What is it like to interview at Google?

The only thing this performance needs is five more mics on the snare drum. kickdrum-kickdrum….BANG.

Anyway, enjoy.

Earlier this year I interviewed with Google.   I am not a software engineer so if you are interested in all the fun trick questions they ask then I have no insight to offer.   I also interviewed in Austin so no one “famous” stopped by or anything notable like that.

The office I interviewed in is primarily sales and recruiting.   The office seems to exist as a way to tap in to some of the technical talent in Austin and help get that talent to Mountain View before it is swallowed whole by Facebook or Twitter or any of the other rapidly growing software organizations out there.

When I arrived at the interview I signed in on a touchscreen computer, was given a visitors badge and waited for about 10 minutes before my interviewer arrived.  The Austin office is on the 4th or 5th floor (can’t remember) of a nice building in the Arboretum area.   The view to the outside was nice but inside was even better.   A big cafe with food and snacks and a big cooler of drinks.   Lots of comfortable places to sit and work.  Very interesting decor (Star Wars stuff, a wall made of different colors of floppy disks, a stack of 8-track tapes put together to create artwork) and different work spaces for teams to gather and GSD.   Pool table in the break area, monitors and touchscreens all around for some sort of use as needed.  The main thing I noticed, however, was how quiet the office was.   My expectation of a sales and recruiting environment is lots of talking on the phone and lots of people pounding on keyboards as they type with great vigor.   Didn’t hear any of that.

The interview itself was broken in to two parts.  I spoke with one person for about 30 minutes and then another for the same duration.   They had both been with Google for a few years and had started working in Mountain View before being transferred to Austin to help get this office off the ground.   

The first interviewer asked me why I wanted to work at Google and I gave what I thought was a very good and honest answer:   Google likes to build things that change the world.  Being a part of a team that builds things that change the world greatly appeals to me.   Then things got weird as he replied, “So you just want to work here so you can put ‘Google’ on your resume?”   I certainly didn’t feel the need to leave that hanging in the air so I explained further that I admired Google as a company, had used many of the products, felt I’d be a strong addition to the team due to my experience, and that of all the company’s I admired I had a great appreciation for the lofty goals the company seemed to set for itself.   I admire the company and would like to be part of it.  Again he replied with the accusation that I just wanted to padmy resume, which was silly because (1) I’m not technical so having Google on my resume wouldn’t be of any great benefit and (2) I thought I had already explained that wasn’t the case.

Then the interviewer asked me why I thought I would be good at the job and I described how my skill set would translate to the position as it was explained to me in the pre-screening.  He took this opportunity to point out that the pre-screening explanation was not very clear and informed me that I didn’t really know what position I was interviewing for.   So we spent 10 minutes with him telling me what the position was and me reframing all my answers to fit that.   This is about the point I realized there was no chance in hell I was getting hired by Google.  Aside from the notoriously high standards the company holds for all positions, it is very apparent that a person needed an advocate on their side from the start.  I determined that my interviewer did not have a good impression of me because he thought I was resume padding (no) and came across as slick (yes), overconfident (guilty), and confrontational (probably).   We finished our 30 minutes with him being insulted when we had this exchange:

Him: “If you were to get this position, in management, how would you inspire the people who report to you?”

Me: “I don’t think managers can inspire people.   A person either wants to work hard or they don’t.  I’m a grown up and the people that have worked for me are grownups.  They either come to work and do their job or they don’t, at which point I’m fine suggesting that they find another job.”

Him: “So you’re saying I don’t inspire my team?  I think that’s the core of my job…inspiring them to do a good job every day.”

Me: “No one can inspire someone else.  It isn’t a gift you bestow on others…people are responsible for their own motivation.  You can create an environment where they want to work hard and where they can succeed, but I don’t think inspiring people is something that can be quantified by management.”

First interview over.

The next guy was much more laid back and we built a much easier rapport.   We talked a lot about Austin and a lot about him and a lot about my experience.  I was much more relaxed because I knew that while we were talking the first interviewer was entering a scathing review of me on his system and this would be my last time in the building.  

I turned my visitor’s badge in and waited for the elevator downstairs.  Both of my interviewers appeared as they were heading down to a meeting.   I thanked them both for their time and entered the elevator.  They both declined to join me, opting to wait for the next one.   


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