6 Tips for Successfully Responding to Brainteaser Interview Questions

by Beverly Harvey

Brainteaser questions require you to answer an unusual or abstract question and develop a suitable answer based on logic, analysis and hypothesis. They are used to assess your capability to solve a complex problem. In many cases, you are not expected to reach a correct answer. Rather, the recruiter is more interested in your methodology and creativity.

  1. Always Anticipate that a Brainteaser Question May Be Asked. Brainteasers are increasingly likely to be asked across the spectrum of disciplines. Just as you anticipate traditional screening questions, behavioral questions, and situational questions, you can add brainteasers to the list of questions to prepare for. It’s possible, however, to find out more about a company’s interview formats by asking members of your network who work at the organization what interviews are like or consulting Glassdoor, a job search engine that offers a repository of job-seeker-reported questions they’ve been asked by various employers. You can also visit the Brainteaser Interview Questions portion of Glassdoor.
  2. Keep in Mind Why Hiring Managers Ask these Questions. Experts note several traits employers are seeking when they ask brainteasers:

Logic. Hiring managers want to see that interviewees can develop a logical process for responding to brainteasers.
The ability to think on one’s feet. Because the real world of business often requires executives to make quick decisions in the face of unexpected situations or questions, many brainteaser questions mare designed to test this ability and are often timed, increasing the pressure.
Problem solving ability and level-headedness. Employers want to know that you can quickly analyze a problem and devise a solution.
Composure. Hiring managers sometimes ask brainteasers to see if the candidate will get flustered if unable to come up with the answer.

  1. Keep Your Cool. To prove that you’re a candidate who can fill this unique position, take your time and think the question through, then respond calmly. Often times there is not one perfectly correct answer. The purpose is to see someone’s thought process, their problem-solving abilities, and their reaction when faced with a question they don’t have the answer to.
  2. Think and calculate your answer out loud. This advice connects with the “logic” motivation for asking brainteaser questions. Be sure your interviewer knows your logical process by describing each step in your problem-solving approach. In the course of describing your process, you may even decide to switch directions, which is OK as long as the interviewer can follow your process.
  3. Ask for Clarification. Ask the interviewer questions about the brain teaser. An interview is a conversation between two people, not an exam, so you should not feel completely alone when answering these questions. However, do be prepared for the interviewer to say that he or she cannot give you a particular piece of information or assist you.
  4. Have a Response Planned in Case You Just Can’t Come Up with an Answer. As you try to develop your response, you may realize you will not come up with an answer in the allotted time. Identify the skills being tested by the question and explain that, while you don’t excel at brainteasers, employers have cited you for the skills targeted by the question. Perhaps even give an example of how you have demonstrated that skill.

The bottom line is that, while you will probably face brainteaser questions at some point in your job search, you need not be rattled by them. Remain calm and work through the process, demonstrating your relevant skills along the way.

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