Who’s up for another brainteaser? Well you need to be because it doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. Try this one-
Why do software companies subject job candidates to brainteasers and puzzles?
Most candidates are already at least a little nervous about the interview to begin with and brainteasers can certainly add to the stress. I have not come across any studies that give scientific support to the idea that success at brainteasers and logic puzzles predicts success at the job. So why use them?
Recruiters and interviewers use these brainteasers for one thing: to begin an innocuous conversation that will expose a candidate’s intelligence and/or ability. Go ahead and blame it on Microsoft. Ever since Microsoft made headlines for its unconventional approach to interviewing, more and more software companies are using their approach. Why? One answer is that it has proven to be a key tool for employers to use now that it has become more difficult to give intelligence tests to candidates. For now, at least, puzzles are seen as a decent alternative. By giving candidates a good puzzle to solve you get one data point about how clever they are while the associated dialogue provides some valuable problem-solving interaction with the candidate as well.
Recruiters are constantly faced with hundreds of resumes from what look to be qualified candidates for every single position. How is one to know who to select, especially when the focus is more on what candidates may perhaps do in the future rather than just what they have done in the past? In today’s ever-evolving software world, what is really needed are inquisitive, perceptive, intelligent candidates who welcome challenges, exhibit mental deftness under demanding conditions, learn rapidly, defend their ideas, and display enthusiasm for what seem to be impossible tasks.
There are two aspects to using brainteasers effectively that I think are important to keep in mind. The first is that any puzzle should be carefully constructed to be more of a logical/analytical exercise rather than something that is purely dependent on the candidate discovering some sort of “trick.” Unless you are looking for the 1 candidate in a hundred that will get “the trick,” make sure your exercise is structured so the 10 candidates in a hundred that you actually want to find are able to realistically solve it. The second aspect to consider is that recruiters should be less focused on making sure a candidate comes up with the “right” answer, and much more concerned with how they get there. Do they give up on the first try? Do they come up with plenty of scenarios with which to solve the puzzle, but have trouble applying those solutions? Do they present their ideas in an effective and professional manner?
The use of brainteasers or other problem-solving exercises in the interview process helps to narrow down the considerable number of “maybes” that flood a recruiter’s inbox. They are used to recognize candidates who are not only book-smart, but who can get things done when faced with new challenges in high-pressure situations. In my world of software consulting, it is imperative to possess the ability to confidently and skillfully present new ideas and face difficult challenges at the drop of a hat. A well crafted brainteaser can help gauge a candidate’s ability in this regard.