Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review: Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? By William Poundstone

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66. Know what comes next in this number sequence? If you want a hope of getting a job at Google, it's one of the questions you should know the answer to.

William Poundstone provides intriguing insight into how Google approaches its hiring process, weeding out the chaff in order to secure the brightest brains that will continue to propel the company forward.

Poundstone explains how Google, with its extensive perks and cool working environment, remains one of the world's most popular employers.

It receives about one million job applications every year. Only one in 130 applicants will succeed in getting a job there.

But while Poundstone's book is ostensibly one about getting on board the Google express, it's really an insight into how companies in general approach the hiring process and why interviewers frequently ask the most seemingly inane questions -- if you were a colour what colour would you be, or if you were an animal what animal would you be -- are just two of the more obvious ones.

Even Google's own head of HR, Laszlo Bock, has decried the typical interview process.

"Interviews are a terrible predictor of performance," he once said.

Poundstone says Google is asking the kinds of questions that don't generally have one answer. The object is to get people thinking and the intellectual challenges it poses have become the stuff of legend.

Google interviewers have been known to ask a diverse range of brain teasers designed to probe the minds of candidates.

"You're supposed to ask open-ended questions that test problem solving and general knowledge, then get into specifics," Poundstone quotes one former Google interviewer as saying.

Poundstone also explores the usefulness of more traditional interview techniques. Inevitably, interviewers favour candidates who "do well on interviews", he says -- those who "look good, talk a good game and make the right jokes".

The problem is of course, that doing well on an interview is not the same as doing well on the job.

Poundstone's book is a very engaging read, even if you never plan to work at Google.

And the answer to that number sequence question? A popular search engine will help you find the answer.

Available with free P&P on or by calling 091-709350

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