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Islam Critical Thinking Questions For Interview

Introduction

ING has been delivering educational presentations about Muslims and their faith for over two decades. The following are answers to some of the most common questions that ING and its affiliates across the country have encountered in that time. While many of the answers address issues like the creed that are well established because of a clear citation in the Qur’an or hadith (prophetic sayings)—such as the six major beliefs or the five pillars—others focus on areas that are more open to interpretation. These answers reflect the fact that Islamic teachings are the product of a dynamic conversation among Muslim scholars and between the scholars and the laity who apply their best understanding of the primary sources of Islam rather than a fixed set of laws and regulations.

This points to the fact that Islam, like all religions, does not live or speak apart from the people who practice it. There is therefore no monolithic Islam, since, like any other religion, Islam exists only as it is understood and practiced by its adherents.

As in other faith traditions, Muslim scholars have developed varied positions and responses to the numerous questions and issues that have been raised and discussed over the past 1400 years in the various lands where Islam is practiced. These perspectives and resulting practices differ partly because of the diversity within the Muslim community in geography, ethnicity, culture, and age. There are about 50 countries in the world today with a majority Muslim population, each having its own distinct history and culture (or multiplicity of cultures). And there are sizeable Muslim minorities in many other countries, including the United States and virtually all the countries of Europe, that are living Islam in their own unique situations. These Muslim communities likewise have a variety of cultures and histories and live in varied social, cultural, and political circumstances, all producing significant variety in the way that they understand and live out Islam. In addition, there are various sects among Muslims, most notably Sunni and Shi’a, as well as various groups within each major sect. These differences in varieties of Islamic understanding and practice also reflect Muslim scholars’ long tradition of recognizing the diversity of peoples and circumstances and the opinions that should reflect that reality of diversity as well as of our shared humanity.

Therefore, it is important to be clear that the answers to the following questions reflect the views of the American Muslim scholars that ING has worked with. In other words, we do not speak for or on behalf of all Muslims. In most cases, however, the views of these scholars probably reflect the views of the majority of Sunni Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide.

There are new realities and issues that are specific to the time and place experienced by American Muslims today, who are the main focus of ING’s work. These issues cannot always be addressed by the laws of past eras or different cultures in Asia or Africa. Here, we attempt to address these questions in a way that is traditional, yet compatible with the realities of the American experience in the 21st century. In these matters, we strive to be descriptive, respecting the diversity of Islam as lived religion, but our reference point is the Islam we believe in and practice as American Muslims; in most cases, but not necessarily all, this is in accord with Islam as believed in, practiced, and lived by the majority of Muslims worldwide.

We start from five basic principles that ING subscribes to as basic to our vision of Islam in America. These are fundamental values shared by most of the world’s major religious traditions today:

  1. We affirm and uphold the sanctity of all human life, the taking of which is among the gravest of all sins.
  2. We affirm the right to freedom of thought, religion, conscience, and expression.
  3. We affirm the right to security in one’s livelihood, profession, and residence.
  4. We believe that God created us with all the diversity of race, religion, language, and belief to get to know one another, respect one another, and uphold our collective human dignity.
  5. We believe that Islam is above all a religion of peace and mercy and that as Muslims we are obligated to model those traits in our lives and characters and to work for the good of our homeland and society, wherever that might be.

Wherever possible, we indicate which of these principles the basis for our responses to these questions is.

Finally, it is important to note that most of the following questions are actual questions that were asked of our speakers, including some of the most repeatedly asked questions in an educational setting where we supplement curriculum relating to Islam and Muslims in the context of world history, social studies, or cultural diversity programming.

GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ISLAM

1. What is the difference between the words “Islam,” “Islamic,” “Muslim,” and “Arab”?

Islam is the name of a religion, as Christianity and Judaism are names of religions. The Arabic word “Islam” is based on the root “slm,” which means peace or surrender to God. Combining both translations results in the combined meaning “the state of peace through following God’s guidance.”

Islamic is an adjective that modifies a non-human noun, as for example, “Islamic art,” “Islamic architecture,” “Islamic beliefs,” etc. This term should not be used to refer to a person.

