Book Author: William Poundstone
Book Review by : Anil Kumar
Faculty, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)
figsaw puzzles, riddles, puzzles, Microsoft, employer-mandated IQ tests, Law firms, banks, consulting firms, insurance firms, airlines, media, advertising, armed forces
It was 1957, William Shockley, the inventor of transistor, was hiring staff for his Palo Alto, California, start-up, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. That day's interview was of Jim Gibbons, a Stanford Ph.D. The first question posed was: There's a tennis match. One hundred twenty seven players are participating in the match. There are one hundred twenty-six people paired off in sixty-three matches, plus one unpaired player as a bye. In the next round, sixty-four players remain, and thirty two matches are held. Then how many matches, will it take to determine a winner?
A hirer of high-technology company expects hiree to be able to question assumptions and see things from new dimensions. Puzzles and riddles, as argued, test this ability. However, in the recent years this chasm between old economy and new economy is increasingly getting narrowed. The uncertainties of high tech economy can be found in old economy based industries as well. Ever-shifting marketplace is behind all these shifts in the corporate and professional world. This world is now adopting the “nerd” style interviewing that was the obsession of lean, hungry technology companies. Fortune 500 companies are preferring Puzzle -laden job interviews. Law firms, banks, consulting firms, insurance firms, airlines, media, advertising, and even armed forces are increasingly looking towards Puzzles as solutions to their hiring problems. Whether one likes it or not, puzzles and riddles are a significant development in hiring.
Microsoft's “not exactly fair” questions are not entirely new. Microsoft uses puzzles in its hiring to conform to the digital generation mythos-of maverick independence and suspicion of established hierarchies. Microsoft touts puzzles as “egalitarian”. It tries to impress by saying that puzzles make the background and lineage (academic) irrelevant by stressing only candidate's logic, imagination, and problem-solving ability.
Microsoft played a catalyst role in the change of interview process. A closer look will show that this influence is due to shift in priorities in majority of industries. This shift was necessitated primarily by increasing costs of bad hires. It was not long back, when a corporate job interview was just a conversation, in which, the applicant elaborated on his past achievements and future goals. The interviewer just had to bother about whether these goals will fit or not with those of company. In many companies, this type of low-pressure interviews are no longer used.