How to Ace the Google GCA (General Cognitive Ability) Interview

Google Jun 19, 2022

During your upcoming Google interview, there will be a critical round called the GCA, or General Cognitive Ability, interview.

As the name suggests, GCA interview rounds assess your general cognitive abilities, thought processes, and approach to solving problems. As such, they will typically be in the form of behavioral, hypothetical, or estimation questions (we'll cover each in more detail below).

Despite the importance of this part of the Google interview process, they are typically difficult to prepare for many candidates.

You'll still need to ace this section if you hope to receive a job offer at the end of your Google interviews.

So, to help you do that, we've prepared this guide to dive deeply into the challenging GCA interview at Google.

Let's get to it!

The Google GCA Interview

What is the Google General Cognitive Ability interview all about anyway?

As we mentioned, GCA interviews are similar to behavioral interviews at other companies. However, these questions are focused on evaluating how you think and solve problems rather than role related knowledge.

Often, these interview rounds won't take more than one hour.

Most candidates will be interviewed by Google hiring managers or by a member of the team you're hoping to join if hired.

Google GCA interview questions are very open-ended questions meant to give candidates significant leeway with how they can answer.

This is, of course, because Google GCA interview questions best showcase a candidate's thought processes and potential approaches to solving problems.

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Don't be surprised if the questions you are asked during your interviews are either specific to your role, seemingly irrelevant, or both.

Regarding the questions, GCA interviews can consist of behavioral, hypothetical, or estimation questions.

Let's take a closer look at each in more detail:

Google GCA Behavioral Interview Questions

Abstract by Maria Shukshina

In most cases, you'll find that Google GCA questions will be in the form of behavioral questions.

You'll be asked behaviorals in one way or another during every tech interview.

Still, GCA behavioral questions may focus more on situations that demonstrate how you think on the job.

In other parts of the interview, Google interviewers will also ask these questions to gauge your culture fit at the company. You can learn more about that in the article below:

How to Ace Google, Facebook, and Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions
Companies test for culture fit (as well as a whole range of interpersonal and professional skills) in the behavioral interview. How can you best prep for this hard, ambiguous round? Read on to learn strategies and tips for success.

Here are some examples of Google GCA behavioral questions:

  1. Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder.
  2. Tell me about a time when you worked on a project with a tight deadline.
  3. How do you prioritize if you have to work on five different projects?
  4. Tell me about a time you faced technical and people challenges simultaneously.
  5. Tell me about a time when you handled conflict.
  6. How do you sell an idea to senior management? For example, if you use slides, what would the content include?
  7. Tell me about a time you had to convince engineers to implement a particular feature.
  8. Tell me about a time when you made a decision based on data and were ultimately wrong.
  9. Tell me about how you brought a product to market.
  10. Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a team after a demoralizing event.

Google GCA Hypothetical Interview Questions

Abstract by Dani Vinogradova

One unique aspect of the Google GCA is that some of the behavioral interview questions you'll be asked are about hypothetical scenarios.

Of course, all behavioral interview questions are designed to gauge how candidates would perform in their position if hired. So, naturally, Google interviewers will ask you how you'd act or react in a given situation.

When it comes to the GCA round, you may find that these makeup most of the questions you are asked.

Here are some examples:

  1. You have a coworker who is not comfortable working on the team. What steps would you take to make the person more comfortable?
  2. What would you do if you were introduced to new technology and never used it before? How would you know that you have learned it well?
  3. Your team isn't innovating. What will you do to analyze the situation and make them innovate?
  4. You have 12 months to deliver on a project. After six months, you released during a meeting that another team is working on the same project. What would you do?
  5. How would you react when you find the price of a product in a drug store to be very high?
  6. How would you handle people who are not team players?
  7. Imagine your manager strongly believed in something, and you did not. How would you manage the situation?
  8. A developer is not testing the work. How would you deal with this?
  9. What happens when a team member takes sick leave when your project has an upcoming deadline?
  10. An essential feature of a product is not working on the day of the conference you are releasing it. What will you do?

