Google’s 11-Step Guide to Interviewing
Have you read How Google Works yet?
Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google adviser Jonathan Rosenberg published How Google Works a few weeks ago. It’s full of insights, including a chapter on finding talent and a subsection on interviewing, which they call “the most important skill any business person can develop.” Listed below are 11 tips gleaned from the section on interviewing. Some are Google-specific, but most should be helpful for anyone in any industry. If you haven’t already, check out How Google Works.
1) Do Your Homework:
The main goal of researching a candidate isn’t to search for his “drunken Carnival photo” but to find out why he is interesting. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired to ask specific questions about his previous projects.
“You want to learn if the candidate was the hammer or the egg, someone who caused a change or went along with it.”
2) Find the Limits of the Candidate’s Capabilities:
Schmidt and Rosenberg write that although the interview should not be an “overly stressful” experience, you should ask intellectually challenging questions–questions that are intentionally “large and complex.” Get the candidate to reveal his thought process.
“It’s a good idea to reuse questions across candidates, so you can calibrate responses.”
3) Get the Candidate to Talk About What He Learned
You want to ask questions about the candidate’s background. But avoid asking questions that a candidate could answer by merely regurgitating his experiences. Everyone has a feel-good story to share. Again, the goal should be to get the candidate to reveal his thought process.
“Get her to show off her thinking, not just her resume.”
4) Use Scenario Questions
Scenario questions are questions about crisis management or big decisions. This tip is especially true for senior people because it reveals “how a person will use or trust their own staff.” The idea is to figure out if the candidate collaborates during difficult moments well or not. Is he someone you want to work with during crunch time?
“If the answers you get are cut and pasted from marketing claims, or are simply the reflection of commonly held wisdom, then you have a generic candidate, one who will not be adept at thinking deeply about things.”
5) Ask (some) Brainteasers
Schmidt and Rosenberg admit that Google has phased out brainteasers. Since many of them are posted online, it’s difficult to know if a candidate’s answers emerged in the moment or from memory. However, brain teasers can nonetheless reveal sharp minds from average ones.
“The brainteasers also became a lightning rod for criticism as an elitist tool. To those critics, let us say once and for all: You are right. We want to hire the best minds available.”
6) Develop a Trusted-Interview Program
Interviewers at Google are members of an “elite team of people” who do the bulk of the interviewing. If you want to interview at Google, you must first receive training. Be prepared to get scored on a variety of metrics.
“With this program, interviewing became a privilege, not a chore, and quality increased across the board.”
7) Schedule Interviews for 30 Minutes
This strategy will prevent interviews with candidates who are clearly not a good fit from dragging on. It also reduces small talk and fruitless questions.
“Oftentimes, you walk into an interview and know within minutes that a person is wrong for the company and the job. Who says you have to spend the rest of the hour making useless conversation.”
8) Don’t Interview the Same Candidate More Than 5 Times
Too many interviewers and you run into the problem of diminish returns. Google conducted research and found that after the fourth interview, each additional interview only increased the “decision accuracy” by a mere 1 percent.
“In other words, after four interviews the incremental cost of conducting additional interviews outweighs the value the additional feedback contributes to the ultimate hiring decision.”
9) Measure a Candidate On These Four Categories
We’ll want to know how someone has flexed different muscles in various situations in order to mobilize a team. This can include asserting a leadership role at work or with an organization, or even helping a team succeed when they weren’t officially appointed as the leader.
We… want to make sure that candidates have the experience and the background that will set them up for success in the role. For engineer candidates in particular, we check out coding skills and technical areas of expertise.
General cognitive ability:
We’re less concerned about grades and transcripts and more interested in how a candidate thinks.
We… want to make sure this is a place they’ll thrive, so we look for signs around their comfort with ambiguity, bias to action, and collaborative nature.
10) Hire by Committee; Use a Hiring Packet
If you have a hiring manager, don’t give him the find call. You want to have the people who will work with the candidate and collaborate on the decision. The hiring packet gathers all known information about the candidate. It should provide data and be standardized. That way, you measure the candidate relative to previous ones.
“Stipulate that all packets include statistics on each interviewer’s past scores–including number of interviews, range of scores, and mean–so committee members can factor into their decision-making which interviewers grade higher and which clump their scores in the middle of the bell curve.”
11) Quality Must Be Primary
The golden rule of hiring, according to Schmidt and Rosenberg: “The urgency of the role isn’t sufficiently important to compromise quality in hiring. In the inevitable showdown between speed and quality, quality must prevail.”