When you think about what it takes to get hired by Google, you might remember some of its infamously tough interview questions, like “How many golf balls can fit into a school bus?” or “How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?“
While asking these kinds of crazy, bizarre questions certainly earned Google the reputation of having high standards, the company has since ditched that brain-bending approach, deeming it a useless way to actual judge potential employees.
“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations told The New York Times last year. “How many golf balls can you fit into an aeroplane? 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, Google now uses well-structured, behavioural interviews where an interviewer will grill the candidate about their past work, asking them, for example, to talk about an instance where they solved an analytically difficult problem.
“The interesting thing about the behavioural interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information,” Bock says. “One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”
Google is also moving away from its old GPA requirements (it’s actually hiring more and more people that never went to college). Bock said in another New York Times interview that learning ability is much more important indicator of whether someone will be a good fit for Google than I.Q. Candidates need to be able to process things “on the fly” and draw conclusions from seemingly unconnected info.
They also need to be “emergent” leaders. Google isn’t necessarily looking for the president of the chess club. It’s looking for people who know when to lead and when to follow.
“What’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power,” he says.
Humility and ownership are two other big pieces of the puzzle. Bock wants Google employees to feel a sense of responsibility and ownership that will make them step in and try to solve any problem. But they also need the humility to embrace the better ideas of others. There needs to be the right mix of confidence and adaptability.
“They will argue like hell. They will be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they will go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right,'” Bock says. “You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.”
Finally, Bock says that Google doesn’t care about expertise. Experts will respond to problems with the same solutions they have seen work a million times. A nonexpert will mess up occasionally, but usually they will come up with the same answer. And once in a while they will come up with something that is completely new. That’s how innovation happens.