Brain Teaser Interview Questions

We have all been there …

It’s going to be the Perfect Interview. You are feeling upbeat and confident; you’ve prepared well and researched the company, the team, the role, and the culture.  You have reviewed your CV, racked your brains for examples of behavioural questions, and now you are ready to take on this panel of serious looking dudes and dudettes.

  • Active listening? Check
  • Responses to behavioural questions on point? Check
  • Playing back questions you don’t quite understand? Check?
  • Smiling? Check?
  • Confident? Check
  • Starting to relax? Check.

And then out of left field it happens – POW!  The smile falters and you stumble – “say what?”  The interviewer repeats the question carefully – “How many cats are there in New York?”

I’m guessing “who cares and how is this relevant to the position of Programme Director?” is not the response they are after, but where are they going with this?

You might be surprised by the number of odd or brainteaser questions and the reasons they are asked in interview situations.  Here are a few more examples:

  • If you were a crayon in a box of crayons – what colour would you be, and why?
  • If you woke up one day and had received thousands of emails but could only open 10% of them, which ones would you open, and why?
  • If you had to explain the colour yellow (or red or green) to a blind person, what would you say?

These interview questions, although unusual and startling, are designed to find out how you respond or react to the unexpected.  Is the candidate creative with their response?  Have they attempted to answer it?  There is no prize for guessing that saying “I don’t know” isn’t the response they are hoping for.

Brainteaser questions also help uncover traits that may be missed from a traditional or behavioural interview, for example: a sense of humour; creativity; critical thinking; analytical skills; and thinking on your feet. The interviewer wants to understand your approach to problem-solving. The actual answer you come up with is not important, but how you arrived at that conclusion is. Were you able to work your way through the issue in a confident manner? What assumptions did you make, and why?

For an approach to answering these types of questions consider the following:

  1. Stay calm and relax (after your initial surprise!)
  2. Use a pen and paper if necessary to help focus your thoughts
  3. Take time to think about the question
  4. Check that you do understand what you have been asked
  5. Be logical in your response
  6. Demonstrate your problem-solving and approach by talking it through out loud
  7. State your assumptions clearly.

These days the focus of the interview is more on structured behavioural questions, especially for senior level positions. However, in my own experience, I have noticed that some panels still have the tendency to sneak one in – including me!  :).

Have you been asked any odd interview questions?  How did you fare?  Let me know in the comments below.


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