How to Answer Google GCA Behavioral & Hypothetical Questions

Abstract by Maria Shukshina

The hypothetical questions you will be asked during your Google GCA interviews will be very similar to the other behaviorals.

In a sense, hypothetical GCA interview questions are simply a type of behavioral interview question.

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Here's how to answer behavioral interview questions that ask about your experience and hypothetical scenarios.

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Both are rather open ended questions. As such, you can answer them effectively in essentially the same way. Here's how:

Use Interview Frameworks

The best way to ensure your behavioral interview answers are concise yet compelling is to use interview frameworks where appropriate.

You should not rely solely on interview frameworks to answer every question your way; they can be a valuable tool during the GCA round.

Two frameworks will be best for the behavioral and hypothetical GCA interview questions. These are the triangle method and the STAR framework.

The STAR Method

The STAR Method consists of breaking your answer into four parts. These are:

S - Situation

T - Task

A - Action

R - Result

In short, STAR consists of explaining the situation, describing the task(s) required of you in the situation, the actions you took to complete the task(s), and, finally, the result(s) of those actions.

This framework is most appropriate for straightforward behavioral interview questions.

Although it can still be used for hypothetical GCA questions, it will typically be better for explaining actual situations that happened to you.

You can find a more detailed breakdown of the STAR method in our Amazon Behavioral Interview Questions article here.

How to Nail Amazon’s Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral questions are big in Amazon interviews, but what are they? In this article, we’ll show you how to answer them and boost your interview chances.

The Triangle Method

As the name suggests, the Triangle method is a framework that consists of breaking your answer into (typically) three main sub-points.

You may find that this framework is a little more appropriate for answering hypothetical questions.

Listen to our CEO, Stephen, explain the Triangle Method in greater detail here.

Create an Interview Story Bank

Another way to prepare for the GCA behavioral questions is to create a story bank.

This is a collection of stories, situations, or previous experiences that you can thoroughly discuss during your interviews to answer a Google GCA question.

Needless to say, it's impossible to precisely know which questions you'll ultimately be asked during the GCA round.

Suppose you have plenty of stories in the bank. In that case, you'll significantly improve your chances of acing the behavioral questions that come your way.

It's crucial to have a diverse array of stories in your bank, considering behavioral questions during a GCA could have a broad scope.

Learn more about behavioral interview story banks here.

Google GCA Estimation Questions

Abstract by Oleg Shcherba

How many tennis balls would fit into a typical car?

How many eggs are sold in the US per year?

How many windows are in New York City?

Among the big tech companies, Google is notorious for asking these difficult estimate questions.

Also known as Fermi Problems, you may be asked these questions during your GCA interviews.

Nevertheless, the estimation questions being asked during GCA interviews have changed. Estimation questions like those above have fallen out of fashion and are asked less frequently during interviews.

How To Answer Estimation Interview Questions

Take a deeper dive into Estimation interview questions in our Complete PM Interview Prep Course here.

Start Estimating

Instead, if you are asked estimation questions during your GCAs, they will likely be Google-specific, such as these:

  1. Estimate the number of restaurants in San Francisco. Watch an answer to this question here.
  2. Estimate the number of videos watched on YouTube per day.
  3. How much money does the Play Store make in a year? Listen to a sample answer to this question here.
  4. What is the market size for driverless cars in 2025?
  5. How many quarters do you need to reach the height of the Empire State Building? Watch a Google Product Manager answer this question here.
  6. Estimate the total amount of online sales for fruits and vegetables per year in NYC.
  7. Estimate Google Photos storage for Pixel phones. Watch an answer to this question here.
  8. Estimate the total internet bandwidth needed for a campus of 1000 graduate students.
  9. What's the market size for Android in India? Watch an answer to this question here.
  10. Estimate the number of Gmail users in the US.

How to Answer Google GCA Estimation Questions

Abstract by Dani Vinogradova

While this kind of Google interview question may seem mind-numbing, if not a little ridiculous, at first, don't worry.

