25 Toughest Interview Questions of 2010

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If you think it’s tough to find a job in this economy, imagine how much tougher the job interviews have gotten. The career website Glassdoor.com has compiled what are unquestionably the toughest interview questions asked in 2010. These are real questions, as evidenced by the links below…

  1. “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” – Goldman Sachs, analyst
  2. “How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?” – Deloitte, project analyst
  3. “What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?” – Aflac, sales associate
  4. “Explain [to] me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years.” – Boston Consulting, consultant
  5. “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are.” – Capital One, operations analyst
  6. “How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room?” – Google, people analyst
  7. “Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?” – Bloomberg LP Financial, software developer
  8. “If you could be any superhero, who would it be?” – AT&T, customer sales representative
  9. “You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?” – Blackrock Portfolio Management Group, fixed income analyst
  10. “Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number [of] guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” – Facebook, software engineer
  11. “If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” – Amazon.com, manager
  12. “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?” – Asked at Epic Systems, project manager
  13. “There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?” – Apple, software QA engineer
  14. “How many traffic lights in Manhattan?” – Argus Information & Advisory Services, analyst
  15. “You are in a dark room with no light. You need matching socks for your interview and you have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?” – Eze Castle, quality assurance
  16. “What do wood and alcohol have in common?” – Guardsmark, staff writer
  17. “How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?” – IBM, software engineer
  18. “You have 8 pennies, 7 weigh the same, one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the one that weighs less in less than 3 steps.” – Intel, systems validation engineer
  19. “Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?” – New York Life, sales agent
  20. “You are in charge of 20 people, organize them to figure out how many bicycles were sold in your area last year.” – Schlumberger, field engineer
  21. “How many bottles of beer are drank in the city over the week?” – The Nielsen Company, research analyst
  22. “What’s the square root of 2000?” – UBS, sales and trading
  23. “A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Huston for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Huston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?” – USAA, software engineer
  24. “How are M&M’s made?” – U.S. Bank, leadership program development
  25. “What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle?” – Volkswagen, business analyst

Those are certainly some of the toughest interview questions we’ve ever heard. In fact, we have no idea what the proper responses should be. If you do, help us out and post your answers in the comments below.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_USEMR4BI7Q4DTVL5FRIUQBZFTY Nancy Sherron

    #13 “There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?” – Apple, software QA engineer

    Answer: Take a fruit from the box labeled Apples & Oranges. If you take out an apple, the box label Apples & Oranges contains only apples, the box labeled Oranges contains both apples and oranges, and the box labeled Apples contains only oranges. If you take out an orange, the box label Apples & Oranges contains only oranges, the box labeled Apples contains both apples and oranges, and the box labeled Oranges contains only apples.

    To get the answer, you need to know the options for each mislabeled box:
    Box labeled Apples = Oranges OR Apples & Oranges
    Box labeled Oranges = Apples OR Apples & Oranges
    Box labeled Apples & Oranges = Apples OR Oranges

    By selecting the box labeled Apples & Oranges, the fruit you take out will determine if the box is only apples or only oranges. The box labeled with the other type of single fruit will contain apples and oranges. That leaves the remaining mislabeled box to contain only the type of fruit you did not select.

  • Anonymous

    Some of these questions are really funny;) Love brain teasers… They don’t even have proper answers but are looking for ways at you how you think, how you approach problems, how you can quickly reduce complexity into simple, graspable ideas… Plus, they really want to see your imagination, see #9:

    Some I liked the most. These are my answers from top of my head, just thinking about them for a few seconds, w/o googling the answers:

    #25: I’ll let my cousin run it. I want to become a VW business analyst;)

    #22: 45

    #18: Split them into a group of 4 and weigh them, take the lighter group, split them again into half, take the lighter two’s, split them again and bingo you have found the lightest penny. – This one was the easiest question of them all;)

    #17: Walk him in a swimming pool, let him push out the water over the edge, let him walk out and then measure volume of water being pushed out (all you need is a measure tape)… Assuming, the mammals bodies are mostly water, their densities is close to the density of water, just use you water volume measurement, to approximate elephant’s weight. CLOSE ENOUGH;)

