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8 Brain Teasers for Interview Insights

When getting ready to hire for a new position, it’s important to prepare questions to find out all you can about your potential new employee. Instead of reusing the same common interview questions always used and hearing the same rehearsed answers over and over, try using brain teasers for interview questions. These puzzle-like questions will snap a candidate out of their typical recitation and reveal a wealth of first-hand information about their problem-solving, analytical and listening skills.

Interviews seem to get more unconventional all the time. You want to get to know more about your potential employees than you can learn from their answers to the common interview questions that they’ve been rehearsing for days. One way to snap a candidate out of the rut and get to know a bit more about them is by using brain teasers for interview questions. This type of question helps you quickly get to know candidates and gauge their problem-solving, analytical and listening skills.

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8 brain teaser interview questions

While there are many different types of brain teasers to ask, here are eight example questions and possible answers. In many cases, having a candidate get the correct answer is less important than the insight gained from understanding how they arrived at that particular conclusion.

1. Michelle’s mom has four children. The first child is named April, the second is named May and the third is named June. What is the name of her fourth child?

Answer: Michelle

What this reveals: Many candidates will answer “July.” However, the correct answer demonstrates the following traits:

  • Listening skills
  • Logic
  • Quick thinking

2. There are three boxes, one box labeled “bananas,” another labeled “strawberries” and the last labeled “mixed.” All the boxes are labeled incorrectly. You’re only allowed to reach into a single box and take out one piece of fruit. Without looking into the box, how will you fix the labels?

Possible solution: Open the box labeled “mixed” first. You take out a strawberry. All of the boxes are labeled wrong, so you know this box only has strawberries. Move the “strawberries” label to this box. The box labeled “bananas” must be mislabeled. It can’t be strawberries, so it must be mixed. Move the mixed label to this box. Now you know the last box contains bananas.

What this reveals: This is designed to help evaluate listening skills and logic. The candidate’s answer demonstrates:

  • Logic
  • Listening skills
  • Problem-solving

3. You need to measure 4 gallons, but you have a 3-gallon jug and a 5-gallon jug. How do you measure exactly 4 gallons?

Possible solution: Fill the 3-gallon jug, and then pour it into the 5-gallon jug. Fill the 3-gallon jug again, and start pouring that into the 5-gallon jug until it’s full. This removes 2 gallons from the 3-gallon jug. Dump out the 5-gallon jug. Pour the 1 gallon that’s left in the 3-gallon jug into the 5-gallon jug, then fill the 3-gallon jug again and pour it into the 5-gallon jug. You now have 4 gallons.

What this reveals: This helps assess how the candidate uses problem-solving skills. Ask them to explain their process as they work out the solution. This demonstrates the following:

  • Problem-solving
  • Mathematical thinking
  • Logic

4. Why do they make manhole covers round?

Possible answers: The round shape makes it easy to roll away from the opening. Round covers won’t damage the tires of cars passing over them. Round covers can be easily placed, fitted and aligned.

What this reveals: This gives insight into how a candidate solves problems requiring spatial awareness. It can also help you see whether someone has the following skills:

  • Logic
  • Problem-solving
  • Creative thinking

5. You’re outside of a windowless room. The room has three light bulbs and three switches outside the room. Each switch controls one of the light bulbs. You may only enter the room once. How can you find out what switch goes to each light bulb?

Possible solution: Turn on the first switch and wait five minutes. After five minutes have passed, turn off the first switch and turn on the second switch. Go into the room and feel the bulbs to see which one is warm. You’ll know that bulb matches the first switch. The bulb that’s on belongs to the second switch. You now know the third switch belongs to the last bulb.

What this reveals: This assesses the candidate’s problem-solving skills. Ask them to explain their steps as they work out the solution. This question tests logic, and how quickly they answer shows how they approach problems. Look for the following in their answer:

  • Creativity
  • Logic
  • Problem-solving skills

6. A drawer contains 20 white socks and 42 black socks. With your eyes closed, how many socks would you need to take from the drawer to get a matching pair?

Answer: Three socks. If the first sock is black, and the second sock is white, then the third one will make a matching pair.

What this reveals: While a candidate may be prepared for a complex question and answer, the simplicity of this question challenges their listening skills. It can also help assess whether a candidate has the following skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Logic
  • Mathematical thinking

7. How would you determine the weight of a commercial airplane without a scale?

Possible solutions: There are many possible approaches to solving this brain teaser. The candidate could speculate the average weight of each component of the aircraft, including fuel and passenger weight. They could suggest measuring the plane by using a water-displacement method, or they might even say it’s impossible to calculate the weight of a plane because there isn’t a scale large enough to weigh it.

When it comes to this brain teaser question, a correct solution is far less important than the evaluation of how a candidate thinks about a problem and how they react to an unexpected and abstract scenario, such as weighing something so large that it’s difficult to comprehend.

What this reveals:

  • Creative problem-solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Logic

8. How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

Possible solutions: A popular response is that there’s no need to wash windows in Seattle because it rains so much that they’re washed naturally. Other responses may include attempts at estimating the number of buildings, and thus windows, in all of Seattle.

What this reveals: This brain teaser provides an opportunity for a candidate to give a simple answer: one number. Whether they decide to take the clever route of answering “It rains enough in Seattle” or try to work out the number of Seattle buildings reveals how they approach thinking about abstract questions. This question tests for the following skills:

  • Quick thinking
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Mathematical thinking

Pros and cons of using brain teasers for interview questions

Brain teasers can offer great insight because they allow you to see a candidate’s thought process and how they might problem-solve on the job. This is especially important if you are hiring for arole that requires lots of problem-solving. This insight can prove invaluable when trying to hire the best person for the job.

While brain teasers can be a great way to discern these skills, there are some potential drawbacks to their use. Difficult questions may discourage some candidates or negatively impact their interview experience. If you only have a limited amount of interview time, brain teasers may take away valuable time from learning about a candidate’s previous experience and other skills. Additionally, visual or kinesthetic learners may have a hard time working out these questions verbally, which could understate their actual skills.

FAQs about brain teasers

How many brain teaser questions should I ask?

The number of these questions to ask depends on a few factors, such as how much time you have for the interview and the role you’re interviewing for. If you’re tight on time, you might not find it necessary to ask brain teasers at all. Ultimately, you should ask as many brain teaser questions as you feel are necessary to assess the candidate’s problem-solving skills.

What if the candidate gets the answer wrong?

It’s important to remember that the correct answer isn’t the main reason for asking. The purpose is to gain insight into how someone uses logic, how they handle pressure and whether they’re able to creatively problem-solve.

Consider creating an interview scoring rubric to grade candidates based on the factors you’re looking for. For example, you may decide that logical reasoning skills are more important than getting the right answer to the brain teasers for interview purposes.

Should I ask brain teaser questions in every interview?

Not necessarily. Consider the duration and location of your interview and whether you want to prioritize hearing about past work experience over testing for workplace skills. If you’re interested in testing problem-solving skills, using brain teasers for interview questions can be a quick method to do so. But if you’re hiring for a role that won’t require a lot of creative problem-solving, asking brain teaser questions may not be necessary.

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