Eric Schmidt struggled to answer a Google interview question

Schmidt didnt think much of his own companys interview question.
Schmidt didnt think much of his own companys interview question.
Image: Reuters/ Kim Kyung Hoon
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Google is notorious for its fiendishly difficult and somewhat bizarre interview questions. But failed applicants should take heart: even Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent, struggled to answer the brainteaser once put to Google interviewees.

Schmidt was asked the question during a candid conversation at a a talk this month at floating entrepreneurial conference, Summit at Sea. He was told:

“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.”

Schmidt immediately began stalling for time, asking for the question to be repeated and whether he could ask clarifying questions.

“Let’s do the math…if half die. No, if I die… No, if they don’t like me, I die. This is, like, a really bad question,” he said.

Despite claiming to dislike his own company’s interview question, Schmidt managed to come up with a half-decent solution. “It seems to me that if more than half are happy, I survive. I propose, that we give 49% of the pirates stock in internet companies, and 51% get the gold,” he suggested.

Fortunately for Schmidt, Google abandoned the brainteaser questions several years ago after realizing they were terrible at identifying who was actually any good at the job. Last year, Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google told Quartz that Google employees spent so many years posing brainteasers to interviewees, that it took a lot of effort to eliminate the habit.

Hopefully, the company has now completely moved away from such pointless questions—otherwise Google could well miss the next Eric Schmidt.