Sorry, Folks: Google hasn’t changed their interview questions (by Gayle McDowell)

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[A guest blog post for Geeklist by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. Gayle is the founder / CEO of CareerCup, and the author of Cracking the Coding Interview (Amazon.com’s #1 best-selling interview book) and The Google Resume. Gayle has worked as a software engineer for Microsoft, Apple and Google, and served on Google’s hiring committee. You can follow her on TwitterFacebookQuora, or her blog.]

Another day, another overly-hyped article on Google’s “crazy” interview questions. This one though gives hope to aspiring Googlers; Google has finally seen the light and realized that brainteasers aren’t useful!

Not exactly.

Nothing has changed. 

Contrary to what Business Insider and (sadly) even the Wall Street Journal might have you believe, Google never asked brain teasers. These have always been banned at Google, just as they are at most tech companies.

The closest Google typically gets to brainteasers is questions that are actually estimation or, more commonly, market-sizing questions. These include questions along the lines of “How many gas stations are there in Manhattan?” or “How would you estimate the revenue for Google Ads?”

Though people commonly interpret these as brainteasers, they’re not. They’re problem solving / deduction questions. To estimate how many gas stations there are in Manhattan, start with the population size, estimate how much people use different modes of transportation, and work from there. It’s about breaking down a problem, making reasonable assumptions, and doing a little bit of arithmetic.

How did this nasty rumor about Google’s “impossible” interview questions come about? If you read these articles (as I do, since people keep sharing them with me), you’ll see two common root “sources” for these questions.

One is a book by someone who never worked at Google or any tech company. Although the author builds up an impression of Google loving ridiculous brainteasers, it’s just not true. If you read the book (or just the reviews), you’ll see that it’s ripe with misinformation.

The other is a blog post (later turned into a Business Insider article) listing 140 Google interview questions by an ex-Google PM who coaches Google candidates. Sounds trustworthy, right? Unfortunately, if you track the sources that the blog post provides for these questions, you’ll find that many of the questions – especially the more ridiculous ones – were pulled from other companies. Often times, these companies aren’t even tech companies. These aren’t “Google” questions, and they’re often not even tech interview questions.

So are you immune from tricky Google brainteasers? No more and no less than you have ever been.

For you coders out there: Don’t worry; Software Engineers will not be asked estimation questions. Software Engineering interviews will focus on your standard coding, algorithm, and system design questions – just like they do at all the other major tech companies.

For other roles, you can be fairly sure that you won’t be asked something ridiculous like “A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?” You could, for certain roles, be asked an estimation question though, or another question that you define as a brainteaser.

Everyone has a different definition of what a brainteaser is. Thus, while this category is (and has basically always been) banned, there’s no complete consensus of what fits into this category.

However, on the freak chance that you really are asked a brainteaser, the hiring committee would likely throw out the interviewer’s feedback as irrelevant.

Google’s hiring process is the same as it’s always been, and basically the same as other companies. That’s the non-shocking truth that doesn’t make the pages of Business Insider and other media.

In other words: nothing to see here, folks. Move along…

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