company patented it and it's now proprietary. They made me sign an NDA.

if you were that successful you wouldn't find yourself being in that interview.

St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

Good riddance. I was sick of those stupid questions floating around the interwebs. I was even more sick of my stupid friends acting all smug and intelligent when they asked me some of those questions and I told them to shove it.

Behavioral questions relating to past events. That's the only good interview style.

Guest said:

So to conclude.... when google did it, it was gods law.

now that google dismisses it like it was rubbish, everyone comes out agreeing, saying sure it is....

you guys really think that's air you're breathing now?! hum.... control in action.... it's all a big joke


Tech companies have a knack for trolling lol

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Google HR probably got those questions originally as joke emails which do the rounds and they never knew the answers themselves so they thought if the applicants do, they're sure to have superior intelligence not realizing that some of the applicants could have read the same emails.

p51d007 said:

First, I would never work for a company like Google....too back stabbing & liberal for my tastes, but, if I were in an interview, and someone asked me questions like that, I would say, sorry, this question has nothing to do with this job, so I'll just say thanks, but no thanks, and walk out.

Questions like this, are for the interviewer to show the prospect "how smarta** he is".

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Brain teasers come up often in hi-tech job interviews, in my experience. I think that the reason they exist is that a decent part of the geek population likes these so when they're looking for similarly minded people they ask them.

I'm sure that this kind of questions do indicate something, just something which doesn't affect most work. Even if there's a correlation between answering these riddles and thinking outside the box, most work involves thinking inside the box, but doing that well enough and having enough knowledge to make that box big.

IntelligentBizz IntelligentBizz said:

This is a perfect example of how Big Data is transforming our decision-making and how CRITICAL it is that we look for correlations that actually exist. Leaving decisions to humans who "think" there is a connection is outdated and dangerous. How many promising individuals were never given the chance to take a position they might have dominated in a certain field because their GPA was too low? How many never received scholarships? How many never pursued their dreams because they were shot down by some human decision to restrict their education or opportunity?

Doctors and being out-diagnosed by algorithms, teachers are being out-taught by technology, and REAL patterns are being discovered that are transforming lives. Big Data is here to stay and I look forward to the day computers are providing the foundation of our most important decisions and the discrimination brought on by human bias is reduced significantly.

Guest said:

My friend, if your reaction is walking out on a ridiculous situation, you just proved you can not handle ridiculous situations at work. Please rethink you reaction. Thank you and good luck on your future interviews.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

My friend, if your reaction is walking out on a ridiculous situation, you just proved you can not handle ridiculous situations at work.
Undergoing ridiculous situations within an interview is only a testament to the ridiculous situations you would face within the job. If you want a lifetime of ridiculous situations, then be my guest and continue sitting through them.

Guest said:

Interview brainteasers are just simply there to test how well you can perform under pressure. If you can't handle a simple brainteaser during an interview, just imagine the difficulties that you will have while actually working. :) Grace under fire.

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