What can Google teach us about how not to interview?

We at Talentspace have worked with a growing number of web and technology firms in recent years to train their interviewers in competency-based interviewing techniques (also known as capability-based interviews or behavioural interviews).

We often heard managers saying that Google relied on brainteaser questions – so surely everyone else should be too?

For years, we had to battle the idea that just because Google did something didn’t mean that it was backed by research or the right thing to do.

However, a 2013 interview in the The New York Times confirms that Google really did not know what they were doing. Based on their own data and research, Google senior vice president for people operations Laszlo Bock admitted:

“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.”

So if Google admits that brainteasers are a waste of time, what does work then?

“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.”

“Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, ‘Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.'”

In other words, to interview successfully and hire only the best candidates, you need:

  • A set of competencies or capabilities – i.e. a written description of the behaviours that lead to superior performance within your particular organisation
  • Interviewers who are trained to ask candidates to talk through actual examples of past behaviour
  • A marking frame – i.e. a checklist for interviewers to complete after an interview in order to score how well a candidate performed during the interview

Decades of business school and employer research (as well as Google’s own data now) indicates that the competency-based, behavioural style of interviewing is the best way to hire candidates who genuinely add value.

For more information about introducing competency-based interviewing techniques into your organisation, please contact the Talentspace team.


You can read the full Google interview here.

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