August 26th, 2012

Book Review: Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google

After reading this book, I hope I never have to interview for another job. If these are the types of questions interviewers are asking these days, I am scared. To be fair, the book focuses on Google and other technology companies hiring for engineers and programmers. To that end, it makes sense that the logic questions in this book as examples be heavily math-based.

The book, “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?” by William Poundstone is equal parts narrative with embedded logic questions and answers to those logic questions as the second half of the book. It reminded me of one of those logic game books you buy because you think it will be fun, but that fun is short lived when the games get hard.

The author and the people he interviews acknowledge that the series of questions and tests that some companies put their job candidates through still can’t accurately predict a new hire’s success at a company; it is merely a way to narrow the field a bit. Some of the best pieces of advice from the book are:

Some questions test “something rarer than education–the capacity to ignore what you learned when it isn’t helpful…Google doesn’t want people who instinctively do things the hard way because they can. They want those with a knack for intuiting simple solutions that work.”

“Google likes answers that scale up.”

“One of the oft-cited mysteries of creativity is that revolutionary ideas often come from non experts with an outsider’s perspective.”

“Logic puzzles are like poems or code: the good ones don’t contain the inessential.”

“Like jokes or golf courses or haiku, logic puzzles aspire to a certain form of cleverness and play by certain rules to achieve it. By reverse engineering this structure, you can come up with a three-part process that applies in broad outline, to the solution of most of these puzzles. It goes like this: (1) Distrust the first answer or line of attack that pops into your head. It won’t work because if it did, the puzzle would be too easy. (2) Decide what feature of the question’s wording doesn’t ‘fit’ and take that as a clue. (3) Look for a solution that’s surprising in some way.”

If you are stumped: “…it’s better interview etiquette to keep trying to answer the question until the interviewer cuts your off. Interviewers ought to know that innovation takes persistence, intuition, and luck. You can at least show you’ve got the persistence part covered.”

The bottom line is that the book has some good interviewing advice and is worth a review (maybe not a cover-to-cover reading) for those currently in the market for a new job. My key takeaway from the book was to be passionate about the company, products, services, and position for which you are interviewing, and if it is truly the right fit, things will work out for you.

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Link to book on Amazon