Google's Five Toughest Interview Questions (And How To Answer Them)

Image: Jon Russell, Flickr

Google is notorious for its prodigiously tough recruitment process and is known for throwing tricky interview questions at job candidates, often in the form of mind-boggling brainteasers. But the technology giant's unorthodox interview methods may be scaring off talented and valuable workers. Here are some of Google's toughest and most bizarre interview questions and how to answer them. We also have some suggestions on what interview questions the company should ask instead.

When you're a company that everybody is tripping over themselves to work for, you have the luxury of being picky. But there is a limit on how far you can push job candidates before they snap. Google is currently being sued by several software engineers for alleged discriminatory recruitment practices. An experienced programmer, Michael Geary, recounted on Hacker News that he passed on applying for a job at Google after hearing about the tricky interview questions that the company is prone to asking.

One applicant for Google's director of engineering role Pierre Gauthier -- who has 37 years' experience in coding and 24 years as a research and development director -- called out the rigid criteria the company's recruiter's use and the questions he was asked during the interview process.

Here's some of the toughest and weirdest interview questions Google has asked in the past and how to answer them:

#1 How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

It's not just about getting a solid answer; the question requires the respondent to go through their methodology used in solving the question. Consider the size of a school bus and how big the golf balls are.

#2 Out of eight balls, seven balls weigh equal while the one ball is slightly heavier than the others how would you figure out which one is the heavier by using a balance and only two weighing?

Another ball related question. Again, the response to this question requires logical thinking and for you to go through how you came to a conclusion. Here’s a suggested response from CareerGuru99:

  • Take 6 balls out of 8 balls
  • Put 3 balls on each side of weighing machine, if they weight equal you know that the heavier ball is in the remaining two which is left out
  • But if they don’t weigh equal, then the heavier ball is in one of those triplets
  • Out of those 3 balls that have heavier ball, pick any 2 and put them on the scale and keep doing until you get your heavier ball

#3 Explain the significance of 'dead beef'?

This one is for a more technical role, but when you get thrown this question out of the blue, the natural response is to associate it with real meat, which is the wrong way to approach it.

Dead beef here refers to 0xDEADBEEF, a hexa-decimal value for debugging which was common back in the days when mainframes were popular.

#4 Explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew.

You can probably guess this is a question to test an applicant's ability to explain complex concepts in the simplest way possible.

Here's a suggested response from Business Insider:

"A database is a machine that remembers lots of information about lots of things. People use them to help remember that information. Go play outside."

#5 Do you have an IQ more than 130?

This is one of those trick questions where you think the interviewer is trying to assess your intelligence whereas they're probably trying to see how you view yourself.

Don't answer just "yes", even if you have measured your IQ and it is over 130. According to Google's personnel chief Laszlo Bock, Google is looking for "intellectual humility". He said those who have been clever all their lives often commit "the fundamental attribution error, which is: if something good happens, it's because I'm a genius. If something bad happens, it's because someone's an idiot". He's probably going to look down on you for taking an IQ test to measure your intelligence in the first place because it makes you look insecure and have a need to be validated.


So what could Google ask its job candidates instead? Here are a few suggestions:

'What's the hardest bug you've had to find and fix?'

This one is for programmers and developers. It was submitted to Quora by Dan Moen, who has used this question on many job candidates:

"Within 5-10 minutes, and with some strategic follow-up questions, I can usually discover the following:

  • What kinds of problems does the candidate believe to be hard?
  • How solid is her technical reputation? (Did 'unsolvable' problems find their way to her inbox?)
  • Is he a team player? (Solo effort to solve, or team effort?)
  • Debugging skills and tactics.

'What didn't you get a chance to include in your resume?'

This one's from Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson:

"Obviously a good CV is important, but if you were going to hire by what they say about themselves on paper, you wouldn’t need to waste time on an interview. As important as it is to look at what a candidate has achieved elsewhere, I have always believed that the single most important thing to consider is 'personal fit'. By that I mean, is this someone whose way of being, sense of humour, and general demeanour will dovetail easily with your company’s culture?"

'Who is the smartest person you know?'

Commvault human resource director for Asia-Pacific Lisa Thompson explained to Lifehacker Australia why she likes this question:

"By giving this person an identity, the interviewee subconsciously divulges what they hope to use their brains for, which in turn, highlights whether their interests are altruistic or commercial. We all know that candidates come in expecting to sell themselves, so by forcing them to sell someone else, we are given a direct comparison as to who the candidate aspires to be.   "Subliminally, what we are really asking the candidate is ‘what their values and aspirations are.’ Forcing them to think of a real person in their lives – not someone famous"


What's the most challenging interview question you've been asked? Let us know in the comments.


Comments

    #2 is the much easier version of the balls and balance scale puzzle.

    You have 12 balls but 1 of them has a different mass. You are not told whether the odd ball is heavier or lighter than the remaining 11. You can use the balance scale 3 times to find the odd ball.

    You have 8 balls, put four on each side, take the 4 on the heavier side and put 2 on each side, then take the heavier 2 and put 1 on each side

    Edit: oops didn't read propery, that's 3 weighings

    Last edited 17/10/16 5:46 pm

    Personally, I'd check the balls for markings/different colours that the manufacturer may have chosen to use to differentiate them before starting to do weighings.

    Out of those 3 balls that have heavier ball, pick any 2 and put them on the scale and keep doing until you get your heavier ball
    This doesn't make sense as you only have one weighing left. You put any two on the scale, and then either one of them will be noticeably heavier, or else you can infer that the remaining one ball is the heavy dude.

    The ball weighing question was around before Google. I had a lazy interviewer once and I simply told her that I'd had that one before.

    I was asked to estimate the volume of water in Sydney Harbour and provide two further methods to check my figures.

    Regarding #3, 0xDEADBEEF ... umm, mainframes? Try UNIX minis and PC's like the Mac and Amiga instead.

    Does this work for Q 2?

    put balls 1&2 aside
    weigh 345 against 768
    If they balance then
    weigh 1 against 2 to get the heaviest
    if 345 are heavier then
    weigh 31 against 42
    if they balance then 5 is the heaviest
    if 31 is heavier than 42 then 3 is the heaviest otherwise it's 4

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