Should You Use Brain Teasers When Interviewing?

Creating interview questions and processes can be a challenge, and it is tempting to follow in the footsteps of larger organizations, turning to brain teasers as a way to assess an applicant’s ability. After all, a brain teaser gives us the opportunity to see a candidate in action, allowing them a chance to think creatively and on their feet, right? The short answer is no; brain teasers may seem like a fun addition to a dry interview but studies show they do little to assess the skills of an applicant and add an unnecessary amount of stress to the process.

Brain teasers became popular as an interview practice after Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Xerox, and, most famously, Google began to integrate them into their hiring practices. They believed at the time that these questions would allow them to challenge candidates in a creative way, forcing them to answer a question impossible to prepare for and allowing the interviewer to assess their ability to handle challenges under pressure. For the most part, these companies have discontinued the practice, citing studies that show brain teasers do little to assess the ability of the applicant and just stroke the ego of the interviewer. Unfortunately, while the larger companies have learned that this practice is no longer valuable, many other organizations have fallen behind, still utilizing brain teasers in hopes that they can capture the most creative applicants.

Studies have decidedly shown that utilizing brain teasers does little to show creativity or how a candidate will react in a real-world situation. Instead, these types of questions tend to interfere with the rest of the interview. Applicants cannot prepare for a brain teaser, and because the scoring is so subjective, they are unsure of what to expect or how to give a satisfactory answer. The result is a more nervous applicant who spends more time preparing for and dreading the brain teaser than considering their answers for more applicable and appropriate questions.

In addition to their inability to provoke creative and thoughtful responses, using brain teasers may actually damage an employer’s ability to retain the most qualified applicants.  Often, applicants are turned off by brain teasers, seeing the interviewer as more concerned with establishing a power dynamic than selecting a qualified candidate for a position. In these situations, good candidates become uncomfortable and choose to pursue positions elsewhere rather than seeing through the hiring process.

There are alternatives to brain teasers that allow interviewers to assess candidates’ ability to think on their feet and react creatively to the unexpected. The biggest way an interview can do this is through the use of behavioral questions such as, ‘tell me about a time where you faced x, how did you react, and what did you learn from it.’ These types of questions allow candidates to answer the question based of the needs of the position they are applying for and allow the interviewer to see how they think on their feet.

In addition to creative, but applicable, interview questions, utilizing pre-prepared, standardized questions and processes are the best way to secure the best candidates for any position. Creating an interview procedure where applicants answer the same questions in the same order provides a more objective way to measure candidates’ capabilities and qualifications against each other. Ensuring every applicant is giving a fair chance to succeed and allowing hiring managers to make an informed decision, finding the best candidate for the position.

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