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Unusual, fun or even insane: 6 brain teaser interview questions you might be asked

Unusual, fun or even insane: 6 brain teaser interview questions you might be asked

Artwork by: Lizabeth Zaft

  • What is a brain teaser?
  • Why do employers ask brain teaser interview questions?
  • 5 Example brain-teaser interview questions and answers
  • How to prepare for brain teaser questions
  • Key takeaways

Potential employers may ask you some creative and mind-bending questions before they hire you. We’ll help you prepare with this list of 5 brain teaser interview questions and answers.

One of the goals of an effective interview is to gauge the creativity and mental agility of job candidates. Interviewers may use a series of challenging questions called “brain teasers” to achieve this. As their name suggests, these queries are meant to stimulate the interviewee’s mental faculties and reveal their smarts.

Even if you’re pretty brainy, these questions may seem intimidating. The additional stress of an interview environment tends to make people freeze up and may keep you from showing off your true potential. If you’re feeling nervous, we’re here to help. In this blog, we’ll explain how these questions work and provide some examples to help you warm up your brain cells.

In the course of this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is a brain teaser?

  • Why do employers ask brain teaser interview questions?

  • 5 example brain teaser interview questions and answers.

  • How to prepare for brain teaser questions.

What is a brain teaser?

Most interview questions are designed to gauge your professional skills and explore your past experiences. Brain teaser interview questions are different. Instead of simply looking for facts or yes or no answers, these questions are designed to make you think. 

Brain teaser questions usually take the form of puzzles, riddles, or word problems. Many of them are deliberately tricky so that interviewers can test your mental agility. They may also deal with pattern recognition, formal logic, and mathematical skills.

How do you know you’re dealing with a brain teaser? During your interviews, listen for any questions that seem off-topic or abstract. If your interviewer starts asking you a riddle or gives you a word problem, you know you’re dealing with a brain teaser. Before you answer, take a deep breath and consider your response. We’ll offer further tips for answering these questions later on.

Why do employers ask brain teaser interview questions?

Brain teaser questions offer a variety of unique benefits for employers. For starters, they give interviewers a handy tool that they can use to gauge the critical thinking skills of job candidates. This is an extremely valuable skill in many industries, and acing these questions shows that an applicant has the mental chops to excel.

Another advantage of brain teasers is that they test a candidate’s ability to solve problems on the spot and under pressure. There are millions of possible brain teasers, and it’s impossible for interviewees to arrive with memorized answers. If an applicant is able to successfully answer a brain teaser, it speaks highly of their stress management skills and ability to think on their feet.

While brain teasers are useful, not all recruiters use them. Most interviews will involve straightforward questions meant to measure technical knowledge, soft skills, and experience. However, if a role requires a lot of independent thought, problem-solving, or out-of-the-box thinking, brain teasers might be in order. Expect these types of questions if you’re applying for positions in leadership, tech, or creative fields.

5 Example brain-teaser interview questions and answers

Here are a few representative brain teaser questions to give you a sense of how they work. We’ve included sample answers and a breakdown of each one to help you prepare for your next interview.

1. You have two U.S. coins that add up to 30 cents. If one of them is not a nickel, what are the two coins?

This one might make you giggle, as you may have heard it before. This question is a good example of a brain teaser that uses word play to trick you. When you hear “one of them is not a nickel,” it will probably register as “neither one of them is a nickel.” This may be confusing, since you can only make thirty cents using a nickel and a quarter. If nickels are off the table, what’s left?

This is where the trick happens. While the questioner said one coin isn’t a nickel, they didn’t say that the other one wasn’t. Therefore, the correct answer is still a quarter and a nickel. If you ever get a question that seems not to make sense, start by analyzing the wording and see where that leads you.

2. You have a jar with 20 red marbles and 45 white marbles. If you’re blindfolded, how many marbles do you have to draw before you get two of the same color?

This is a deceptively easy question that sounds very difficult. The goal of this question is to trick you into thinking that you need to do a complicated equation, when all you have to do is a simple thought experiment.

In your mind, pull out the first marble. Is it red or white? Pull out another one. At this point you either have a matching pair or two different colors. Go ahead and pull out a third marble and think about the result. No matter what color the final marble is, it will match one of the others since there are only two colors. Therefore, the maximum number of marbles you need to pull out is three. Easy right?

