Google's recruiters are infamous in the Valley for dismissing Ivy-free applications* and posing highly technical brainteasers** during interviews.
But apparently these "past results do not necessarily guarantee future performance," according to none other than Googlers themselves.
Tech Chronicles wrote last month about the growing complaints among employees that academic pedigree is rewarded over real life experience and performance.
One poster on Glassdoor.com, a Sausalito site that allows workers to anonymously review and rate their companies and managers, lamented:
They hire too many young overachievers -- people who have only ever "shown aptitude for having aptitude," as that one writer said. So it feels like half of everyone is angry about learning what being in the workforce is actually like, and shocked that you don't get promoted for working 12 hours a day and having aptitude and a great GPA.
Turns out, the puzzlers don't work out so well in reality either, according to Gawker. Like not at all.
Peter Norvig, Google's director of research, told Peter Seibel in an interview for the new book "Coders at Work":
One of the interesting things we've found, when trying to predict how well somebody we've hired is going to perform when we evaluate them a year or two later, is one of the best indicators of success within the company was getting the worst possible score on one of your interviews. We rank people from one to four, and if you got a one on one of your interviews, that was a really good indicator of success.
That's a pretty big problem for Google, considering:
Ninety-nine percent of the people who got a one in one of their interviews we didn't hire. But the rest of them, in order for us to hire them somebody else had to be so passionate that they pounded on the table and said, "I have to hire this person because I see something in him..."
Google proper disputes these conclusions.
"Our hiring process is well known for being pretty rigorous but we've found that, by and large, it goes a long way towards getting us the kind of candidates who will do well at Google and stay for a long time," a Google spokesperson said. "Our hiring process is designed to give both the company and the candidate a complete picture of how they will fit and we think it works exceptionally well."
Norvig took issue with the way his comments were framed too, saying in a blog post:
What do you know? Valleywag got everything wrong. Google is hiring, not laying off. Also, our interview scores actually correlate very well with on-the-job performance. Peter Seibel asked me if there was anything counterintuitive about the process and I said that people who got one low score but were hired anyway did well on-the-job. To me, that means the interview process is doing very well, not that it is broken. It means that we don't let one bad interview blackball a candidate.
Except, of course, to reiterate, he himself said that: "Ninety-nine percent of the people who got a one in one of their interviews we didn't hire."
If that's not a blackball, it's an awfully dark gray one.
Norvig continued: "We'll keep interviewing, keep hiring, and keep analyzing the results to improve the process."
*A extremely capable and intelligent friend of mine was advised by a Googler not to bother applying because she hadn't attended an Ivy League university or achieved a 4.0 GPA. And that was for a PR gig.
According to "Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know" by Randall Stross:
Google goes after not just the well educated, but the very well educated. Among the company's first hundred engineers, forty were Ph.D.'s. The company's emphasis on Ph.D.'s was not shared universally in the software industry. Microsoft mostly recruited computer science majors who had only a bachelor's degree; the company eschewed those with advanced degrees ("We're huge believers in hiring potential," Kristen Roby, Microsoft's director of recruiting at colleges in the United States, said in 2004). In contrast, Google sought those with the most academic training possible. A typical job listing featured a three-word phrase rarely seen outside of academe: "Ph.D. a plus."
**One question asked, according to an earlier Chronicle story:
"In your opinion, what is the most beautiful math equation ever derived?" The Gaussian integral, a complex mathematical equation used in studying the kinetic molecular theory of gases, among other things, has been suggested as a smart answer by some on the Internet.
For more purported Google interview questions, which we can't verify the accuracy of, click here.
Free cafeteria food, annual ski trips to the Sierras and free
laundry are just some of the fringe benefits of working at Google.
Getting hired is the trick.
Every month, aspiring workers deluge the popular Mountain View,
Calif., search engine with up to 150,000 resumes -- equivalent to a
stack of paper at least 50 feet high. And the company claims to read
each and every one.
As one of Silicon Valley's hottest companies, Google has become a
beacon for job seekers. In just a few short years, the interest has
helped the company amass an arsenal of what is arguably among the
world's top technology minds.
"I would argue that definitely they have the best talent," said Joe
Kraus, a co-founder of the Web portal Excite Inc. who currently leads a
start-up, JotSpot, in Palo Alto, Calif. "They invest so much because
the more great talent you have, the easier it is to attract even more
Google hires nine new workers a day. In less than two years, the number of employees has more than tripled to 4,989.
The growth spurt is being fueled by a gangbusters-like online
advertising market and Google's boundless ambition, including new
initiatives in everything from wireless Internet access to video
downloads. The goal is to keep the production line of new products
humming so that users spend more time on the Web site.
Getting rich is what drives some of the applicants. Many Google
workers became instant millionaires at the time of the company's
initial stock offering in 2004. To this day, prospective employees are
drawn by the promise of wealth, although their chances of striking gold
are a lot lower now that the firm's shares are soaring above $400,
making stock options less likely to appreciate by large amounts.
