The case against oddball interview questions

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Until very recently, interviewees at Google were confronted with infamous, stumping questions such as, ‘How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?’, ‘Why are manhole covers round?’, and ‘You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown in a blender. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?’

But no more. Google has decided that these brainteasers were not working as intended, and that they did not actually help to predict which interviewees would prove to be good employees once hired. “On the hiring side, we found that the brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, senior VP of people operations at Google bluntly put it to the New York Times.

“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,” he elaborated.

According to Bock, Google will now rely on more ordinary means of assessing potential employees, such as standardized and structured behavioural interviews. Apparently, it will also give less weight to academic grades in the future.

Workplace blogger, Alison Green (aka Ask a Manager), would probably agree with Google’s about-turn. In a post entitled, ‘Why oddball interview questions don’t work,’ she pointed out the problems with this sort of quizzing.

Really good candidates will want to talk with hiring managers about their skills and experience, the role, and what they could bring to it. “Start asking goofy questions about what kind of tree they’d be, and plenty of great candidates will be annoyed and question why you’re wasting their time – and plenty will decide they’re not a good fit with a hiring manager who hires this way,” she wrote.

Another issue with these questions, according to Green, is that good candidates want to spend the interview working out whether the role, and organization, is a good fit for them. Putting brainteasers to a candidate squanders time that could be better spent asking the questions that really matter for both parties.

Do you use oddball interview questions in interviews? Why / why not?


  • Patti on 2013-06-26 11:20:55 AM

    It's about time Google became recruitment professionals in the interview process. I'd like to see the preditability scores of the round manhole cover question re: employee productivity and job fit for say - programmers. Come on people- those oddball questions do nothing to elevate the recruitment function in HR, nor do they have any relevance to job functions, unless of course you are the manhole cover manufacturer.

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