The Impact of Google’s Interview Methodology on the Recruitment Landscape

The Impact of Google’s Interview Methodology on the Recruitment Landscape

Google being Google,


there’s nothing simple about their hiring processes. While they make
talent acquisition seem fairly straightforward, a huge amount of scientific research has actually gone into it. Until 2013, Google was infamous for its multiple interviews (up to 25) over 6-9 months. The idea was to avoid snap subjective judgements and to ensure the best mutual fit for any position, from entry-level right through to leadership. 

Perhaps that accounts for the 0.2% of applicants who were eventually hired as Googlers. The infamous bit comes from the insanely challenging questions Google interviewers often threw the candidate’s way. Such as:

  • How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?
  • 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?
  • Why are manhole covers round?

The questions may sound random, but a lot of data-driven research went into their formulation.

Curveballs then became the norm

While Google wasn’t the first organization to ask candidates curveballs or brainteasers, they certainly made these hugely popular in the interviewing process (AKA the cool/hipster factor). 

We suddenly went from asking traditional questions (which, let’s face it, aren’t always the most exciting) to watching the candidate’s jaw drop after we threw them a doozy and then sat back to enjoy the performance. 

Even though recruiters certainly enjoy asking these types of questions, it turns out that very few fully understand the reasoning behind them. While Google’s recruiters are highly trained in what to look for, non-Googlers subjectively ask and assess without having first selected questions aligned to specific skill or experience areas.

Maybe we all just want to be more like Google.

Beyond the curveball

Even Google eventually found these types of questions to be problematic. In 2013, they dropped brainteasers altogether. Why? It was felt that they had little correlation with how the person actually performed in their job – and, naturally, they mainly made the interviewer feel smart. 
Although Google still asks challenging questions, they have steered toward structured behavioral interviews with a consistent scorecard (all data-driven, of course).

However, many of us in the non-Google universe are still caught up in the coolness and novelty of the curveball approach. 

The question now becomes, can we more effectively leverage curveballs and brainteasers in a way that maximizes the authenticity of the hiring process?

Well, the answer is yes. And no. 

If clearly aligned to specific competencies and desired experience, then curveballs (and brainteasers) can provide fantastically interesting insights into the candidate’s creativity, problem-solving skills, and personality. Not to mention their ability to cope under pressure.

That said, overall fit shouldn’t be decided based on how well the candidate tackles these questions. As even Google discovered, there’s little correlation between their answers and actual job performance.

Instead, ask yourself if curveballs really enhance your decision-making process. If yes, carefully select questions aligned to the specific skills, knowledge, and expertise of the ideal candidate. 

Secondly, make sure that you as the interviewer understand what the question is really asking. Understand first what you are looking for in the answer. Only then will you be able to analyze the response correctly.

And luckily for all recruiters, with every curveball and brain teaser out there, you’ll find a plethora of YouTube videos, articles, blog posts, and forum comments from candidates and interviewers discussing this topic. There’s even an entire book on the subject written by a Pulitzer Prize-nominated scientist (Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?)

Skreenbe’s virtual interviewing platform incorporates an extensive range of tried-and-tested curveball questions, as well as additional value-added features.

The questions include a wide variety of icebreaker, behavioral, personal, and professional categories to support the recruiting process. 

Oh, and by the way, there are some real humdingers in there. Go ahead, have a look for yourself

Moral of the story: whatever type of interview question you decide to incorporate, ask yourself if they truly enhance the interviewing process. Cool is great, but relevant makes for a more authentic hiring experience.

Our worker bees recommend you read E-recruitment Tools to Optimize Hiring Processes.

Skreenbe: Built by recruiters, for recruiters

Article: © Skreenbe 2021

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