Friday, October 30, 2009

"Google's Broken Hiring Process"

Ryan Tate of Silicon Valley Insider quotes Google's director of research Peter Norvig:

One of the interesting things we've found, when trying to predict how well somebody we've hired is going to perform when we evaluate them a year or two later, is one of the best indicators of success within the company was getting the worst possible score on one of your interviews. We rank people from one to four [one being the worst], and if you got a one on one of your interviews, that was a really good indicator of success.

Tate notes elsewhere in his piece that the Google interview process involves crazy questions. Tate doesn't connect the dots, but asking those sorts of questions in a job interview is essentially a way of giving a prospective employee a de facto IQ test (giving actual IQ tests to prospective employees has been legally problematic since Griggs v. Duke Power). Back to Googler Peter Norvig:

Ninety-nine percent of the people who got a one in one of their interviews we didn't hire. But the rest of them, in order for us to hire them somebody else had to be so passionate that they pounded on the table and said, "I have to hire this person because I see something in him..."

My guess at what's going on here: creativity probably increases directly with IQ up to a certain point, at which it peaks and then declines. So if you are looking for an employee who's going to come up with the next killer app or new line of business for your company, and you hire only the candidates with the highest IQs, you are probably overshooting the IQ sweet spot where you'd find the smart, creative types.


JK said...

I have a slightly different theory: Creative types are more likely to have ADHD or bipolar disorder (related issues). When you have ADHD, it is hard to concentrate on anything because your brain is thinking of a million things simultaneously, but when it does latch on to something, it concentrates on it to the point of obsession.

Tim Ferris mentioned that he was a special admit to Princeton because even though he had a low (relatively, I'm sure) SAT, they saw something in him and took a chance. Looks like it worked out. Dana White was a state school dropout who bumbled from job to job until he found his passion, then turned a bankrupt company into a billion dollar franchise. His financiers, the casino owner Fertitta brothers, said had they hired a Harvard M.B.A. to run the business, they would have failed. Instead they took a gamble on an underachieving gym manager. Dana White was never dumb, he just hadn't found his passion and opportunity.

My guess is that creative people have both high IQ's and ADHD/manic depression (same as bipolar), but their high IQ's are harder to identify as such because they are usually scatterbrained, moody, and do not make reliable test-takers.

JK said...

Moderation now?

DaveinHackensack said...

"Tim Ferris mentioned that he was a special admit to Princeton because even though he had a low (relatively, I'm sure) SAT, they saw something in him and took a chance."

Maybe they saw that he grew up in East Hampton and went to high school at St. Paul's, J.P. Morgan's alma mater.

DaveinHackensack said...

Bear with me with the moderation for now, if you don't mind. We can talk more about it offline.

JK said...

Ahhh, right. Forgot about the elite prep school. That's probably it then. It doesn't make as good of a story though.


O.K. I don't mind. It just suprised me, since you had expressed a strong commitment to no moderation earlier, in the midst of the epic Stockdocx/Wahl/Tickets wars. I haven't seen aggressive comments here in a while so it came as a bit of a suprise, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Could this be related to the Nerd Gap? People, males at least, with very high I.Q. scores are often greatly lacking in social skills. Or at least they're reputed to be that way, I don't know if the Nerd Gap has been statistically proven to exist. In any event, Google is the sort of place that attracts the best and brightest, so that the people who score highest on the interview test no doubt have very high I.Q. scores. Assuming once again that the Nerd Gap is the real deal, these highest scorers may have such deficient social skills that it affects their workplace performance. Lower scorers don't have this issue and may end up performing better.


DaveinHackensack said...

Moderation is back off now for new posts. I was just a little wary regarding the last post, since it was related to a business venture.

Eric said...

Search, mail, maps were a huge part of the internets provided by multiple companies that had tons of resources available to them. Then Google came along and applied their super nerd algorithms that require insane IQs to understand and dominated. I mean it doesn't take much creativity to come up with the idea, "hey lets take webmail and do it better." Google just takes something common and applies braaaiinnnsss.

JK said...

You may have to turn moderation back on if word gets out that you're the guy responsible for all those short sellers in their flavor of the month POS stock. ;)

DaveinHackensack said...


I'm not sure being a nerd would be a liability as an engineer at Google -- wouldn't it be easier to work with other nerds?

DaveinHackensack said...

Those flavor of the month guys will be free to post their opinions of their stocks on Shortscreen's message boards -- or here, if they want to do that as well.

JK said...


Did Google become known for the strength of its search algorithms etc, before or after its IPO? I remember I always got the best search results with, but I started using google because of its clean appearance and also probably just because everyone was saying "Google" all the damn time. Nowadays it does seem to be the highest quality search out there, but I doubt that was always the case. Seems to me that it became a viral brand 1st and later used its cash to dominate in quality and expand.

JK said...

While researching this topic a bit, I discovered some scientific support for my (admittedly a bit self-serving) intuition linking creativity with mood disorders such as bipolarity. Interesting read.

DaveinHackensack said...


That link is broken.

JK said...

Sorry about that. Try this.

Nick Rowe said...

I submitted a couple of dozen applications to Google and never got a call-back once.

One position I applied for was Director of Leadership Development. At the time, I was the Director of Leadership Development for the R.O.T.C. program at the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D., 20 years of leadership experience and 14 years of teaching experience in higher education.

How much better qualified could a person be for that job?

Unless they were completely turned off by my military credentials, the process was irrational. The same position was still available a year later. Apparently they were in no hurry to hire someone to teach leadership.

I heard rumors that Google would post positions with NO INTENTION of hiring an American candidate. They were attempting to demonstrate that no qualified Americans could be found so they would be allowed to hire more foreigners at lower wages.

I have also heard that if you don't have near a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League school, you have no chance of getting past the first gate.

They were getting 1800 applications a day. I wouldn't be surprised if HR set arbitrary and capricious screening criteria. If their hiring process is irrational, it makes you wonder how good their search algorithm is. :)