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Published by Neetu Morwani

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Published by: Neetu Morwani on Nov 30, 2012
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11/27/2014

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Guesstimates and brainteasers are two types of interview questions commonly asked by Wall Street firms, consulting firms

, and tech firms. They're also the types of questions that can make or break an interview. Which means you better know how to prepare for them as well as how to nail them. To that end, the first rule of guesstimates and brainteasers is there are two types of wrong answers: the random guess and giving up. The second rule is interviewers, in asking these questions, are trying to gauge your composure, thoughtfulness, and creativity, but not necessarily your ability to get the right answer. In fact, with respect to guesstimates—questions that ask you to come up with a figure, usually the size of a market or the number of objects in an area—interviewers themselves don't always know the exact answer. Thus, the best approach for a guesstimate question is to think of a funnel: begin by thinking broadly, then slowly narrowing down the situation towards the answer. As for brainteasers—questions such as "Why are manholes round?" (see No. 5 below) that might not have a definite answer—the best approach is think aloud. This will enable interviewers to hear your thought process. Of course, this might seem unnatural at first, but it's absolutely essential in order to prove your analysis. Think of a high school calculus test where you're awarded partial credit by showing your work. In any case, below are six of the trickiest guesstimates and brainteasers in the interview business, along with how to answer them. Chances are if you know how to deal with these, you'll know how to deal with others like them. 1. If I give you a traditional two-sided scale along with nine, similarly-sized balls—eight of which are of equal weight, one of which weighs less than the rest—how many times do you need to weigh the balls to determine which is the lighter one? The purpose of this brainteaser is to challenge your process-of-elimination skills. Most people immediately think three times, but the answer is actually two. How you get to that answer is like this: First, you put six balls on the scale, three on each side. If the lighter one is in one of these two groups, you'll know because one side will be heavier. If not, both sides will weigh the same, and you'll know the lighter ball's in the final group. Whatever the case, you'll weigh two balls (one on each side) from the lighter grouping (either the three balls not weighed in the first weighing, or the lighter three in your first weighing). If the two balls are of equal weight, the light ball is the odd one out. If they aren't, you already know the answer: the one that's higher in the air. 2. How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the United States each month? This is a classic guesstimate question where you need to think aloud. And so first off you round the U.S. population to 300 million people (it's actually about 315 million but rounding will be much easier and your interviewer will not score you lower for rounding). Then estimate how many people eat pizza. A decent educated guess is two out of every three people, or 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 (30 times 4). Since one square foot equals 144 square inches (12 times 12), let's assume that each person who eats pizza eats one square foot per month. Since there are 200 million pizza-eating Americans, 200 million square feet of pizza are consumed in the U.S. each 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 or 30 square inches, average American eats four slices of pizza a month, four pieces times 30 square inches equals 120 square inches (one square foot is 144 square inches), so let's assume one square foot per person, and thus one square foot times 200 million people equals 200 million square feet of pizza a month.

4. so fitting them might be easier. what's the angle between the hour and the minute hands? Usually. And because it's round. you would find out the dimensions of the building (height. And in this case. and the second one is the other color (black). One person can roll it. This will allow you to determine the volume of the building. So the answer. white). moves as well. is seven and a half degrees (30 divided by four). If you have seven white socks and nine black socks in a drawer. remember. it can be more easily transported. (Sometimes you're not supposed to think that hard. 5. How would you estimate the weight of the Chrysler building? This is a process guesstimate where the interviewer wants to know if you know what to ask. you need to estimate the composition of the Chrysler building. Looking at this. If you're including the contents. it seems corners are a problem. Why are manhole covers round? This is a classic brainteaser. as might be making them. There are no corners to deal with. will make a matching pair. That is.) Then. then the third one. So many manhole covers are round because they don't need to be rotated. how many socks do you have to pull out blindly in order to ensure that you have a matching pair? The answer is three: if the first one is one color (say. to be exact. a round manhole cover won't fall into a hole because it was rotated the wrong way. First. people. The hour hand. chances are the answer's wrong. In fact. so it's safer. And so.3. Also. If you look at a clock and the time is 3:15. You'd have to rotate it exactly the right way. if the answer to a brainteaser seems too easy. Here's how to "solve" this brainteaser (remember to speak and reason out loud while solving this brainteaser): Why are manhole covers round? Could there be a structural reason? Why aren't manhole covers square? It would make it harder to fit with a cover. the answer is not zero degrees. depth). which was reportedly first asked by a Microsoft interviewer. Is it mostly steel? Concrete? How much would those components weigh per square inch? Remember the extra step: find out whether you're considering the building totally empty or with office furniture. the hour hand and the minute hand are not on top of each other. etc. you might have to add 20 percent or so to the building's weight. no matter what the color.) . the hour hand has moved a quarter of the way between the 3 and 4. This means it's moved a quarter of 30 degrees (360 degrees divided by 12 equals 30). 6. weight. at 3:15. Does it taper at the top? (Yes. You can't cut yourself on a round manhole cover. The pipes below are also round. in addition to the minute hand.

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