Interviewing with Google? Read this!

by Алекс Руис on November 19, 2012

In response to my post, “My team at Google is hiring,” I got a lot more résumés than I expected. This is absolutely great! Many thanks to all the folks interested in working in my team!

While chatting with a few of the potential candidates, I offered some advice on interviewing with Google. This is advice that was passed to me when I interviewed a couple of years ago. Even though these tips are nothing out of ordinary, they are, however, practical and useful. Since I found myself repeating them over an over, I thought it may be a good idea to write them down.

Here we go.

1. Listen to your best friend: the (Google) recruiter

Is the recruiter’s job to get you an offer from Google. He or she will do everything in their control to help you. As part of their job, they will tell you what you need to study for the interview. It is a lot of material, but it is absolutely worth the effort. Needless to say, Google is awesome.

2. You decide when to interview

It is your decision when to interview. Take all the time you need to prepare and don’t let anybody push you. Knowing when you are ready is difficult though. Studying all the material is pretty much impossible. Instead, you need to set a realistic goal. In my case, since I was terrified by the interview process, my goal was to cover the basic algorithms and data structures, and study until I feel calm and confident.

3. Practice, practice, practice…and get a whiteboard

It does not matter if your solution is wonderful, you are in trouble if the interviewer cannot understand it. While preparing for the interview, solve problems on a whiteboard. Learn how to express your ideas and write code (yes, write code on a whiteboard) in a clear, neat and organized way. You want interviewers to understand your solutions.

4. Let all your friends at Google know that you are interviewing

The more Googlers that can say something good about you, the better. You may be able to skip the phone interview (it is not a promise though.) I personally hate technical phone interviews.

5. $hit can happen

Preparing for the interview does not guarantee you will pass it. There are many factors that can work either in your favor or against you. Plus, there is no such a thing as a perfect interview process. $hit out of your control can happen. Don’t feel too bad if, for whatever reason, you fail the interview. It happens more often than you think. Seriously. Just learn from the experience and apply again in six months. Like I mentioned earlier, working for Google is worth the effort.

That’s pretty much it. Good luck! :)

(Image taken from andres.thor’s stream under the creative commons license)

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Jilles van Gurp November 19, 2012 at 9:50 am

The few occasions I dealt with Google recruiters I was struck by their complete disregard and lack of interest in my CV and their emphasis on process as well as their apparent expectation that I should feel privileged to even talk to them. So, I’ve declined to be interviewed on these terms on about eight separate occasions by now. There’s obviously something in my CV that draws Google (and other) recruiters but unfortunately they seem to not communicate with each other and the conversation starts from scratch every time.

My main problem with the standard proposition of a very uncertain process with a large emphasis on basic computer science skills and zero emphasis on what you actually did in the rest of your career is that it is very unappealing to someone who has passed his degree and has a successful career already. At the same time, I never got any satisfactory answer to normal questions such as what specific opportunities there were (like location, job description, and salary). That’s not a solid basis for me to engage with any company.

I haven’t actually needed to implement quicksort in about 15 years (since my algorithms class in 2nd year). I frankly I forgot most of the details and don’t actually consider this a topic worth refreshing for a job interview. Lets just say that I know how to Google for it, should the need arise. The Google proposition seems to boil down to having to work hard to even land an interview; then get grilled on topics which have little to do with your actual CV; and can then fail over such trivialities as not being able to reproduce quick sort, bubble sort or whatever algorithm from memory on a whiteboard.

I’m sorry, but no company is going to succeed in hiring people like me with a process like that. Most of us have jobs or are trying to run our companies, our time is scarce, and seriously we don’t want to be treated like I just dropped out of college. If you have a specific offer (job description, salary, location) great,

I’d be happy to talk to someone in that team and see if we can help each other. For me that’s a normal process. The hiring manager should be the guy that wants to be your boss. HR is there to support that process, not to own it.

BTW. It seems to me that Google is in need of some fresh blood to shake things up a bit. From where I’m standing Google employs tens of thousands of R&D people and I’m just not seeing the output of tens of thousands of geniuses. It seems to me that Google has turned into yet another big software corporation struggling to convert man power into innovation. I never found the IBM white shirt + blue suite thing attractive when I was young, was mildly disgusted by the whole Microsoft cult in the nineties and don’t consider joining the Google cult a career goal either.

