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These questions will help determine whether you’d ever be good enough to work at Google

Down at the Googleplex

“We live in an age of desperation. Never in living memory has the competition for job openings been more intense. Never have job interviews been tougher.”

So says William Poundstone, author of the book, ‘Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google.’

If you work in, or have worked in, investment banking, you may consider yourself in a different career cohort to employees at Google. However, in doing so you may be missing a trick: Google hired 8,100 people last year; investment banks made considerably more than that number redundant.

While bankers are having their perks rescinded, Google also remains replete with niceties. Its employees get: an annual ski trip; $500 for takeaway meals after childbirth; and one day a week to devote to a project entirely of their own choosing.

Getting into Google is far from straightforward, however. Before you come anywhere even close to getting hired, Poundstone says the company will have assembled a 40-50 page ‘package’ on you, including academics, blog postings and things you’ve said on social networks.

If you actually make it to a Google interview, Poundstone says you will have five interviews in one day with five different interviewers, each of whom will grade you from 1-4 based on employability. Google interviewers are deliberately impassive, says Poundstone: it’s impossible to work out whether they like you or not. They will ask you to engage in ‘work sampling:’ to produce a sample of the work you’d be doing. They will also ask you classic, “Google Riddles.”

What are these riddles? Courtesy of Poundstone, we’ve added them below. Not all have definitive answers. Only one (“describe a chicken”) demands a computer background. Poundstone says they’ve all been adopted by other knowledge companies (some of these have featured in our previous examples of questions asked by banks). Read them. Suggest some answers (via the comments function), let us know whether you’re ready to leave banking for the technology sector.

Google Riddles:

1. Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco

2. Imagine a country where all the parents want to have a boy. Every family keeps having children until they have a boy; then they stop. What is the proportion of boys to girls in the country?

3. On a deserted highway, the probability of observing a car during a thirty-minute period is 95%. What is the chance of observing a car in a 10 minute period?

4. You have a choice of 2 wagers. In one, you’re given a basketball and have one chance to sink it for $1,000. In the second, you have to make two out of three shots, for the same $1,000. Which do you prefer?

5. Use a programming language to describe a chicken.

6. There’s a staircase and you’re allowed to ascend one or two steps at a time. How many ways are there to reach the Nth step?

7. You have N companies and want to merge them into one big company. How many different ways are there to do this?

8. What is the most beautiful equation you have ever seen? Explain.

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Comments (6)

  1. 1) Britney Spears is playing the lead in the Sound of Music in LA – tonight only
    2) About the same as the town I grew up in
    3) 0% it’s deserted
    4) The first one
    5) C cluck cluck
    6) y
    7) x
    8) ur = 5e+xy

    when do I start?

  2. 1. All swim to Alcatraz/Marin County
    2. Boys 2: Girls 1 (assume equal gender probability, expected value of boys is 1 and girls is 0.5, sum of geometric series)
    4. depends on your skill. if probability of scoring is 0.5, 3 shots are better. If P = 0,1 or exactly 0.5, either option is equal. assumes P is independent.
    6. based on Fibonacci sequence. 1 step, 1 way; 2 steps, 2 ways; 3 steps 3, ways; 4 steps, 5 ways, etc. etc. there is a formula for nth term but too complicated to quote.
    8. Euler’s identity (e^(i*pi) +1 = 0). Relates the number e, imaginary numbers, trigonometry, one and zero. Fundamental concepts of maths in one line. Is to mathematicians what Citizen Kane is to film critics.
    I assume these Qs are for engineers? Aren’t most employees there now salespeople? (Revenue is 99% advertising)

  3. 2. Boys 2: Girls 1

    4. depends on skill. no difference if P(score) = 0,0.5 or 1. If P0.5, 3 shots better.

    6. Fibonacci sequence. 1 step, 1 way; 2 steps, 2 ways; 3 steps, 3 ways etc. N steps found by using this recursive formula. Direct Formula is possible but too complicated to state here.

    8. usual mathematicians choice is Euler’s Identity e^(1*pi) + 1 = 0. unites 0,1,e,i and pi.

  4. Question 2

    I think it is 1 boy to every girl. Assume 50:50 probability of giving birth to a boy, and discounts twins, etc. Start with a 100 couple and you yield 50 boys and 50 girls. The couples giving birth to the girls give birth again, and in the second set you get 25 boys and 25 girls. The third time will yield 12.5 boys and 12.5 girls. Over the first three ‘birthings’ you get 87.5 boys and 87.5 girls. Each event will always yield a 1:1 ratio, and consequently the sum to infinity of boys and girls over all possible ‘birthings’ will always be in the ratio of 1:1.

  5. So to be a cleaner, salesperson, marketer or an accountant at Google do you have to be able to answer these questions?

    Sounds to me like Poundstone is an obsessive, irrelevant prat.

  6. The boy/girl thing is more complicated than it looks. I’d be interested to see all the answers for that one.

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