How to Answer Brain Teasers for a Finance Interview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 9 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In an interview for a finance position, hiring managers may ask brain teaser questions, which often feature mathematical word problems. This type of question can test the candidate's analytical skills and their creativity. If you're preparing for a finance interview, it's helpful to consider how you may answer one of these questions. In this article, we explain what brain teasers for finance interviews are and why a hiring manager may ask them with steps, examples and sample responses to help you prepare for this type of interview question.

Related: 38 Curveball Interview Questions (Plus Sample Answers)

What are brain teasers for a finance interview?

Brain teasers for a finance interview are unconventional questions, problems or puzzles related to finance or math that interviewers can use to gauge a variety of skills. There are many types of brainteaser questions, but interviewers for finance positions often focus on logical and pattern-based questions. This can help test your analytical thinking skills and your ability to think clearly under pressure. Successfully answering brainteaser questions typically requires skills in:

  • Problem-solving: The process of solving brainteasers can show interviewers that you have skills in problem-solving.

  • Creativity: Brainteasers often require creative answers, which can allow you to highlight your creativity and demonstrate your ability for innovation.

  • Analytical thinking: To solve brainteasers, you contemplate all information presented by the interviewer, showing your analytical skills.

  • Active listening: Listening carefully to the question can help you to understand the details better. This ability also helps you notice if it's a trick question.

Related: 51 Finance Interview Questions (Plus Sample Answers)

How to answer brain teasers for an interview

Follow these steps to learn how to effectively answer a brainteaser question in a finance interview:

1. Remain calm

One reason why interviewers ask these types of questions is to evaluate your thought process in time-sensitive situations. Remaining calm can help you better use your skills and provide a sensible answer. To do this, try to take even breaths throughout the interview and think in a methodical way when preparing your response to ensure you offer a well-thought-out answer. Practising your responses to potential questions can also help you feel more calm and confident throughout the interview process.

2. Listen carefully

Listen to the question carefully to ensure that you understand all parts of the question. It's a common practice for hiring managers to ask trick questions during this phase of the interview to test your reasoning and listening skills. Often, the interviewer may announce that they're going to ask a brainteaser, so you can prepare to listen carefully.

3. Request clarification

If you feel unsure about the interviewer's wording or feel you misheard the question, ask for clarification. This can show the hiring manager you're confident enough to ask questions, which is a great skill for professionals to have. Asking for clarification also allows you to proceed in your process of answering the question with correct information. This increases your likelihood of providing an accurate answer.

Related: How to Tell if a Job Interview Went Well (12 Positive Signs)

4. Write out your work

Consider bringing a pen and paper to your interview to write notes. This can allow you to write out the question and think about it thoroughly. Many finance brainteasers involve completing math problems, so it's helpful to use your pen and paper to complete these equations. Having a pen and paper can also show the interviewer that you're a well-prepared professional, which may help improve their perception of you.

5. Share your thought process

When answering the question, share your thought process by explaining the steps you took to prepare your response. Sometimes brainteasers only have one right answer, while others may have multiple possibilities. Sharing your thought process with the interviewer allows them to understand more about you and can help you express your creativity. This way, the interviewer may witness some of your skills even if you provide an incorrect answer to the brainteaser.

7 examples of brain teaser questions

Here are seven examples of common types of finance interview brainteasers that a hiring manager may ask:

  1. If there are 2,500 players in a tennis tournament, how many matches does it take to determine a winner?

  2. If it's 3:00 a.m., what angle do the hands on the clock form?

  3. If a farmer has 13 cows and all but three die, how many cows does the farmer have?

  4. How many times per day do the hands on a clock overlap?

  5. Why are utility hole covers round?

  6. How many $1 coins would it take to make a stack from the floor of this room to the ceiling?

  7. How do you move a mountain?

Related: 5 Types of Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

3 brainteaser sample questions and answers

It's helpful to review sample answers when preparing to answer brainteaser interview questions. This can help you better prepare for your interview, as you can practise your responses. Here are three sample questions and answers for you to consider:

1. What's the sum of the numbers one to 100?

Interviewers may ask this commonly asked finance brainteaser to test your ability to come up with creative solutions. At first glance, this seems like a time-consuming question, but with creative thinking and mathematical skills, you can answer it quickly. Although this question seems time-consuming, you can answer it fairly simply by finding the number of pairs between 1 and 100 and multiplying the number by the sum of each pair. There are 50 pairs and the sum of each pair is 101. 50 multiplied by 101 is 5050, meaning the sum of the numbers one to 100 is 5050.

Example: 'To answer this question, I found that I could find the number of pairs between 1 and 100 and multiply that number by the sum of each pair. Since there are 50 pairs of numbers between 1 and 100 and the sum of each pair is 101, I multiplied 50 by 101 to get the answer 5050.'

2. What's the next number in the sequence 27, 64, 125?

Your interviewer may ask this brainteaser question to test your basic math skills. If you understand the mathematical concept of cube roots, you can solve this brainteaser quickly and easily. Notice that each number in the sequence is multiplied by a cube root. The cube root of 27 is three, the cube root of 64 is four and the cube root of 125 is five. Using this logic, you can assume that the cube root of the next number is six. Six times six times six is 216. Therefore, the next number in the sequence is 216.

Example: 'I immediately noticed that each number in this sequence has been multiplied by the cube root, so I found the cube root of each number, which is three, four and five. I assumed that the next cube root in the sequence would be six, so I multiplied six by itself three times to get the answer 216.'

Related: Stepped Guide on How to Ace an Interview: Tips and Examples

3. If you roll two dice, what's the probability of getting a sum of 13?

Interviewers may ask this brainteaser question to test how well you can analyse information presented to you and pay attention to details. This question involves probability, which requires math skills. Though, if you read the question carefully, you can recognise that it's a trick question. If you roll two six-sided dice, the maximum sum of the dice is 12. Therefore, a sum of 13 is impossible, making the probability zero. By noticing that the number included in the question is impossible to reach by rolling two dice, you can solve the problem without having to perform any calculations.

Example: 'This sounds like a probability question, but I noticed that getting a sum of 13 when you roll two dice is impossible because the maximum sum of two six-sided dice is 12. Therefore, the probability of getting a 13 when you roll two dice is zero.'

Explore more articles