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Interview questions: Lateral and linear

Interviewers occasionally like to throw in a leftfield question, to see how candidates react. Our experience suggests that these questions fall into two camps. They either test the ability to think laterally and creatively, or linearly and analytically.

For example:

Lateral thinking

  • How many uses can you think of for this empty glass?
  • Explain a database to your eight year old nephew in three sentences.
  • You have a closet full of shirts. It’s hard to find a shirt. What can you do to organise your shirts for easy retrieval?

Linear thinking

  • If the time is 3:15, what is the angle between the hour and minute hands on the clock? (Answer)
  • You have nine identical balls, but one is slightly heavier than the rest. You have a set of scales. In only two weighings, how can you work out which is the heaviest ball? (Answer)
  • There are three ants on a triangle, one at each corner. At a given moment in time, they all set off for a different corner at random. What is the probability that they don’t collide? (Answer)

Part of the reason case study questions (e.g. how many ping pong balls are there in China?) are so popular is that they test both.

We’re trying to think of some good ones to use ourselves. Any suggestions?

Jay Scott is a consultant on the FreshMinds Talent Interim team.