Brainteaser Questions: "If You Could Get Rid of One U.S. State, Which One Would It Be, and Why?"

Brainteaser questions - candidates hate them, but interviewers seem to love them. As tempting as it might be to make up a stupid answer to let the interviewer know he’s wasting your time, it’s much better to give a thoughtful answer. That’s what brainteaser questions are for, after all. The interviewer is looking for insight into your thought process rather than a single answer. Here are some ways you could approach one of those questions: “If you could get rid of one U.S. state, which one would it be and why?”

Start with “It depends”

What the question doesn’t tell you is why you need to eliminate a state, and you want to make it clear to the interviewer that you understand that the answer could vary a lot depending on the reason. So start with something like, “It depends on why you want to eliminate a state.”

Talk through possible scenarios

  • Value to company: “If your goal were to eliminate the state that presents the least value to your company, then I would first need to see state-by-state P&Ls. Then I would need to spend some time with your executive leadership to discuss non-monetary factors that could affect a state’s value – for instance, a senator who’s very receptive to your lobbying efforts.”
  • Value to country: “If you were making the decision on which state is of the least value to the country, there would be a lot of things to consider, starting with the state’s economy. But even that’s not simple. California, for instance, is struggling to stay solvent. But that’s just the government. The state itself has one of the largest economies in the world – bigger than a lot of countries. You’d have to balance that out. You also have to consider things like natural resources and geopolitical value.”
  • Politics: “If it were a purely political matter, the easiest solution would be to ask for volunteers. If more than one state wanted to secede, the citizens of those states could vote, and the state with the highest percent in favour could secede. But, even then, there would be other things to consider. For instance, would you really want a state to secede – even if the citizens wanted to – if it held part of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile within its borders?”

Wrap it up

Notice that none of those approaches actually names a state. And that’s OK. The question is about the process, not the results. So you could wrap things up by saying something like, “I know I didn’t name a state, but we haven’t identified the criteria. Would you like to talk more about that?” And that gives the interviewer a chance to dig a little deeper.

Be careful

A word of warning: Some recruiters may use this question to get at information they can’t ask you outright, like your political leanings or any racial biases. Be careful that your answer – even if you’re joking – doesn’t reveal anything you don’t want the interviewer to know.

Brainteaser questions are tricky and they can throw you off your game if you’re not ready. Don’t rush to come up with an answer. Instead, remember that the interviewer wants to see how you think through a problem. A logical discussion of how you’d come up with the answer will make you look a lot better than a hurried answer.


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