Google used to be notorious for shooting job applicants brainteaser interview questions, like “how much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”
The company has since ditched the riddles, but its overall hiring ethos has remained the same.
Ultimately, Google has always sought out employees who are “smart creatives.” It wants people that can combine their technical expertise with imagination and inventiveness.
Ken Auletta includes an anecdote that perfect highlights the company’s techniques for sniffing out the right hires in his book “Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.”
Back in 2002, Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin insisted that either one or both of them had to be included in the interview process for every single hire. The company needed to add someone to its legal team and a Harvard graduate named Alissa Lee scored an interview with Brin and Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond. Brin wanted to test Lee’s technical chops:
“I need you to draw me a contract,” Brin said to Lee. “Don’t spend a lot of time on it. Draft it and send it to me and David so we can review your work.”
And then the kicker:
“I need the contract to be for me to sell my soul to the devil.”
Lee had 30 minutes to complete the contract.
She was so blown away by the “surreal oddity” of the subject matter, that she forgot to ask Brin for any specifics, like what he wanted to get in return for his soul. But instead of panicking or wasting time on incredulity, Lee dove in.
“He was looking for someone who could embrace a curveball even relish it, and thrive in the process of something unexpected,” she reflects in Auletta’s book. Her ability to have fun with the crazy assignment wowed both Drummond and Brin.
Lee got the job and stayed at Google for seven years after that oddball interview, until 2009.
(And if you’re worried about how Brin’s contract aligned with Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto, fret not: no legally binding agreements were actually made that day.)