Umm wait what? I thought this was a job interview, not a test of my knowledge about the iconic puzzle cube invented in 1974. What in the world does this interview question have to do with measuring my ability to do the job in question? More than likely, the interviewer doesn’t even know the right amount of cubes that fit inside the plane, and probably doesn’t care to know. In reality the final answer isn’t so important; rather the interviewer is more concerned with how you got to that answer! This kind of question may be asked to gauge your problem solving ability and how well you deal with vague situations.
There are a lot of unknowns in this question, and that is the point. If you are presented with a situational question like this, clarify! Ask questions about the problem to help you better understand the answer you are about to give. Thinking “out loud” (sorry introverts!) in this setting will allow the interviewer a peek inside your thought process so they can follow along as you solve the problem. Remember, the math, and final answers may not always add up for this type of question and that’s ok!
You: Before I give an answer I feel is correct, I’d like to ask a few clarifying questions. What model airplane is this?
Interviewer: It is a Boeing 747.
You: Great, and could you tell me more about this 747? Is it fully loaded with passengers and luggage? How many seats does it have? Is it totally gutted and we are just filling the empty shell?
Interviewer: This 747 is totally empty. There is no luggage, passengers or seats in the plane. For this problem we are curious about how many cubes can fit in the hollow shell of the 747.
You: Perfect, can you tell me more about the cube? Is it a standard sized cube? Could you give me the specific dimensions of the cubes that we will be filling the plane with?
Interviewer: Sure, the Rubik’s Cubes are 3x3x3 inches.
You: Fantastic! So to summarize, we are assuming that this 747 is empty, with no people luggage or furnishings inside, and the volume of each cube is 27. With this knowledge, I my best estimate would be roughly 150,000 Rubik’s Cubes inside the 747.
And there you have it! Just remember that these types of questions are less concerned with the actual answer, but more about how you arrive at the answer. Happy interviewing!
Mike Ariale is the Assistant Director of Career Development & Social Media at Northeastern University. He specializes in disability employment issues, and works with many other diversity initiatives on campus. When not at work, you can find doing heavy bag work at the boxing gym, hanging out at the latest SoFar concert, or enjoying Boston’s foodie scene! Tweet him @CareerCoachNU