Last year, Google said it was moving away from the crazy brainteasersit used to ask people in job interviews in favour of structured, behavioural queries like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”
At the time, the company’s SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, said this line of questioning provided more information about a candidate’s abilities than bizarre hypotheticals like, “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”
But a new video the company published yesterday reveals another reason Google has shifted to a standardized set of questions: It helps prevent hiring managers’ implicit biases about gender and race from influencing their decisions.
The video shows a presentation about unconscious biases that Google director of people analytics Dr. Brian Welle gave to a group of company founders, which Google has invested in through its Google Ventures fund.
The presentation is part of Google’s big push to improve diversity at the tech giant after it released data in May that showed only 30% of Google employees are women and only 5% are black or Hispanic.
At about 20 minutes and 50 seconds into the video, Welle explains how a 2005 study in Psychological Science shows why having a set criteria and standardized questions prevents people from making biased hiring decisions. In that study, participants were shown resumes with male and female names, and asked to choose which resume would make someone best suited for the traditionally male role of police chief.
Welle says the participants preferred male candidates, and when asked why they did not choose a female, they responded that the female candidate in question was lacking either street smarts or school smarts.
But when the participants were asked to first identify whether they preferred school smarts or street smarts before looking at resumes, Welle says the gender bias that had pervaded the first study was eliminated.
The lesson, he says, is that it’s important to articulate the exact things Google is looking for in every position it fills. And, instead of asking random brainteasers, the company now asks questions specifically related to the qualities it has said it is looking for.
“Every question in our interview protocol is tied to a competence that we know you need to have to excel, and then we make sure that if I interviewed five people for that one role, all five people have answered the exact same questions,” Welle says.
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