A follower of Islam is called a Muslim, or “one who is in a state of peace by following God’s guidance.”

While the term Arab has been used in the past to refer to members of a Semitic ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term Arabian was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people. The following questions about basic Muslim beliefs (2 through 12) are answered in accord with the scholars mentioned above, reflecting majority Sunni views.

2. What does Islam teach?

Islam’s primary message, as understood by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, is the continuation of the Abrahamic monotheistic tradition’s belief in one God. The three major dimensions of Islam include beliefs, ritual practices, and the effort to improve one’s character and actions. There are six major beliefs in Islam and five central practices that are referred to as the Five Pillars.

The last dimension of Islam focuses on the cultivation of excellent moral character to better oneself and the world around oneself. It teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values include:

  • Respect for the earth and all creatures
  • Care and compassion for those less fortunate
  • The importance of seeking knowledge
  • Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed
  • Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world

3. What are the major beliefs of Muslims?

The six major beliefs in Islam, as understood by the majority of Sunni Muslims, are:
  • belief in God;
  • belief in angels;
  • belief in God’s prophets/messengers;
  • belief in God’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers;
  • belief in an afterlife that follows the Day of Judgment on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife; and
  • belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of what happens in the world.

4. How do Muslims practice their faith?

Muslims practice their faith in many different ways, but the major practices for both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims are known as the Five Pillars, which include:
  • the profession of faith, namely that there is only one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
  • the five daily prayers;
  • required annual donation to charity in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth;
  • fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and
  • making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically, and financially able to do so.

5. What are the foundational sources of Islamic beliefs and practices?

The primary sources of knowledge about Islam are the Qur’an, which Muslims generally believe is the divinely revealed word of God, and the Sunnah, which refers to the example or precedent of the Prophet Muhammad (i.e., what he said, did, approved, disapproved, caused, ordered, or allowed to happen). Much of what is known about the Sunnah is from the collection of sayings or reports known as hadith, or prophetic tradition. The hadith describe actions of the Prophet Muhammad or actions that his companions attributed to his teachings. Hadith also elaborate and provide context to the Qur’an.

For Shi’as, in addition to the aforementioned, the rulings of the twelve Imams are considered a primary source. Other sources may exist for different Muslim sects.

In addition to these primary sources, Muslims have also traditionally relied on the following: scholarly consensus, that is, the agreement of knowledgeable scholars upon a particular issue; and analogical reasoning, which means applying principles or laws derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah to similar situations not explicitly addressed by them. The lived experience of Islam, which naturally varies widely not only in different cultures but also with different individuals, also impacts and determines a Muslim’s understanding and practice of Islam.

GOD

6. Why do some people suffer so much in this life, especially the innocent, such as children?

This is a challenging issue for all religions that proclaim a belief in a God who is at once omnipotent and beneficent. We believe that God tries people in different ways, through both hardship and ease. While the cause of suffering is not always evident, the way that people respond to difficulty is a test of their moral fiber. Responding to hardship with patience and fortitude is a virtue for which we believe a great reward is promised in this life and the afterlife. Additionally, there may be a silver lining behind every difficulty. For instance, major disasters often bring out the best in people, inspiring them to perform remarkable acts as they respond to their own or another’s hardship with compassion and courage and come to the aid of those in need. Muslims also take comfort in their belief that life doesn’t end after death.

7. God’s love for humanity is a central theme in many religions. Are there similar teachings in Islam?

We believe that God’s love for humanity is indeed central to our faith. The Qur’an mentions God’s compassion and mercy 192 times, as opposed to God’s wrath, which is mentioned only 17 times. Two of God’s main attributes are the “Compassionate” and the “Merciful.” Both of these names denote God’s love and care for all creation. These are the two most often mentioned names of God, since all but one of the 114 chapters in the Qur’an begin with “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” The Qur’an cites 99 different names or attributes of God, many of which also emphasize these characteristics, including “the Loving,” “the Giving,” “the Forgiving,” and “the Kind.”

