In mythology, the Sphinx guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and asked a riddle of travelers to allow them passage. A few years ago, Google did the same thing of its job candidates. The reasoning behind the latter was that the questions allowed the interviewer to see how the job candidate thought.
I'm happy to say that Google has rethought that strategy. According to Laszlo Bock, Google's Senior VP of People Operations, "We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time." I'm happy because A) it's very seldom with a monolithic company like Google issues a mea culpa, and B) I'm a big fan of common sense.
It's not that I have a problem with questions that demonstrate a job candidate's strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, it's just that a question like "How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?" is not one of them. There are lots of ways-for example, present a sample WORK-RELATED scenario-where you can discern someone's thinking style or pattern.
If you're hiring someone who will assist in tech rollouts, ask what would be the first thing he or she would do when customizing a new cms for the end-users of a company. (If the answer is, Get acquainted with the cms that is currently being used, move that person to the front of the line.)
I have to admit it all got me wondering as to how Google came to the conclusion they did. Did they end up with a bunch of people who knew how many golf balls would fit into a phone booth but didn't know how to program? It's sadder still to think about the potentially great people who got turned down because they didn't care how many golf balls would fit into a phone booth.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.