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Google Interviews, Leadership and Big-data

How many ping-pong balls can you fit in an airplane?

How much does the Empire State Building weigh?

How many gallons of water are in the Mississippi River?

These are all examples of questions Google notoriously has asked during interviews.  Why?  To test critical thinking skills.  These are questions which no one could be expected to know the answer.  The interviewer gets to see how one approaches difficult problems: see how they are at back-of-the-napkin approximations.

Is this how Google gets the best and brightest and becomes the nations best place to work?  Maybe not.

What can we learn from Google about hiring talent?   Good question, and lucky us, Google has been compiling data from interviews and employees later performance on the job.  The results are in, and……. those types of questions are a 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.”

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google,


Instead, behavioural questions such as “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem” provide more value from the interview, and across multiple candidates.   That same data-driven retrospection has provided Google with other insights as well.  e.g. GPA is just as useless at predicting performance on the job.

And also, insights on Leadership.  Here’s a list of what they see as qualities of a good manager. (follow the link for more details)

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest in your team members’ success and well-being
  4. Be productive and results-oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have technical skills so you can advise the team

These are almost so head-slappingly obvious, that’s it’s surprising it took years of accumulated data to come to it.

The moral of the story?  Gather the facts.  We can’t know what we don’t know.  No matter how cool an interview question feels, or hot a buzzword is right now, the right answer might just be the usual, boring one we started with.

So, what do you think ?