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Odd interview exchange, what should I do? - Page 3

post #31 of 80
In my experience (and I didn't land ANY of the consulting gigs I really wanted, so take it for what it's worth...) these types of questions are more about the process than the product. Accuracy isn't relevant, but understanding the form and how you're supposed to deal with it is what's important. It's a mini-presentation, so write it out and explain to the interviewer what you're doing while you do it; it should be both visual and mathematical. Where you can really score points here is to talk about the assumptions you make (make a written list after you repeat the problem back to the interviewer for the first time and ask whatever questions you have) and, after you give your solution, where the assumptions break down and how you'd adjust the number to account for those things.

In an ideal world, then, you'd give the Cosentino answer from the book scan, THEN talk about things like population density and how they would change the answer slightly. You could give a revised number, but it's the idea generation that's more important at that point--a written list of a couple "extras" at the end can go a long way. Remember that the interviewer is going to take your scratch paper at the end of the interview, so it'll be the only tangible evidence of your response.

Honestly, it sounds like your answer was okay, except for the weird stuff about not using a notepad. I don't think you flubbed it as badly as you probably think you did.
post #32 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by nerdykarim View Post

In an ideal world, then, you'd give the Cosentino answer from the book scan, THEN talk about things like population density and how they would change the answer slightly.

This.

I was schooled pretty badly in a mock interview (regarding consulting, specifically). My mentor then told me that the clincher is to include that extra detail at the end (e.g. the above post).

OP, don't worry about it. Don't dwell on it. Let us know if you get the offer.
post #33 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by nerdykarim View Post

In my experience (and I didn't land ANY of the consulting gigs I really wanted, so take it for what it's worth...) these types of questions are more about the process than the product. Accuracy isn't relevant, but understanding the form and how you're supposed to deal with it is what's important. It's a mini-presentation, so write it out and explain to the interviewer what you're doing while you do it; it should be both visual and mathematical. Where you can really score points here is to talk about the assumptions you make (make a written list after you repeat the problem back to the interviewer for the first time and ask whatever questions you have) and, after you give your solution, where the assumptions break down and how you'd adjust the number to account for those things.
In an ideal world, then, you'd give the Cosentino answer from the book scan, THEN talk about things like population density and how they would change the answer slightly. You could give a revised number, but it's the idea generation that's more important at that point--a written list of a couple "extras" at the end can go a long way. Remember that the interviewer is going to take your scratch paper at the end of the interview, so it'll be the only tangible evidence of your response.
Honestly, it sounds like your answer was okay, except for the weird stuff about not using a notepad. I don't think you flubbed it as badly as you probably think you did.

+1

In addition to seeing how well you think under pressure, apply basic math and your interpersonal skills (no better way to see how a person works than throw them a curveball) they also want to see if you understand the concept of sensitivity analysis intuitively. No point laying out an impressive solution without articulating just how things would change if you took a more nuanced approach or your assumptions didn't hold.
post #34 of 80
Only in consulting would someone be encouraged to be so full of shit as to answer that question instead of saying why it is not serious to answer it without data x, y, z.
post #35 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

Only in consulting would someone be encouraged to be so full of shit as to answer that question instead of saying why it is not serious to answer it without data x, y, z.

The correct answer is to say "First we are going to discuss where to play, then I will explain how to win."
post #36 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by iammatt View Post

The correct answer is to say "First we are going to discuss where to play, then I will explain how to win."

Nah, you should use a book that tells you how to bullshit about the US population and all kinds of data so it makes it easier to pull out some totally off and useless answer out of your ass to look smart in front of someone who is dumb enough to like those kinds of questions.

I think I'll rent office space and put fake ads for consultant positions just so I can ask someone how many lizards you can fit into a spanish whorehouse and how it relates to the oil crisis in Jakarta.
post #37 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Reggs View Post

Now that it's confirmed that I bombed it. What if anything should I write in my thank you letter to the VP who asked it? Should I even mention it? Any more suggestions on this?

Definitely write him (and everyone else you met with) a letter. Instead of raising this thing, try to mention how you enjoyed other, more positive parts of the interview. Hopefully, he will remember those parts and discount the gas station that exploded on you.
post #38 of 80
CLASSIC management consulting question (last time I heard it it was "gas stations in Germany").

I haven't read the posts here (and I'm sure it's been covered) but the basic "solution" is to estimate number of households, use this as a prediction of number of cars, then guestimate mileage driven per car annually, average fuel efficiency of cars, and then make a determination of number of stations needed to fulfill this need; it's a question which tests chain-of-reasoning abilities (as well as understanding of the concept of market limitations).

I will say this - I am finding young people increasingly unable to answer problems of this type (and indeed, the usual reason is the crippling fear of "thinking without data" and analysis in lieu of computation); we're in a crisis of creativity.

Go read some Plato dialogues for an example of chains or reasoning sans data! smile.gif

DH
post #39 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by dhaller View Post

CLASSIC management consulting question (last time I heard it it was "gas stations in Germany").
I haven't read the posts here (and I'm sure it's been covered) but the basic "solution" is to estimate number of households, use this as a prediction of number of cars, then guestimate mileage driven per car annually, average fuel efficiency of cars, and then make a determination of number of stations needed to fulfill this need; it's a question which tests chain-of-reasoning abilities (as well as understanding of the concept of market limitations).
I will say this - I am finding young people increasingly unable to answer problems of this type (and indeed, the usual reason is the crippling fear of "thinking without data" and analysis in lieu of computation); we're in a crisis of creativity.
Go read some Plato dialogues for an example of chains or reasoning sans data! smile.gif
DH

Is this from the Plato powerpoints?
post #40 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by nerdykarim View Post

They're really not that important, in the grand scheme of things. Like suited and I said above, a case interview question really just tests your ability to do a case interview question.
In your letter to the VP, I would maybe explain that you weren't familiar with case interview brainteaser questions but that you've since studied how they work and, should they interview you again, you'd knock it out of the park along with the usual crap about how you love the company and all that.

