6 Reasons Why You Want to Include Brain Teasers in Your Interview

Recently I gave a talk in Recruitment Asia 2018. Much of the discussion was about challenges in technical (IT) recruitment. For example: misrepresenting client companies. If recruiters cannot display enough professionalism and expertise, this reflects back on the client. At the end of the day, the company may see a drop in candidate quality and delays before the position is filled.

Misrepresentation can happen in a few different ways. One of them, I argued, is by using brain teasers in your interviews. Big tech companies had utilized and decommissioned them a few years back. There must be a compelling reason for this practice to be dropped.


Or so I thought before catching up with a good friend right after delivering the talk.

Her story completely changed my mind: decommissioning brain teasers would mean missing out on these immensely desirable outcomes for your company. What could you be missing out on?

Please allow me to put you in the interviewer’s shoes for better understanding. Inspired by a true story.

She walks into the interview for this sales role feeling confident. Not because of her excellent sales skills which let her achieve around 3 times the monthly quota at her current job. Not because of her display of communication skills in perfect English while answering queries about her CV. Her self-indulgence must be caused by her disrespect towards higher-ranking personnel, like you.

What can be a more perfect solution than a brain teaser to pull her off her high horse? (Spoiler alert: Nothing!!)

“Please describe, in detail, how you got here from your place.”

You can see her face quickly shifted from confidence to confusion. Getting there.

Her shallow and inadequate answer “uhh, I just took a Grab here?” is reflective of her own shallowness and inadequacy. How is such indecisiveness fit for an agile startup funded by Rocket Internet?

“I meant in detail. I don’t think you understand my question.” Couple that with a smirk and an assertive body language, you display an unchallenged authority.

You emerge victorious from this battle, but the war continues.

She performs well at her current position and going well beyond the monthly quota, so what? That doesn’t mean she’ll excel at your startup under pressure (that you unnecessarily create). The real world is different.

There’s no better way to give her a reality check than a brain teaser, like the one you just used.

She can prepare by reviewing your company profile and other materials as much as she wants. She did not expect the curveball you just threw, much like the many unexpected problems that arise at your startup. If you cannot predict the weather, it’s not fair for her to ace your brain teasers.

Thanks to you and your clever use of brain teasers, she just got a taste of reality. Juicy!

Her opinion is obviously not as important as your own. To reaffirm that, we can break out our big guns again.

“To put your communication skills on the table again, please tell me about your favorite dish.”

To no one’s surprise, her indecisiveness reveals itself again, “I don’t really have a favorite dish to name because…”

You cut her off. There is not a single logical explanation for the lack of a favorite dish as your opinion dictates.

“Everyone has a favorite dish. There must be a dish that you think of and order more often than other dishes, right?”

“Fine, pork adobo,” she reluctantly proves your point.

“Thank you, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? Now please describe how you cook pork adobo.”

She then describes the process quite eloquently, except there is just one alarming problem.

Nobody should cook a dish without exact measurements. It might not be so obvious, but we don’t live in the stone age.

“But that’s exactly how grandma taught me,” she passes the blame of her incorrect opinion and ultimately validates your own.

A salesperson does not necessarily need math to excel, but where else could you practice mathematical skills after college? Look no further as the answer lies right in front of you.

To warm up the underused logical side of her brain, you must condescendingly say something like “are you good at math?” and “you can do simple divisions, right?”

Then you ask “in an organization of 300 employees, how many employees’ birthday are there in an average week?”

Although this is an advanced combinatorics question and the answer is more complicated than just taking 300 birthdays and dividing it by 52 weeks, you say that’s the answer anyway.

Damn, you are skillful at math.

Being a team player is essential to effective collaboration, so the talents need to “get” your tasteful jokes and quirky humor. To test that, you ask this:

“How to move a mountain?”

After an uncomfortable delay, she starts barraging you with concerns about details. What size? Why move? How many people? When is the deadline?
She does not get it. You are not parenting. You don’t need an action plan. You need action.

Remember when she walked into the interview with confidence? Betrayed by her shallowness, she looks deflated.

Now that she’s feeling inadequate, it’s your best chance at gaining her servitude at the lowest price without challenge when you send her the acceptance letter tomorrow.

If that’s not enough reasons you to use brain teasers, then please reconsider your career in HR.

Seriously though, stop negging your candidates already.

And of course, thank you Deb for your sacrifice. Your tragedy shall now be the entertainment of many. This is a somewhat accurate description of what actually went down during the interview.

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