Google used to be known for asking bizarre, crazy-hard interview questions like, “How many golf balls can fit into a school bus?” Early employees would get grilled by the cofounders themselves.
The company has since ditched those brain-benders and also started using committees to hire, but in a new book, titled “How Google Works,” Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Product Jonathan Rosenberg write an anecdote about Rosenberg’s first Google interview.
It was 2000. Google called him to Mountain View to interview for a product leader position. Cofounder Sergey Brin asked Rosenberg one of his favourite interview questions: “Could you teach me something complicated I don’t know?”
At first, Rosenberg launched into an explanation of a complicated economic law and how he would use it to find the company’s optimal point of production and profit using cost and revenue functions. Brin started looking out the window, bored, and Rosenberg realised that he was failing completely. In fact, he was missing one major aspect of the question: He needed to take into account who exactly he was talking to.
Brin is a super genius. The economic law was complicated, but it wasn’t interesting to Brin, who likely already knew it.
To keep his brainiac interviewer interested, he had to put the question in context of who he was talking to. So, Rosenberg started talking about courtship, using the story of his first date with his then-wife as a case study. He had sent her roses and a puzzle to “dangle the hook” before asking her out. He wanted the flowers to impress her, and the puzzle to test her brains.
Brin instantly became more engaged and Rosenberg got an offer. The goal of Brin’s question was two-fold: He tested Rosenberg’s ability to explain something complicated, but the question also determined whether Rosenberg could think of something quirky and outside-of-the-box that wasn’t purely academic.