Tricky job interview questions
Google takes the cake for tricky questions used to qualify job applicants. Thank goodness this link also shows the answers, or I'd go totally nuts. Would you ever as a boss use test questions like these, or have you ever had to answer test questions like these, live, under pressure?
as a boss, I ask few questions. I either dig their reel or I don't then I either like them or I don't. I don't play with em for my amusement either way.
As a potential employee, I always asked more questions than I answered. I looked at it as I was interviewing them to see if I wanted to work there or not. I assumed they wanted me to work there or I'd not be asked in to talk with em.
I saw questions as a power play and I always took those as an invitation to split. In most cases, if I wanted head games, I could have just stayed at the job I was trying to leave when interviewing.
my brain just melted
In my first ever interview, for a internship at an ABC affiliate, the HR person's first question was "So Mike, what do you want to do with your life?" I was 19 at the time, and my brain turned to applesauce at that point. Luckily the actual hiring decision rested with the newscast producer, who liked me and asked me relevant questions.
I suppose working at Google entails such outlandish thinking and there are so many applicants they have come up with a fun way to divide and conquer. But seriously, ask relevant questions in an interview.
Trying to answer those questions made me think I needed to be fitted for an indoor styrofoam bike helmet. Some folks tell me these questions are not really asked by Google, others say something like them is used to gauge how the applicants think creatively and problem-solve on the fly.
My last job interview was over the phone for the first part: my prospective boss called me up and said the cover letter was so entertaining, he HAD to see if I was for real. He told me they'd had a lot of posers try to fake their way in recently, and asked if I could answer some general TV tech questions to make sure I wasn't another unskilled hack. He threw some time code math at me, asked a linear tape editing problem that I answered three ways, and a lighting problem that I answered three ways, the final part of that was "but really, you solve that particular lighting problem in the script by re-writing, before you go out, because a pencil and paper costs way less than a pair of HMI lights"
"............How soon can you get down here?" He replied.
He never looked at my reel, which only had some school stuff, a cable talk show I produced, and a multicam edit dance recital; we didn't play it until like a year later, and my work had so eclipsed most of what was on that reel that I was embarrassed by it by then.
[Mark Suszko] "a lighting problem that I answered three ways, the final part of that was "but really, you solve that particular lighting problem in the script by re-writing, before you go out, because a pencil and paper costs way less"
Perfect example of the value of the Google questions, and the head-slapping simplicity of the answers. Resumes, reels and genius are a dime a dozen. You can't bluff clear thinking. You either have it or you don't.
In Google's case, the questions HAVE to be kind of abstract, because none of the problems they need to solve existed when you were in school. They've already solved THOSE problems. And Google's idea of a good solution is one that's head-slappingly simple.
Not one of the questions had anything to do with higher mathematics, or science, or computers. They assume you know that stuff. Their questions are looking for the exact opposite. How much would you charge to wash every window in Seattle? "Ten bucks apiece" is a better answer than one that starts by counting windows. Here's how I'd summarize the goal that led to that question:
Job title: Product manager.
Job description: Find small answers to big problems.
My favorite was "explain a database your 8 year old nephew in 3 sentences." Databases are pretty complicated things. They can be almost anything, almost any size. Yet the answer in the article was only TWO sentences long. Can you describe your job that well, that succinctly, to anyone?
Job title: Product Manager.
Job description: Find short descriptions to accommodate infinite variations, in a way that a child can understand.
(Just for fun, compare these two web pages: Yahoo.com and Google.com. Meditate on these things.)
I also love the question, how many times per day do a clock's hands cross, for a product manager. Product management sounds kind of glamorous, like you get to be imaginative and play with the stuff you make. Maybe 5% of the time. The rest of the time, you need to pay attention to stupid stuff. If you don't have the wits about you to hear a question like this, then stand up and go to the whiteboard and start drawing it out, you really, truly have no prayer, and Google would be idiots to hire you.
