Grades, Resumes, Interviews Don’t Predict Job Success

The traditional tools used by hiring managers to find employees don't work.

job-interview

The traditional tools used by hiring managers to find employees don’t work.

Business Insider (“Google HR Boss Explains Why GPA And Most Interviews Are Useless“):

In an interview with The New York Times’ Adam Bryant, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains that some of the biggest stalwarts of the hiring and recruiting world, the interview, GPA, and test scores, aren’t nearly as important as people think.

Google doesn’t even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone’s a year or two out of school, because they don’t correlate at all with success at the company. Even for new grads, the correlation is slight, the company has found.

[…]

As for interviews, many managers, recruiters, and HR staffers think they have a special ability to sniff out talent. They’re wrong.

“Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring,” Bock says. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship.”

Google also used to be famous for posing impossibly difficult and punishing brain teasers during interviews. Things like “If the probability of observing a car in 30 minutes on a highway is 0.95, what is the probability of observing a car in 10 minutes (assuming constant default probability)?”

Turns out those questions are”a complete waste of time,” according to Bock. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

Grades tell you how well people performed in school. Interviews tell you how likable someone is under artificial circumstances. Tricky questions judge the ability to think quickly under pressure. They’re all somewhat useful data points. But day in, day out performance in a work environment is simply different.

So, what does work?

[S]tructured 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.

This makes some sense, although it still strikes me as a test of BSing through and interview rather than real-life skills.

I doubt we’ll see any real change in hiring practices resulting from these studies, though. “We’ve always done it this way” is a pretty powerful bit of inertia to overcome, especially if the company is successful.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    I have the most success hiring good candidates, honestly, by being very informal, honest and direct. I am completely open to seeing where the conversation goes. By being willing to ask lots of follow up questions and even allow things to go down a rat hole I learn if a candidate can stay on point, own the room, or just take a bunch of rope and hang themselves. This technique is not scalable or repeatable at all, so HR probably hates it – but it has been pretty successful.

  2. CSK says:

    In academe, what it generally boils down to is: “Do we want to have lunch in the faculty club with this person for the next thirty years?”

  3. rodney dill says:

    I was given training on doing behavioral interviews pre-2001. It has some advantages. As candidates are asked to give examples of types of behavior (project success, on time, dealing with difficult individuals or customers) Details such as dates, project names, team member names, customer names… tend to corroborate the information as such details are hard for a candidate to manufacture on the fly. Especially as most are not expecting behavioral interview techniques. I suspect some candidates will “learn” how to adjust to these techniques over time.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    James:

    This makes some sense, although it still strikes me as a test of BSing through and interview rather than real-life skills.

    BSing your way through an interview is a real-life skill and in many fields is probably a pretty good indicator of future success. Salesmanship is the key to success in most things that don’t require manual dexterity.

  5. Console says:

    The best way to hire for most jobs is to select as many applicants as you can at random, do a basic aptitude screen and give them a year of probation on the job… then keep the best candidate. Expensive and time consuming but the reality is that a good worker is an exception to the rule. Most people are… well, average.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: Fair point.

  7. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @rodney dill: Depends on the line of work I would guess. For all of the accounting-related work I’ve done, my answers to those questions end up being “Well, this one time… oh, wait, that’s confidential…. okay, so, I was working on a project that.. nope, there’s litigation in progress on that one. Oh, I got it! this one team… crap, that’s covered by an NDA…”

  8. al-Ameda says:

    It all matters, however all of this is fraught with imprecision and uncertainty.

    I’ve been involved in hiring groups many times over the past 25 years and in evaluating job qualifications my experience is that grades – even with very young applicants – are generally not considered unless that person is a finalist and references are being checked. Actually, employers generally care more about the college or university that the applicant attended than about specific grades. The resume shows an employer how well the applicant can present, in writing, their employment experience and skill set. The interview shows you how well the applicant presents themselves – their appearance, their speech, eye contact, etc.

    For the most part, an evaluation of those factors should usually lead to a selection of a potentially good employee. I’ve done generally well in my evaluations of applicants, but I sure do remember those times where I missed the mark and recommended the hiring of an applicant who was not a good employee..

  9. john personna says:

    Google is in a special situation, with the brightest of the bright applying, and needing a special system to sort them from the chaff. They don’t merely want a near-genius, they want a near-genius with the right work and work-social skills.

    In their particular domain, I learned an interesting thing this week. I’m taking “Startup Engineering” at Coursera, as a survey of current tools and methods. One early surprise came when the instructor said “your github account is your most important CV in the valley”.

    What they’re doing there is looking past your claims and directly into your past projects.

    If you think that programmers themselves “pilot” things that might be more general later, then you might think that people in other domain will be exposing people directly to their past work. I don’t totally get that myself, being an old guy with a brand new github account.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: While it’s not exactly the same thing, most of my work product over the last decade is available online. In addition to this blog, of course, I’ve published well over a hundred external articles, which I’ve conveniently posted for anyone to see. But prospective employers still want college transcripts going back almost 30 years.

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @James Joyner: Oh, yes, the transcripts… I have been conducting a job hunt since the fall, trying to move into full time teaching (either as a Lecturer at a 4-year or tenure-track at a community college). There’s one institution that is very interested in bringing me in for a campus visit, but before they can even schedule it, HR requires them to have three hard-copy, original recommendation letters, and official transcripts from *everywhere,* including the college I went to for my just my freshman year.

    I competely understand why they want to see the official transcripts for graduate degree(s) in your teaching area(s), and any other graduate work you want factored into the pay scale. I can sort of see the bachelors degree institution. But beyond that, it is ridiculous. Do they really think that any four-year school with regional accredidation is going to risk granting a BA or BS without doing a full evaluation of transfer credit?

  12. fred says:

    Concur. That is why the first black POTUS must take concrete and visible steps to improve members of his own race during his presidency. So far, black citizens have fared the worst of all races under this Presidency. Can you imagine how Pres Obama will be listed in history if after his two terms black people are worse off than when he took office?. That prediction holds true right now. Michelle should be prodding him every day to take some action that addresses black unemployment and NOW. Blacks are people too and need jobs and self-esteem and worth.

  13. rodney dill says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: In most cases I think you can get the level of detail needed (to ascertain skills and veracity) without requiring someone to violate confidentiality, but confidentiality issues could still be a hamper to the process, and for some types of jobs moreso than others.

  14. john personna says:

    In tech jobs there are a lot of people [who] will interview competitors and then ask simple questions like “so what [have] you been doing lately?”

    If the applying engineer decides to spill their guts no one stops them, though that probably cuts down on the chance of a job offer.

    What you (or at least I) want is someone who can intelligently describe their work without violating confidences.

  15. john personna says:

    (It’s classic game theory.)

  16. Tyrell says:

    A friend of mine who was an electrical contract said that he would tell prospective employees that just because someone has a fishing license does not mean that he is going to bring home a load of bass.

  17. fred says:

    GOP and TP supporters only believe in the good old boy network and look out for each other no matter what their qualifications and competence. Just take a look at the GOP congress and representatives who were paid for by big business and now only pay back their patronage no matter how it hurts our country. A great example is the immigration reforms being considered and their obstructions. Big business and people like Romney want to keep the underground slavery of Hispanics and other undocumented immigrants in place so that they only get minimum pay and are abused without any recourse to the legal remedies. That is what GOP and TP actions are about..not the good of the country. Pres Obama has extraordinary powers as the President and most powerful man on earth. It is time he uses his power to do what is right for our country and by pass many of the obstructions of GOP and TP radicals and anti-Americans who are only pro-business and see corporations as we the people.