'How Many Golf Balls Can You Fit in a School Bus?' and Other Brain Teaser Interview Questions

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Brain teaser or puzzle interview questions are sometimes used when interviewing candidates for engineering and other analytical types of positions. Here is an example of a brain teaser interview question.

"A line of 100 airline passengers is waiting to board a plane. They each hold a ticket to one of the 100 seats on that flight (for convenience, let's say that the nth passenger in line has a ticket for the seat number n.)

Unfortunately, the first person in line is crazy, and will ignore the seat number on their ticket, picking a random seat to occupy. All of the other passengers are quite normal, and will go to their proper seat unless it is already occupied. If it is occupied, they will then find a free seat to sit in, at random.

What is the probability that the last (100th) person to board the plane will sit in their proper seat (No. 100)?"

So what does this have to do with the position the candidate is interviewing for? High-tech companies like Google and Microsoft and other well known companies such as Amazon are using puzzle or brain teaser questions to source top talent and determine their ability to solve problems, think creatively, and communicate complex information in a non-technical way. By asking these types of questions the interviewer may be able to better gauge the candidate's ability to make educated guesses, which is a critical skill for professionals in these lines of work.

According to a Career Industry Mega Trends report conducted by Career Directors International, 8 percent of human resource professionals surveyed said they used puzzle interview questions. It's not that the hiring manager expects you to know the answer to the question. But they do want to see how your mind works and how you handle tough problems. Even if your answer isn't right, the hiring manager may be impressed with your strategy. Many believe that these questions uncover key information about your competencies.

Here are some other typical brain teaser questions.


How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

This question gives you an opportunity to showcase your analytical skills. How would you estimate the size of the ball, the length and height of the bus, etc.? The experts say that the correct answer is about 500,000, assuming the bus is 50 balls high, 50 balls wide, and 200 balls long.


Explain a database in three sentences to your 8-year-old nephew.

This question lets you show the interviewer how you can explain something that is complicated in an easy-to-understand manner. Prove you can break information into digestible sound bites. For example, you could say something like, "a database is like a closet. Instead of clothes and toys, it's filled with information. People store information in a database like they store things in their closet."


You are shrunk to the size of a nickel and thrown into a blender with a moving blade. How do you get out?

This question tests your creativity. Can you show a solution that others may not have thought of? Answers for this one have ranged from use the measurement marks to climb out to risk riding out the air current.

As for the solution to the first problem about the crazy person on the plane? People much smarter than I have weighed in on that one and you can read their responses here.


Next: Interview Questions: What They Ask Vs. What They Mean >>



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