Interview Questions: Practice Guesstimate Questions

by | March 10, 2009

Following are examples of guesstimates and suggested solutions. There is more variation here than in business cases. Whereas in business cases we ask that you make no assumptions, here you may have to make assumptions if your interviewer does not provide any additional information.

Remember to ask your interviewer each time you begin a guesstimate answer if they will provide information or if you will need to make assumptions. If you do, be sure to be perfectly clear where and when you are making assumptions.

This set of questions can be presented as either assumptive or with feedback from the interviewer.

Practice Question #1: How many gallons of white house paint are sold in the U.S. every year?

THE "START BIG" APPROACH: If you're not sure where to begin, start with the basic assumption that there are 270 million people in the U.S. (or 25 million businesses, depending on the question). If there are 270 million people in the United States, perhaps half of them live in houses (or 135 million people). The average family size is about three people, so there would be 45 million houses in the United States. Let's add another 10 percent to that for second houses and houses used for other purposes besides residential. So there are about 50 million houses.

If houses are painted every 10 years, on average (notice how we deftly make that number easy to work with), then there are 5 million houses painted every year. Assuming that one gallon of paint covers 100 square feet of wall, and that the average house has 2,000 square feet of wall to cover, then each house needs 20 gallons of paint. So 100 million gallons of paint are sold per year (5 million houses x 20 gallons). (Note: If you want to be fancy, you can ask your interviewer whether you should include inner walls as well!) If 80 percent of all houses are white, then 80 million gallons of white house paint are sold each year. (Don't forget that last step!)

THE "START SMALL" APPROACH: You could also start small, and take a town of 27,000 (about 1/10,000 of the population). If you use the same assumption that half the town lives in houses in groups of three, then there are 4,500 houses, plus another 10 percent, then there are really 5,000 houses to worry about. Painted every 10 years, 500 houses are being painted in any given year. If each house has 2,000 square feet of wall, and each gallon of paint covers 100 square feet, then each house needs 20 gallons - and so 10,000 gallons of house paint are sold each year in your typical town. Perhaps 8,000 of those are white. Multiply by 10,000 - you have 80 million gallons.

Your interviewer may then ask you how you would actually get that number, on the job, if necessary. Use your creativity - contacting major paint producers would be smart, putting in a call to HUD's statistics arm could help, or even conducting a small sample of the second calculation in a few representative towns is possible.

Practice Question #2:What is the size of the market for disposable diapers in China?

Here's a good example of a market sizing. How many people live in China? A billion. Because the population of China is young, a full 600 million of those inhabitants might be of child-bearing age. Half are women, so there are about 300 million Chinese women of childbearing age. Now, the average family size in China is restricted, so it might be 1.5 children, on average, per family. Let's say two-thirds of Chinese women have children. That means that there are about 300 million children in China. How many of those kids are under the age of two? About a tenth, or 30 million. So there are at least 30 million possible consumers of disposable diapers.

To summarize:

1 billion people
x 60% childbearing age
= 600,000,000 people
x 1/2 are women

= 300,000,00 women of childbearing age
x 2/3 have children

= 200,000,000 women with children
x 1.5 children each

= 300,000,000 children
x1/10 under age 2
=30 million children

Practice Question #3: How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the United States each month?

Take your figure of 300 million people in America. How many people eat pizza? Let's say 200 million. Now let's say the average pizza-eating person eats pizza twice a month, and eats two slices at a time. That's four slices a month. If the average slice of pizza is perhaps six inches at the base and 10 inches long, then the slice is 30 square inches of pizza. So four pizza slices would be 120 square inches. Therefore, there are a billion square feet of pizza eaten every month.

To summarize:

300 million people in America

200 million eat pizza

Average slice of pizza is six inches at the base and 10 inches long = 30 square inches (height x half the base)

Average American eats four slices of pizza a month

Four pieces x 30 square inches = 120 square inches (one square foot is 144 inches), so let's assume one square foot per person

200 million square feet a month

Filed Under: Interviewing


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