Smart Enough for Google?

Answering the Question, “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?

By Claire Kuhl

As a relative newcomer to the executive search world, my ears instantly perked up when my favorite NPR station broadcast an interview with William Poundstone, the author of a brand new book called Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? Surely I would learn something useful about subtle interview techniques and sophisticated psychometric tools!

As it turns out, the results of Mr. Poundstone’s research into Google’s hiring practices are summed up in the book’s subtitle: Trick Questions, Zen-like Riddles, Insanely Difficult Puzzles, and Other Devious Interviewing Technique You Need to Know to Get a Job Anywhere in the New Economy. In an economy where an overabundance of smart people are scrabbling feverishly to claim scarce jobs, top companies have gotten very creative about how to quickly weed out as many candidates as possible. Asking weird brain-teasers has been a preferred screening method for a few years now. Here’s the example cited on the back of the book:

“You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. The blades will start moving in sixty seconds. What do you do?”

Yep—my time in the interview seat would be pretty short if I were faced with that question! (For those of you who need the answer, buy Mr. Poundstone’s book.)

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For me, the most interesting part of the book was a brief section on how Google’s “People Operations” department tried to develop “...a homegrown personality test designed to measure culture fit (‘Googliness’) of potential hires.” They developed a 300-question survey, and tried using it for a few years. One of the primary goals was to identify “extroverted software engineers” who violate the stereotype of the loner coder and instead embrace the collaborative “fishbowl” environment of Google.

The survey never quite lived up to expectations. As Mr. Poundstone notes, “Proving that a hiring technique works—or that it doesn’t work—is a complex exercise in statistics.” And today, the “...Google Candidate Survey has mostly been phased out. It was found that almost nothing qualified as a surefire, all-purpose predictor for success at Google.”

Now, I realize I’m prejudiced, but it seems to me that Google would have a lot better chance of finding statistically predictive indicators if they started with one of the Smart Work Assessments (perhaps the IT Pro? <link to>) and worked with us on a validation study for their unique environment. Just for starters, our database of more than 15 million assessments and 35 years of research is surely a stronger foundation than a data pool comprising only Google employees, analyzed for a couple of years. And with 80 assessments and screens to choose from, we could fine-tune selection for each Google department’s needs, not just the software guys.

Hmmm....maybe I should drop Larry and Sergey a quick note and offer them a couple of free predictive assessments. <link to:>

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