How do you separate the chaff from the wheat when hiring? If you’re a start-up search engine, you challenge your job candidates to out-think Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. That’s what Become.com, a new shopping search engine, did. When the company was looking for engineers last year, it received about 2,000 replies to its various job listings. To winnow down the field of candidates, founders Michael Yang and Yeogirl Yun asked the applicants to read Page’s and Brin’s Page Rank paper and then develop their own, better search algorithm. About 100 of the applicants took the challenge, which required about 40 hours of coding. Yang says that many of the concepts that came out of that process ended up in the Become.com algorithm.

UPDATE: Be sure to see Michael Yang’s remarks in the comments section about the controversial notion that some of the programmers’ ideas may have contributed to the Become.com code-base. Yang says now that his company “never used any code or ideas from the programming test.”