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The Guesstimate Question

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THE guesstimate question is a usual type of question that you can expect to be asked when interviewing for a position at a consulting firm.

What will you be asked to do

A typical guesstimate question will require you to estimate a number by doing a rough “back of the beer coaster” calculation. You are supposed to reach a final answer by using a series of narrowing assumptions.

Your assumptions should have a sound basis and you should explain the logic behind your assumptions, however it is not important that your assumptions be 100% accurate.

What is being assessed

Your response to the guesstimate question will help the interviewer evaluate your strengths in the following areas:

  1. professionalism and ability to remain level-headed when placed in a tricky situation;
  2. creativity and sound judgement in being able to come up with plausible assumptions;
  3. logic and structured thinking; and
  4. numerical skills and level of comfort with doing basic arithmetic in your head.

The guesstimate question is quite different from the kind of interview questions that you are probably used to.  For the guesstimate question, it is better to arrive at the wrong answer with good assumptions and clear logic than to know the right answer because you saw it on the Discovery Channel last week.

Examples

Here is a list of example guesstimate questions to give you an idea of the kind of questions to expect:

  1. How many births are there in America each day?
  2. How many petrol stations are there in Sydney?
  3. How many bottles of wine are consumed in France each month?
  4. How many cups of tea are drunk in England each day?
  5. How far does the average Premiership footballer run in a single game?
  6. How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?
  7. How many pounds are spent on haircuts in the UK each year?
  8. How many ping-pong balls will fit inside a 747?
  9. How many weddings are performed in China each year?
  10. How many men’s suits were sold in the United States last year?
  11. How many tennis balls fit in a swimming pool?
  12. What is the annual size of the golf ball market in Japan?
  13. Estimate the total revenues obtained from the movie Avatar.
  14. What is the size of the market for mobile phones in America?
  15. How many white cars are there in Australia?
  16. How many people are buried each year in England?
  17. What is the annual market for apples in America?
  18. What is the annual revenue of Harrods in London?
  19. What is the market for bicycles in America?
  20. How many taxis are there in New York?