In light of the recently interview in the New York Times with senior vice president of people operations at Google, Laszlo Bock reveals that the questions were a waste of time. Instead Bock has said that structured behaviour based interviews were a more consistent rubric to assess people. So if you ever have the guts to attempt to snag a job at Google, maybe these brain twisting mega questions won’t be on the agenda. But, if they are, you won’t have to worry, it’s possible they won’t be heavily weighted on your ability to get hired.

Q. Other insights from the studies you’ve already done?

A. 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.

Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.

On the leadership side, we’ve found that leadership is a more ambiguous and amorphous set of characteristics than the work we did on the attributes of good management, which are more of a checklist and actionable.

We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.

There are plenty of examples of the challenging questions that may turn up. Here are a few:

  • You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?
  • Using only a four-minute hourglass and seven-minute hourglass, measure exactly nine minutes.
  • There’s a latency problem in South Africa. Diagnose it
  • Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco
  • Using only a four-minute hourglass and seven-minute hourglass, measure exactly nine minutes.
  • Imagine a country where all the parents want to have a boy. Every family keeps having children until they have a boy; then they stop. What is the proportion of boys to girls in this country?
  • Use a programming language to describe a chicken
  • What is the most beautiful equation you have ever seen?
  • You want to make sure that Bob has your phone number. You can’t ask him directly. Instead you have to write a message to him on a card and hand it to Eve, who will act as a go-between. Eve will give the card to Bob and he will hand his message to Eve, who will hand it to you. You don’t want Eve to learn your phone number. What do you ask Bob?
  • A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?
  • If you had a stack of pennies as tall as the Empire State Building, could you fit them all in one room?
  • How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?
  • How much toilet paper would it take to cover the entire state?
  • How do you find the closest pair of stars in the sky?
  • Can you swim faster through water or syrup?
  • It is difficult to remember what you read, especially after many years. How would you address this?
  • You’re in a car with a helium balloon tied to the floor. The windows are closed. When you step on the gas pedal, what happens to the balloon? Does it move forward, backwards, or stay put?
  • You have a choice of two wagers: One, you’re given a basketball and have one chance to sink it for £1,000. Two, you have to make two out of three shots, for the same £1,000. Which do you prefer?
  • You have N companies and want to merge them into one big company. How many different ways are there to do it?
  • You’ve got an analogue watch with a second hand. How many times a day do all three of the watch’s hands overlap?
  • You work in a 100-storey building and are given two identical eggs. You have to determine the highest floor from which an egg can be dropped without breaking. You are allowed to break both eggs in the process. How many drops would it take you to do it?
  • Add any standard arithmetic signs to this equation to make it true: 3 1 3 6 = 8

Sources:
Wired
TNW
NYT Interview
WSJ