Brain Teasers

Interview Question: How to Answer Brain Teasers

Originally asked when interviewing for a tech job, brain teaser interview questions are becoming more popular in all industries. What is a brain teaser interview question, you ask? Here are a few common examples:

  • “How many golf balls can you fit into a school bus?”
  • “How many windows are in New York City?”
  • “Why are manhole covers round?”

It’s easy to feel a sudden panic when your interviewer asks you one of these oblique questions. However, don’t worry about having the correct answer. The hiring manager is more concerned with your thought process and how you derived your solution than the actual answer itself. So, if you are looking for a brief walkthrough on how to tackle one of these tricky questions, here are a few steps you can take.

Ask for clarification

Asking clarifying questions helps demonstrate both your curiosity and saves you a great deal of stress. Let’s use the golf balls inside a school bus question as an example. To clarify, you can ask something like, “when you say school bus, do you mean a full-size school bus or one of those shorter busses?” Asking clarification questions such as this buys you a little time to think and helps you refine your answer.

Take your time

Most people will want to rush right into their response, but take your time. Take a few moments to formulate your answer and think it out. After all, the hiring manager wants to see your thought process, not have you take a wild guess. If you brought a notebook and pen (which you should always do), feel free to jot down some notes and write out your thought process. This can help you prepare your answer, especially if math is involved. So, sticking with the example above, you can calculate the school bus’ volume by assuming the length, width, and height of the bus. Then, you can assume the volume of a golf ball and do a little math to determine your solution. Now, you are ready to present your answer!

Present the answer to your brain teaser in detail

Now that you have your answer prepared, it’s time to outline your response to your interviewers. You can’t just spew out your solution and call it good. Therefore, you must explain how you developed your answer. Present any presumptions you made when forming your response.

For this scenario, you can say:

“When calculating the school bus volume, I am going to assume that the bus is 22-feet long, 6-feet wide, and 9-feet tall. That makes the volume of the bus 1,188 cubic feet.” Then your next assumption can be the volume of a golf ball and explain how you determined that. A golf ball’s volume is ~2.5 cubic feet (4/3 x pi x 0.85 inches). Finally, you are ready to present your final answer. “Now that we have the volume of a bus and a golf ball, we can calculate how many golfs balls are in a cubic foot (1,728 cubic inches / 2.5 cubic inches), which is ~691 balls. Now all you have to do is multiply 691 balls by the volume of the bus (1,188 cubic feet), and your answer is 820,908 balls.”

This answer may not necessarily be correct, but it’s an excellent example of how to tackle a brain teaser interview question.

Need help answering more common interview questions?

Don’t worry; at JSG, we have an arsenal of interview prep advice to help you nail your upcoming job interview. Good luck!