How Sam Bankman-Fried passed Jane Street's bizarre interview
If you've ever thought "what's your biggest weakness" is the hardest question you could get in a job interview, you've clearly never interviewed at Jane Street. The electronic trading firm has conducted some of the most unique and bizarre interviews for some time. Yet, people survive them, including FTX founder and ex-Jane Street employee Sam Bankman Fried. And Bankman Fried's Jane Street interview seems to have been as bizarre as might be expected.
In Michael Lewis' new book, Going Infinite, SBF accounts of interviewing for an internship at Jane Street is described in detail. There was an initial phone interview. Starting with mental math problems like twelve times seven, the call soon ramped up to more complex odds based questions such as, "if you roll two six sided dice, what are the odds you get at least one three?"
Having passed this stage, Bankman Fried was then flown to a Jane Street office, at which point he claims things became more raucous. The in-person interview allegedly began when SBF was handed 100 poker chips as a "stake" and informed that nobody who lost all the chips had ever been given a job at the firm.
He and the other two interviewees were dealt a poker hand but offered a number of odd opportunities, such as the ability to pay to exchange one of the cards in their hands for a new one. SBF, being quick and aggressive, out earned his o̶p̶p̶o̶n̶e̶n̶t̶s̶ fellow interviewees and progressed.
From there, SBF was put through five rounds of games on his own. In one, he was given ten coins, of which one was a regular coin with a 50/50 chance of landing on heads or tails, but the rest were unevenly weighted in an unknown capacity. Every time he flipped a coin that landed on heads, he won 1 chip. The complexity was enhanced by bets within bets, as the trader running the game offered bets on what the next flip would be.
He was also asked more questions, however this time they had considerably more ambiguity to them. The one SBF remembered most was, "What are the odds that I have a relative who is a professional baseball player." He said that, alongside the rough mathematical estimates of how many baseball players in the world there are or how many relatives the average person has, there was also the increased possibility that he asked the specific question because he was related to one, and the possibility that it might be a red herring. SBF said the question they were truly looking for the answer to was, "Did I realize that there was information in the question I was asked?"
Is it still like this today? It's hard to tell whether the way Jane Street interviews has changed, but the purpose of its interview process certainly hasn't, as its recent interview questions make clear. SBF claims that Jane Street's approach "is to give you partial knowledge and relationships that can only be partially understood." Your own approach to answering, not the final destination, is what matters, with SBF saying "there are no right answers. There are only wrong answers."
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