ANGELS

8. What do Muslims believe about angels?

Angels are mentioned many times in the Qur’an and hadith (prophetic sayings). Unlike humans, angels are described as not possessing free will but as being by nature assigned to specific duties. Two of the most prominent angels mentioned by name in the Qur’an are Gabriel (Jibril) and Michael (Mikhail). Gabriel is the angel of revelation and Michael is the angel of compassion.

SATAN

9. What does Islam say about Satan?

Satan (Shaytan in Arabic) is believed to be a third type of creation, in addition to humans and angels, known as a “jinn.” Humans are said to have been made from clay, angels from light, and jinn from fire. While the Qur’an teaches that some jinn are good and submit to God, it states that others, such as Iblis or Shaytan (Satan), try to tempt people to do evil, as in the belief about Satan in traditional Christian theology.

PROPHETS

10. How do the stories of the prophets in Islam compare with those in Christianity and Judaism?

That depends on which prophet we are talking about. In many cases, the stories of the prophets in the Qur’an are similar to the stories that are in the Bible. Some examples include:
  • the story of Noah and his ark;
  • the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son Isaac, who is also considered a prophet;
  • the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, including Joseph, who is also considered a prophet; and
  • the most oft-mentioned prophet in the Qur’an, Moses, and the story of his mission in Egypt to rescue his people.

Some of the major differences between the biblical account of some of these prophets and the Qur’an stem from the fact that the Qur’an holds that all prophets were immune from major sins. The stories of Prophet Jesus are close to the Bible in their descriptions of his virginal birth and miracles but differ sharply in their account of the divinity of Jesus and crucifixion; the Qur’an states that Jesus was only a man, not divine, and that before the crucifixion Jesus was taken into heaven and replaced by a person who looked like him.

11. Were there female prophets?

Some Muslim scholars hold the view that there were female prophets. Three of the women regarded by these scholars as prophets are Eve, the wife of Adam, Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh (who in the Quran is the one who adopts Moses as her son, as opposed to the daughter who does so in the Bible), and Mary the mother of Jesus, because they all received revelation from God. Whether one takes the position that they were prophets who brought a specific message to their people or not, Muslims revere them as three among the many righteous and saintly women mentioned in the Qur’an.

MUHAMMAD

12. Why do Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet?

The majority of Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet on the grounds that the Qur’an and hadith state so.

13. Why can’t you display images of the Prophet Muhammad?

There is no specific teaching in traditional Islamic sources forbidding images of the Prophet Muhammad, and in fact one can find representations of Muhammad and other prophets in different periods of Islamic history. What scholars warn against is the worship of such images, which in more recent times has led some groups to promote the idea that it is forbidden to represent the Prophet Muhammad.

14. Why did some Muslims respond with protest and violence against portrayals of Muhammad in cartoons and film?

This question refers to protests, sometimes erupting into lethal violence, as in the recent attack in Paris, against cartoons published in a French satirical weekly and against the film The Innocence of Muslims. These protests raise the question of freedom of expression, and the instances of violence clearly violated the principle of respect for life.

The great majority of American Muslims and many Muslims elsewhere affirm freedom of expression even for material that is offensive. Muslim leaders and organizations worldwide, even in countries that restrict the publication of such offensive material, vigorously condemned the instances of violence.

Violent reaction to these images was almost certainly fueled by political issues rather than purely by anger at the offensive images. Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf insisted that the Benghazi attack, claimed to be a spontaneous response to caricatures of Muhammad published in Denmark, was in fact long planned by militants, while the Paris atrocities were the work of militants who may well have been striving to recruit French Muslims to al-Qaeda by creating an incident that would isolate them from other French people. In either case, the images served only as a pretext.

15. Jesus was a non-violent reformer while Muhammad fought in wars. Why is there a difference between Jesus and Muhammad in terms of their approach?

This question, as posed, assumes that there is only one way of looking at Jesus, as a “non-violent reformer.” This is not the case, just as it is not the case with Muhammad, who has been and is seen in many different ways by Muslims.

In his book Jesus through the Centuries, church historian Jaroslav Pelikan depicts and analyzes the varied views of Jesus at different times and in different cultures. He devotes a whole chapter to Jesus as both “Prince of Peace” and instigator of divine warfare—sometimes at one and the same time.

