Why Google Got Over Brainteasers

You’ve probably heard stories about Google’s interview process. The web is littered with examples of brainteasers interviewers have posed, including “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” and “How many piano tuners are there in the world?”

Brainteasers were another one of Google’s trailblazing company culture quirks essential to its “Googlieness,” like casual dress or napping pods. These head-scratching puzzles were touted as a meritocratic way to hire. The logic was, no matter where you went to college or what your SAT score were, if you could solve one of these questions, you deserve to work at Google.

But Google’s brainteasers are a thing of the past.

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, senior VP of Google’s people operations stated. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.” In fact, the people who succeeded at brainteasers were often the opposite kind of employee Bock wanted to hire.

While buzz-worthy, brainteasers have been abandoned for straight-edge processes and questions. Interviewers ask boring questions that you might hear from any other company. And they get better results.

Bock overhauled the quirky interview process in favor of hiring policies that yielded employees who would work hard and work smart. Here’s what he did.

Setting the Right Filters

Google receives 2 million applicants per year, and only accepts a couple thousand. Its huge applicant pool makes it 25 times more selective than Harvard.

In order to make sure they accept the right people, they needed to set the right filters.

Brainteasers, Bock found, were setting the wrong filter. He recognized that the brainteaser process represented a kind of macho one-upmanship. It asked interviewees to overcome intimidation and immense pressure, which often prevented creative thinking and embarrassed people.

Candidates who could talk their way out of an intimidating puzzle, then, were often over-confident in their abilities—the exact opposite of what Bock wanted in Google employees.

Bock values intellectual humility. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure,” he says, “and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” Bock says. He’s found that ego matters a lot in the workplace. To filter for people who with both intellectual chops and humility, Bock places a high premium on candidates’ ability to work in a team.

Here are some of the questions Bock asks now:

  • Tell me about a time when you effectively achieved a goal. What did your approach look like?
  • What were your targets and how did you meet them as an individual and as a team?
  • How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?
  • What was the key takeaway from this specific situation?

Questions about teamwork help Bock find employees who are humble and can work autonomously.

Set specific goals for hiring:

Of course, companies value different traits. Zappos, for example, only hires candidates who are passionate about working there. To ensure that they’re getting the right people, they offer new hires $2,000 to quit. If they take the money and run, good riddance. If they’d rather be at the company, it’s a good fit.

It’s important to think about the qualities that differentiate your company and your team. By doing so, you can tailor your interview process to your brand.

Thinking Beyond the Resume

Bock also found that candidates’ college GPA had no correlation to job performance. “After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school,” he said, “because the skills you required in college are very different.”

More importantly, he notes, the skills a candidate needs now might look a different from the skills they’ll need a couple years down the road.

This is because Google is constantly evolving. And Bock looks for dynamic candidates who can evolve with it. To do so, he formulates questions that evaluate a candidate’s adaptability. This doesn’t mean asking them to design an escape plan for the city of San Francisco. It means talking to them about how they behave in numerous situations, and confirming this with references.

The big picture

Chances are, your company is also evolving. You’re growing, adapting, or scaling. And you need to make sure your employees are too. What do you want your team to look like in three years? Where do you see this candidate in that picture?

Considering long-term outcomes of a hire allows you to ease your company’s growing pains.

Auditions Trump Resumes

Another trick Bock uses is the active interview, or giving the candidate real work in addition to a sit-down interview. A lot of hiring managers are turning to a process of auditioning for a job rather than simply submitting a resume. They find it invaluable to have candidates try their hand at the job they’d be performing.

As Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says, “Simulating what it’s like to work together is the best way to determine whether somebody has the raw talent to not just do the job but to grow into something bigger.”

Automattic, which made the open source software WordPress, swears by the audition. They give applicants real work to do, and pay them for it at a rate of $25/hour. CEO Matt Mullenweg said, “There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day. It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks.”

It also gives everyone a sense of what it would be like if they joined: both employer and employee. Mullenweg continues, “It’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

It’s similar to the advice Jeff Bezos famously gave in 1998: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Tailor the Interview to Your Company

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to finding the right employees. It will take extra time out of your day to review candidates’ work, or to develop an interview process that accurately predicts employee output. But as Bock’s example shows, it’s well worth the effort. Even if it’s boring.

And those pesky brainteasers? Use them to test yourself, or take a peek at the answers.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

A Googler’s Critique of Google Performance Reviews

google performance reviews

This post was written anonymously by a current Google and former Microsoft employee.  It details the author’s perspective on her first-hand experience with Google’s performance review system.

