But, in the final rounds for some types of roles (think very analytical or technical positions), you might encounter what could only be considered brain teasers. These kinds of questions aren’t to find out more about your previous experience or see if you fit into the company culture. They are used to test a number of your specific skills, including logic, math, critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to perform under pressure. And many times, your answer is actually irrelevant—it’s how you reached that answer that matters.
So, to help you brush up on your problem-solving capabilities, we’ve compiled the seven common types you could come across, as well as real-life examples of questions. But as you’re scrolling down and starting to stress that you could never (ever) even respond to these, remember that it’s all about your thought process. Hiring managers are much more interested in your problem solving skills than they are in actually knowing in how you would personally fight a bear.
Best of luck!
1. The “How Many [Things] Are There in [Location]?” Question
On the slight chance that your brain doubles as Google:
- “How many gas stations are there in the U.S.?”
- “How many cows are in Canada?”
- “How many barbers are there in Chicago?”
2. The “How Many [Things] Could Fit in [Container]?” Question
File these under: “How and why would anyone ever know this?”
- “How many ping pong balls could fit in a Boeing 747?”
- “How many gallons of paint does it take to paint the outside of the White House?”
- “How many trees are there in NYC’s Central Park?”
3. The “Do Some Quick Math” Question
In case your brain needed a really fast workout:
- What is the sum of the numbers one to 100?
- What is the angle between the hour-hand and minute-hand of a clock at [time]?
- If I roll two dice, what is the probability the sum of the amounts is nine?
4. The “Why Is [Common Item] [the Way Common Item Is]” Question
These are also known as questions a four-year-old might ask that would also stump you:
- “Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?”
- “Describe the benefits of wearing a seatbelt.”
- “Why are manhole covers round?”
5. The “Explain [Concept] to a [Difficult-to-Explain-Concept Person]?” Question
Otherwise known as, “explain your startup job to your grandmother at Thanksgiving” questions.
- “Explain the internet to someone coming out of a 30-year coma.”
- “Describe the color yellow to a blind person.”
- “Teach me how to make an omelet.”
6. The “Solve This Mystery” Question
Oh, occasionally you’ll be asked to go detective and solve a mystery:
- “A windowless room has three light bulbs. You are outside the room with three switches, each controlling one of the light bulbs. If you can only enter the room one time, how can you determine which switch controls which light bulb?” (source)
Too easy? Here’s another:
- “Four investment bankers need to cross a bridge at night to get to a meeting. They have only one flashlight and 17 minutes to get there. The bridge must be crossed with the flashlight and can only support two bankers at a time. The Analyst can cross in one minute, the Associate can cross in two minutes, the VP can cross in five minutes, and the MD takes 10 minutes to cross. How can they all make it to the meeting in time?” (source)
7. The “How Would You Do Something Ridiculous” Question
And this last category is all about putting your creativity (and I guess, sometimes violence?) to the test:
Stumped on where to even begin? Fair enough. Muse writer Jeremy Schifeling has advice on actually solving these impossible brain teasers.
Oh, and do let me know on Twitter if I missed any good ones that you’ve been asked.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author