Google’s Ban on Bad Interview Questions Is a Lesson for Every Organization

How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?  No, it’s not the set up for a bad joke. It’s actually one of the interview questions on the now famous “15 Google Interview Questions that will make you feel stupidlist. A bunch of goofy brain teasers that Google has now banned their interviewers from using because the questions are “silly.”

Certainly, this is good news if you’re looking to interview at Google. But the real takeaway here is a critical exercise that every organization needs to conduct. And that’s asking “How silly, bad or ineffective are our current hiring questions and what questions should we be asking instead?”  Great organizations like Google know that extraordinary success isn’t just about coming up with the newest and greatest products. Greatness is also the result of not being afraid to challenge the way things “have always been done’’ and initiating change when processes, practices and techniques no longer serve. Just like Google did with their bad interview questions.

Great interview questions differentiate high and low performers

The fundamental test of a great interview question is whether or not it differentiates high and low performers. Pseudo-psychological questions like “how many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” may be fun to ask, but unless you’ve got strong scientific evidence to correlate the answers you get with real-life work behaviors (like folks who answer “500,000 golf balls” are guaranteed high performers while those who say “100,000” are doomed to low performance) these types of interview questions are as Google says, silly, and they absolutely fail the test.

Plenty of other commonly asked interview questions also fail the test. For example: “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your weaknesses?” Both of these questions enthusiastically invite candidates to give carefully rehearsed answers (most candidates come to the interview with a stack of canned answers they hope to use). That’s why you hear responses like: “I work too hard” or “I care too much” or “I have a perfectionist streak.”  Maybe these questions would have some value if candidates fessed up and said instead: “I have a violent temper and I stalked my last boss,” or “I hate people, and I can’t stand taking orders?” But when’s the last time that happened?

Another big fail are behavioral questions that lose effectiveness due to wording. For example “Tell me about a conflict with a co-worker and how you resolved it?” This question is fine up until the leading phrase “…and how you resolved it?” which signals the candidate to skip over any mention of all the times they failed to resolve conflicts with coworkers. What if they resolved a conflict one time, but failed to resolve it 500 times?  Isn’t that important low and high performer hiring information that you want to have?

The list of bad questions goes on and on, and I’ll be covering a lot more of them in our upcoming live webinar Hiring for Attitude. But eliminating ineffective interview questions is just the start to moving your organization’s hiring approach to the cutting edge. You still need to replace your bad questions with great questions that provide accurate performance differentiation. Leadership IQ studies show that attitude is the number one predictor of new hire success, and we’ve even narrowed it down to the top four attitudinal failings of new hires: coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament. But the attitudes for which organizations should hire are not abstract or based on a theoretical ideal.

Every company has to discover the attitudes that make their organization unique and special and then build attitude-based, open-ended questions that encourage candidates to reveal the truth about their attitude. At Leadership IQ we call them “Brown Shorts” questions, and you can check out our free Hiring for Attitude whitepaper to start creating your organization’s Brown Shorts questions today.

But it doesn’t stop there, because just as we saw in the “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” question, unless you know how to accurately evaluate the responses you get to a question, even the best questions become ineffective. That’s why Leadership IQ teaches hiring managers to create Answer Guidelines, an answer key to interview questions that allows interviewers to accurately and consistently score candidates’ responses.

If your organization isn’t afraid to reach for bigger and better, join us for our webinar Hiring for Attitude and learn to recruit for attitude, interview for attitude, hire for attitude, and to teach attitude to the folks you’ve already got on board.


Mark Murphy is the New York Times Bestselling author and Founder of Leadership IQ.

Click here to see Mark’s upcoming webinars.

Mark leads one of the world’s largest leadership training and employee engagement studies, and his work has appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post. Mark has also been a featured guest on programs including CBS News Sunday Morning, ABC’s 20/20, Fox Business News and NPR.

Mark’s leadership training and employee engagement surveys have yielded remarkable results for organizations such as Harvard Business School, Aflac, Charles Schwab, Microsoft, IBM, MasterCard, Merck, MD Anderson Cancer Center, FirstEnergy, Volkswagen and Johns Hopkins.

Mark’s best-selling books included Hiring for Attitude, Hundred Percenters, and HARD Goals.

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