At the end of this article I am providing a free sample of a structured behavioral question with a sample scoring guide. These tools were developed after we completed a full job analysis for a school district for the job classification of certified teacher. We recommend that schools who are interested in improving their selection practices for teachers use the samples as a guideline only. Actual interview questions and procedures should be developed only after a job analysis for the job classification has been completed per the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.
Should school district hiring practices for teachers be as effective as Google’s hiring process for engineers? Actually, until about five years ago, it is likely that a school district with mediocre hiring practices was more reliable than Google’s. Don’t believe me, read on.
The name “Google” is associated with a commitment to developing methods that provide users better results. While this is true with internet search, it has not always been true of their employee hiring practices. Google’s very public mistakes and corrections in employee selection practices provide road maps for school districts that are truly committed to establishing hiring practices that are valid, fair, legally defensible, and enable school districts to make reliable judgements regarding the potential effectiveness of job candidates.
Abandon School District Hiring Practices that Model Google’s Old Hiring Practices
Google is best known for their innovation in internet search. In the last decade Google has become a technology firm that engineers line up to become a part of. The public as well as shareholders wait to see what new direction Google will take us in a rapidly changing online environment. This wasn’t always the case. Nearly a decade ago Google was infamous for their hiring practices. Some of the best and brightest engineers available avoided even interviewing with Google due to their reputation for poor employee selection practices. Google lost out on talent that wound up working for competitors or began their own startups that Google either had to compete with or buy out. Frustration towards Google and their absurd hiring practices was so great entire message boards existed where applicants shared their negative experiences. (Ironically you have to search Google for a bit to try to find them).
This leads to question #1: How does a company as well-funded and intelligent as Google fail so miserably at the most important factor in improving the organization, that is identifying and selecting the most talented individuals for open positions?
Fortunately for Google that was the past. Today Google’s hiring practices are applauded by those within the tech industry and have been highlighted by popular technology industry magazines like Wired. Google’s new approach to hiring talent has resulted in the selection of employees who fit very well in the roles they were selected to fill and even those who interview for open positions, but were not hired, feel the Google’s selection process was fair and have a better understanding of what they can do to improve their skill set for future opportunities.
This leads to question #2: How did Google turn around its hiring practices that have caused them to become the envy of the tech community both in innovation and talent, and is there a lesson some school districts can learn from Google’s past mistakes and turnaround efforts?
How Do Smart Organizations Create or Continue Bad Hiring Practices?
The goal of teacher selection practices should be to develop processes to identify the most qualified applicants for the position. Effective selection processes should not depend HR “experts” who have a knack for identifying talent and asking “tough” interview questions. Instead, organizations should develop employee selection processes based on valid research. Processes that can be validated, measured, and continuously improved over time.
Google’s early attempts at selecting employees failed to achieve this standard, and frankly so do many school districts. At one time Google allowed software engineers to develop their own questions. These questions could be random and were thought to be job related based on the opinion of the employee who wrote the questions. They were questions like, “How many golf balls would fit inside a 747?” or “Estimate how many gas stations there are in Manhattan.”
When Google’s current Vice President of People Operations reflected on these types of unstructured questions he commented, “[They] rely on some trivial bit of information or insight that is withheld from the candidate, and serve primarily to make the interviewer feel clever and self-satisfied. They have little if any ability to predict how candidates will perform in a job.”
The last sentence addressed the root of Google’s poor hiring practices- the inability to predict how a candidate will perform on a job in a valid and reliable way. The viral outcry from frustrated applicants and multiple public failings of software projects finally led to the realization of employee selection shortcomings and was also the beginning of Google’s employee selection turnaround efforts.
Now compare Google’s past selection practices to current school district hiring practices. Are your hiring practices structured to provide valid and reliable inferences regarding employee performance or are they based on a series of interview questions that provide little ability to predict performance on job related tasks? Do your school district hiring practices have the ability to be validated and improved over time? If the answer is no then it may be time to consider improving your school district hiring practices.
