Like most career paths, job searching in the tech industry has a usual process that everyone gears themselves up in preparation to face. Often times it is some kind of off-the-wall brain teaser computer puzzle they need to figure out, or a series of mental tests to see how you think on the fly. While brain teaser type problems may play a small part to rule out some bad candidates, there are more and more people who are beginning to speak out about how this angle of testing is of little use any more.
A recent study of the hiring practice at Google revealed that there was really no correlation between who did the hiring, the methods they used, and the longevity or success of the candidate hired. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship,” said Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google. He states that a lot of times it comes down to “gut instinct” which not as many people have, even if they think they do.
Then, later on in the conversation he states plainly, “On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. 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. Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.”
The idea is not totally new, as people have been mentioning it for years, but since even Google, one of the largest tech companies is saying it, maybe it is getting a foothold and changes in the interview process may start happening at a faster pace. In 2009, Coding Horror blogger Jeff Atwood stated “I'm also not a huge fan of those abstract impossible questions, eg, "how many optometrists are there in Seattle?", but I suppose that's a matter of taste. If you absolutely must, at least ask an impossible question that has some relevance to a problem your very real customers might encounter. I just can't muster any enthusiasm for completely random arbitrary puzzles in the face of so many actual, real world problems.” Then in 2012, he reiterated the point and added “Instead, I have my own theory about how we should interview programmers: have the candidate give a 15 minute presentation on their area of expertise. I think this is a far better indicator of success than a traditional interview, because you'll quickly ascertain (1) Is this person passionate about what they are doing? (2) Can they communicate effectively to a small group? (3) Do they have a good handle on their area of expertise? (4) Would your team enjoy working with this person?
Another blogger, speaking of hiring developers, said for many years they did the puzzle question route and hired people over and over, but when it came to the work of the actual hired candidates, “we got very mixed results.” He states many were average, very few were above average, and many were downright terrible. They determined that interview results tend to have little to do with the results that the candidate brings to the table of the actual job. Instead, they turned to a focus on company culture (will the person fit with the spirit of the workers already there), programming competence (using real world examples to test their skills), and project management (are they good team mates and do they have good presentation skills in front of customers).
Following suit in this line of thinking is Entrepreneur blogger Nelly Yusupova who suggests the focus on those real-life scenarios that will provide info on how daily work will be accomplished. “When I hire web developers, their personal DNA is the most important consideration. While experience is important, the bigger predictor of success is someone's innate DNA and how it fits your company,” she says. Of course she is speaking of the company culture and its importance in the hiring process.
In the end, whatever the approach taken by the hiring agent, most agree that nothing is a guarantee of the candidate’s day-to-day job performance. So, if you are out there already embroiled in the rigors of the job search interview process, you may be noticing a shift in the types of scenarios you are faced with during the interviews. If you are a new graduate, you may not have to face some of the wild and crazy puzzle questions of old, depending on the hiring agent’s philosophy at this time.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitialPhotos.net