Tag Archives: cognitive aptitude

The Secret to Google’s Hiring Revealed: Cognitive Ability

Last summer we reacted to an interview with Laszlo Bock at Google who seemed to say that tests scores and grades were useless predictors for hiring decisions. We said that what constitutes information for hiring purposes at Google may well differ from what constitutes information for hiring elsewhere, and we pointed out that validating a selection tool after it has been used, and only for those who were selected will typically yield lower estimates of the usefulness of that tool.

This week, in a widely read New York Times column, we get a more elaborated answer about Google’s hiring goals. What do they look for? Number 1, says Mr. Bock, is cognitive ability. Although Bock is quick to distinguish this from IQ — he sees it as demonstrating an ability to learn quickly — the fluid intelligence he’s trying to evaluate likely correlates well with traditional clinical, academic, and business oriented measures of cognitive ability. Bock is also looking for leadership and a sense of responsibility.

In short, Google is largely looking for the same things that organizational psychologists have been telling us for decades predict job performance — cognitive ability and personality. Measures of conscientiousness are often the second best predictor of job success (after cognitive ability). Other preferred aspects of personality will depend on the nature of the work and the workplace.

For any given selection process, those making decisions want predictive information. What constitutes predictive information will vary from setting to setting. For a company like Google, the composition of the applicant pool and the nature of the workplace might mean that certain traditional sources of information are less useful, and Google has the resources to invent a new, tailored interview process to gather new information. However, the underlying constructs they are looking at — cognitive ability and conscientiousness — are ones that pre-employment assessments have been highlighting for some time. Every organization must also deal with its own costs — what are the consequences of hiring the wrong person? What are the consequences of failing to hire a qualified person? We mostly think about the cost of hiring the wrong person (false positives), but there is also a cost to missing a diamond. Facebook paid $19 billion to buy what Brian Acton built (WhatsApp) 4 years after they didn’t hire him.
But even if they go about it differently, all companies are trying to maximize the information they have about the cognitive ability and character of the people they hire.

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Train Your Brain to Boost IQ?

Today’s blog post is by Eric Loken, Criteria’s Chief Research Scientist and a member of Criteria’s Scientific Advisory Board. Eric plays a leading role in the development of Criteria’s employment tests.

Last week there was an article in the New York Times that described a study finding that intelligence might not be the constant, innate quality that it is usually assumed to be. Researchers at Michigan showed that when a group of participants practiced a challenging cognitive task for two to three weeks, they scored better on a standardized measure of intelligence.

At first this sounds like the kind of obvious effect that commercial test preparation companies pass off as a marketable service. It’s well known that if you take a group of students and give them practice SATs over and over again, their scores will go up slightly, even if they haven’t paid $1,000 for the privilege of practicing.

But the Michigan study is different because they showed something called transfer. The participants in the study started by taking a matrices pattern test, supposed to be a culture-free intelligence test where success doesn’t depend on the kind of skills and knowledge developed in school. Then they trained on a difficult attention and working memory task called the n-back test (Criteria’s MRAB aptitude test contains a very similar task). The participants in the training group were pushed 20 minutes a day for up to 19 days to get better on this task, and they did. (Now the control group during this time was basically doing nothing which is a bit of a flaw in the experiment, but we’ll let that go for now.)

The point of the study is that the matrices intelligence test is a different task from the one the group was training on, and yet the training transferred over to yield improved performance. This study caught our attention for a few reasons. First, the control group showed improvement in their matrices test scores (despite just sitting around). In general, people don’t perform at their best the first time they take a test, and they will improve the second time around just because of practice or familiarity. This is something to keep in mind with employee testing — if for whatever reason you have to give a candidate a test for a second time, even if you use a different form of the test you shouldn’t be surprised to see a mild improvement over the first score (this is sometimes called the “practice effect.”)

But the most important finding of the study is that the group who practiced the memory task improved their scores by a wider margin. It’s interesting to think about what the study says about the effects of the workplace on intelligence. Employers are obviously looking for intelligent employees who will have a positive impact on their organization. Employers should also keep in mind that the workplace environment will impact the intelligence of the employees. We’re not sure it would serve the interests of productivity to set aside 20 minutes a day for “cognitive training” (although similar proposals exist in the interests of maintaining employee health and thus reducing healthcare costs). But it is worth remembering that a challenging work environment will likely keep skills and minds sharp.

This study is the latest in the age-old debate over “brain plasticity” and the extent to which our mental ability is fixed. We’ll probably have more discussion on this topic as we keep track of which way the pendulum is swinging.

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