How to discover the best people?

The New York Times published an article Google Answer to Filling Jobs Is an Algorithm (also available here). The article describes new algorithmic approaches for people selection adopted by Google.

It is starting to ask job applicants to fill out an elaborate online survey that explores their attitudes, behavior, personality and biographical details going back to high school.

The questions range from the age when applicants first got excited about computers to whether they have ever tutored or ever established a nonprofit organization.

The answers are fed into a series of formulas created by Google’s mathematicians that calculate a score — from zero to 100 — meant to predict how well a person will fit into its chaotic and competitive culture.

I didn’t apply for Google employment, but had some experience with their methods of people selection last summer. Google uses a proactive approach to hiring. In particular they actively contact new Ph.D.s and invite them to participate in phone interviews. Google recruiters found my resume on the web and I was suggested and agreed to participate in three phone interviews. Google phone interviews were about 30 minutes each. There were sessions of multiple choice questions and problem solving session in which I was asked to program an algorithmic solution on a piece of paper and dictate the result back to the interviewer. I found that recruiting techniques were not a strong area of Google and approaches were far from innovative. I was puzzled how a company like Google can’t create a simple web application to administer those multiple choice questions or outsource the whole thing to a company that does it better (e.g. Brainbench). Now I see that Google begins to entertain the same thoughts and maybe something will be changing:

“As we get bigger, we find it harder and harder to find enough people,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations. “With traditional hiring methods, we were worried we will overlook some of the best candidates.”

Last month, Haochi Chen and Christian Binderskagnaes ( discovered Google Online Assessments that might be a new Google tool to assess people’s skills: “The purpose of this website is still something of a secret, but it’s going to be great, whatever it is.”

We will see how great a new Google algorithmic approach for skill assessment will be. I think they definitely will be more efficient this way saving time of their employees and phone bills. But can they also be more effective? I don’t know the answer to this quesiton. Multiple choice questions still have fundamental limitation: they don’t allow participants to manifest their creativity because they don’t provide a space for any creative solution. They only test ability of judgement.

Another point is well taken by this reddit review

You are creating a society within a society where you weed out undesirables using a simple algorithm. The problem is … whether creativity and innovation can rise out of homogeneity, even the type of homogeneity that Google is practicing.

Human innovation has evolutionary dynamics, cycles of change and selection. My research suggests that innovation and creativity are manifestations of the underlying evolutionary process. In this case, the diversity is crucial as it is one of the main prerequisites for evolution. This is also supported by results of experimental research suggesting that diverse teams of ordinary individuals outperform homogeneous teams of elite individuals (Hong, 2004). So, from evolutionary point of view the loss of diversity is quite dangerous. Google shares this problem with many top Universities.

From the other point of view (my research in social synthesis), diversity is just one way to increase chances to achieve complementarity of resources needed for synergetic exchange. For example, if backgrounds of two people are too similar, they can have little misunderstandings, but don’t have much chance to benefit from mutual learning. On the other hand, if their interests are complementary, they have a great opportunity to learn from each other if they will be able to overcome misunderstandings.

See also my previous post suggesting another way for employee selection that allows to identify creative solutions and people.


Lu Hong and Scott E. Page (2004) Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(46), 16385-16389 [link]

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