Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

8 Interview Brainteasers To Assess Creativity (With a Christmas Twist)

By Kris Kringle (James Ball) | Dec 7, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

Interview brainteasers are a topic that I personally love to hate… (we’ve written about them before.)

brain with the title pictureOn the one hand, I see the appeal. They’re certainly ‘fun’ and they do break the ice.

On the other hand, they have the ability to totally sabotage the entire interview process, putting candidates off and making them feel even more nervous.

However, at Coburg Banks, we try not to let our personal biases get in the way of a good blog topic, so this week, I’ve been researching some interview brainteasers for you!

I’ve even added a little festive twist – it is Christmas, after all!

1.  How many “Father Christmases” are there in the UK?

The internet is packed full of alternatives to this festive little gem, including…

  • How many lampposts are there in the UK?
  • How many potatoes (in kg) do McDonald’s in the UK sell in a year?
  • How many golf balls would fit into Wimbledon?

… each assessing mental arithmetic, critical thinking, common sense, creativity and performance under pressure.

Let’s be honest, you’re not really looking for the right answer (you’ll be waiting a long time if you are)… you’re looking for someone who can make a sensible attempt at answering.

Santa talking to a little girlGood signs:

Look out for critical reasoning skills; how do they go about tackling the question?

They may come up with the most outrageously wrong answer ever, but if they walk you through their calculations, based on sensible presumptions, then it’s a great sign.

Bad signs:

Hasty and un-thoughtful answers show that they’re not taking the process seriously or they don’t really understand what you’re asking from them (IE, a well thought-out answer).

Watch out for candidates who visibly seem frustrated and refuse to play the game!

2.  As a Christmas gift…

…parents buy 16 computer games for their 3 children (that’s just asking for trouble)! The youngest gets 1/8 of the games, the middle child gets 1/4 of the games and the oldest gets 1/2 of the games (seems fair…)

How many games does each child receive and how many do the parents keep?” Courtesy of Julie Turnbull.

If mathematical skills are important to you then this percentages-based brainteaser is a great way to test your candidates and there is, of course, a correct answer… click here to see it!

Good Signs:

Anyone who manages to keep their cool and answer this question correctly can clearly hold it together under pressure (the maths bit isn’t that difficult)!

If a candidate gets close, but perhaps make a silly mistake while they’re calculating, don’t be too harsh! Under strict interview conditions, it can be difficult to focus!

Bad Signs:

Ask your candidate to talk you through their sums as they go along. You’ll soon suss it out if they can’t do basic maths.

Again, hasty, un-thoughtful answers show an unattractive laziness and disregard for the interview.

3. You get shrunk to the size of a candy cane…

…and then thrown into an empty blender. You’ve got 60 seconds before the blades start to turn… what do you do?

This “original” question, by Google, is an altogether bizarre thing to ask during an interview and  there’s clearly no right or wrong answer – it’s all about creativity.

candy canesGood Signs:

Candidates who take the time to consider all of the factors and work their way through the situation, are most likely to be impressive problem-solvers.

Obviously the question is far-fetched, so you should definitely expect a far-fetched answer!

Bad Signs:

As always, don’t be too harsh on candidates who stumble at this point, give them time to get over the initial ‘what the heck?!’ moment and work out an answer.

Warning: you might trigger someone’s bad temper at this point and you may even have candidates who walk out, deciding the job’s not for them. It’s the risk you take with weird and wonderful brainteasers, I’m afraid.

4. 2 mums & 2 daughters went out for Xmas dinner…

…each ate one portion, yet only three portions were eaten in total. How is this possible?

Have you got it? Click here to check your answer.

Good Signs:

If a candidate is listening and focusing on the question, it’s actually quite a simple brainteaser for anyone with a critical thinking, common-sensical brain behind those eyes.

Bad Signs:

Unfortunately, any other answer is just plain wrong!

Candidates who give up may have let their nerves get the better of them…

Of course, they may just not be as critically minded as others. You’ll have to use your intuition!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

If you do have a particularly nervy candidate who struggles with brainteasers (and you’re still dead set on asking them…) you can always make things easier for them!

