Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

“Brainteasers:” Are They Accurate Representations of Intelligence or Success on the Job?

This blog will discuss the significance of brainteasers in interviews and how to beat them as well as tough interview questions.


This post was written by Shun Ping Huang ’17, CCD Peer Career Ambassador.

Brainteasers are defined as puzzles or problems whose solution require thought, unconventional thinking, and lateral thinking. Examples of common brainteasers are: riddles, logic puzzles, and case questions. Here are some typical interview brainteasers. 

As a Junior, mercilessly interviewing for the right summer opportunity, I can say that finance interviewers usually ask some sort of quantitative brainteasers to test the candidate’s thinking abilities. However, this question is, are these brainteasers accurate predictors of intelligence and success on the job?

The first time I heard about brainteasers was in 2011 when people started to criticize Google interviewers for asking challenging and ridiculous brain teasers that had nothing to do with the candidate’s positions. Google has since banned such hiring practices because they have discovered that brainteasers do not predict anything accurately when it comes to job success.

Brainteasers force the candidates to think of a general situation that do not actually happen in the work place. As a result, the answers to brainteasers only measure how good the candidate is at coming up with quick and clever solutions to an abstract problem under pressure. Some jobs, such as a sales and trading position, might require such high-pressure, quick-thinking skills, but most jobs do not mimic the same situation that brainteasers reflect. Most jobs require employees to think well over the time period of a project or a longer term deal. As the Google SVP of People Operations put it: “Part of the reason is that those [brainteasers] are tests of a finite skill, rather than flexible intelligence which is what you actually want to hire for.”


Despite brainteasers’ proven uselessness in predicting most job successes, interviewers still like to use them in interviews. So, here is how you can beat these ridiculous and difficult questions. The below advice applies not only to brainteasers, but also to other tough interview questions in general.

Step One: Remain Calm.

As an Interviewee, you are already nervous during an interview, but once you get hit with an impossible brain teaser or a question you did not prepare for, you start to freak out! This will only decrease your thinking ability. Therefore, the smart move is to remain calm and whisper this mantra to yourself: “I got this, I got this.”

Step Two: Ask To Clarify the Question.

Interviewers ask brainteasers expecting you to be curious and to ask clarifying questions. For example, if the interviewer asks: “How many quarters – placed on top of the other – would it take to reach the top of the Empire State Building?”

The clarifying question in this case might be: “What do you mean by ‘placed on top of the other’? Quarters placed flat on top of the other or on the quarters’ sides?”

Step Three: Talk Through Your Thinking Process

Do not just mumble or throw out random sentences. You want to be clear with your thinking process and have an interesting conversations with the person. Through this conversation, you want to show that you are intelligent and have the ability to divide the problem up and then tackle it piece by piece. Interviewers are usually looking at HOW you answer the tough question and not at whether you get the right or wrong answer. Thus, you should focus on the process of answering the question and not on the actual answer. Remember that there are many paths to the same destination and your process to the answer can be just as good as the next person’s (if not better) answer.


Personally, I enjoy thinking about brainteasers during my spare time, but, I agree that having to answer a brainteaser under the pressure of an interview is extremely difficult. After reading this blog, I hope that you are more confident in your ability to answer brainteaser questions. If you are like me and enjoy reading them for fun, check out the New York Times “Number Play Section” and this fun brainteaser site.


Good luck with your summer internship search!