What are Interview Puzzles?

Lily Ruha

Interview puzzles are used by some employers as a mechanism for screening job applicants. The puzzles usually consist of riddles or mathematical problems that are intended to test the logical and quantitative skills of applicants. In some cases, puzzles are used to determine how an applicant tackles difficult problems and functions under stress. Interview puzzles are more common in the technology industry and may be used to screen out applicants both before and during the interview process.

A man dressed for an interview.
A man dressed for an interview.

Employers use interview puzzles to determine if an applicant is suited to the specific tasks of a job. If a software company receives a large number of applications from software developers, for example, it might screen out applicants by asking them to solve a specific programming puzzle. Those who successfully complete the puzzle usually move on to solve a more difficult question, eventually leading to a smaller number of applicants who are then granted in-person interviews.

A person being interviewed.
A person being interviewed.

During an interview, an employer might use a puzzle to determine how an applicant goes about solving problems. How quickly the applicant solves the problems and the steps he takes to do so can be important signs of suitability for the particular position. Some employers and interviewers believe that interview puzzles are a more accurate indication of an applicant’s skills and abilities than information on a resume or answers about past accomplishments.

Interview puzzles are sometimes used to gauge how an applicant deals with situations in the workplace. Being asked to solve an ambiguous riddle, for example, may be less about arriving at the correct answer and more about how an individual deals with uncertainty. In other cases, asking an applicant to solve a highly complex puzzle under time constraints might be the employer’s way of assessing how well an applicant manages a high-pressure situation.

Typical interview puzzles vary depending on the specific industry, employer and interviewer. An interview for a research position might ask the applicant how many phlebotomists there are in the world and how he would go about determining the answer. An electronics manufacturer might ask the applicant how he would program the television remote control to also turn on another home appliance.

An effective response to an interview puzzle requires reliance on inherent strengths and acquired skills. People generally think more clearly and perform better when relaxed, so adequate rest prior to the interview is recommended. In cases where the interviewer’s intent is to gauge how an applicant deals with trick questions or stressful conditions, tuning into the interviewer’s intent is important for delivering a genuine and effective response.

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