Competition for the best and brightest is fierce. Rivals Microsoft
Corp. and Yahoo! Inc., plus start-ups, are trying to reel in many of
the same job applicants, igniting occasional bidding wars.
Hiring is a major challenge
Yahoo!, in particular, has recently landed some workers who
interviewed at Google, such as Andrei Broder, a former research
executive at AltaVista and IBM. He says being at Yahoo!'s research lab
is an opportunity to have more impact because it's younger and smaller
than those of its competition.
Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, has called hiring one of his
firm's biggest challenges. If it's unable to find enough top-notch
workers, he says the company's rapid growth could be hamstrung.
Google's also hiring superstars. This year, they include Vint Cerf,
one of the Internet's founding fathers, as chief Internet evangelist.
Kai-Fu Lee, a former Microsoft executive and expert in technology that
turns speech into text, now heads operations in China. And Louis
Monier, founder of the early search engine AltaVista, has an
undisclosed technical role.
To lure workers, Google offers perks, including free cafeteria
meals, free use of laundry machines, a child-care center, a free annual
one-night ski trip (resort destinations vary depending on office
location), dog-friendly offices and an on-site doctor. Engineers can
devote 20 percent of their time to projects of their choice. What's not
mentioned is that much of the largesse is designed to keep workers at
their desks longer.
In addition to posting job openings in newspapers and online, Google
recruits at universities, offers computer science students free pizza,
hosts a software programming competition and invites technology clubs
to hold their meetings at its headquarters.
Last year, the company won attention for publishing a booklet of 21
problems called the Google Labs Aptitude Test. Readers of several
technology magazines were asked to mail in their answers and promised
that Google would get in touch with them if they scored well.
One question asked: "In your opinion, what is the most beautiful
math equation ever derived?" The Gaussian integral, a complex
mathematical equation used in studying the kinetic molecular theory of
gases, among other things, has been suggested as a smart answer by some
on the Internet. Another question involved filling a blank rectangle
"with something that improves upon emptiness," leaving applicants
scratching for a subjective winner.
Judy Gilbert, Google's staffing programs director, says the
questions weren't really used for hiring. In any case, smart alecks
soon posted the answers online so they could be easily found by
Hundreds of recruiters keep the resumes pouring into Google. Many
are contractors, making them easier to dismiss if the company scales
back its hiring needs.
Jobs available as of last week include someone to negotiate video
licensing deals with Hollywood studios, someone to lead user studies
for guiding product design and an attorney to manage the firm's real
estate. More posts are likely to open in announcements this week, as
the company is creating 600 new jobs in Ireland and up to 100 in
To land all-stars, Google's recruiting machine goes into overdrive.
Secrecy is sometimes critical. If tipped off, companies from which
Google is trying to poach could start a bidding war or retaliate
against a potential defector.
The risk can be worth it for a top executive of Lee's caliber. He
ultimately accepted a compensation package of more than $10 million,
igniting the legal battle between Google and Microsoft.
To fill positions lower on the pecking order, Google has created an
extensive college-hiring program, among other efforts. Recruiters
visited 60 schools this year to show off the firm's technology, hand
out T-shirts and interview prospective job candidates.
Interviews at Google usually begin on the telephone. If successful,
applicants are invited for face-to-face meetings with up to 10 people,
a process described as excruciating by people who have gone through
them because of the length of time it takes and the mental gymnastics
Recent job candidates described questions as being on topic, whether
about software code or business. In many cases, they were asked to
brainstorm and role-play to show how they think. For instance, how
would they market a product? Those who conduct the interviews
frequently challenge applicants. Questions about algorithms, Java
software and computer networking are common for applicants seeking
Google has created its own software system for tracking job
candidates that allows employees to share comments on each applicant.
Because so many people must sign off on new hires -- Larry Page, one of
the firm's famed co-founders, approves each one -- the process can be
lengthy, even excessively so, several applicants said.
Some were shocked to learn the importance Google gives to college
grade-point averages in deciding whom to hire. The emphasis draws
complaints from some older candidates, who believe the measure is
irrelevant for them because they have been out of school for so long.
In general, Gilbert says Google seeks applicants who show they are
willing to take risks, are highly motivated by a range of topics and
want to be part of something bigger than themselves. The profile is in
line with the firm's carefully crafted iconoclastic image.
Historically, Google has paid workers less than the industry standard and showered them with stock options.
That paid off for approximately 1,000 Google employees in 2004, when
the company's high-profile initial stock offering made them instant
millionaires. Although the firm's current pay structure is a closely
guarded secret, one can assume hundreds, if not thousands, more have
become worth seven figures, at least on paper, considering that
Google's stock is now hovering above the $400 mark, a nearly fivefold
increase from its premiere.
After its initial public offering last year, the company has had to
offer more money upfront because options aren't as valuable,
compensation experts say.
Many competing firms claim Google has driven up salaries for software programmers by nearly 50 percent in recent years.
According to one source who wanted to remain anonymous, the
beginning salary for programmers is now about $45,000. How accurate
this is cannot be known, but at least it's a clue.
