Hey Google…Welcome to 15 Years Ago

Congratulations, Google!  You’ve done it!  You have reached a very important milestone in the evolution of technology companies!

You have realized that your coolness and popularity have blinded you to the stupidity of your interview questions.

From the Business Insider:

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior VP of People Operations, tells 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.”

But, wait!  Not only have you guys realized that these questions don’t work, but you have also discovered the behavioral interview question!  Something the rest of us have been using since before Al Gore invented the internet.

Bock says, “The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that…you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation.”

Sounds right to me! Glad you guys could join us!

But, don’t worry, Google. You’re not the only company that has asked, or is asking, stupid questions.  In fact, Google wasn’t even a twinkle in the eyes of Sergey and Larry when my own beloved company was using the “Why is a manhole cover round?” question. Since the dawn of binary, great minds have pondered the answer to how many piano tuners there are in the entire world.

Okay, okay… I don’t mean to just pick on Google, here. They just happen to be the ones in the news, right now.  Here’s what I am trying to figure out.  What the heck is the purpose of these questions?  And, more importantly, why are they still being asked?

I think Mr. Bock at Google has a tremendous sense of company self-awareness. I think he hits the nail on the head. In my experience, asking these questions is a way to trip up the candidate. In the eyes of the interviewer, it’s a way to see how they handle the pressure of the situation and then come in at the end to explain the answer in a way that makes you wonder why they didn’t just go, “DUH!”

So… I have a suggestion to all of my recruiting colleagues in the technology world.  Particularly those of you at start-ups.  STOP WITH THE STUPID QUESTIONS!  You can learn from our experiences.  Yes, yes… I know.  You are hip and new and you can bring your dog to work and junk. Doesn’t matter. These questions are dumb and they make your candidate experience much worse than if you would simply go with a “Tell me about a time when,” variety.  And, no…”Tell me about a time when a manhole cover wasn’t round,” doesn’t count.

Oh…and, in case you are wondering why, exactly a manhole cover is round, I will tell you.

It’s because I said so and I’m the interviewer!

FOT Background Check

Jason Pankow
Jason Pankow realized long ago that he wasn’t smart enough to actually program video games and game consoles. So, he found another way to participate! In between bouts of pwning newbs in Halo or scoring mad gamerpoints, Jason spends his time as the Staffing Program Manager for Microsoft’s Devices and Studios Division. Jason’s day is spent running programs that help recruit the obscenely talented developers, designers and engineers that have blessed the world with the likes of Xbox, Kinect and tons of other rad stuff, much of which he can’t tell you about. So, don’t ask. In non-nerd speak…what this means is that Jason has the coolest recruiting job in the world! Look him up as “Satchmo Baggins” on Xbox LIVE. But, watch out for the dreaded headshot!


  1. Tatiana Beale says:

    Great post. I believe it’s important to ask questions about experiences, but it’s also equally important to see if the candidate thrives under pressure. At my company, we have several interviews to make sure that the candidate is a good fit, and look at both skills, behavioral patterns, and culture fit when making an assessment about someone. Glad to see Google and other companies are doing away with the stupid questions.

  2. Rory Trotter says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jason.

    I’m definitely opposed to stupid interview questions (and brainteasers definitely qualify), but asking a question specifically to see how a candidate responds to pressure isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, sometimes I think it’s a good idea to try and trip a candidate up (depending on the job).

    Thanks for sharing this (and keep writing).



  3. Jason Pankow
    Jason Pankow says:

    Hey guys…for the record, I do not oppose questions that put a candidate on the spot or questions designed to see how they react under pressure. Just make sure there is a point. For example, in Star Fleet, when posed with the Kobayashi Maru scenario, the goal is to see how a cadet deals with a no win situation. It’s relevant and puts pressure on. But…it’s not random and lame.

    Hmmm…when I start using Star Trek analogies, I think I am ready for the holiday. Live long and prosper, people!

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