    #16: I’d say that good whiskey is aged in wooden barrels;)

    #12: 30 cents;) As an apple to a pear, so an orange to a grapefruit;) That’s what I’d say…

    #11: 2 to the power of 10 is 1024, so that’s 10 rounds to get down from 1024 to 2… from 1024 to 5623 I need 3 more… so 13 rounds. All is assuming you are playing elimination type of a game, winner moves to next round;)

    #10: Similar to #10: First guess 500 and then keep halving it;) Ex. assuming it’s “1”, it takes 10 guesses… 2 to the power of 10 is 1024;)

    #9: 8 pieces: cut a cake in a half, put it on top of each other and cut it again, you have now 4 pieces, put them all on top of each other and cut for the third time. Mission accomplished;)

    #3: Would talk about “Art of War” by Sun Tzu and Zen Buddhism…

    These are just a few answers… Never heard these questions before but heard similar questions when going through my interviews some 10 years ago;)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TCHSKGQGXVU3AKT5YRB7KLTPDE Steve

      #18 says less than 3 steps; you have three steps!

      • Anonymous

        I know I realized it later when I found out that there are links to answers in the original post… Didn’t want to edit it afterwords…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JCUHNKZ3ZQM36VWR6EX3KINMQY Millie Boardman

    #13. Actually, you can figure out what is in each box no matter from which box the piece of fruit is taken. If you get an apple in the “apple” box, then you know it is the mixed fruit. Then the “orange” box contains apples and the “mixed” box contains oranges. If you take an orange out of the “orange” box, then it contains mixed fruit. The “apple” box contains oranges and the “mixed fruit” box contains apples. Nancy gave the answers for choosing a fruit from the “mixed” box.

    #7. You would need 6 races to determine the fastest 3 horses out of 25. Five horses in each race equals 5 races to determine the fastest horse in each group of 5. Then the 5 fastest run one last time (#6) to determine the fastest 3.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TZCVZDLWH5BL52QYPNZ4DGLTTU Andrew

      Not true. You could have the three fastest horses running in the same race. You continually need to take the top 3 horses from each race to determine the three fastest. I believe doing it this way results in 12 races total.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R22WV2SOHRRKIGCV52DQMK4MEQ Gimpybrad

        Answer is 5 you time the race and have your winner

      • http://twitter.com/p_reynolds p_reynolds

        You can do it in 11 races. The insight here is that each race of five horses breaks down into three who might be the fastest and two who aren’t. So each race eliminates two horses. 2*11 = 22, leaving the three fastest. Ignoring fatigue, it actually doesn’t matter which horses race each time, so long as the bottom two are always eliminated.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CLG6LJQ3FWI4FB6KVCGBFFQ75M mrhello

      #13 If you get lucky and take an apple out of the apple box you can figure it out. However If you pull an orange from the apple box how are you going to figure out the answer? You could have the mixed, or the orange box, then each of the other answers would be wrong if you guessed wrong. If you don’t open mixed, there is no way to get the answer 100% of the time.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TCHSKGQGXVU3AKT5YRB7KLTPDE Steve

        You are correct; if you pull an orange from the box labeled apples or vice versa, you don’t know.

        The point of this puzzle is to always pull from the box that is labeled “mixed fruit”. By doing so, whether you pull an apple or an orange, you will be able to correctly label the box you pulled from and then the other two.
        Example 1: Pull apple from box that is labeled mixed fruit. From the instructions, all boxes are labeled incorrectly; thus, this is the box of apples, the box labeled oranges is really mixed and the one labeled apples is really oranges.
        Example 2: Pull orange from box. This is the box of oranges, the box labeled apples is really mixed fruit and the one labeled oranges is really apples.

        You have to pull from the box labeled mixed.

