Google boss struggles to answer Google job interview question

Eric Schmidt acknowledged that the brainteaser about apportioning pirates' booty, once posed to prospective Google employees, was a 'really bad question'

Tim Walker
US Correspondent
Monday 28 November 2016 21:29
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Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google's parent company
Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google's parent company

Among the corporate innovations credited to Google in its early years was a set of hair-pullingly tricky job interview questions. Prospective employees would be asked chin-strokers such as “How many golf balls fit into a school bus?” and “Why are manhole covers round?”

To anyone who failed that test, it will come as either small comfort or bitter irony that even the company’s top brass have difficulty when their questions are posed back to them. Case in point: Eric Schmidt, Google’s ex-CEO, now the executive chairman of its parent company, Alphabet.

Appearing on stage earlier this month at the Summit at Sea conference – a fancy, four-day cruise from Miami to the Bahamas featuring appearances from top businessmen, entertainers and others, Mr Schmidt was faced with the following brainteaser:

“You’re the captain of a pirate ship and you find a chest of gold. 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?”

A stumped Schmidt stalled for time, Quartz reported, asking for the question to be repeated and clarified and acknowledging that it was “a really bad question.”

Eventually, he came up with an answer. “It seems to me that if more than half are happy, I survive. I propose, that we give 49 per cent of the pirates stock in internet companies, and 51 per cent get the gold,” he said.

When even the boss thinks the questions are “bad” it’s little wonder Google abandoned the practice years ago, after concluding that the questions were a waste of time and did little to weed out suitable candidates for a given job.

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