We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into a plane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. — Laszlo Bock, Sr. VP, People Ops, Google.
Eric Schmidt throws a brain teaser curve ball at candidate Barack Obama when he visited Googleplex in January 2008
But then what to make of this interview given to New York Times by Laszlo Bock, senior vice-president of People Operations at Google? "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."
Did Poundstone make it all up then? I flipped through the book. He has done his research. Talked to enough interview givers and takers. People mentioned by name include Todd Carlisle, who devised the Google Candidate Survey for People Operations (how HR is called at Google), as well as Prasad Setty, director of people analytics and compensation. Brain teasers and puzzles may have been Big Ticket items at Google once upon a time. But as Laszlo now confirms, they have moved away from it.
Another welcome development seems to be Google's turning back on its extraordinary reliance on Ivy League schools and high G.P.As. Ken Auletta, a biographer of Google (Googled. The End of the World as we Know it) once termed this obsession "preposterous". Poundstone narrates the instance of Roni Zeigler, a physician with an advanced degree in medical informatics, being asked to bring his secondary school grades. But in the NYT interview, Bock notes that this too is now a thing of the past. "One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. 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." Well, that's candid enough.
So then, Poundstone may not have been altogether wrong to give a central place to brain teasers and puzzles in Google's recruitment process when he started out, but just as he finished writing the book, it looks like the company made one of its infamous algorithm updates on the entire hiring process. As a good SEO practitioner knows, these changes are often enough to shut down businesses. And Poundstone's book is certainly a lemon, albeit an interesting one, to all those like me who shelled out money to learn more about the celebrated interview process at Google. Now quick, answer this question: A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?