Skip to main content

Brain-Teasers during interviews

Hunter Walk (Product Management, YouTube) has a couple of great posts on Product Management.
He links to this post by Ken Norton (now at Google) on hiring PMs. The post is pretty great, but I had doubts about one point.

"I usually ask an interview candidate a series of logic questions to gauge intelligence. "

I've had quite a few interviews where you spend some time on logic questions/brain teaser-type thingies, and have developed doubts about the effectiveness of this.

There are two reasons for this:
  • quick on your feet is great, but not if you're going to get up and start running in the wrong direction!! I've been lucky enough to get to hang around a lot of smart people (often at a respectable distance:)). I've also been around a lot of people that sounded smart. There is a difference, and I think "quick on their feet" favors that latter. It favors confidence and polish, over thoughtfullness and thoroughness. It favors quick frameworks over original approaches and explorations that may not work. Also, as the rest of the referenced post covers, there are a lot of things that matter and you almost never want to hire just based on IQ, because that's rarely going to be the differentiator. Drive, the right attitude and a willingess to take risks, continually refine/iterate and learn from others is almost always more desirable. I'd try to use the interview to get a better sense of that, rather than guess at attributes that the results of standardized tests have a decent shot at predicting....and that are already on the resume!
  • the second reason I think it's a bad idea is that quite frankly, its pretty game-able if you try to scale it. Asking good brain-teasers/logic questions is not trivial and being able to understand the approach taken by a candidate if its not the conventional one isn't easy. I've had one interview that was a disaster because the interviewer absolutely refused to believe there was another approach to another problem. I've also had another interview cut short because I said, "Um. actually I know this one." and the interviewer was stumped after that.:) This doesn't apply just to brain teasers. Interviewing out of college, I've lost count how many times I was asked to reverse a linked-list. The universe of logic problems is not infinite and if an interviewer is forced to ask them, it shrinks radically and quickly.
To quote Dennis Miller, "Of course, that's just my opinion anyway. I could be wrong!" :)


Popular posts from this blog

Yup - humans still lack humanity

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.

My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.

She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.

No one did.

The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.

Still nobody moved.

My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn&#…

Whimsy when I changed my profile picture...

I changed by profile picture at work.

Later in the day, two people on my team had changed their profile pictures to these.. :-)

It made my day!

I changed my profile pic again today. Let's see how fast anyone catches on this time. :-)

Everyone's struggle is real... at the very least to them

A couple of weeks ago, while in line waiting to pick up some food I'd just ordered, I overheard two conversations - I don't make a habit of this, but it's hard to not hear things when you leave your phone behind. :-/
My first reactions as I heard both of these conversations was annoyance at the protagonist in one and admiration for the other. Both conversations stayed with me for a while, but it took me some time to realize that was unfair on my part to be annoyed at the person that I was annoyed at.

So about these conversations:
The first was between someone working there and a friend. She was sympathizing with her friend who'd be starting a new job leaving this place. "Oh, it's minimum wage again?", she said with concern in her voice. "Yes, but it's fine", said her friend. The job was closer to where she lived so she thought she'd make about the same and she might get home a little earlier to her daughter some evenings though the hours…