Career Advice

10 Tips to Breeze Through Brainteaser Interview Questions

min read
Mikaela Thompson

Unsurprisingly, not all candidates will feel this way, instead feeling flummoxed and panicked by an unexpected, bizarrely off-topic, out of left field, type of question, such as, ‘How many golf balls are needed to fill a school bus?’. However, there’s more to such questions than an HM’s madness, boredom or desire to torture you. In fact, the way you answer brain-teaser questions can be more important than anything on your resume!

Why are brain-teaser questions used by employers?

Their objective is to assess candidates’ problem-solving, analytical, listening skills and ability to handle pressure. These conundrum-type questions confront candidates with the need to think in unconventional ways within given constraints. 

These attributes aren’t reflected by a correct answer. There may be no one right response, but you can be fairly sure, the most obvious answer is the wrong one. It’s the methods you use, and your demeanor adopted, to solve the problems which are of critical interest here. Your aim should be to ‘think outside the box’, think laterally and deliver the answer’s explanation in a calm, composed manner. 

The pros and cons of brain-teaser questions.

Pros: they reveal insights into a person’s thinking processes; indicate a person’s critical thinking abilities and how they: solve problems, deal with pressure, analyze information and articulate solutions.

Cons: if your prospective company is well-known for using these questions (like many tech and management consulting companies), candidates may have got hold of and rehearsed their responses which of course defeats the purpose of seeing how they can figure out an answer on-the-spot; exceedingly difficult questions could discourage promising interviewees; visual learners’ performance could be unfairly undermined by questions asked verbally, rather than by looking at things or reading similar questions. 

How can a candidate prepare for brain-teaser questions?

It’s impossible to know exactly which brain-teaser questions might come up in a job interview. There’s a dizzying number of them. However, it’s likely to be in your best interest to practice answering these types of questions pre-interview e.g., you can get used to thinking beyond the conventional means of problem-solving; it’ll help you to spot the clues to answers within the questions themselves; and you’ll soon pick up how to respond to certain types of questions. 

10 other useful tips.

i) Take pen, paper and graph paper (in case you want to make a graph or chart) to the interview. It’s acceptable to ask the HR if you can use these to help you arrive at answers.

ii) Don’t be tempted to try to figure out an answer whilst the interviewer is giving you the question. Listen until the end, so that you don’t miss any vital information.

iii) Relax and take a deep breath before answering.

iv) Buy some time by asking for the question to be repeated or by clarifying details.

v) Process/calculate your answer out loud so the interviewer can appreciate how you’re processing the information and trying to solve the problem. Provide approximations / assumptions for mathematical questions. Work out a formula based on your estimates. Typically, no details of dimensions, volumes, area, distance etc., are provided in the question. Brush up on your mathematics so you can do this!

vi) Take a methodical approach and resist feeling overwhelmed.

vii) Articulate your reasoning step by step when you’re presenting an answer. Remind yourself, this is more important to the interviewer, than the answer itself.

viii) Be willing to change your tactics mid-problem solving. The hiring manager is looking for someone who can brainstorm multiple creative solutions to real-world business problems so this should be seen as an asset.

ix) If you’re totally scratching your head after a question, say you’re unable to come up with a viable solution at this time but you could either return to it later or send an answer in a follow-up communication. Don’t let the situation ‘do your head in’ and ruin the rest of your interview opportunity.

x) Don’t forget to prepare and practice other common types of interview questions.

Remember: the interview is a conversation, not an exam. You should feel comfortable and able to ask for assistance…although do be prepared for a ‘No’ response.

Where can I look for tough brain-teaser questions to practice?

Silicon Valley tech companies are notorious for their crazy brain-teaser questions. You can look on Careersidekick for the toughest questions posed in interviews by tech giants: Facebook, Google, Apple and LinkedIn. For more brain-teaser questions look on Indeed.

Check out more tips on how to nail your next interview here!

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