OP, this is good advice, if you did well with everyone else but the VP. You may actually score points for showing him that you reflected on it, figured out what you did wrong, and thought about how to improve in the future. It sounds like this is not a firm that thrives on brainteasers culturally, since you were only asked one in the whole process. So you may still have a chance. Be humble about what you did wrong, but confident about how you'd nail it next time.
post #41 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcbrown View Post

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Too late, you bombed it. Was this an interview for a consulting firm by any chance?
When firms ask questions like this, they actually want you to come up with a number. Yes, even though it seems ridiculous. The exact answer isn't important, like your interviewer said. What is important is your ability to use common sense, your ability to think creatively on the fly, and your general numeracy.
You say you would need some numbers to do an estimate. How about doing this instead: start by trying to guess how many households there are in the US, how many cars in each, how many miles driven per year, and average MPG. If you were clever you might then realize that estimate left out how many commercial vehicles there are and do another quick estimate of that. All of these figures can be guessed to a reasonable approximation, and even if you are off by an order of magnitude you are displaying an ability to structure an abstract problem and come up with a solution. They won't hold a bad guess at one of the components against you nearly as much as simply failing to do it at all. In fact, if you have a bad guess for one of the component figures they might very well ask you about it and you can have a nice little discussion about improving that particular figure.
As a corollary, if the question they ask involves any kind of economic issue ("I'm a store owner - should I do X or Y?") they want you to go from first principals: What are the components of revenue, what are the components of cost, how will they be affected, and thus how will profits be affected?
A secondary reason for asking these questions is to see whether, if you start down the wrong track like you did, you get the hint and come up with a number, or instead you either get frustrated, refuse to cooperate, or otherwise come across like you would be difficult to work with.
Let it go and use this as a learning experience for your next interview. I failed my first consulting interview in a similar manner. The interviewer was kind enough to stop in the middle, tell me I had blown it, and explain to me what I just explained to you. At the next company I sailed through each round thanks to his advice, even though when asked in the very first round to estimate the volume of water held in reservoirs to supply New York City I somehow only considered drinking water as a source of usage and not baths/showers/toilets. As you can see, the bad estimate didn't matter as much as having a reasonable process for getting there.
Anyway, I hope this post will help you in the same way that guy's advice helped me all those years ago. Good luck.


+1
post #42 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by gort View Post

The answer is "I would google it."

Google knows everything.


http://www.infoplease.com/askeds/number-gas-stations-us-1995.html


"According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2002 (the most recent data available), there were 117,100 gas service stations in the U.S., of which 84,700 had convenience stores."
post #43 of 80
Thread Starter 
After a lot of thought, I decided to mention it in my thank you letter for a few reasons.

The interview with the VP was very dry. He said little about the company, never tested my knowledge of the company. He mostly asked me questions about my education, technical skills, work history, and projects that I created and carried out. If I were to write a thank you letter without mentioning the gas station question, it would not have sounded personalized and would have just regurgitated everything said in the interview and on my resume. Some reinforcement of that stuff is great, but it would have read very generic and uninteresting. It would not have been my determent to write such a letter, but it would not have had an impact. I think he would take more notice if spoke about something very specific to my time with him. He would have felt listened to.

I decided to take the greater risk and mention the gas station question. I had a few objectives with this. I wanted him to know that I gave his question a lot of thought after the interview, reiterate my original plan, let him know how it was wrong for what he wanted, and how I could have done better.

I wanted to avoid telling him that I would "do better next time" or be more prepared in the future because that would have made it seem like obvious damage control, and perhaps would have made me look as if I was groveling. Instead, I wanted to give the impression that I have a natural curiosity about these things and constantly think of how to improve.

I would have liked to post a draft and received some responses for it, but I was very pressed for time. I wanted my letters to be received the week of the interview, and on Friday so they would think about it over the weekend.

This is the section of my thank you letter pertaining to the gas station question:
Quote:
At the conclusion of our interview, I could not stop thinking about your gas station question. The process I thought of involved finding sample data for gas stations per sq mile for different population densities of the US, such as urban, suburban, and rural. After that data had been gathered, I would find out how the US was segmented among those densities then estimate from there. After some reflection, I think I could have devised a simpler plan that would have allowed me to work with some numbers on the spot. For example, if there was a town with 300,000 people and 6 gas stations, each gas station would serve 50,000 people. So if the US population is 30,000,000 I can simply divide that by 50,000 to get a rough estimate. Although my original plan was designed to yield a more accurate answer, it was not the best plan to provide you with a number as quickly as you needed. In any case, I enjoyed the challenge and thinking of different plans that would provide you with a good estimate. Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I checked the US Census Bureau, and as of 2007 there were 118,756 gas stations in the US.

Edited by Reggs - 3/2/12 at 9:42pm
post #44 of 80
Good luck Reggs. I wish I had advice for you, but it turns out I learned much more from this thread than I'd hoped to contribute.

(Although, I must say that my general preference is that a paragraph not exceed 5 or so lines in my correspondence unless absolutely necessary).
post #45 of 80
I was asked a similar qustion once and was given the job. I later asked my interviewer the point of the question. He said there were two reasons. He wanted to see if I could use critical thinking skills without getting too technical (think distributional assumptions), and he wanted to see how quickly I could do calculations in my head.
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