  • Anonymous

    #18.. Remember, in LESS than three steps. By the time you weight on penny in each side of the scale you have used your three steps. Scenario 1: step1, weight only six pennies (3 ea side) and leave two pennies outside. If the scales are equal you know that in the two pennies you left out one has to be the one with lesser weight. Sept 2, weight the pennies you left out and find the lighter one.. problem solved in less than three steps.
    Scenario 2: If the after taking out 2 pennies the scales are not even, then the lighter penny is among 3 pennies in the higher side. step 2, out of the three pennies left weight only two, if the scales are even you are holding the lighter one, if not, you can tell right away which one is the lighter one… again, problem solved in less than three steps.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ATRDLQZ4GJP3B6PXCM6NCI6PHA badgersdaughter

    Number 9 says, “You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?” The “correct” answer is to cut the cake in quarters using 2 of the cuts, then stack the pieces and cut down through all four with the third cut.

    I use this question as a brain break in my corporate classes, using a pizza as the example. My students are engineers. We’ve come up with ways to cut the pizza into a variety of piece quantities from four pieces up to (theoretically) infinity with three slices, assuming a variety of topological transformations and not-necessarily-straight slices. The only constraints we impose are that the pizza can’t pass through itself, and each slice has to cut completely through the pizza, separating it into more than one piece. Fun stuff.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IBK6DXS6SKPUGOTOSOMTI2WNEE g e

      you could just make nine equal pieces and eat one when no one is looking ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/PrimoOptimoso Dave

      Or, cuts one and two make it into quarters, and then the third parallel to the table to split each quarter equally along the plane.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PE7ROQHRUWY67EVWVVXTK5SE5M Anon Anon

    “Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number [of] guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” – Facebook, software engineer

    Easy. If your interviewing for a software engineering position you should know this one. He is describing worst case performance of a binary search. Binary search worst case running time is log base 2 of n. For calculators use: ln and not log. On most calculators, log is log base 10 and ln (the natural log) is log base 2.

    So worst case performance: O(ln(n))

    ln(1000) = ~6.9.

    Answer: 7

    edit: I don’t know logs off the top of my head and would need a calculator for that. But explaining O(log2(n)) would probably be sufficient.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZOOL5ZAVJ7NGB3OV5MO7L6RTI Rom

      The question asks *minimum*, not maximum. The answer therefore is 1. :)

      Also ln() is not the same as log2()… the maximum, or worst case, would be closer to 10.

      • http://twitter.com/p_reynolds p_reynolds

        No, the worst case is *exactly* ten. Guesses aren’t fractional.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IBK6DXS6SKPUGOTOSOMTI2WNEE g e

      Minimum number is one. Your first guess could theoretically be the correct answer. It does not say “minimum number of incorrect guesses.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZOOL5ZAVJ7NGB3OV5MO7L6RTI Rom

    From experience I know that a lot of these questions are not intended to see if you get the right answer. The question is intended to see *how you think*. Getting it right or wrong, in fact, may not matter. You are not likely even remotely expected to get the correct answer. The real “answer” is how you think, what resources you use, and often most importantly, *what questions you ask* in return — what additional information you would seek out — as well as how you would SWAG if you couldn’t get it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZOOL5ZAVJ7NGB3OV5MO7L6RTI Rom

    3. “What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?” – Aflac, sales associate

    Which one?

    5. “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are.” – Capital One, operations analyst

    Pi.

    6. “How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room?” – Google, people analyst

    What sort of basketball — regulation or collegiate etc.? How big is the room? Can I deflate them?

    11. “If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” – Amazon.com, manager

    Depends on the game. If it’s a foot race, you only need one. Also depends on the tournament method. Are we talking World Series, Super Bowl, or World Cup? Or something else entirely?

    12. “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?” – Asked at Epic Systems, project manager

    I’d guess between 20-30 because pears and apples grow in similar climates.

    13. “There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?” – Apple, software QA engineer

    Reach into the box marked apples-oranges. If you get an orange, that box is the orange box; switch the other labels. Likewise, if you get an apple, that box is the apple box; switch the other labels.

    And then there’s the hacker answer: dump out all the boxes together, then fill them all up again, and label them all apples-oranges. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691398361 Andy Jay

    It’s an employers market and I guess they can make people grovel for a job. If I was asked one of these ridiculous questions I would tell the interviewer to take this job and shove it.

  • http://twitter.com/PrimoOptimoso Dave

    #11: 5623 participants in a tournament; how many games to determine a winner? One, silly. If it’s a basketball tournament, the game is basketball.