Handling Brainteasers and Logic Questions in an Interview
Tell me about yourself. Why does this job interest you? How
many quarters would you have to stack to reach the top of the
Empire State Building?
Those were the questions Liz Kostak was
asked during a phone screen with a major investment bank.
Caught off guard, Liz didn't make the cut. But today, her
interview preparation includes not only examining a company's
annual report and checking for the latest news, but sitting
down with a book of brainteasers to sharpen her puzzle-solving
Ever since Microsoft made headlines in the mid-1990s for using
brainteasers to identify the best and brightest, other
companies have adopted this practice.
Designed to measure candidates' intelligence, creativity and
analytical skills, brainteasers and logic questions often
involve obscure subjects. For example:
How many piano tuners are there in the world?
How many golf balls can you stuff into a Boeing 777?
What's the size of the market for disposable diapers in
For these types of the questions, the trick is to start big
and take it one step at a time. For example, to determine
China's market-size for disposable diapers, you
1. Estimate the population of China.
2. Pick a percentage of that number to represent Chinese
people of childbearing age.
3. Divide that number in half to get the number of Chinese
4. Estimate what percentage of those women has
5. Then, knowing that Chinese families tend to have just
one child, assume what percentage of those children are
younger than three years old.
Use round numbers you can calculate on the spot. Your
answer may not be exact, but the idea is to show your
problem-solving skills as well as your ability to think on
your feet. And don't get hung up on not knowing the
population of China or how many cubic inches are in a
"We know you can easily look those numbers up later," says
a recruiter for a major consulting firm who asked not to be
named. "We're not that concerned with whether a candidate
comes up with the precise answer. We're looking for insight
into their thought process and whether they work thorough
problems in a logical manner."
In fact there may be no single correct answer for some
questions. Questions like: "How many ways can you think of
to find a needle in a haystack?" "How would you design a
bathroom for the CEO of the company?" and "If you could
remove any one of the 50 U.S. states, which would it be?"
serve as platforms for candidates to demonstrate their
creativity and mental agility.
Companies use the approach to cut through the pat,
rehearsed answers many candidates give. "We want to know
what you're like. Not what you think we want you to be
like," says a partner at a major international consulting
"The only sure-fire way to fail at these questions is to be
stumped," she adds, advising candidates to "offer up your
ideas even if they seem bizarre."
Successful candidates also recommend talking your
interviewer through your thought process as you tackle the
questions, to display your analytical ability. This also
keeps you and the interviewer engaged in dialogue, which
may give you some cues that could help you down the right
The best advice according to Kostak, however, is to be
prepared. Even though these types of questions are meant to
make you "think on your feet," there are resources you can
use to make sure you put your best foot forward.
William Poundstone's book "How Would You Move Mount Fuji?"
helps candidates think strategically about the brainteasers
they may be asked and contains common questions companies
are asking. And there are numerous websites and chat rooms
circulating favorite puzzlers of specific companies and
After reading Poundstone's book and honing her skills at
www.brainteasers.net, Kostak has received - and declined -
four offers. Leaving us all with the puzzle: How many
offers will Liz turn down before she finds her dream job?
More Related Articles
What is Behavioral Interviewing?-- Part 1
Let's be honest: Coming out of college, you probably don't have
that much real world experience.
Informational interviews are a networking tool, as well as the
very best way to find out what working for a company or in an
industry is really like.
The Secret to a Perfect Handshake
Science backs up what the etiquette books have been saying all
along: A firm handshake helps make a good first impression for
both males and females.
Google Web Search
Didn't see what you were looking for?
powered by Google