3. You have 20 fish and all but 5 die. How many fish do you have?

This is another example of tricky wording that can trip you up. When they hear this question, many people automatically start doing math in their heads. Most will subtract five from 20, giving a result of 15. 

Don’t get sucked into the trap! Although this may seem like a math problem, the answer is in the question. The questioner already stated that only five are left, and that’s your answer. If you paid close attention, this might seem obvious. However, never underestimate how much adrenaline can make you overlook obvious answers.

4. What are the next three numbers in this sequence? 1,3,4,2,4,5,3,5,6

Many brain teaser questions test a candidate’s ability to recognize patterns, and this is a simple example. When answering these questions, simply think about the relationship between the numerals and continue the pattern. 

In this example, we can see that the sequence starts at one, skips one numeral, gives two sequential numbers and then goes back two and repeats the pattern.You might also notice that every number’s subsequent neighbor is located two spaces to the right. For example, from one you move right two spaces to two, and from three two spaces right to find four. With this in mind, the next three numbers would be 4, 6, 7.

5. Two men are sitting on a bench, one is named Bill, and the other is named Sam. The man in the brown suit says “My name is Sam.” The man in the blue suit says “My name is Bill.” If at least one of them is lying, who is it?

This question features a long setup and a few details that seem important but aren’t. The phrasing implies that just one of the men is lying and that you should be able to deduce which one is the liar based on the details provided. 

In fact, you don’t have enough information to say which one is Bill and which one is Sam. However, you do know enough to say that they must both be lying. If only one was lying, they would both claim to have the same name. 

How to prepare for brain teaser questions

Since there are so many possible brain teasers, you won’t be able to memorize answers before your interview. However, there’s no need to fear. If you follow a few simple steps, you’ll breeze through your brain teasers with ease. Here are some tips to help you prepare for tricky questions:

Get there on time and prepared

While it’s certainly not a radical idea, getting to your interview on time and prepared is one of the best ways to improve your performance. Brain teaser questions are designed to cause stress, and anything you can do to relax beforehand is a huge benefit. If you’re already flustered from traffic and you rush into your interview without taking a breather, you probably won’t be at your peak. 

Slow down and relax

As you probably noticed, brain teasers often use tricky wording or seemingly complicated premises to create a false impression. Candidates who rush to the first answer that comes to them are falling into the trap. Before answering each question, take a beat and try to think clearly. Getting the right answer is better than answering quickly, so feel free to take your time. Challenge the first answer that comes to you and see if there’s an alternative solution.

Listen actively

Good listening skills are a superpower when dealing with brain teaser questions. Unfortunately, people tend to lose focus when they’re nervous and their thoughts can start to race. In your interview, do everything you can to stay in the moment and listen to the interviewer. Analyze everything they say carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you missed something.

Look for wordplay

Wordplay is one of the primary characteristics of riddles and brain teasers. Learning to identify clever phrasing will help you find the right answers to tricky questions. If a question seems confusing, go through each word and look for double meanings. Remember that riddles often leave the answer in plain sight.

Speak up or write it down

When interviewers ask brain teaser questions, they usually want to learn more about your thought processes. This means that there’s no reason to suffer in silence. Feel free to talk your way through the question out loud. Even if you don’t get the right answer, you might still impress the interviewer with your reasoning. It might also be helpful to bring a pen and paper. Sometimes, writing a question down can give you a fresh perspective or aid your thought process.

Practice makes perfect

While you’ll never be able to memorize answers to all the possible brain teasers, you can teach yourself to think outside the box. Look for brain teasers on the internet and try to solve each one your own before you look at the answers. If your math is rusty, it might be helpful to crack some old books and brush up. These simple steps can help you build the mental agility to excel in your interviews.

Key takeaways

  1. Brain teasers are questions that aim to stimulate creative thinking through the use of riddles or word problems.

  2. Brain teasers often use deceptive wording or seemingly complex math to trip you up.

  3. Employers ask brain teaser interview questions to test skills like stress management, problem-solving, pattern recognition, critical thinking, and abstract reasoning.

  4. When answering brain teaser questions, consider your answers carefully and be wary of the first response you think of.

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