Are you smart enough to answer Google's interview questions?

By Libby Plumer Siofra Brennan

Though Google no longer uses this obscure line of questioning in its interviews, the questions have become legendary and have caused confusion. Photo / 123RF
Though Google no longer uses this obscure line of questioning in its interviews, the questions have become legendary and have caused confusion. Photo / 123RF

Google's interview questions are known for being fiendishly tough.

Now even the firm's boss admits they left him baffled.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet, said that he was stumped by a head-scratching question about a pirate ship and a chest of gold.

Though Google no longer uses this obscure line of questioning in its interviews, the questions have become legendary.

Billionaire Schmidt admitted to being perplexed by his own firm's interviews at a recent technology conference, reports Quartz.

• Scroll down for questions

The precise question that left Schmidt puzzled was:

"You're the captain of a pirate ship and you find a chest of gold," begins the riddle.

"Your crew gets to vote on how the gold is divided up.

"If fewer than half of the pirates agree with you, you die.

"How do you recommend apportioning the gold in such a way that you get a good share of the booty but still survive."

The Google boss admitted stalling for time before giving a answer that he considered to be reasonable.

"It seems to me that if more than half are happy, I survive," he said, reports Quartz.

"I propose, that we give 49 per cent of the pirates stock in internet companies, and 51 per cent get the gold."

The solution is to share 51 per cent of the treasure.

Make sure to share 51 per cent of the treasure to keep the crew happy. Photo / 123RF
Make sure to share 51 per cent of the treasure to keep the crew happy. Photo / 123RF

Google has now phased out the practice of asking the bizarre questions after realising that it they didn't really reveal whether the candidate could do the job in question.

In the past, a Google executive described the brainteasers as "a complete waste of time,"

"They don't predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart," Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, told the New York Times in 2013.

The company used to ask head-scratching questions such as "How many piano tuners are there in the world?" and "How many golf balls does it take to fill a school bus?".

The questions asked vary between classic logic puzzles to deliberately vague queries with no definitive answers.

Recruiter Impact Interview have compiled a list of 140 questions candidates have reported being asked at interviews for various roles at Google, many of which have now been dropped from the process.

One of the tough teasers that candidates used to be asked was: "How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?:

The riddle is known as a Fermi problem, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi who was known for his ability to make good calculations with very little information or even none.

Its purpose is to test a candidates approximation skills as well as their ability at dimensional analysis.

The puzzle is solved by multiplying a series of estimates to get to the right answer. So a candidate would have to estimate factors such as how many households have a piano, how often they are tuned to figure out how many piano tunings take place a year.

They then need to calculate the average working hours of a piano tuner and the number of jobs they carry out.

The number of piano tunings that take place per year divided by the number per year per piano tuner should yield the answer.

Google candidates going for a role as product manager also used to be asked: "How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?"

To solve it one must calculate the volume of the average golf ball and the the volume of the average school bus, taking into account factors like the seats and other fixtures taking up space.

How many golf balls can fit in a school bus? Photo / 123RF
How many golf balls can fit in a school bus? Photo / 123RF

The answer is the volume of the bus, divided by the volume of the balls.

As well as questions involving calculation and physics, Google used to ask would-be employees to solve logic puzzles.

One of the riddles was: "Every man in a village of 100 married couples has cheated on his wife.

"Every wife in the village instantly knows when a man other than her husband has cheated but does not know when her own husband has.

"The village has a law that does not allow for adultery. Any wife who can prove that her husband is unfaithful must kill him that very day.

"The women of the village would never disobey this law. One day, the queen of the village visits and announces that at least one husband has been unfaithful. What happens?"

Although opinion varies as to the correct answer, a popular solution is to assume that all the cheating husbands will be executed 100 days after the queen's announcement.

Every wife in the village instantly knows when a man other than her husband has cheated, so if there's only one unfaithful man she will know it's her husband and will kill him that day.

Bearing in mind that the queen has said that at least one man has cheated, there could be more than a single adulterer.

If there are two cheaters, 98 women will know who they are. The next day when the wives who have been cheated on see that nobody has been executed they will realise the only explanation is that their husbands are the culprits, and will kill them.

By that logic, 100 cheating husbands will be executed on the 100th day, as the riddle states that every man in the village has cheated on his wife.

THE QUESTIONS

1. How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?

The riddle is known as a Fermi problem, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi.

The puzzle is solved by multiplying a series of estimates to get to the right answer.

So a candidate would have to estimate factors such as how many households have a piano, how often they are tuned to figure out how many piano tunings take place a year.

They then need to calculate the average working hours of a piano tuners and the number of jobs they carry out.

The number of piano tunings that take place per year divided by the number per year per piano tuner should yield the answer.

2. How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

To solve it one must calculate the volume of the average golf ball and the the volume of the average school bus, taking into account factors like the seats and other fixtures taking up space.

The answer is the volume of the bus, divided by the volume of the balls.

3. How many times a day do the hands of a clock overlap?

The hands overlap once an hour, but 11 times in 12 hours and 22 times in a day.

This is because the overlap at 12 has already been accounted for.

The overlaps occur at 12, 1.05, 2.11, 3:16, 4:22, 5:27, 6:33, 7:38, 8:44, 9:49 and 10:55 in the morning and after midday at 12, 1.05, 2:11, 3:16, 4:22, 5:27, 6:33, 7:38, 8:44, 9:49 and 10:55.

4. You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

There are numerous possible answers to this one - lie down until the blades stop, or even climb onto the blades before they start.

Some suggest that a human shrunk down to such proportions would effectively have superpowered-muscles that would enable them to jump out of the blender.

5. You have to get from point A to point B. You don't know if you can get there. What would you do?

As an incredibly vague question, there are numerous possible answers.

The obvious starting point is to determine what points A and B are and whether they are actual physical locations or simply figures of speech.

From there, a route could be plotted relying on known travel times, or slightly less tangible course of action could be planned.

6. Imagine you have a closet full of shirts. It's very hard to find a shirt. So what can you do to organize your shirts for easy retrieval?

There is no one answer to this, but the question was aimed at software engineers.

Therefore, the interviewer would expect a coding-based approach, such as assigning different values to different types of shirts, by style, colour and fit.

7. Explain the significance of 'dead beef'.

Most software engineers would be aware of this term which refers to a hexadecimal code used in debugging computer systems.

8. How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

An educated guess is required for this one, based on the number of buildings with windows in the city.

For example, if the interviewee assumes that Seattle consists of 10,000 city blocks with around 600 windows each, and that it takes five minutes to wash a window at a rate of $20, then the total cost would be around $10 million.

9. If you look at a clock and the time is 3:15, what is the angle between the hour and the minute hands?

The answer is 7.5 degrees. The hour hand moves 360 degrees around the clock every 12 hours, or 30 degrees per hour.

So in the fifteen minutes between 3:00 and 3:15, it will have moved 7.5 degrees - one quarter of 30 degrees.

The minute hand will be pointed directly at the three, so the distance between them is 7.5 degrees.

10. A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?

The car was a piece in the board game Monopoly.

- Daily Mail

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