Image courtesy of Andre Adjahoe
In addition to the usual interview questions, like explaining your career goals and discussing your weaknesses, oftentimes hiring managers will throw a curveball your way—especially if you’ve made it to the final rounds of the interview process. Brain teaser questions are a great way for interviewers to test your problem-solving skills and see how well you perform under pressure. Don’t stress—this is a good sign! Typically, jobs with a tough interview process also have higher employee satisfaction.
Here are a few of our favorite brain teaser interview questions and how to ace the answers.
7 brain teaser interview questions (and answers)
Q: The “how many” brain teaser is one of the most common types of tricky interview questions. For example, how many bike shops are in the United States? How many grains of rice are in a one pound bag? How many different types of cereal are in the typical grocery store aisle?
A: No one expects you to know the exact answer to these types of questions—talking through your thought process is the real test here. The best way to answer is to tell the interviewer how you would go about finding the answer to the question.
A weird blender horror story
Q: You’re shrunken down to the size of a nickel, changing your mass but keeping your density the same. You’re then thrown into a blender, and the blades start moving in one minute. What do you do next?
A: This question used to be notorious during interviews at Google—and you have a few options. While there isn’t technically a right answer, creativity is the goal.
Since I’m as small as a nickel, if I lay flat I should be able to safely duck under the blades.
Since my density is the same and my mass is lower, I should be able to simply jump out of the blender. I can’t explain the physics behind this, but I know it to be true.
I would balance on the mechanisms of the blade, either on a blade itself or in the middle of the blades, thereby avoiding the slicing.
A room with three light bulbs
Q: You’re outside of a room that you know has three light bulbs inside. On the outside, there are three switches, each controlling one of the bulbs. You’re allowed to enter the room once. How can you figure out which switches control which bulbs?
A: This question does have a right answer. You’ll need to turn on the first and second switch, leave them on for ten minutes, then switch the second one off. Then, enter the room and you’ll see one bulb on—that’s the first switch. The other bulb should be warm from being recently turned on—the second switch—and the third bulb controlled by the unflipped switch should be cold.
Explain to me...
Q: The “explain a difficult concept” question, where you’re asked to explain a simple or common concept. For example, a question Spirit Airlines used in the past is: “Explain the color yellow to someone who is blind.”
A: Again, this brain teaser question isn’t so much about what you say, but rather how you arrive at the conclusion. Maybe you say that yellow is like the feeling of laying in fresh grass with the sun on your skin, or the sound that water makes when it’s filling a warm bath.
How does a hot dog split?
Q: You might not think SpaceX would be concerned with the culinary wonders of hotdogs, so one of their popular interview questions of the past might come as a surprise: “When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?”
A: Because the length of a hot dog is greater than its diameter, there would be more pressure lengthwise.
And when does it drop?
Q: What would you name your debut album?
A: A very on-brand question from Urban Outfitters, the aim here is to both test your creativity and learn a little more about you. Pick something provocative, or something that sums up your life journey—just be able to explain your choice.
Your search history
Q: What was the last thing you Googled?
A: While not technically a brain teaser, this question from Tim Hortons can provide some very telling answers. You could opt for honesty and a bit of humor by saying something like, “how to ace interview questions,” pick something that sheds more light on your personality, like “best dessert recipes,” or show off by saying something like “Tim Hortons annual report.” Again, there’s no right answer—just use the question as an opportunity to show off your best traits.