A Google VP Shares Her Favorite Interview Question and How to Answer

  • Sissie Hsiao is the General Manager and Vice President of Google Assistant in Mountain View, California.
  • During an interview as a young computer scientist, she was asked a question that had a lasting effect.
  • Her best advice for answering is to throw away the rehearsed answer and be open-minded instead.

This essay is based on an interview with Sissie Hsiao, General Manager and Vice President of Google Assistant, who lives in Mountain View, California. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

One of my favorite aspects of leading the Google Assistant team is meeting potential candidates during the interview. After 16 years at Google, I had the opportunity to find my personal interviewing style.

Years ago, as a young computer scientist, I was asked in a job interview, “If I hire you, what would I know about you in a year’s time that I wanted to know now?” It was a question that had a lasting impact on me and I’m now on the favorite spot.

It can be an intimidating question, and because few people anticipate it, it always makes them stop and think. In all my years of conducting interviews, I’ve never heard a “canned” answer to that question — it elicits real, honest responses. Here are some of my tips on how to respond well to that.

Show who you are beyond your accomplishments

I’m often asked what I love most about working at Google. The answer is simple: the people.

Part of what makes our culture so special is that the people who work here are not only some of the smartest in the world – they are also good, helpful and friendly colleagues. So when you’re asked a question as broad as this, consider it an opportunity to show who you are as a person.

The most interesting response I’ve ever heard was, “When it gets hot, I calm down.” The contestant told me that he served as a volunteer firefighter and was known for staying calm in the face of (literal) fires. His answer triggered something deep inside him, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Show sides of yourself that cannot be extracted from a resume. Don’t be afraid to be an authentic, vulnerable person. There is so much more to people than mere achievements, so don’t just share what you’ve done, but who you are.

Anchor your answer in a story

I’m looking for someone who can anchor an answer to a really concrete example. It’s a broad question, so I’m looking for someone who can narrow it down and make it tangible.

Are you a self-starter and have you ever created your own app? Or that you bring a global perspective to the team and speak five languages? When asked an open-ended question like this, use it as an opportunity to tell a story that captures who you are and what you would bring with you.

Be open and humble about your strengths

It’s common to talk at length about the hard skills that qualify you for the job, but remember to also emphasize the soft skills.

Some of my favorite reactions have been when candidates shared with me what they learned about their own personal style along the way. For example, I’ve been told, “I can get overly excited and passionate” or “I can come across a certain way, and that often confuses people until they know me well.”

Sometimes people take the opportunity to share weaknesses or improvements. That openness—especially when used to shed light on what you’ve learned about yourself—can tell me a lot.

My best advice: throw away the rehearsed answers and be open about who you are. And if you can do it with a memorable example and a good dose of humility, you’re spot on.

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