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Brainteasers

Vivia Chen

July 7, 2011

Puzzle What's the best argument for jazzing up those law firm interviews? Well, they're snores. In fact, I've always found them more boring than stressful. It's hard to sit through those 20-minute slots during the law school recruiting season without ample infusions of caffeine. Even more painful are those callbacks where you have to watch a partner drool with excitement about some default provision he just drafted.

Isn't it time to spice up those interviews? As I've reported, some firms are trying to be creative--making candidates take psychological assessments or grilling them about hypothetical matters.

But why stop there? Why not have some real fun with those needy, eager-to-please pups? How about throwing them some wacky brain- teasers and see how they fetch?

That's more or less the approach that some companies take to find the spiffiest candidates around. Recently, CBS MoneyWatch compiled "20 Craziest Job Interview Questions." Here's a sampling:

• Facebook: Twenty-five racehorses, no stopwatch, five tracks.  Figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races.

Google: You are climbing a staircase. Each time you can either take one step or two. The staircase has n steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb the staircase?

Goldman Sachs: Suppose you had eight identical balls. One of them is slightly heavier, and you are given a balance scale. What’s the fewest number of times you have to use the scale to find the heavier ball? (Another Goldman favorite: How many manholes in Manhattan?)

• Procter & Gamble: Sell me an invisible pen.

Lubin Lawrence: If you could describe Hershey, Godiva, and Dove chocolate as people, how would you describe them?

Those that survive the toughest interviews turn out to be happy campers. According to Glassdoor.com (hat tip: FINS), some companies known for notoriously difficult interviews, like McKinsey & Company and Bain, ended up getting good scores on employee satisfaction.

The other side of the token is that some companies with easy interviews got low employee satisfaction scores, according to a 2009 Glassdoor report. One such company was Wal-Mart, which asked aspiring salesclerks, "Why do you want to work for us?"

That sounds like the kind of question that law firms ask. So does that mean that law firms take a Wal-Mart approach to hiring?

Just asking.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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Suggested interview question for Goldman Sachs Havenry Manufacturing Division applicants.


Q. When is a lackey not a lackey?

Check no less than those that don’t apply:

1. When it’s a corporation.

2. When it’s a tacit agent.

3. When he files suit.

4. You tell me.

5. When she smiles.

Suggested interview question for Goldman Sachs Havenry Manufacturing Division applicants.

Q. When is a lackey not a lackey?

Check no less than those that don’t apply:


1. When it’s a corporation.

2. When it’s a tacit agent.

3. When he files suit.

4. You tell me.

5. When she smiles.


The Facebook question is clearly missing a restriction (not your fault, it's that way on the GlassDoor source, too). There must be a limitation on the number of horses that can be on the track at the time, otherwise you use one track and take all 25 horses and stand at the end and cheer for them as they go by. Answer=1

I'm guessing what's missing is something to the effect that you can only "fit" five horses on a track at a time. Getting the overall fastest is easy. Five random groups of five. Take the winners of those five races and have them race again. Six races gets you the overall fastest horse. Figuring out the #2 and #3 is harder, I guess. So eliminate #4 and #5 finishers from race #6 (the race that crowned your overall champ) and bring back the #2 and #3 finishers from the champ's first heat to race against #2 and #3 from the championship round plus #2 from the championship round's runner-up's first heat.

#1 from that runoff is #2 overall, #2 from the runoff is #3 overall. Seven races.

I can haz job at facebook, pls?

You're an evil person for suggesting this.

Answer to your last question: Most of them, most of the time, yes.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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