It is still possible to prepare for them ahead of time and answer them effectively on the day of your GCA rounds.

Here's how you can do it:

Study up on and Remember Basic Facts

The first step in preparing for GCA estimation questions is studying and remembering basic facts and figures.

These basic figures can come in handy later when attempting to make some reasonable estimations.

We've compiled a list of some important ones you should try to memorize for your GCA interviews. Check those out here in our Estimation Fact Sheet.

This doesn't mean you should try memorizing as many facts and figures as possible. After all, Google interviewers aren't assessing your memorization abilities for these interview questions.

Estimation questions during your GCA evaluate how you think, so simply reciting remembered figures won't do you any favors.

Outline and Clarify the Problem

Even though estimation interview questions may feel relatively straightforward, it's always best to ask clarifying questions to help you get a better scope of the problem.

For instance, if your Google hiring manager asked you to estimate the weight of a monster truck, you could ask questions such as:

  • Do I need to include a full tank of gas in my estimate?
  • Do I need to account for the weight of a driver in my estimation?

Depending on your questions, your hiring manager may simply tell you to make your own assumptions as necessary. If you do so, however, mention what you are assuming when you make your estimate.

Break Down The Problem Into Smaller Pieces

Remember: estimation interview questions assess how you think, much like the rest of the GCA.

As such, you'll need to explain and outline the structure you use to answer the question for the most effective answer.

Once you've clarified the scope of the question, you'll need to break down the problem into smaller pieces and explain why you are doing so.

Provide an Estimate

Once you've completed the above, you're ready to actually provide an estimate and answer to the question.

Don't feel too intimidated by this part. Estimation questions in GCA interviews aren't meant for perfectly accurate answers.

So long as you can explain why you believe the number you chose is reasonable given your assumptions, it doesn't matter if you're a little off the actual figure.

Explain Why You Could or Are Wrong

While you may have provided an estimated answer to the question, you're not entirely done yet!

As we said, these questions aren't looking for exact answers because let's face it, your answer is almost certainly wrong.

So, once you provide your estimate, you should also mention how or why it could be wrong. Then, explain to your interviewer if the number you provided is likely overestimated or underestimated.

Mention some other factors you could have considered to find a more accurate figure.

How to Ace the Google GCA Interview Rounds

Now that we've covered the questions you can expect during your GCA rounds, let's get into how to prepare for them.

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As the name suggests, the GCA interview assesses your general cognitive ability and level of intelligence.

Truth be told, the only truly effective way to prepare for this interview is to practice, practice, practice.

Review Questions Previously Asked at Google

You never know what Google hiring managers may ask you during your GCA interview.

Luckily, you can study up on questions previously asked in actual Google interviews.

We've sourced hundreds of different Google interview questions from members of our community for you to review before your GCA interview.

💬 Check out our list of the top Google interview questions here.

Complete Some Mock Interviews

There's no shame in admitting that an upcoming Google interview makes you nervous. Considering how competitive and massive the tech giant is, we wouldn't blame you for feeling some nerves on your big day.

Nevertheless, while understandable, if you're too nervous during your GCA interview, you may not put your best foot forward.

Before you go for your actual interview, we recommend completing some mock interviews to help build your confidence ahead of time.

👯‍♂️ You can do so today using our peer-to-peer mock interview platform that allows you to complete mocks with one of the thousands of Exponent members.

Work With a Google Interview Coach

The GCA round of the Google interview process can be tricky, even with lots of prep under your belt.

One of the most effective ways to prepare for these questions is with interview coaching.

Exponent has partnered with several Google interview coaches who can give you an inside look into the company's hiring process while giving you expert advice on your potential interview performance.

Book a session today with:

👨‍🎓 Check out the complete list of expert Google interview coaches here.

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Anthony Pellegrino

I'm Tony, a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. I write about interview prep and career planning for Exponent, but I also write about climate change, tech, and, politics.

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