How Did Google’s Broken Hiring Practices become a Model for School Districts to Follow?
Structure, validity, reliability, and rubrics. Does this sound familiar? These are the key elements of developing quality unit assessments for students. Not surprisingly they are the same elements that Google now demands of all hiring processes.
Google has abandoned employee selection procedures that rely solely on interviews with nonsensical questions that are unvalidated attempts to measure knowledge. They no longer use questions that do nothing to measure or compare candidates’ job ability like, “Tell me about your greatest weakness/strength.”
Today, Google uses a series of “hurdles” that are all job related and measurable with anchored scoring guides (very similar to scoring guides used to grade essays). Google uses structured “behavioral” interview questions that are based on job related tasks or abilities; work samples (again with scoring guides); situational performance exercises; personality assessments that measure personality traits related to job performance (these are psychometrically developed, not based on assumptions); and measures of cognitive ability (again, psychometrically developed).
Before you say, “Well, that’s sounds great, but school districts could never afford something like that.” I would argue that’s not true for two reasons.
1. Yes you can. We recently developed selection processes for a budget conscious small school district in Pennsylvania that is very similar to the approach that Google uses. The superintendent and board of education understood the need to develop selection processes that were perceived as fair and legally defensible. The superintendent has actually written a series of newsletters that profile our work with their district if you are interested in understanding more about the challenges they faced and the recommendations we provided (see letters 273-275). I’m working on our next newsletter article that focuses on addressing perceptions of fairness in school district hiring practices. I have the permission from the district superintendent to discuss their efforts in more detail to further discuss the impact school district hiring practices can have on school climate.
2. School districts cannot afford not to hire right. Think about all the items within a district budget. Salaries for employees are likely the largest slice of the pie. When we were first contacted by the district superintendent cited above he accurately stated, “Hiring the right people is the most important thing we do and we want to do it right.”
The people who are responsible for educating and supporting the operations of educating students are central to everything else that happens in a school district. Todd Whitaker, renowned education thought leader, has a mantra, “It’s people, not programs.” As Google realized, hiring the right people and using valid and reliable methods to identify the best possible candidates is the most critical factor to the success of an organization regardless if the organization is a school district or the most popular internet company in the world.
Concluding Thoughts on School District Hiring Practices that Model Google’s
Google didn’t unlock secrets related to hiring or develop revolutionary human resource practices.
Laszlo Bock, Google’s VP of People Operations (Human Resources), recently wrote a book titled, Work Rules. He discusses how the current methods they now use are based on decades of research within industrial and organizational psychology (a field related to strategic human resource tools and research). Google’s turnaround in hiring didn’t result in profound discoveries, it resulted in deliberate efforts to apply empirically proven research based hiring practices to organizational human resource practices.
Laszlo was quick to point out the turnaround in hiring practices was not seamless and was met with resistance by managers within Google. In an interview with Wired magazine Laszlo discussed the departure from unvalidated manager-created questions and selection practices driven primarily by unstructured interviews to new hiring methods that utilize multiple hurdles. Laszlo commented, “Managers hated the idea that they can’t hire their own people. Interviewers can’t stand being told that they have to follow a certain format for the interview or for their feedback.” Laszlo went on to say, “People will disagree with data if it runs counter to their intuition and argue that the quality bar doesn’t need to be so high for every job. Do not give in to the pressure. Fight for quality.”
I can’t add much to Laszlo’s final statement. During this time of year as districts are considering open positions for the coming school year fight for quality. Look closely at school district hiring practices and fight for quality. Fight for quality in the people who are hired to educate and support the educational efforts of students in your school district.
Download a Free Sample of a Structured Interview and Sample Scoring Guide
If you are considering redesigning your school district hiring practices and would like to receive a free sample of a structured interview question along with a sample scoring guide, click the download button below.