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Google is one of the most desirable companies to work for on the planet. To find out how to get a job at Google, I spoke with William Poundstone, who is the author of Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?. He is the author of twelve books, including How Would You Move Mount Fuji? and Fortune’s Formula, which was Amazon Editors’ pick for the #1 nonfiction book of the year in 2005. He has written for the New York Times, Harper’s, Harvard Business Review, and the Village Voice, among other publications.
In this interview, he talks about the hardest question that they ask you, how to survive each of the five interviews, and much more.
What is the single hardest question they ask you when interviewing at Google? “What number comes next in this sequence: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66…? ” Move up http://i. forbesimg. com tMove down What Employers Are Thinking When They Look At Your Facebook Page Kashmir HillKashmir HillForbes Staff The Companies That Give The Toughest Job Interviews Jacquelyn SmithJacquelyn SmithForbes Staff The Best Companies To Work For Jacquelyn SmithJacquelyn SmithForbes Staff This question is hard because you either see the “trick” or you don’t. Nothing you learned in school is likely to help.
Try spelling out the numbers—you’ll see that they are in order of the number of letters in the word. “Sixty-six” has eight letters, so the next number must have nine. One possible answer is “ninety-six. ” How many rounds of interviews do you have to go through and how many people survive each round? Google applicants have about five interviews. The company’s human resources people have given a lot of thought to that number. They believe in the “wisdom of crowds,” so they want multiple opinions of each applicant. But they’re done research and found little or no marginal value after five interviews.
Normally every applicant goes through all five rounds. The only exceptions are the rare cases where a candidate is clearly unsuitable after the first couple of interviews. What kind of intelligence do you need to solve the many puzzles they give you during interviews? They want many types of intelligence. Google’s interviewers try to design questions that test (1) whether you know your field of expertise; (2) whether you can apply what you know in an unfamiliar context; and (3) whether you can make “creative” leaps to arrive at a solution.
Their best questions operate on all these levels. How do you go about getting a leg up on the competition? It’s not just about getting a “right answer. ” They’re interested in your thought process, and your whole explanation counts. Because these are difficult questions, the first answer or approach that pops into your head is almost always wrong. That provides a way to get a running start on your answer: Explain to the interviewer how this “obvious” approach fails. You’re expected to brainstorm various approaches, but make sure you tie it all together at the end.
The last thing a technology company wants is someone who never brings a project to completion! Who shouldn’t apply for jobs at Google? Why? Google is very clear about who it wants: extremely bright extroverts. The company is founded on intensive collaboration. This is reflected even in the office layout, with only a handful of private offices. (When employees feel an occasional need for privacy, they seek out an empty conference room. ) The stereotypical engineer—someone who works best alone and hates distractions—is probably not a good fit.