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Alex Ruiz November 19, 2012 at 11:05 am

Jilles,

I respect your opinion, even though I don’t completely agree with you.

I think you may change your mind if you actually go through the interview process. I bet you’ll have a more pleasant experience.

-Alex

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Tetsuo November 20, 2012 at 11:49 am

Consider the hypothesis that Google doesn’t want to hire ‘people like you’.

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Christophe May 15, 2013 at 8:24 am

Your “10,000 Geniuses” hypothesis is flawed. Genius doesn’t scale, or there would be no need for start-ups. And yes, Google is a big software corporation. If you don’t like big software corporations, I’d fixate on something constructive, like writing useful open-source software so we can all benefit from your genius.

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Robert Konigsberg November 19, 2012 at 9:54 am

One other piece of advice I’d give is to avoid the websites that claim to know what questions we’ll ask, and are full of ‘puzzle’ questions. It will fill you with false confidence. After all, if they know what we ask, why aren’t they working for Google?

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Alex Ruiz November 19, 2012 at 10:31 am

Good one, Rob! :)

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Robert Konigsberg November 20, 2012 at 8:32 am

Oh yeah, one more: Don’t worry about how well you do on any individual question. You’ll get many questions during the course of an interview, and you can blow parts of a question (or even an entire interview) and still get hired.

This piece of advice was given to me by the receptionist while sitting in the lobby. It allowed me to clear my mind after I failed to rise to the occasion, and move on to the next interviewer.

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Chandra March 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

Looks like an insider’s view on Google’s technical questions :
“Top 10 coding interview problems asked in Google with solutions: Algorithmic Approach” @http://www.amazon.com/coding-interview-problems-Google-solutions/dp/1482799014

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Etienne May 15, 2013 at 8:16 am

@Jilles -

A couple comments from a non-Goolger. You come off sounding very hostile towards this company, and all of it is based on your experience with HR. That seems pretty strange. Apparently Google’s hiring process doesn’t fit well with you. I would take that as a sign that their culture wouldn’t fit as well, and frankly, your confrontational attitude wouldn’t fit well with my company’s interview process either.

Remember, it’s not all about algorithms, it’s about finding people you’d want to work with.

As for algorithms, Let me make an analogy. When a head chef hires other chefs at fine restaurants, they often ask them to prepare something any chef can prepare … an omelette, or fish. Now, a chef may not have prepared an omelette in years, but you can tell a lot about a chef’s proficiency and love for the craft by *how well* they make that omelette. You would expect a world-class chef to make one with relative ease, and it should taste good. Would you hire a chef that has to look in a cookbook because they “forgot” how to make an omelette?

Google makes *all* of their money on the strengths of their algorithms (search/ads). Is it so unusual that they would want to hire people who are good at writing algorithms — or at very least — understand the common ones?

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Alex Ruiz May 15, 2013 at 8:41 am

Wow, Etienne, great response! Probably the best one I heard (or read!) :)

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Mandar June 1, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Alex,

Thanks for sharing some tips on interviewing at Google. Your tips seem so simple yet they are so useful to know. I think the idea of whiteboarding and testing algorithms is good approach because it not only shows interviewee’s basic knowledge but also how they approach a problem. I have already been working in the industry as a Software Engineer for past few years but my experience is predominantly in C# and .NET, do you think I will be considered for interview at Google?

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Alex Ruiz June 1, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I strongly think that everybody has a fair chance to get into Google. The key is preparation, rest and confidence. Let me know when you are ready :-)

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Mandar June 2, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Thanks for your response. I am working on preparing for technical interviews by brushing up algorithms and data structures, I will let you know when I’m ready:)

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Sakthi June 3, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Hi Alex,

I am having interview scheduled for next week with Google over the phone and I am a network professional and applying for the IT Support Specialist role. So far the interviews and the videos I have seen are mostly for the software engineer role involving algorithms and other software development.

Could you please help me and point me in right direction, how google interviews a candidate for the above mentioned position? If you could help me with my query, that would be great.

Thanks millions…

Regards,
Sakthi

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Alex Ruiz June 4, 2013 at 5:36 am

Sorry, Sakthi, I really don’t know the interview process for the position you are applying to.

