Google HR Boss Explains Why GPA And Most Interviews Are Useless

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Lazslo Bock

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Google likely sees more data than any company on the planet. And that obsession carries through to hiring and management, where every decision and practice is endlessly studied and analyzed.

In an interview with The New York Times' Adam Bryant, Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains that some of the biggest stalwarts of the hiring and recruiting world, the interview, GPA, and test scores, aren't nearly as important as people think.  

Google doesn't even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone's a year or two out of school, because they don't correlate at all with success at the company. Even for new grads, the correlation is slight, the company has found.

Bock has an excellent explanation about why those metrics don't mean much.

" Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment," he says.

While in school, people are trained to give specific answers, "it's much  more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer," Bock says. "You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer."

As for interviews, many managers, recruiters, and HR staffers think they have a special ability to sniff out talent. They're wrong. 

"Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at  Google  is particularly good at hiring," Bock says. "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."

Google also used to be famous for posing impossibly difficult and punishing brain teasers during interviews. Things like "If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?"

Turns out those questions are"a  complete waste of time," according to Bock. " They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."

The only thing that works are behavioral interviews, Bock says, where there's a consistent set of questions that ask people what they did in specific situations.

Many of the assumptions and practices we have about hiring came about because we didn't have anything better. For decades, the  only (relatively) consistent data point among hires was GPA and test scores. It was an easy way to sort, and because that's the way it was always done, people stuck with it.

We can do better now. And though Google has something of a head start and a lot more data, more and more companies are catching on. 

The best thing about data? It's hard for people to contest. Even when people don't want to believe that they're underperforming, it's hard to dispute years worth of numbers. " For most people, just knowing that information causes them to change their conduct,"  Bock says.



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