Google strives to hire "the world's best engineers,"and has crafted an "interminable" interview process dotted with puzzles and brainteasers to do so. One little problem: the process tends to give the worst scores to the best future employees.

That's according to Peter Norvig (pictured), Google's director of research, former Google director of search quality and former head of the Computational Sciences division at the NASA Ames research center. Here's what Norvig tells Peter Seibel in a Q&A in the new book Coders at Work (emphasis added):

One of the interesting things we've found, when trying to predict how well somebody we've hired is going to perform when we evaluate them a year or two later, is one of the best indicators of success within the company was getting the worst possible score on one of your interviews. We rank people from one to four, and if you got a one on one of your interviews, that was a really good indicator of success.

Small suggestion: Maybe Google can take these genius employees and have them, hmmm, we dunno, debug the frickin' broken interview process. Those who demanded they be hired should probably also be enlisted in the debugging effort. Writes Norvig:

Ninety-nine percent of the people who got a one in one of their interviews we didn't hire. But the rest of them, in order for us to hire them somebody else had to be so passionate that they pounded on the table and said, "I have to hire this person because I see something in him..."

Unfortunately, Google's had already done most of its hiring/rejecting and is now has been in layoff mode for much of this year. But, hey, there's always the next bubble.

UPDATE: A Goolge spokesperson disputed that the company was "in layoff mode," as we wrote, and stated: "To the contrary, we have been very explicit... that we are stepping our rate of hiring." Indeed, CEO Eric Schmidt stated in a discussion of Q3 results that "we're going to invest in people. We're already stepping up our hiring." That's in contrast to earlier this year, when Google had three rounds of layoffs from January through the end of March.

UPDATE 2: Norvig writes on his FriendFeed that we got "everything wrong" — this is just more evidence of how well the Google process works. Click through to read his full post (and our reply, underneath).

(Pic: Norvig, by Mathieu Thouvenin)