Interview Q&A: How Would You Weigh A Plane Without Scales?

Angela Copeland
by Angela Copeland   Career Advice Expert 

Some interview questions are meant to test your creativity and see how you respond to brainteasers. These weird interview questions also help to measure how you react to unexpected situations, and how well you can roll with the punches (so to speak).

The questions are typically a little odd and can be as simple as “If you were a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be?” Another question that has been known to come up is this one: “How would you weigh a plane without scales?”

Before you begin to sweat, remember: this question is not meant to test your aircraft prowess. There’s no expectation that you actually know how to weigh an airplane without a scale. The question’s aim is to determine whether or not you can come up with a reasonable and outside-the-box explanation for your conclusions. It provides the interviewer a window into your thought process.

Process is the keyword here—the hiring manager wants to get a handle on how you think on your feet. The first key to success with a question like this to stay calm. Take a deep breath, and consider repeating the question to the interviewer to be sure you heard it correctly. Then, begin to think of the answer you want to give.

Of course, there are numerous types of answers you could give. You could give a very straightforward answer about how you would look up the weight of an average-size commercial aircraft on an airline’s website.

Or, you could give a more scientific response. And, depending on the personality of the interviewer, you could provide a silly, funny answer that shows off your sense of humor.

Points to Emphasize

Generally speaking, the hiring manager is not looking for a specific answer with interview questions like “How would you weigh a plane without scales?” That said, you should keep the following points in mind:

  1. Talk through your thinking process out loud, so the interviewer has an opportunity to observe how you think.
  2. If you need to, ask your interviewer for a moment to think it through.
  3. Remember that an actual number does not have to be reached in this type of question!
  4. Above all, maintain a good sense of humor and stay calm.

Let’s be honest. An interviewer asking this type of question probably has a decent sense of humor. Otherwise, they would stick to the basics of your strengths and weaknesses. Although you need to take the question seriously, feel free to have a little fun (but not too much) with it.

Mistakes You Should Avoid

There is technically no wrong answer to this interview question. But there are a number of things you don’t want to say in your response.

Don’t ever say “I don’t know” when answering this question. This response will paint you as being lazy and unimaginative. And don’t just sit there quietly for a few minutes thinking about it.

The interviewer wants to see how you think. In order to share your thoughts, you need to talk this type of question out. This can’t be emphasized enough.

Don’t just blurt out an answer. You don’t want to come across as too hasty. Take the time to think through the question so you can show that you’re being thoughtful with your answer.

Don’t get nervous or flustered if you’re unable to think of an answer quickly. You can always start off with an answer such as “This is the first time I’ve approached a problem like this, but whenever I’m learning something new, I always start with research. This is how I would learn to solve this problem . . . .”

Don’t answer the question in an angry or frustrated tone. This is truly the last thing you want to do. I once heard a candidate say “What kind of question is that?” They assumed the interviewer was being difficult or rude. In reality, the interviewer was testing their flexibility and sense of humor, and the candidate failed. Your answer does not necessarily have to be illuminating or hilarious—just show that you are capable of putting thought into a tricky question.

Show the interviewer that you’re able to stay calm under extreme pressure and in an ambiguous situation. Proving that you’re capable of both will make any interviewer’s day.

Sample Answers

A brainteaser question like this could be answered the following way:

How would you weigh a plane without scales? Hmmm, that’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a moment. There are a number of factors to take into consideration, I suppose, such as what kind of plane it is, whether or not it is filled with passengers, and whether or not it is filled with fuel. I suppose at the end of the day I could ask someone who works at an airport if they know how much an average plane weighs.

Or, you could expand on your thought process a bit to say:

It would be difficult to weigh an airplane because there probably isn’t a scale large enough at the airport. However, I could assume the average passenger weight is 160 pounds. Given that there are probably around 100 passengers on board, I could calculate the weight added by the passengers. I know that the baggage weight limit per-passenger is approximately 50 pounds, so I could calculate the weight of the baggage on board. And once I learned how much fuel an average-size aircraft requires, I could calculate the weight of the fuel. Assuming there is additional weight added for food and miscellaneous items, an additional weight should be added. Then, I would look up the weight of the empty plane online. Lastly, I would add all of the weights together to calculate the approximate weight of the plane, without using scales.

You want to be careful when it comes to humor. An interviewer would not ask you to calculate the weight of the plane if they weren’t interested in hearing how you might do it. Making a joke could go well, or it could fall flat. But whatever you say, be confident in your answer.

Interviewers do not ask these types of questions to get specific answers (like a lot of other questions in an interview). Instead, they are trying to get a better sense of who you are as an individual. They want to see if you panic. They want to know if you’ll try to opt out of the question, or if you have a bad attitude when providing a response.

Remember, answering these types of questions are just part of the interview journey. They are brief and ultimately, they’ll lead to a new job. They’re worth the time and the potential stress of answering. Stay calm, cool, collected, and most of all, respectful, and you’ll be fine when talking through your answer to the question “How would you weigh a plane without scales?”

About the Author

Career Advice Expert

Angela Copeland Career Advice Expert

Angela Copeland is a career expert and founder of her own coaching firm, Copeland Coaching. Previously, Angela was Vice President of Digital and eCommerce at First Tennessee Bank, and Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing at ServiceMaster. She’s the author of the book Breaking The Rules & Getting The Job and the host of the Copeland Coaching Podcast. Angela is also a syndicated career columnist, and recently shared her career story in a TEDx Talk titled "How I broke the rules & found my perfect job." She holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and a B. S. in Computer & Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


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