At last week's Agile 2006 conference, I led a tutorial called “Hiring for an Agile Team.” I made a statement that some of the participants challenged:
Using puzzles and riddles discriminate against anyone who isn't a (middle-upper class) white American suburban male.
(I'd forgotten the middle-upper class part when I was leading the session.) So, what everyone wants to know is: Where is my data?
First, let me explain why I said this. (This post is a bit of a rant.)
- Girls, for example, do not have access or the alone time to spend doing books of puzzles and riddles. It is socially unacceptable for even the geekiest girl you know to do this. A girl who spends time pursuing puzzles and riddles for her own pleasure runs the colossal risk of being ostracized from all the other girls. Boys tend to discover puzzles and riddles during middle school and continue to pursue them through high school. Middle and high school for girls is much more about social ability and social connections.
- The people who can afford to buy the puzzle and riddle books (to practice them and become better at them) are middle-to-upper economic class.
- Puzzles and riddles appeal to a limited number of personality types–types frequently found in high-tech jobs. In particular, they appeal most often to NTs, especially INTJ and INTP types. (NTs are visionaries in Do Your Interview Questions Discriminate For or Against Your Needs?
So, the people who practice with puzzles and riddles are the people who have the disposable income, time, and social acceptability to do so. I don't know enough about middle class high school boys from other cultures, but I see this all the time in the US.
If you'd like to see some other information, take a look at How Would You Move Mount Fuji?. There are some hints at the articles at Career Resource Center but no reference. I also wrote Brainteaser Interviews Showcase Lack of Interviewer Skill, not Candidate Expertise. And, take a look at Brainteasers Inappropriate for Job Interviews by John Kador, who literally wrote the book.
So, have I convinced you yet? Maybe not. Maybe you still think you need a way to know if this candidate is smart enough for you, or you don't feel competent to start a conversation with something like a puzzle or a riddle to dissect.
If you need to know whether a person is smart enough, use behavior-description questions and auditions. Don't be afraid to ask the “What did you learn from that experience” question as a follow up from your behavior-description questions. If you need people who are smarter than the people we normally have in our field, use the job analysis to understand why. (I bet you don't, but that's another rant.)
If you need a conversation starter, I have some ideas on building rapport already in this blog, but I'll write another piece about building rapport. Tongue-in-cheek: Really, if you'd been socializing in high school instead of using puzzles and riddles to avoid social interactions, you might already know how to do this.
Joel discusses ways to really interview in The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing and he discusses auditions in The Perils of JavaSchools. So, if you're looking for real discrimination data, sorry, I don't have it. I only have my common sense.
Remember, the goal of an interview is to evaluate how well a candidate will do at work, specifically in your workplace. Puzzles and riddles may evaluate a certain kind of personality, and possibly even raw IQ. But they won't tell you how well a candidate can work with your group or on your products. And that's the point of an interview.