The representations of Muhammad are likewise multiple. In her book The Lives of Muhammad, Kecia Ali writes “Far from being uniform or non-changing, both non-Muslim and Muslim views of Muhammad have been diverse, multifaceted, and subject to dramatic changes over the centuries.”

Even when one considers Jesus and Muhammad as historical figures, it is important to keep in mind a significant difference between their positions. Jesus founded a community of believers that was politically powerless and had to function in the shadow of the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire. Muhammad, on the other hand, eventually found himself at the head of a new political community in Medina and was therefore called upon to function as a political and even military leader. Whatever differences one may find between Muhammad and Jesus should not obscure the fact that, in our vision of Islam, both Christianity and Islam uphold the principle of respect for life.

16. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry so many women?

Polygamy was common in 7th-century Arabia, as it has been in many other cultures, especially for a political leader; for instance, the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible are shown as having multiple wives, and the kings of Israel are described as having harems numbering in some cases into the hundreds. According to Muslim historians, the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages were contracted to assist needy widows and divorcees and to solidify the community of Muslims by forging alliances among the tribes in and around Medina. In light of the time and place, there was nothing unique or unusual about Muhammad marrying several women.

17. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry a nine-year old? If she was not nine, how old was she?

The actual age of Aisha at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is disputed, but, the marriage could not have been consummated until she reached puberty. In many cultures, women are or were married years before a marriage is consummated. The custom of early betrothal and marriage continued until the late 19th and early 20th century in much of the world, including Europe and North America, where there are still many states that allow for underage marriage.

JESUS AND MARY

18. What do Muslims believe about Jesus?

Muslims overwhelmingly revere Jesus and believe that he was born to the Virgin Mary through an act of God, just as Adam is believed to have been created by God without a father or mother. The Qur’an describes his conception and birth, as well as his many miracles such as healings of the sick. The Qur’an also emphasizes that Jesus was a great prophet of God, as well as a messenger who received revelation from God, but that he was, like all other prophets, only a human being.

19. Why does the Qur’an talk about Jesus more often than Muhammad?

Most of the Qur’an depicts itself as a text addressed to Muhammad; it therefore talks less about Muhammad than it does to Muhammad about other subjects, including previous prophets such as Jesus.

20. What do Muslims believe about Mary?

Muslims generally believe that she is the Virgin Mother of the Prophet Jesus. An entire chapter in the Qur’an is named after her. The chapter called Mary (Maryam in Arabic) and other verses in the Qur’an emphasize her piety, righteousness, and status as an exemplar for all people, male and female. The Qur’an describes her as the greatest of all women: “God chose and preferred her above all the women of the worlds.” (Qur’an, 3: 42)

21. Why is it that Muslims do not celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas?

While Muslims greatly revere Jesus, Christmas is generally considered a Christian holiday and not a part of Muslim cultures except where there are Christian minorities. There is even debate among Muslims over the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday. However, some Muslims celebrate Christmas as part of an American cultural observance like Thanksgiving or Independence Day.

QUR’AN

22. Is the Qur’an read only in Arabic?

Since only 20% of all Muslims are Arabs, the Qur’an has been translated into and is read in many other languages, with multiple English translations. However, because Muslims consider the original Arabic text to be the literal word of God, during ritual prayers, the Qur’an is recited in its original Arabic language (just as some Catholic churches still perform mass in Latin or synagogues perform part of their prayer in Hebrew). In order to fully comprehend the Qur’an for instruction and spiritual enrichment, non-Arab Muslims also read the translation in their native language.

PRAYER

23. What are the different kinds of prayer that Muslims practice?

Prayer among Muslims can take many forms. Three very common forms are Salat (ritual prayer), Dhikr (remembrance of God, which usually involves the repetition of God’s names), and Du’a (supplication, or asking God for a need or desire or for forgiveness).

24. How long does each prayer (Salat) take?

Each prayer (Salat) lasts 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the prescribed length of the prayer and the number and length of Qur’anic verses recited. Other factors may also influence the length of time a Muslim prays, including the number of additional (non-obligatory) prayers one chooses to perform, and the pace at which one recites the Qur’an.