“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Institutions are built on the trust and credibility of their members. This maxim holds true for employees and their employers just the same as it does for citizens and their government. Whereas the electoral process in modern democracies allows you and me to rate our government’s performance, performance rating systems make employees the subject of evaluation. In both cases, however, faith in the integrity of the process is the only thing that ensures order.

Managing a performance rating system that motivates, rewards, and retains talented employees across an organization tens of thousands large is a grueling, never-ending challenge. How does an organization balance values core to its DNA and its continued success — merit, openness, innovation, and loyalty — all while maintaining perceptions of fairness?

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How to Tell When A Manager Is Really Productive

what do managers do all day

What do managers do all day?

This is one of the great, constant mysteries of worklife. According to management expert Peter Drucker, what a manager does all day is set objectives, organize, motivate and communicate, measure, and develop people. The problem is, these tasks are so fuzzy that doing them makes it look like you’re not doing anything.

Your role is to help your team make meaningful progress, which means that your primary concern isn’t about you but the people you manage and how they’re doing. As Michael Lopp, veteran engineering manager, puts it: “Their productivity is your productivity.

A manager’s job is mystifying because it’s so hard to understand what this transitive type of productivity looks like. You have to redefine what it means to get stuff done and how to measure your manager productivity.

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The Boring Trait Google Looks For in Its Leaders


The prototypical leader is a hero: gives the rousing speech, inspires the troops, and shows up at the last minute to save the day. At least that’s how leaders are portrayed. but that’s not at all what Google discovered as their most important qualities.

At Google, they’re obsessive about looking at data to determine what makes employees successful and what they found in the numbers was surprising.

The most important character trait of a leader is one that you’re more likely to associate with a dull person than a dynamic leader: predictability. The more predictable you are, day after day, the better.

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The Most Innovative Google Employees Aren’t Stanford/MIT grads with Perfect SATs

Google has long had a reputation for being a place that’s near impossible to get a job if you aren’t a Stanford or MIT grad. They not only asked you for your college GPA, they even asked you what you made on your SAT as a pimple-faced high schooler.

Recently, that’s all changed.

google employee hiring puzzle

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Innovation and Happiness at Work

Google has found that the most innovative workers — also the ‘happiest,’ by its definition — are those who have a strong sense of mission about their work and who also feel that they have much personal autonomy.

Big Data, Trying to Build Better Workers – NYTimes.com

Google has long been known as an elite organization bordering on elitist. It’s fascinating to see how their conception of prospective candidates has changed as they’ve looked at the data over time, departing from a SAT and GPA-driven view.

Account Association Security Threats for Google Single Sign-On

iDoneThis recently added itself to the Google Apps Marketplace and the Google Chrome Web Store, providing OpenID single-sign-on access to iDoneThis through Google accounts. It’s a great feature to have, but as we found during our implementation, one rife with security concerns.  Security advisories from both Google [2] and the OpenID foundation [3] pointed out possible vulnerabilities with various OpenID implementations related to the failure to check  for signed AX attributes.  But the failed check for signed AX attributes by certain implementations of OpenID is really a peripheral issue. A more fundamental security threat results from the incongruent use of the OpenID protocol for trust when it was meant for identification.  This article discusses how our integration of Google OpenID single-sign-on addresses the issues brought forth by the security advisories as well as the more central issue of proper OpenID usage.
Credit: openidexplained.com
Illustration from: http://openidexplained.com


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Get More Done with Dundee Living in Your Chrome

We’re now in the Google Chrome Store!  Add iDoneThis to Chrome, and Dundee will live on your Chrome home screen.  His mere presence will encourage you in everything you’re getting done.

From there, you can launch iDoneThis with one click.  If you haven’t made iDoneThis your home page yet (tsk tsk!), this is the next best thing.

Why did you create a Chrome Store app?

We bet that you’ll get more done when you see Dundee on your Chrome home screen every time you open up a new tab!

Our email reminders make it easy to remember to write down what you get done every day, so that you don’t have to do the work in remembering. With our iPhone App, people have told us that having Dundee sit on their phones is a constant helpful reminder to use iDoneThis to jot down their day.

We hope to be helpful in the same way every time you open a new tab in Chrome.  From there, it’s dead simple to launch iDoneThis and use the web to write down your accomplishments of the day.

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How to Build the Machine that Builds the Product

“The hard part is building the machine that builds the product.”

Dennis Crowley

Successful entrepreneurs like Dennis Crowley and Mike Karnjanaprakorn at SkillShare have pointed that building a great product is only step one.  The next, harder step is building the machine that builds the product which turns improvement into a repeatable process.

Mark Pincus, discussing his experience of growing Zynga, observed that products can be built “through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep,” but that doesn’t scale — and soon “you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.”

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