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9 Steps to Solving an Impossible Brain Teaser in a Tech Interview (Without Breaking a Sweat)

Updated: May 9, 2021

“How much does a school bus weigh?”

“How many people are currently online in Germany?”

“How many windows are there in New York City?”

And, most importantly: “How the heck do you answer these crazy questions?”

If you’re interviewing for a tech job, chances are you’ll get thrown one of these brain teaser questions at some point during the selection process. And when you do, you don’t want to stammer, “Um, I have no idea.”

1. Understand What the Interviewer Wants

It’s easy to get flustered if you assume that this is the same kind of question you might find on a multiple-choice test (i.e., there’s one right answer and lots of wrong ones).

Instead, think about it from the interviewer’s perspective. She needs to find someone who can succeed in this job—not someone who’s great at counting windows. So what she really wants to know is whether you can handle the rigors of a crazy tech job, which include:

  • Dealing with uncertainty

  • Thinking analytically

  • Communicating clearly

So, your first step is to take a deep breath and remember your goal is to demonstrate your curiosity, logical analysis, and clear communication—not come up with the exact, perfect calculations.

2. Clarify the Question

To demonstrate your curiosity, start by asking some clarifying questions. For instance, if you’ve been asked how many windows are in New York (here’s a list I’ve collected of other common tech brain teasers), you might respond by asking:

“When you say windows, do you only mean building windows or are you also thinking of subways, computers, and exhibits at the Bronx Zoo?”

This not only shows off your curiosity; it can also save you tons of agony. Because if it turns out that your interviewer only cares about building windows, this question just became a whole lot simpler.