The unusual way Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin interview people for jobs

Google has an infamously difficult interviewing process. Over the years, it has ditched the brain teaser questions it once asked many candidates, but it’s still no walk in the park.

So if interviewing for a position with an ordinary Google manager is difficult, what is it like interviewing with Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin?

Tim Armstrong, who is CEO of AOL, knows.

Before joining AOL in 2009, Armstrong spent a decade at Google where he helped build its multi-billion-dollar-a-quarter ad business from scratch. He joined before the IPO, in the early 2000s.

Armstrong was first approached by Omid Kordestani, who was Google’s Chief Business Officer (Kordestani is now Twitter’s executive chairman). The two met at the Carlisle Hotel in New York City on a rainy Friday to discuss the possibility of Armstrong joining Google. They debated whether or not Google should enter the advertising business; Google was generating most of its (tiny) revenue by licensing software.

Armstrong had been an advertising salesman at Star Wave, a company created by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. He had another offer on the table, but he still met with Kordestani. He says they “hit it off right away.”

The next step was to fly to California and interview with Google’s cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Armstrong told me about the experience during Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It.” The interviewing process sounded…unusual. 

Interview yourself while we watch

“They basically said at the beginning of the meeting, after a few questions, ‘We’re not really sure what to ask you. Ask yourself the questions. What questions would you ask yourself, if you were us?’ Armstrong says.

“So I said, ‘Look, I’m very direct person, very honest. Here’s what I would ask, the following questions.’ I thought that was interesting.”

Armstrong later learned that this interaction wasn’t the result of Brin or Page being unprepared or lazy. Instead, it was a common tactic they used to help judge a candidate’s character. 

“I realised later, after working with them, that that was not an anomaly, that was one of their tactics,” Armstrong said. It’s unclear if Brin and Page still use the same approach to screen people.

Despite the odd first meeting, Google’s founders left a lasting, positive impression on Armstrong.

“They were driven,” Armstrong told Business Insider. “I think to this day, Larry and Sergey are obviously very smart, and very creative. They’re very competitive also, in a good way. I’d say they care a lot. At their size now and what they’re doing, I’m sure there’s a lot of feedback on them, how people feel about them. But they’re, at their heart, very good people. Both of them.”

Listen to the interview with Tim Armstrong about his career, which is packed full of advice, here:

Subscribe to “Success! How I Did It” on Acast or iTunes. Check out previous episodes with:

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