I’ve been in my job for 11 years and I’m about to start interviewing again. I’ve heard companies today ask a lot of tough brain teaser questions that aren’t related to the job. What’s the deal with the brain teasers? — Raymond, Somerset, NJ
Brain teaser interview questions are testing one thing: your problem solving ability. Companies want to know the people they bring on board can respond to challenges in a dynamic workplace.
A manager is looking to understand your approach to new problems and hear your thought process when answering problem solving questions. Someone who can find a solution to “How many golf balls can fit on a school bus?” is probably the type of person who can find a way to fix a tough code bug or design a new software product.
While you may occasionally be asked to estimate how many quarters would have to be stacked up to reach the top of the Empire State Building, you should also be on the lookout for more practical problem solving questions. A question like, “How did you approach and solve your greatest challenge in your last role?” also shows the way your mind works.
Here are some tips on how to handle brain teaser and problem solving questions:
Keep calm. There’s a tendency to panic when faced with an unknown situation. Clear your mind with a deep breath before tackling the question.
Remember the “right answer” isn’t as important as you think. Most of these questions don’t have a right answer. Showing your thought process is the key, so focus on how you would work through the problem.
Talk through your solution. If you’re sitting silently crunching numbers in your head, you’ve missed the point.
Don’t be afraid to write it out. Some questions will require a pen and paper. If you need to make some calculations, use some scrap paper but keep the manager informed on your process.
Consider all the variables. Be sure to incorporate different variables into your solution. In an earlier article about the 10 qualities hiring managers are looking for, we wrote about five steps to take in solving “How would you move a mountain one foot south?”
- What things would you have to consider?
- What type of people would you need to get involved?
- How would you start?
- How would you make sure it was on target?
- What assumptions would you have to make before you started?
Send us examples of brain teaser interview questions you’ve been faced with…we’d would love to know how you answered them and how your interviewer reacted!