Posts Tagged ‘Interviews’

Expect the Unexpected: How to Handle Interview Brainteasers

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Some questions you can prepare for. You can rehearse. Maybe even memorize an answer. But all the studying in the world won’t help you when the hiring manager asks you something out of left field, like,  “How many potholes are on Manhattan Island?”

That element of surprise is the whole purpose of the interview brainteaser. And hiring managers in the finance world love to toss these out to see how you approach, analyze, and solve problems (especially those that are wildly unfamiliar). Of course, they also want to see how you react to the unexpected — in other words, how you handle stress.

Because brainteasers are generally unstructured, it’s difficult to lay-out a proven methodology to answer them. But here are a couple ways to prepare yourself for the unexpected.

Tip #1:  Take notes

Make sure to take notes when the hiring manager is giving you the brainteaser, especially if it’s heavy on the numbers. This will help you think through your response — and ensure that you don’t get flustered trying to keep it all straight! You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the simplest numbers when you’re under pressure.

Taking notes also shows the interviewer that you’re detail-oriented and an active listener — great qualities in any potential employee.

Tip #2: Treat the brainteaser as a conversation/intellectual exploration

The good news is: the right answer is not necessarily the most important part of the brainteaser. How you arrive at your answer is every bit as telling.

It’s important to have a clear framework with which to tackle the problem. One way to do it: think of this situation as a conversation over coffee with a friend. Pretend the hiring manager asking the brain teaser doesn’t know the answer (he might not!), so it will feel like you’re trying to solve the problem together. In a conversation, it’s perfectly fine to ask for more data or information.

(This conversation approach may also paint you as more of an “intellectual team player” than a “competitive know-it-all.”)

Tip #3:  Try answering the problem out loud

When it comes to brainteasers, the questions you ask speak volumes about your thought process. So once you outline the framework, explore possible answers and alternatives out loud. With this strategy, you’re taking the conversation approach one step further.

This method also gives the interviewer a chance to help you out. If you do get off track, he or she will know it right away and can redirect you. That gives you a second chance to try again — and at least save face. And who knows — that redirection just might help you come up with the right answer!

While you can’t know what to expect from a brainteaser, you can at least have a strategy for handling them. Next time you’re at a bookstore, why not pick up a book of brainteasers and practice with your friends.

Above all: remember to relax. Be open-minded and creative, but rational.

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References ?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Many candidates and professionals ask, “Who should I use as references when I am actively looking for a new position?”  The simple answer is any professional who can effectively communicate to your future employer four main points:

1.       Your work experience – your present and past responsibilities

2.       Communication skills  - both written and verbal, public speaking ability

3.       Personality – your drive, ability to handle stress, quick learner, etc.

4.       Work successes and professional goals  - promotions, awards, employee rating

This person should have first hand knowledge of these areas and ideally be your manager, client,  or work peer.  The tough question becomes, “Who to ask when you do not want anyone at your present employer to know that you are actively searching for a new role?”

In this case you must rely on your previous managers, clients and co-workers to act as a reference on your behalf for your potential new employer.  Ideally your relationship with these previous contacts has been maintained by you even though you no longer work with/for them. Ideally you would have worked with these individuals directly within the last five years. 

Of course the best and most powerful reference usually is from a present manager, client or work peer and you should look hard at your present relationships to see if there is anyone who you may trust with providing a reference while not informing anyone else of your intentions.  Your manager is usually the last person on this list but in many cases a co-worker or client can be a good resource. If you are applying for a client service role, an excellent reference from a present client can seal deal for you.  Also think about anyone who has recently left your present firm who may be able to provide a reference for you?


I highly suggest that you always contact anyone who you may desire to put on your reference list and ask for their permission before doing so.  This provides them with an easy out if they either do not want to give you a reference or would give you a bad reference.  Follow up with those individuals on your list and let them know if they should be expecting a call and from whom. If they are expecting a call they will be prepared to talk about you and will also be keeping alert for the call which in today’s business world can be very important.

Students and Recent Grads  Two quick points:



  1. Your parents and family members are not good references unless they have a pre-existing relationship with whomever you are interviewing with



     2.  Excellent references are Teachers, Coaches, Summer Employment Managers, Internships Advisors, Mentors, and Present Managers


In today’s litigious world many companies have policies against providing references to other employers and therefore getting people to provide references except by their closest working relationships has gotten much harder. Many firms specifically tell managers to not provide references and if the managers are found to have provided references this can have an adverse reaction to their own professional career.

To be honest, the truth is that in today’s world many employers do not put a ton of value in references unless they are coming from their own associates or established business relationships, but you must always be prepared to provide a list of references.  Furthermore it is your job to make sure the list is active and correct.