Recruiting – puzzles and quizzes

A numerical solution to the heat equation on a...

Solution to the heat equation in a pump casing model using the finite elment modelling software Image via Wikipedia

As we gear up to do some college recruiting, I thought this was an interesting thread. I particularly liked one of the comments, starting with the “These days”:

“I agree that the puzzle-solving during interviews is lame.

In fact, I’ve said exactly that same thing to an interviewer once: “Unless you guys spend all your time here re-designing quicksort, why do you want me to implement it on a whiteboard?”

These days, I usually bring a couple tricky differential equations w/ me to interview, and when the time comes when they say: “Do you have any questions for me?”, I respond: “Why yes, in fact I do”.. and I turn over the marker to him, and ask him to solve the following differential equations x, y, z, etc, on the whiteboard. Invariably, they flame out as badly as you might expect.. even for quite simple vanilla differential equations.. “But didn’t you take calculus in college?” I ask… “errr… yeah”… they stumble… “And you can’t solve this?” etc…


Point is, you can turn the tables on them.. or at least, you can do that if you feel the interview isn’t really going all that well anyway.


When candidates come to our office, everyone has a job to do. Some of us ask specific technical questions, some of us do ask various business/consulting hypotheticals and see how the person reacts. I do not think we are too harsh, and I do not think we are unfair, but we can always get better. I hope that asking more and more puzzlers is not going to be the directions for us. A simple rule should apply – if you and your existing colleagues could not do these puzzles every time – do not ask others, it is clearly not an important attribute that has got you this far.



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