BENEFITS GOOGLE TEST QUESTIONS
A test published by Google last year in several magazines was used as a recruiting tool. Questions included:
this cryptic equation, realizing of course that value for M and E could
be interchanged. No leading zeros are allowed: WWWDOT -- GOOGLE
Answers: 777589 -- 188106
589483 or 777589 -- 188103
2) How many different ways can you color an icosahedron with one of three colors on each face?
3) Which of the following expresses Google's overarching philosophy?
a) I'm feeling lucky
b) Don't be evil
c) Oh, I already fixed that
d) You should never be more than 50 feet from food
e) All of the above
-- San Francisco Chronicle
Workers at Google get a range of benefits that surpass those at many other companies. Here's a sample:
Free cafeteria meals
On-site dry cleaning
Coin-free laundry room
Free annual ski trip
On-site doctor and dentist
Free commuter shuttle service to several Bay Area locations
Source: Google Inc.
It was a little more than three months ago that I was contacted by a
“talent scout” from a little-known internet company called “Google”.
She had run across my profile at LinkedIn.com,
which led her to my resume. She evidently enjoyed it, so she sent me an
email asking if I was interested in joining their team. I wasn’t
looking for a new job (I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now), but
I’ve heard great things about the work environment over there at
Google, so I agreed to interview with them.
I won’t talk too much about the interview process here (I signed an
oath of secrecy regarding the whole affair), but I will say this much:
After three phone screens, two full phone interviews, two different
inside recruiters, a travel coordinator, a flight to San Francisco,
seven in-person interviews, and lunch at the Googleplex, I’m completely
I’ve had lengthy conversations about OO design patterns, database
design, computational linguistics, naive Bayesian classification,
agglomerative clustering, time-series data analytics, hash
effectiveness evaluation, search algorithms, partial sorting,
concept-mapping in n-dimensional vector space, and state-graph
I talked about the projects I’ve worked on over the years:
performing technical analysis of stock market data, developing a
domain-specific scripting language and the compiler to go along with
it, implementing a special purpose 16-bit floating-point data type for
Java, writing a partial-parser for perl-compatible regular expression
syntax, and implementing a Texas Holdem AI engine capable of learning
its opponents’ playing styles.
I talked about my project management experience working with the
federal intelligence community, and about the types of
language-classification problems that my team encountered. I talked
about the training courses that I developed and presented to my clients
in Washington, DC. I talked about starting my own web development
business after graduating from college, and about my lifelong
And, of course, I asked in-depth technical questions about the
Google software infrastructure. Really really clever questions.
To…ummmm…cleverly demonstrate my…cleverness.
Somewhere in that process, I got really excited about the new job.
I didn’t get it.
I got a voicemail message from one of the recruiters yesterday afternoon, letting me know that it was a “really hard decision”.
Although I started working on a CS degree, I never quite finished
it. I originally studied theatre, and got a bachelors degree
emphasizing playwriting and dramatic literature. Aside from three or
four semesters of CS coursework (abruptly interrupted when my twins
were born 3 months premature and I spent six months living at the
hospital), all of my software-development skills are self-taught.
So there are a few gaps in my knowledge. For example, it’s been a
few years since I did much C++ coding. But I like to think I’m a pretty
quick learner, and I can easily fill in any knowledge gaps when the
need arises. The breadth and depth of my experience demonstrates my
ability to quickly pick up complex new concepts and develop innovative
Also, my dad is a rocket scientist (seriously), so I’ve got good genes.
I wish you the best of luck. You have a lovely campus, and a preponderance of giant colorful rubber balls.
I enjoyed talking with your people; they are clever and lively. Also,
you seem to employ more women than the average software company, and I
was looking forward to occasionally smiling at some of those women in
the cafeteria over a plate of macrobiotic lunchtime foods. I’m sad that
I won’t be moving to the Bay Area. Please tell Josh Bloch and Guido von
Python that I said hello.
To everyone else:
This has been the most exhausting experience of my career.
Seriously, you have no idea. Preparing for these interviews has been
like studying for the GRE. Times ten. I feel like I need to sleep for a
solid month just to be my old self again.
On that note, I think I’m done trying to impress software companies
with my madd skillz. For the last six years, I’ve spent much of my
spare time researching interesting algorithms, developing fun prototype
code, and reading papers by the industry’s top researchers. I’ve
learned as much as I could about computational linguistics, statistical
analysis, and machine learning. I did it because I enjoy it. But also
to impress prospective employers and climb the software engineering
I’m taking my fate back into my own hands.
I started my first business when I was eight years old. I went
door-to-door, selling lighted address panels. I lived in Clearwater,
Florida (in the Tampa Bay area) and I had a great sales pitch: “You
hang this panel above your garage, and if anything ever happens to you,
the ambulance can find your house faster because they’ll see your
glowing address from the street.” With so many retirees in the area, it
was a pretty good pitch. I think I made about a hundred dollars.
Anyhow, the point is that I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than
twenty years. It’s time I combine my enjoyment of software development
with my entrepreneurial ambitions and put all of my efforts into
building a marketable software portfolio.
The next company I work for will be my own.