8 Terrific Brainteaser Interview Questions

Coming up with unique interview questions isn’t always easy. Many hiring managers are looking for creative and efficient ways to quickly get a sense of a potential hire’s skill set. Brainteaser interview questions are a popular method for assessing a candidate’s problem-solving, analytical and listening skills. While brainteasers may not be the right fit for every interview, they can be an interesting and fast-tracked way to get to know your potential employee’s thought process.
 

In this article, we explore the pros and cons of brainteaser interview questions and offer several example questions with their possible solutions.
 
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What are brainteasers?

Brainteasers are puzzle-like questions that challenge a person’s problem-solving skills. They often require lateral thinking or “thinking outside the box,” because answers can’t be calculated and solutions can’t be reached via conventional methods.
 

Using brainteasers during interviews can be a useful tactic for employers who are looking for a way to get to know their candidates and better understand a potential hire’s critical thinking, logic, creativity and mathematical skills. Brainteaser interview questions also allow employers to see how candidates perform under pressure.
 

Brainteasers: pros and cons

When it comes to brainteaser interview questions, the goal is not so much to see if the candidate gets the right answer but rather to understand how they think. Brainteaser questions can be a great way to learn how a potential candidate thinks. There are several pros and cons to consider when asking brainteaser interview questions.
 

Pros

Brainteaser questions test a number of workplace skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and creative capabilities. This level of direct insight into a job candidate’s thinking process is very valuable for the recruitment decision-making process. Therefore, some of the pros of brainteaser interview questions are their ability to reveal a diverse range of a candidate’s skill set including:
 

  • Creative problem-solving skills 
  • Stress management 
  • Ability to analyze information
  • Ability to articulate solutions
  • Decision-making process
  • Spatial awareness skills 

Cons

While brainteaser questions can be a great way of testing job candidates in an interview, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well. Some concerns include:
 

  • If your company is known for asking brainteaser questions, candidates may have already rehearsed their answers beforehand instead of working to figure out the answer on the spot.
  • Very difficult questions may discourage some candidates. 
  • Visual learners—those who learn by looking at things or reading—may not do as well if questions are asked verbally. The results could be misleading in terms of assessing their skills.
  • Brainteaser questions don’t necessarily reveal how well a job candidate will work with other people.
  • Brainteaser questions may take away quality interview time from learning about a candidate’s previous work experience.
  • Not all candidates will react well to a brainteaser question, which may negatively impact their interview experience and consequently damage future recruiting efforts.

Related: Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates 
 

8 brainteasers interview questions

There are many popular brainteaser interview questions to choose from. We’ve included a selection of eight brainteasers used in interviews:
 

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

Answer: Michelle is the fourth child.  
 

What this brainteaser 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 is labeled BANANAS, another is labeled STRAWBERRIES and the last is labeled MIXED. All the boxes are labeled incorrectly. You’re only allowed to reach into one 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 pull out a strawberry.  All of the boxes are labeled wrong, so we know that this box only has strawberries. Move the STRAWBERRIES label to this box. The box labeled BANANAS must be mislabeled. It cannot be strawberries, so it must be MIXED. Move the MIXED label to this box. The last box contains only bananas. 
 

What this brainteaser reveals: There may be other ways to solve this teaser. It’s designed to help the interviewer evaluate listening skills and logic. The important information is that all the boxes are labeled incorrectly. The candidate’s answer should demonstrate:
 

  • Logic
  • Listening skills
  • Problem-solving

3. You need to measure out four gallons of water, but you only have a three-gallon jug and a five-gallon jug. How do you measure out four gallons exactly?  
 

Possible solution:  Fill the three-gallon jug and pour contents into the five-gallon jug. Then, fill the three-gallon jug again and use it to continue filling the five-gallon jug. This will take two gallons out of the three-gallon jug. Now, dump all of the contents out of the five-gallon jug. Pour the one gallon that is left in the three-gallon jug into the five-gallon jug, and then fill the three-gallon jug again and pour it into the five-gallon jug. This will give you four gallons.
 

What this brainteaser reveals: Keep in mind that there may be other ways to solve this teaser. This question helps you understand how the candidate uses problem-solving skills. Ask them to explain their process as they work out a solution to understand how they think and handle the question. The candidate should demonstrate the following skills:
 

  • Problem-solving
  • Mathematical thinking
  • Logic 

4. Why do they make manhole covers round?
 

Possible answers: This question has several answers including:  
 

  • Round covers can’t fall into a round hole.
  • Round covers can be rolled if they need to be moved.
  • Round covers won’t damage the tires of cars that may pass over them.
  • Round covers can be easily placed, fitted and aligned. 

What this brainteaser reveals: You may supply the candidate with paper for this question, as many people work things out visually. This question 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 standing outside a room with no windows. 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 one time. How can you find out what switch goes to each light bulb? 
 

Possible solution: To find out what switch goes to what light bulb, you could 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. Look for the warm light bulb when you walk back into the room. The light that’s on goes to the second switch, the warm light bulb goes to the first switch and the last light bulb goes to the third switch.
 

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

  • Creativity
  • Logic
  • Problem-solving skills

6. If you have seven white socks and nine black socks in a drawer, how many socks do you have to pull out blindly in order to ensure you have a matching pair?
 

Answer: Three socks. If the first one is one color, and the second one is another color, then the third sock will make a matching pair, regardless of what color it is. 
 

What this brainteaser reveals: While a candidate may be prepared for a complex question and answer, the simplicity of this question really 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 several different responses to this question including: 
 

  • Asking an engineer or airport employee for the estimated weight.
  • Speculating the average weight of each component of the aircraft, including fuel and passenger weight.
  • Attempting to measure the plane by using a water displacement method. 
  • Or, 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 brainteaser question, a correct solution is less important than the evaluation of how a candidate thinks about a problem and reacts in unexpected scenarios.
 

What this brainteaser reveals:  
 

  • Creative problem-solving
  • Analytical thinking
  • Logic 

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

Possible solutions: There are several acceptable answers to this question. A popular response is that there’s no need to wash windows in Seattle as it rains too much. Other responses may include attempts at estimating the number of windows in Seattle or simply offering a price per window.  
 

What this brainteaser reveals: This brainteaser provides an opportunity for a candidate to give a very simple answer. Whether they decide to answer simply or not can reveal their thinking process. Additionally, this question can test for the following skills: 
 

  • Quick thinking
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Mathematical thinking 

Brainteaser interview questions FAQs

 

Why are brainteasers helpful?

Brainteasers can be an excellent way to see how a candidate handles pressure. They also help you see if someone can think quickly and logically. Brainteaser questions can also be particularly helpful for potential hires where mathematical and logic skills are pertinent to the job. 
 

What if the candidate gets the answer wrong?

With brainteaser questions, it’s important to remember that the correct answer isn’t the main reason for asking. The purpose is to learn how a person thinks, uses logic and handles pressure and if they’re capable of solving problems creatively. Consider creating an interview scoring rubric to “grade” candidate answers based on the factors you’re looking for in an answer. For example, your hiring team may decide that logical reasoning skills are more important than the “right” answer to the brain teaser question.
 

Should I ask brainteaser questions in every interview?

It’s entirely up to the interviewer whether they believe it will be useful to ask brainteaser questions or not. Some variables to consider may be the duration of your interview or whether you want to prioritize learning about past work experience over testing for workplace skills. If you’re interested in testing a potential hire for creativity, lateral thinking and problem-solving skills, brainteaser questions can be a quick method for doing so.

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