- In a recent podcast interview, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke openly about the company’s infamously gruelling interview process in the early days of the company.
- Schmidt admitted that they interviewed one candidate sixteen times.
- Eventually, they cut the number of interviews down to eight and today, Google has settled on a maximum of four to five interviews per candidate.
- Schmidt also discussed Google’s preference for hiring smart candidates from top schools, rather than focusing on prior business experience.
In a recent podcast interview with economist Tyler Cowen, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke openly about the company’s gruelling interview process in the early days of the company.
“We would interview people to death,” Schmidt admitted. “We interviewed this one gentleman sixteen times.”
The number of interviews per candidate eventually dwindled over time.
“I picked a random number, which was half, and I said, ‘We should have a max of eight, and if we can’t decide after eight…'” Schmidt explained. “We’ve since done a statistical analysis, and the answer today is four to five interviews.”
Google was famous for asking bizarre questions in those early interviews, too, before ultimately banning them. Some of the most wonky included, “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?” or “Why are manhole covers round?” The idea was to test for the ability to think on your feet and come up with creative solutions, rather than relying on book learning and credentials.
Indeed, Schmidt went on to explain that in the early days, the company hired candidates based on the school they attended and their GPAs, rather than actual, real-world experience.
“This caused all sorts of consternation… It produced people that were aggressive and ignorant of what they were doing, so they didn’t know what they were doing, but they could make mistakes.”
Making mistakes, Schmidt said, was vital for a company that was venturing into a field that had never been explored before.
He also explained that early on, the company hired way too many managers and eventually, had to let most of them go. Schmidt referred to this time as the “Disorg.”
The young company swung in the opposite direction after the “Disorg,” he said, eventually settling on a ratio of one manager to every 120 engineers.
“Larry and Sergei said, ‘Well, there’s no problem here. That means the managers cannot interfere with the engineers’ work,” Schmidt remembers. “That’s kind of the engineering model of the time.”
There’s some evidence that Google eventually found a happy medium: As of 2011, at least, Google managers seemed to have somewhere between 7 and 10 direct reports, according to a post on Quora.
Of note: Schmidt was not asked about, and did not address, allegations against him of improper workplace behaviour brought to light by a recent report in the New York Times.