25. In large groups women pray behind men. Why is that?

The separation of men and women in prayer is not universal among Muslims. In the mosque built around the Ka’bah, men and women are not separated, but pray together in circular formation around the shrine. In some mosques women pray in balconies above the prayer hall for men, and in some American mosques women pray parallel to men while in others they pray behind the men.

The reason usually adduced for this practice involves notions of modesty. The Muslim ritual prayer is very physical in nature, involving standing, bowing, and prostrating oneself. While in congregational prayers, Muslims are supposed to stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with those next to them. Many Muslim cultures have considered it distracting or immodest to have men and women praying side by side or to have women prostrate themselves in front of men.

26. How do very busy students or professionals (e.g., firefighters) find the time to pray five times a day?

Depending on their schedules, Muslims probably will not need to perform all five prayers while on the job since the prayers are spread throughout the day. In addition, each of the five prayers has a window of time during which each prayer can be performed. This time frame extends from about one hour to as long as four hours depending on the specific prayer and the time of year, since the times shift depending on the season and length of day.

Throughout most of the year, the prayer time for the noon prayer does not end while students are at school, so they can perform it when they return home. During the time of year when the prayer time ends while students are still in school, they can take a few minutes during recess or lunch to pray. Students can ask their teachers if they can pray in the classroom or library.

In the case of Muslim firefighters, if they are in the midst of fighting a fire and are unable to take a break to pray, they will perform the missed prayer as soon as they are able to, along with the next prayer.

KA’BAH

27. What is the Ka’bah?

The Ka’bah is the cube-shaped building covered with a black cloth in Mecca that is believed by Muslims to have been the first house of worship to God. Muslims throughout the world face towards the Ka’bah when they perform each of their daily prayers.

28. Who built the Ka’bah?

Muslims believe that Adam built the original Ka’bah and that Prophets Abraham and his son Ishmael rebuilt and consecrated it as the first house of worship to God.

DAY OF JUDGMENT

29. How will God determine who goes to heaven and hell?

We believe that only God knows where a person will end up in the afterlife, since only God knows a person’s intentions, deeds, circumstances, and limitations. We also believe that God will judge human beings according to His complete justice on the Day of Judgment based on both their beliefs and actions, taking into account the opportunities and abilities that He gave them. In the Qur’an, God’s ninety-nine names include “the Judge” and “the Just.”

30. If a person is a good person throughout his or her life, but does not believe in God, will he/she go to hell?

We believe that God rewards whoever behaves righteously in this life and that God knows the innermost secrets of human hearts and will judge everyone with absolute justice.

FREE WILL

31. What good is “free will” if everything is predestined? If God already knows if we are going to heaven or hell, why doesn’t He just put us there?

We believe that, unlike angels or animals, humans have the free will to choose to do good or evil in this life and that even though God knows people’s ultimate destination, they themselves do not have that knowledge. Therefore, whatever actions people commit are based on their free will, for which they are held accountable.

OTHER RELIGIONS

32. How does Islam view other religions?

We believe that respect for freedom of religion and conscience is a basic Islamic principle, and we believe that diversity, including religious diversity, is part of God’s divine plan. Moreover, we believe that the salvation of all people, Muslims included, lies with God alone.

At Coburg Banks, we’re not a major fan of interview brainteasers.

In fact in one of our previous posts,  27 Behavioural Questions You Must Ask Your Interviewees we openly discredited their efficiency!

We just feel that they’re a little too off-putting for candidates, who are already feeling the pressure and unless utilised correctly, they really don’t reveal that much!

However, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right!

This week, we’re breaking down brainteasers, so you can make a more informed decision – are they right for your business?

Why use brainteasers?

Generally, the best hires are those who can identify problems quickly and solve them efficiently.

Critical thinking brainteasers have been created to assess candidates on the following key skills…

– Problem Solving.Can they at least attempt to solve problems as they arise?  You don’t want an employee who keeps running to you, every time something goes even slightly wrong.

– Analysis.Can they look at the big picture and analyse all the available information to find a solution?  You don’t want an employee who continuously overlooks important considerations.  

