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Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?

First test: See how you do with this book.

By Amy Rowland / January 24, 2012

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? By William Poundstone Little, Brown 275 pp.


You are shrunk to nickel height and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start turning in 60 seconds. What do you do?

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You read William Poundstone’s Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? before you answer. And you may need his book of tough job interview questions like this one, because Google receives a million job applications a year and hires only one of every 130 people interviewed.

The blender question is the kind of mental challenge you can expect in an interview at the search engine giant, where human resources is called People Operations (People Ops) and every job candidate is the subject of a 50-page “package.” This dossier includes detailed information on the potential employee’s academic, professional, and social history, not to mention his or her overall “Googliness.” Yet, after five peer interviews, a candidate is still vetted by hiring committees, and Larry Page must approve every hire. As Poundstone notes, “At Google, hiring is more bureaucracy than algorithm.”

For some, Google represents a utopian workplace, though it is a utopia with ongoing privacy, copyright, and antitrust concerns. Granted, there are many perks at the Googleplex, including climbing walls, communal scooters, free food, foosball, coin-free laundry machines, foreign language lessons, and an annual ski trip. And Google is considered the most valuable brand in the world, with a worth of approximately $86 billion, according to Millward Brown Optimor. But even in  a utopia, someone has to cook all that free, organic, locally grown food. And a software engineer at Google is still sitting in a cubicle writing code. (Yes, they have cubicles.)

But if you’re determined to pursue a job at Google, or one of the many companies that include logic puzzles in the interviewing process, Poundstone’s collection of questions and answers may be a helpful guide.

Here’s a sample question. Can you swim faster through water or syrup? The surprising answer is there is no difference in speed. The book provides a long explanation detailing why the viscosity doesn’t matter, but if Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens couldn’t agree about the answer, I don’t feel the need to supply it here. Even Edward Cussler, the chemical engineering professor who solved the riddle with Brian Gettelfinger, has noted, the reasons for this are “complicated.”


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