Perhaps you could repeat and reword the questions and give them a couple of hints?

5. Which of these letters is the odd one out?

OK – so this one’s not that Christmassy – but it’s still a brilliant brainteaser (I just couldn’t leave it out).

“A  F  H  K  L  N  Y  Z”

It is pretty difficult though and you may have to give your candidates some time and/or a couple of hints before they get it.

Click here to discover the answer!

puppy looking confusedGood Signs:

Anyone who gets the right answer is a winner in my book.

It shows really quick critical thinking, a keen ability to notice patterns and of course, performance under pressure.

Bad Signs:

It would be far to harsh to write someone off because they couldn’t answer this question, especially under the added pressure of you watching over them.

However, slap-dash, lazy answers and visible signs of frustration could be personality warning signs for the future.

6. What is interesting about this phrase..?

This works best if the sentence is actually written down (it’s a bit mean otherwise).

“A Santa spit taboo bat tips at NASA.”

Click here to check your answer!

You can come up with your own versions and you could (to make it easier) give them a few example sentences to work with. It’s up to you.

Good Signs:

Stand out, superstar critical thinkers will quickly solve this puzzle.

Others may need some time to scribble on paper in an attempt to work out the answer – people think in different ways!

Bad Signs:

If candidates completely go off on the wrong track, debating the merits of Santa’s contribution to NASA – I’d give them a heads up that it’s just a word game.

If they get frustrated and give up, it may be a warning sign for things to come.

(It’s actually pretty easy when you think about it – all you have to do is make an educated guess and test the theory).

7. If it takes 5 elves 5 minutes to make 5 dolls…

This is quite a sneaky little riddle and depends on a human tendency to over-think the question.

…how long would it take 100 elves to make 100 dolls?

Click here to find out.

elvesGood Signs:

A candidate who gets the correct answer (it’s pretty easy) shows great listening skills, creativity and critical thinking.

Bad Signs:

Working out the answer to this question is genuinely achievable.

If a candidate gives up, it could be a sign that they lack creativity and critical skills, or perhaps they’re just failing under the pressure.

It’s up to you to decide…

8.  You have a 3-Litre jug…

Do you recognise this little riddle?

 …a 5-Litre jug, and an unlimited supply of mulled wine. How do you get exactly 4 Litres of mulled wine without estimating?” UBS Investment Bank

I simply couldn’t do a Christmas blog on brainteasers, without including this little riddle from Die Hard With a Vengeance(a Christmas-film favourite of course).

Good signs:

It takes some thinking to work out the answer to this question – again some candidates may need paper and a pen – but it is certainly doable. Just ask McClane!

Still, it’s certainly impressive if they do get it right. (Click here to read it).

Bad signs:

These types of questions are likely to frustrate some interviewees so watch out for those who aren’t willing to play the game. It’s an interview after all and you make the rules.

Also be wary of candidates who answer this question a little too quickly – they’ve blatantly heard it before!

Did you get all the right answers?

Congratulations if you did.

I can honestly say that under the intense pressure of an interview, I’m not sure I’d get any of them right!

If you’ve got any weird and wonderful interview brainteasers, we’d love to hear them – just pop a comment in the box below!

Recruiter Pro Tip:

It’s really important that you don’t base your entire interview on brainteasers like these.

They may go down well with some of your more confident candidates, but are likely to put others off – remember, recruitment is a two-way street!

If you MUST, then perhaps throw one (or at most two) into the process, to catch them out, when an interview is going particularly well and/or seems too rehearsed.

Above all else, try not to be too hard on your candidates – it’s important to put them at ease if you want to see the ‘real them.’

If you’d like more guidance on how to interview this festive season, click here to sign up to this blog – we’ll send over a weekly email with the latest and greatest industry news!

Remember, they’ll be judging you just as readily as you are judging them…

Good Luck!

- Kris Kringle (James Ball)
James Ball - as Santa

Kris Kringle (James Ball)

James is the founder and owner of Coburg Banks and a recruitment expert from Sutton Coldfield in the UK.  He regularly advises companies on how to improve and get the maximum ROI from their recruitment processes.

> More blog posts by Kris Kringle (James Ball)

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