Job title: Product manager.
Job description: Don't bluff. Don't be intimidated. Use a pencil if you have to.
The question about the shape of manhole covers - they're round so that they don't fall in the hole - was for Software Engineers! It wasn't a math question. Any engineer can do math.
Job title: Software engineer.
Job description: Solve problems that math can't.
That's the thing. Google gets hundreds of thousands of resumes for every job. Geniuses are a dime a dozen. How do you sort them? By getting people to do what you need them to do, on the spot, because that's how you're going to need them to do it. Right now. No preparation other than being able to think on your feet.
Finding questions like these, and finding people who enjoy GETTING questions like these, is how you go from zero to Google in ten years. Not math. Not science. Not computers.
Kind of the opposite. THAT's genius.
The bigger the problem, the smaller the solution. Do that, and write your own ticket.
I think in most of these tests, the test is wether they'll play that game or not. I can tell ya, the highest paid satff gig I ever landed, I showed up to the interview in a tiedyed t-shirt cuz I wanted no dress code discussions later on. Te only question I remeber em asking is "what kind of beer ya want?"
Ask a 19 year old that and not get a "I wanna party balls, make a shi-ton of sweet moolah and go woohoo every damn day" and there is no way you could hire em on the grounds of being a liar. What a dumb question to ask a kid. He'd only get the gig if he followed that with
"anything but sit in an office and ask dumb questions in a bad suit at the age of 40 comes to mind, man."
I'll contend that some of the best answers are even more obvious than Google's "right" answers.
For example... Why are manhole covers round?
Most of us probably came up with the "right" answer, "So they can't fall in the hole."
But I'll maintain that the real correct answer is... that manhole covers are round...well, because the manholes themselves are round. Duh :)
Probably too big of a smartass for the Google interview.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
X2, sir. I'd be all like
"did ya ask the sewer dude why the US chose NTSC over PAL?"
I sat here last night with my teenage daughters curiously reading the questions because I thought this would enlighten them as they are preparing to head to college in a year and 2 years and then out to the world at some point.
I got to thinking not really about the questions, but the job market itself and the methodology of interviewing. And Grin, as bold as he is, has the confidence in his abilities - and the skills to back it up. This is a big difference between a smarta** without the chops - thinking the world owes him something. I also remember my first job being told in my 1 year review "you're getting a $.50/hr raise. We're a stepping stone station and expect you to move on." They admitted they placed no value on the employees. And after the Enron stuff, it seems apparent to me that it's like a "we'll play nice together, but who's going to screw who first" kind of mentality between employees and employers.
With the glut of candidates available due to layoffs & closures everywhere, I think anybody who walks in should have the skills they say they do and Google is just cutting to the chase. Sure, they'll get around to the typical interview stuff and do their due diligence with references, but they want to know who you really are. This is way better than the psych tests most corp places put you through. It is a stupid game as Grin mentions, but potential employees better know how to navigate through it. Maybe candidates better brush up on the questions they ask at the interview to include some of this type of stuff specific to their business.
PS- if you are the web developer at businessinsider.com you probably don't have a chance of getting into google. That page has some of the worst navigation ever.
"You need to figure out the highest floor of a 100-story building an egg can be dropped without breaking."
They only asked where you can drop it from without breaking - not how far it could fall without breaking. You don't need to drop any eggs to get this answer - you can drop it from any floor without it breaking. Simply have someone catch it just below the point where you drop it. That could be on the 100th floor, or the roof, or any other floor you choose.
But if they really want to know how far it can fall without breaking, that's easy too... You can drop it from the roof and it won't break until it falls the full 100 stories. (Most likely it would only break when it hits the ground... not as it passes any of the other floors... unless it hits the side of the building on its way down.)
[Timothy J. Allen] "But if they really want to know how far it can fall without breaking, that's easy too."
Very nice. Tim, I think you could get hired at any law firm.
(And that's not meant to be a back-handed compliment, by the way!)