Originally Posted by Reggs
I recently had a job interview. Most of it went smoothly but there is something that came up that might have made me look bad. I'm going to write a thank you letter and wanted to know if the issue is worth addressing, and if so, how should it be approached? The interview is for a job that would involve a lot of research on my part, among other things.
Out of the blue the interviewer asks me "If you needed to know how many gas stations are in the US, and you only had a short amount of time to research it to give a rough estimate, what would you do? The process of how you find the answer is more important than the final answer. Answer this very quickly."
I laid out a good plan on how to find a rough answer very quickly. He then said "Do you need to use some paper*gesturing to my note pad*?" I told him I had no numbers to work with, and if I did, I would use Excel to find the answer instead of paper. He said "You should probably use the paper. How many gas stations are in the US? Just give me a rough estimate." I told him there was no way I could do this without any research. He said "So you don't have a final number for me then?" I said "How could I? I would need numbers and a computer to work with. All I can tell you now is how I would arrive at my answer. He then continued to other subjects and questions.
I don't know if he really wanted me to present him with a number, or if it was a trick question to find out how uncomfortable I would be pulling numbers out of my ass, which would be an awful quality in this job. So did my (lack of)answer make me look good or bad? If it made me look bad, then should I try to repair the damage done in my thank you letter. If so, what should I write? If my answer made me look good, then would it be to my detriment to show him that regret my answer and now view it as a mistake?
Please post responses quickly. I should send the letter out in the next day or so.
"I'd be happy to answer your question, as soon as you present me with a viable scenario in which we are transported back in time, simultaneously existing in a place where I have no access to the internet, a computer, a cell phone or any computing machine, yet gas stations exist in such abundance that 1) this calculation is reasonably difficult and 2) you need me to do it on the fly for no apparent reason".
Or you could have said something like: 300 million people, estimate the number of people between 16-80, how many gas stations would be in a small city of 5k or 10k or 20k etc, come up with a ratio of ppl to gas stations, apply it to the number of people between 16-80. It's a very crude estimate and ignores virtually an endless supply of what-ifs, but the idea is to do it very quickly, I assume.
I'd probably want to walk out if someone asked me this question, mostly because I don't believe it's an accurate gauge of anything, despite what others in this thread have said.