An argument can be made that the hardest interview questions in all of financial services are asked by top consulting firms. They require intense preparation but also the ability to think on your feet and adapt to real-world scenarios. The most fear-inducing inquiry of all may be the estimation question, simply due to the fact that there is no right answer. "Correct" responses can vary wildly. Really it's all about your ability make fair assumptions, rationalize those educated guesses and apply mathematical skills when needed. Practice helps too.
Below are ten estimation questions that were asked by consulting firms and other companies that hire in strategy roles. They were asked of MBA students in real interviews. We've also included some tips on how to ace the questions, courtesy of Victor Cheng at CaseInterview.com.
How would you do? Pick one and give it a shot. We'd love to hear some prospective rationalizations in the comment section below. They may even get graded by a real consultant.
Estimate the volume of beer consumed in April in the United States.
How many wrapped gifts are given on a non-holiday day in Florida?
If ten couples want to meet each other, how many handshakes will occur?
How many cigarettes are produced annually in the U.S.? In the world?
How many fire hydrants are in the state of New York?
How many pairs of chopsticks will be sold in Japan next year?
How many miles does Southwest fly a year?
How many burger buns are sold in the United States every year?
What is the weight of the Empire State Building in New York?
How much change would you find on the floor of a mall in downtown San Francisco?
Things to remember when attacking an estimation question:
- An acceptable answer MUST mention a specific number.
- Acceptable answers can range wildly. Success is all about showcasing logic.
- Make explicit assumptions. It is not possible to answer a question without doing so.
- Explain to you interviewer that you are making a specific assumption and give your rationale as to why. Always rationalize.
- Showcase your use of mathematical formulas if possible (cubic volume etc.)
- The math shouldn’t be all that complicated, mostly high school level stuff. Communication is your key focus.
- That said, be sure not to make rudimentary math mistakes. Practice your mental math.
- Always “show your work” vocally.
Reprinted with permission from Victor Cheng. Read more from him here.