– Creativity.Do they think outside the box?  Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of creative thinking so you don’t want an employee, constrained by the ‘rules’ (not all the time, anyway!)

– Performance under pressure.These questions will probably be completely out of the candidate’s comfort zone and it’s unlikely that they’ll have prepared for them.  Can they keep it together?

Recruiter Pro Tip:

If performance under pressure is the most important factor to you, check out our recent blog post: 6 Left-Field Questions to Catch Someone Off Guard.

Asking questions that have no relevance…sounds like a great idea – right?

We’ll let you decide.

1.  The pizza puzzle.

Q1.  “If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?”

This little gem is attributed to Apple Inc and there clearly isn’t a ‘right answer.’

However, you can still use it to assess your interviewee’s ability to think critically and make well-formed arguments.

Good signs:

A great candidate will take time deliberating over exactly what it takes to be a pizza delivery man or woman and will consider exactly how they would use the scissors.

Clever so-and-so’s may even come up with reasons not to use scissors, which is still perfectly acceptable, as long as there is thought behind the decision!

Bad signs:

These types of questions are likely to frustrate some interviewees so watch out for those who aren’t willing to play the game.

It’s an interview after all and you make the rules.

2.  A calculated question.

Q2.  “How would test a calculator?”

This is a fairly ambiguous question, attributed to IBMand you’d certainly assume that your average candidate won’t have dealt with the situation before!

Good signs:

You’re looking for a detailed and strategic method of testing the calculator.

First they’ll have to work out exactly what the question means:

Is it referring to the general functionality of the calculator (the buttons) or its actual mathematical ability?

Then they’ll have to come up with a systematic and efficient means of testing it.

They may require some paper to make notes; “visual” thinkers will need some way to visualise the process.

Bad signs:

If a candidate appears to get confused by the question and the method they come up with doesn’t make any systematic or organisational sense, this could be a reflection on their general administrative skills.

However, there’s nothing wrong with a candidate who asks you to repeat the question or explain in more detail; sensible candidates will want to ensure the question is answered well, without rushing in without a clue.

3.  Apples and pears.

Epic Systems are to blame for this epic interview question:

Q3.  “An apple costs 40 cents, a banana costs 60 cents and a grapefruit costs 80 cents.  How much does a pear cost?”

Hats off if you’ve managed to work out the answer to this one (without sneakily peaking below)!

It’s all about the vowels.

“If you charge 20 cents per vowel, the two-vowel word ‘apple’ would cost 40 cents, three-vowel ‘banana’ 60 cents, and four-vowel ‘grapefruit’ 80 cents.

Therefore, a pear would cost 40 cents.”

Clever – right?

Good signs:

If anyone manages to work this riddle out in a high-pressure interview situation, then as far as I’m concerned, you’re on to a winner.

(But do beware of anyone who’s too quick to answer – they may have heard it all before!)

However in general, if the candidate can come up with any sensible price and a good explanation of how they came to it, then they certainly deserve brownie points.

Use your initiative; is their answer sound, thought-out and practical?

Bad signs:

If a candidate blurts out a number without being able to explain their reasoning, then they’ve clearly not bothered to consider the question properly.

4.  What do a fox, a hen and a farmer have in common?

They’re all trying to get to the other side of the river…

Q4.  “A farmer needs to cross the river with his chicken, a sack of corn and a fox.

His boat unfortunately only fits himself and one other thing.

The fox and chicken are hungry, so if he leaves the fox with the chicken, the chicken will get eaten, whilst if he leaves the chicken with the corn, the corn will get eaten.

How will the man get safely across with all 3?”

Do you recognise this question? Could you spontaneously answer it?

This is a really common brainteaser and is often utilised during group activities, to assess how well candidates can work together to solve a problem.

The answer is simple, when you know it:

The man takes the chicken across and then goes back for the fox.

He can’t leave the fox and chicken together so when he drops the fox off, he picks up the chicken. He then goes back for the corn.

He can’t leave the corn and the chicken together so when he picks up the corn, he drops off the chicken.

When the corn is safely with the fox on the right side of the river, he goes to collect the chicken.

