Editor’s note: Google is on a hiring binge! The company says it plans to hire 2,100 new employees ASAP. Because that means a TON of job interviews, we thought it would be useful to republish this story, first published late last year.
Google came to Syracuse’s campus to recruit new graduates when I was a senior. I attended the information session and learned which jobs I could qualify for. I created a fancy cover letter and resume, crossed my fingers and e-mailed them my documents. One week later I had an email in my inbox from Google.
Google wanted to interview me! Forbes’ #1 company to work for was interested in speaking with me about an Associate Product Marketing Manager position in Mountain View, California. I called everyone I could think of, ecstatic and day-dreaming that my job hunt might end quickly and painlessly with me surfing during lunch breaks at the Googleplex.
Everyone says your GPA doesn’t matter when you’re finding a job—those people obviously never applied to Google. My 3.6 suddenly seemed inferior. Google also wanted to know if I had received any job offers. They wanted to know who was recruiting me and how far along I was in my job search. Talk about salt on an open wound to a college senior. Sad and dejected, I ticked off the “No” [no one wants me] and “Yes” [I’m still unemployed] boxes. I should have realised then that this was shaping up to be a gruelling interview process, but I was too excited to pay much notice.
To prepare for my two back-to-back conference calls, I googled Google and learned their history, products, current news, founders, locations, business models, competitors, AdWords, investors and mottos. My heart had never been in anything more and I was prepared for any curve ball they could throw. I practiced interviewing with friends and felt confident when my cell rang at 4:00pm sharp.
A young man was on the other line sounding just as nervous as I felt. The first five minutes of the allotted 30 were small talk. We went over my resume, previous internships and my career goals. My interviewer, Oliver, nervously cleared his throat between awkward silences during which he recorded my responses. I was on top of my game.
About 10 minutes in, Oliver turned the tables. “I’m going to ask you a few questions that may sound strange,” he premised. I paused. Is there really any good response to a comment like that? He seemed to read my mind because he elaborated: “These questions are meant to test your analytical thinking.” Oh no. He was about to ask me the famous, ridiculously impossible Google questions I had been reading about online.
If you’ve never interviewed with the Internet giant, you may have never heard the types of questions they ask their interviewees. The searches I had done warned me that Google might inquire how much I’d pay someone to wash all of the windows in Seattle or what I’d do if I was shrunk to the size of a nickel and placed in a blender with churning blades.
“I want you to estimate,” Oliver began, “how much money you think Google makes daily from Gmail ads.” Oh. My. GOSH. Was he serious? The answer depended on so many different factors, none of which I had any clue how to guesstimate.
“Um, you mean a hard number? Maybe…$70,000?” Oliver’s hearty laugh told me my response was foolish. “Wait, can you just totally ignore that response? Scratch it out of your notes and pretend I never said that?”
“Don’t worry,” he mused, “I already did. You don’t have to give me an exact number, just tell me how you would figure out the answer.”
“Ok,” I began and I regurgitated everything I had learned about AdWords. “Google places four ads per e-mail opened in Gmail. Advertisers get to pick their click-through rates, which can be as little as $0.05, and they can set a maximum daily charge, which can be $5. The amount of money Google would make in a day would depend on the number of Gmail users, the number of e-mails those users receive and open per day, the number of advertisements they click on, and the rates the advertisers are charged.”
This answer wasn’t good enough. Now I was asked for an exact amount of revenue. “Say each G-mail user opens seven new e-mails a day. They would see 28 ads. If they click on ¼ of those ads, then only seven ads are clicked. If all advertisers are charged $0.05 per clicked ad, then the amount of revenue would be whatever $0.05 x 7 ads x the number of G-mail users is. Does that make any sense at all?”
“Kind of.” Oliver sounded confused. “You lost me at the ‘only clicking on ¼ of the ads’ comment. Let’s move on.”
The interview ended shortly afterward. Oliver politely indicated that HR would contact me again in a few weeks and he wished me good luck. My confidence was slightly bruised but I felt that, overall, I handled the interview well enough. I was left with 15 minutes to prepare for my next phone call, all of which I used to regain composure and review what I could have done better.
I thought Oliver was intimidating; the woman I spoke with next put him to shame. I gathered from Anna’s cold greeting that she did not have much time for me. We got right down to business. “Name a piece of technology you’ve read about recently.”
“Ok, today I was reading about Nike and Apple working together to make a shoe with a chip in it that helps you run in time with your music.”
“Now tell me your own creative execution for an ad for that product.”
My mind swirled as I pulled some crazy concoction out of my arse. “Well, Nike is known for having inspirational ads with little copy. I guess I would have a person running in Nike shoes, listening to their I-Pod, looking exhausted. The music would then pick up and each stride would coincide with the beat. The runner would get a second wind, reach their goal, and the “Just Do It” line would appear on the screen above an I-pod with a Nike swoosh background.”
She laughed a little before continuing which I took as an encouraging sign. “Now I’m going to ask you maths problems.” maths?! I hadn’t taken a maths course since freshman year of college. I was in trouble.
“Say an advertiser makes $0.10 every time someone clicks on their ad. Only 20% of people who visit the site click on their ad. How many people need to visit the site for the advertiser to make $20?” I froze. The problem sounded easy but I didn’t want to cause an awkward silence trying to solve it.
“Um…well, ok. So, 20 out of 100 people click on the ad. Every 10 clicks make one dollar…and you need 20 of them…” That’s as far as I got before I resorted to guessing answers, none of which were right. I was panicking and I couldn’t do a thing about it. My nerves were taking over. Anna could sense this and began to give me hints. None of them helped my frazzled brain.
After five painful minutes the annoyed interviewer gave me the answer. “100 people make two dollars, and two times 10 is 20. The answer is 100 people times 10 which is 1,000 people.” She made it sound so easy; I felt like a moron. As if she enjoyed my misery, she immediately fired off another maths problem.
“Estimate the number of students who are college seniors, attend four-year schools, and graduate with a job in the United States every year.” This time I remained poised.
“There are about 300 million people in the nation” I began. “Let’s say 10 million of those are college students at four year schools. Only ¼ of those 10 million are seniors, so that would be roughly 2-3 million. If half of those students graduate with jobs, you’re looking at about 1.5 million kids.”
“Would you say that number seems high, low, or just about right?”
“I would say it sounds low, but maybe that’s because I’m going through the job-search process and I’m wishing the number was higher.”
I didn’t even get a sympathetic laugh. “That’s all. Good luck with your job search.” The phone clicked– I was stunned. The abrupt sign-off was a clear indication that I wouldn’t be considered for round 2. Interviewing can be demoralizing, and that’s just how I felt as I sat with my cell in my hand, vowing to switch to Yahoo for life.
Think You Could Do Better? Try: 15 Google Interview Questions That Will Make You Feel Stupid