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How to deal with brain teasers during interviews

How to deal with brain teasers during interviews

Most companies today cut across different sectors ask a bunch of tricky questions during job interviews to test how well you think.

These tricky questions are called Brainteasers and they are a great way of allowing candidates highlight their critical-thinking and reasoning skills. However, in tough and competitive interviews, they are a means of disqualifying candidates to the next rounds

I remember my first interview in 200 level at OAU when I wanted to join AIESEC Ife. A student interviewed me and was asking how many DSTV dishes were in OAU? I was distraught for a moment and wondered why I was asked. Not to forget my Refinery interview with Dr Femi Kuti. He asked me how many golf balls would fit in a Boeing 747. I was like “Sir, I don’t know!” (My mind kept worrying how that relates to finance? And I couldn’t find an answer or make an attempt to think through the question) I knew nothing and was naïve because I was ignorant. But I have learnt over time and I’m still learning.

There are no right or wrong answers to brain teasers but there are definitely stupid answers. All that matters is how you think, reason and react to these questions.

So before you go into an interview where you are likely to expect a brain teaser, ensure you have solved a bunch of related brain teaser questions before you get in to avoid messing up.

If you find yourself struggling or getting stuck in your thoughts trying to answer a brain teaser question, do the following:

  1. Dispel your worries:

This is the first step to tackling a brain teaser. Approach the question positively and get rid of the negatives. This will instill calmness and enable you to think through the question in a timed and logical manner even if the question may seem very difficult. Believe in yourself and tell yourself you can do it.

  1. Repeat the question:

The moment you are asked a brain teaser, after dispelling your worries, regurgitate the question back in a timely yet slow manner to the interviewer. By doing so, you are passing the question to your thought faculty to start work on it ASAP and also trying to create time for your thought process to brainstorm on the question in seconds. It’s a delay tactic for your thoughts to get organized and familiar with the question.

  1. Think out loud:

The moment you start responding to the question, speak out your thoughts. Think out loud your multiplication, assumptions, et al processes that go through your head. Translate your thoughts in an audible manner. This clearly shows how you are thinking (lateral, loose or in a structured manner) and keeps the interviewer in the loop. Speaking out your thoughts doesn’t guarantee anything; some even say rubbish. Most importantly, make sense and carry your interviewer along.  Sometimes, you could be trolling the wrong path in your thoughts; your interviewer might just be inclined to give you a hint and lead you through if you are lucky (happens 1 in a hundred times)

  1. Build assumptions and ask plenty of questions along the way:

There are brain teaser questions that require you to make assumptions. First, identify if you can make those assumptions then feel free to make them without even asking your interviewer. S/he will see you as taking initiative. To carry your interviewer along and sound smart, ask follow up logical questions.  These questions you ask enable you to build a better and well-structured response.

The biggest mistake you can make in answering a brain teaser question is just stating the answer without thinking or reasoning. This clearly shows you have read the question and answer somewhere. Even if you know the question, just pretend you don’t and reason through it. Don’t just open your mouth and blurt out the answer without any sign that you have sense.

Examples of brain teasers interview questions:

  1. A clock’s time is 3:15pm, what is the angle between the hour and the minute hands? (It’s not 0″)
  2. How many petrol stations are in Accra?
  3. How many trees are in Lagos?
  4. Why are manhole covers round?
  5. What’s the square root of 3000? #JambQuestion


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