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Why Google banned brainteasers from their interview process

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How many piano tuners are there in the city of Chicago? As recently as a couple of years ago, knowing how to approach a brainteaser like this might have helped land you a job at Google. The company used to pose stumpers like this in a lot of their interviews, but the practice was recently banned. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Laslzo Bock, Google's senior VP of "people operations" explained why.


"On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time," said Bock. "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."

Over at The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova takes the revelation of Google's brainteaser-ban and uses its implications to explore the problem at the heart of many predictive methods. That problem, she says, is decontextualization (emphasis added):

The attempt takes place in a generalized environment, as opposed to the context in which a behavior or trait naturally occurs. Google’s brainteasers measure how good people are at quickly coming up with a clever, plausible-seeming solution to an abstract problem under pressure. But employees don’t experience this particular type of pressure on the job. What the interviewee faces, instead, is the objective of a stressful, artificial interview setting: to make an impression that speaks to her qualifications in a limited time, within the narrow parameters set by the interviewer. What’s more, the candidate is asked to handle an abstracted “gotcha” situation, where thinking quickly is often more important than thinking well. Instead of determining how someone will perform on relevant tasks, the interviewer measures how the candidate will handle a brainteaser during an interview, and not much more.


More on the psychology of interviews and predictive validity at The New Yorker. For Bock's interview with the New York Times, click here. If all you're looking for is a bunch of fun, now-banned Google interview questions, Business Insider's got you covered.