A pair of professionals having an interview at a table with a laptop.

How to Handle Brain Teaser
Interview Questions

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 02, 2020
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Everything is going great, and then the interviewer smiles and hits you with one of his interview brain teasers: “Please devise a plan to ensure there is always milk in my fridge.” You sit there in disbelief and begin to panic. Why would an experienced analyst be asked about milk during an interview? Why would a hiring manager even make such a request? Shouldn’t he be more concerned with work output or efficiency? Perhaps the interviewer wants to watch you squirm and sweat, or perhaps the interviewer just really likes milk.

These interview brain teasers questions are common for positions requiring a high degree of technical or analytical skill. So what are the hiring managers trying to find out by asking these brain teaser type of interview questions? Is the answer really important? How does one go about answering these brain teasers?

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Why the Brain Teaser?

The reason people ask brain teaser questions is really very simple. The interviewer wants to see how you think. They are not necessarily interested in the answer at all. The interviewer wants to see how you process a problem, think it through, and come up with answer. The hiring manager can actually tell a lot about the candidate with brain teasers. In particular, the following questions can all be answered with your response to a brain teaser interview question.

Are you creative?

Do you take an inventive approach to the question? Do you think outside the box? Managers want creativity and innovation on their team. Brain teaser questions give you a chance to show your imagination.

Do you crack under pressure?

Can you perform under stress? Can you think on your feet? The brain teaser questions are meant to turn the heat up for the candidate. They are not meant to be easy. They are trying to catch you off guard. The hiring manager can ascertain how you would perform if an issue popped up that you didn't immediately know the answer to. Keep your calm and avoid getting anxious or uncomfortable.

What are your problem solving skills?

Can you quickly and analytically think through a problem and arrive at a solution? Can you think clearly through your options and methodically come up with an answer? Managers need efficient problem solvers because problems pop up all of the time. They are looking for a candidate that will solve their own problems rather than escalating it for someone else to solve.

How to Approach a Brain Teaser?

Now that you know what the hiring manager is looking for by asking these odd interview questions, just how do you go about answering them successfully? It is really hard to prepare for brain teasers because you have no idea what the question will be. You can google different examples of brain teaser questions. After all, it is never a bad a bad idea to practice answering a few to increase your comfort level, but do not expect the same question to pop up in the actual interview. The chances are extremely low. Remember that the question and answer are not that important. It is the process by which you answer the Brain Teaser that will make you shine.
To increase your success with brain teaser questions, you can follow a simple approach.

Think before you speak.

There is no rush. Don't let an uncomfortable silence rush you into answering before you are ready. Take notes if you need to.

Ask questions if needed.

Understand the question being asked as much as possible. If you need to know whether the interviewer likes skim or whole milk, speak up!

Talk it out.

The interviewer wants to see your thought process. The answer is not the important part. Go through the steps you would take to solve the problem and all of the inputs required. Let the manager see that you can think through a problem methodically.
Brain teaser interview questions are only one type of interview question. There are many different styles of questions the manager might ask. Do not overthink or stress out about the possibility of getting a brain teaser. You may not get one at all. Prepare for the interview by researching the company, the job requirements and preparing questions to ask of the interviewer. If you have a few minutes to spare, go through a couple examples of brain teaser interview questions so that you are familiar with your thought process. Most importantly, show up to the interview with confidence and self-esteem.

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