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Vijaya p. Kandel June 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

Hi, and thank you for the wonderful post. Actually, this article helped me gain a bit more confidence within me. I am still a undergraduate student but my goal is to work with the Google team. I’m very interested with what google does to the global community and i want to be a part of it, and i know its tough. I hope you could help me guide what should i prepare for, like the contents? I’m interested in software engineering.

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Surendra July 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Hi Alex,
Thanks for information in your post. I find it interesting that for some reason my best friend – the recruiter disappeared from the process. Here is my story. I was brought into the interview process by a Google recruiter who found my old resume somewhere and asked me to give it a try and interview at Google (no specifics about the position or group). I sent him my updated resume, after 2-3 weeks another staffer called and scheduled a phone interview with the hiring manager. I had that interview and I think it went quite well (I answered all questions and made one minor mistake in my program). In the end I was told that a person from HR would contact me. I sent a thank you note to the recruiter the next day. Two weeks have passed and there were no calls or emails. I emailed and called the last recruiter with no success, my messages were left unanswered. From the web I found out that the first recruiter who brought me in already left Google.
Now I’m wondering if that’s a usual HR practice to leave the other end guessing? I don’t mind if they called and told me that I’m not good enough or if position has been filled, but not to call at all seems too disrespectful for being adopted as a usual practice. Any insights on what might be happening? BTW, don’t be afraid to tell me that this is an indication that I haven’t been chosen for the position. I already have a well paying job that I love, so being rejected would not kill me.
Thanks,
Surendra.

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Alex Ruiz July 9, 2013 at 6:11 am

Surendra,

I’m sorry you had this bad experience. This is very unusual. Please send me your contact information to alruiz at google.com. I’ll try to find out what is going on.

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Surendra July 9, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Thanks Alex. That’s very nice of you. I’ll email you the details.

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Surendra July 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Hi Alex,
I’ve got reply from my recruiter. I think your inquiry had immediate results. He will be scheduling an on-site interview in the coming weeks. Now it’s time to get ready. Thanks a lot!

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Kanakattk July 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

Alex,

I think a lot of potential candidates like myself are grateful for being someone who is part of the organization to offer “real tips” rather than to read what it may be like. Also, I have to say that in my own experience, they aren’t just looking for quantitative data (though important) — most importantly they want to know 3 key things – 1. can s/he do the job 2. will s/he like the job 3. will s/he get along with the team. I think if I were to put all the Qs in 3 categories, that would be it. All the “logic,” behavioral and situational questions are based to your past behavioral that might fit/not fit with the organization. One thing that I would suggest is to prepare 1 or 2 questions about the job you’re applying for. Ask about some projects or success that last person or team had… if the interviewer can tell you exciting bits of information, it signifies a healthy team you would want to be part of. If they can’t really tell you much… or give general concepts and ideas, ask more specific questions. You want to be prepared for the career move you’re about to make!

Alex is also correct about becoming comfortable and honest with the recruiter. They can help get your foot in the door within the right team that might be a fit for you. I was shuffled around and then finally got around to 4 rounds of phone and google hangout interviews and then invited to fly up for in person 3x 1:1 interviews. Intense ~ but very thorough and the experience was great. Now I am hoping the different committees involved as I have read in other areas (compensation, executive, etc) find that I am a fit candidate for an offer. This process took 1 month and now I wait for the GRAND finale results…

best to all!

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Eric Burke July 29, 2013 at 6:15 pm

It’s too bad Google still relies on whiteboard interviews. At Square we have pairing machines and you get to code in the language of your choice using tools of your choice. I think whiteboard interviews are highly unrealistic…programmers just don’t code on whiteboards in their day-to-day work. Pairing at an actual computer reveals a lot of secondary clues, such as how fast the person navigates their favorite IDE, can they track down syntax errors, are they effective debuggers, etc.

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Alex Ruiz August 3, 2013 at 6:11 am

Whiteboard interviews are not my favorite either. But I think (and please forgive me if I’m missing the point) that are necessary. IMHO, whiteboard interviews tells us little about coding skills, but more about problem solving, communication and design skills. Having said that, I’d love to include pair-programming interviews. I completely see the value of that. I have seen many people that are great on the whiteboard but simply cannot code!

My ideal interview process would include both whiteboard and pair-programming interviews, with a little more emphasis on programming skills :-)

Just curious, does the Square interview process focuses mostly on pair-programming?

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