As the story goes, Google built one of the most talented workforces in the world in part by challenging potential hires with screwy questions like "A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?" But it turns out Google's famous brainteasers were less about testing minds and more about stroking egos.
"On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time," Laszlo Bock, Google's senior vice president of people operations, admitted to The New York Times in a recent interview. "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."
Google has reportedly phased out curveball questions over the years, and there's research to back up Bock's assertion that they aren't useful. In a 2012 research paper, psychology professor Chris Wright explained that questions like "How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?" are not only a waste of time, but they also discourage qualified candidates from further pursuing these jobs, Time reports.
Rather than asking these puzzling questions, the better strategy is to create "structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people," Bock tells The New York Times. Instead of letting each interviewer make up his or her own questions on the fly or asking candidates how many times a day a clock’s hands overlap, asking a predetermined list of behavior-based questions, like “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem,” works best.
The practice of asking interviewees these puzzlers was pioneered by Microsoft in the late 90's and has since spread through Silicon Valley. Such questions have supposedly been used by Apple, IBM and Facebook, too.