Goodness knows why a farmer would be hanging around with a fox…

Good signs:

Candidates who take the time to understand each varying element and work their way through potential answers strategically, are most likely to be impressive problem-solvers.

In group interviews, look out for candidates who facilitate the discussion, taking into account everyone’s opinion and helping them reach a conclusion; they’re the leader.

Bad signs:

If a candidate rattles off the answer immediately then chances are, they’ve faced this brainteaser before (a good, honest candidate will tell you if this is the case!)

Candidates who fail and don’t appear to ‘get’ the question or forget a major part of it (for example, they let the chicken and corn cross together) may have issues with listening, as well as critical thinking.

5.Number crunchers.

Q5.  “How many potatoes (in kg) does McDonald’s sell in a year in the UK?”

There are hundreds of variations on this Oliver Wyman interview question, each assessing mental arithmetic and critical thinking.

– How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the UK every year?

– How many gas stations are there in the US?

– How many pennies, if placed on top of each other, would it take to reach the top of Big Ben?

The answer to the question is roughly 200 million kg of potatoes, however, like our other brainteasers, it’s not about finding the perfect answer; it’s about how they work it out!

Good signs:

Another toughie!  If your candidate gets anywhere near, then that’s impressive enough.

If they don’t get anywhere near but explain calculations that are based on sensible presumptions, then it’s a great sign.

Bad signs:

Ask your candidate to talk you through their sums as they go along.  You’ll soon suss it out if they can’t add up properly!

Again, hasty, unthoughtful answers show a disregard for the interview and interviewer.

6.  One to really catch them out!

Q6.  “Tracy’s mother had 4 children. The first child was named April, the second was named May, the third June. What was the 4th child called?”

What would your answer be? July? Or did you work out the sneaky little plot twist within?

This cruel interview brainteaser depends on it’s capacity to draw the listener’s attention away from the answer, focusing on the unimportant information.

Spoiler Alert:

The question has already revealed the answer – ‘Tracy’s mother had 4 children’ – the fourth child must be called Tracy!

The names April, May and June meant nothing.

Good signs:

Of course, there is a right answer – Tracy – and anyone who gets it exhibits a critical thinking, common-sensical brain behind those eyes.

Bad signs:

Candidates commonly answer with one of the two following things (unless they’ve completely missed the point)…

1) July.  Don’t be too harsh; these poor souls have simply fallen into your well-laid trap!

2) We can’t know.  Having missed the revealing reference to Tracy, some candidates may try to outsmart the question by concluding it’s impossible to know. (It is probable that the fourth child is called July, but not certain.)

Unfortunately, both answers are just wrong!

7.  That age-old question.

Q7.  “How do you know if the light inside the fridge is on or off?”

This, somewhat philosophical, interview question has been attributed to Schlumberger.

Good signs:

There are a variety of ways to answer this question, some great and some not so great, so you’ll have to be the judge…

You could…

  • Use a camera.
  • Drill a hole in the fridge door.
  • Find the sensor and test it with your thumb.
  • Touch the light bulb and see if it’s warm (be careful with this one, though!)

Although varying in practicality, all of the above do genuinely answer the question!

Bad signs:

Unlike some of our brainteasers, this question is fairly easy to answer; you certainly don’t have to have any technical knowledge or special skills.

Candidates with no answer whatsoever (no matter how outrageous) are clearly lacking in creativity.

Summary:

You can use brainteasers at any stage of the interviewing process, from telephone to face-to-face interview…

…however they’re most effective during group interviews, giving you a chance to assess a candidate’s teamwork, as well as, problem solving skills.

Recruiter Pro Tip:

Brainteasers could be about any topic you fancy, but it is critical to remember that they could be off-putting for certain candidates.

Never base your entire interview on brainteasers; you won’t learn anything about your candidates and you’ll come across unprofessional.

We recommend throwing (at most one or two) brainteasers into the interview, if you feel like it’s going very smoothly, your candidate is confident and everything seems a little too rehearsed.

Above all else, try not to be too hard on your candidates.

Remember, they’ll be judging you just as readily as you are judging them!

Good Luck!

- Charles Trivett

The Four Step Interview Technique, Guaranteed to Suss Out Your Time-wasters!

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