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Almost everyone who has interviewed for technical jobs has been
through the experience: the interviewer says something like,
this is just to see how you think. There's a man who
has to get a fox, a chicken, and a bushel of grain across a river, and he
has only a small boat that will take only one of these at a time. He can't
leave the fox unattended with the chicken or the chicken unattended with
the grain. What should he do?"
(In this case, there is clearly right answer, but in a real interview, it's seldom this easy.)
There may sometimes be good reasons to ask questions like this in an interview. However, speaking as someone who -- in a twenty-plus-year career as a hands-on software developer, as a consultant, and as a manager -- has been on both sides of the interviewing process literally hundreds of times, I contend that it is usually a bad idea. There is simply too much that can go badly and too little that can go well.
In this article, I will discuss the biggest
problems with using brain teasers in interviews, provide three examples of how the brainteaser interview can go
badly (all drawn from actual interviews), and discuss whether brainteasers are ever a good idea in a job
interview (I give this a very qualified
provide my thoughts on how to handle it when you are the
someone asks you this sort of question.
"Copyleft": With appropriate notification and
reproduction is welcome: contact me if you have any desire to
reproduce these materials in whole or in part.