How Do People Respond to Brain Teaser Questions on Job Interviews?

Topic(s): fairness, interviewing, selection
Publication: Journal of Personnel Psychology
Article: Practitioner and Applicant Reactions to Brainteaser Interview Questions
Authors: M. Childers, S.T. McAbee
Reviewed by: Tyler Cowley

For centuries, organizations have sought the “holy grail” of interview practices: strategies that unfailingly attract and identify top talent. Recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of brainteaser questions, known for their unconventional, challenging nature and perceived ability to gauge abstract thinking. The researchers of this study (Childers & McAbee, 2023) took a unique approach, delving into both applicant reactions to brainteaser questions and the reactions of hiring managers and HR professionals.


Participants were recruited from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, where they evaluated three brainteaser questions alongside traditional situational and behavioral questions. Their responses, measured on a five-point scale, paint a revealing picture.

Both hiring managers and applicants displayed surprisingly similar levels of dislike for brainteaser questions. These questions consistently received lower ratings in terms of fairness, use intentions, organization attractiveness, and job-relatedness compared to their traditional counterparts. Additionally, both groups found them more frustrating.


According to this study, people find brainteaser questions off-putting, which is potentially harmful to an organization’s image and can create negative candidate experiences. Further, utilizing questions with questionable validity could even expose organizations to lawsuits from disgruntled applicants.

Overall, while brainteaser questions may seem trendy and fun, this study suggests that organizations should reconsider their reliance on them, at least until further research clarifies their effectiveness. By prioritizing evidence-based practices and fostering positive candidate experiences, organizations can attract and retain top talent without resorting to questionable interview tactics.


Childers, M., & McAbee, S. T. (2023). Practitioner and applicant reactions to brainteaser interview questions. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 22(4), 226–232.

Image credit: istockphoto/Nadzeya_Dzivakova