Odd interview exchange, what should I do?

Discussion in 'Business, Careers & Education' started by Reggs, Feb 29, 2012.

  1. nerdykarim

    nerdykarim Senior member

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    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.
     


  2. pseudonym

    pseudonym Senior member

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    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.
     


  3. Nereis

    Nereis Senior member

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    +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.
     


  4. Fuuma

    Fuuma Franchouillard Modasse

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    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.
     


  5. itsstillmatt

    itsstillmatt The Liberator Dubiously Honored

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


  6. Fuuma

    Fuuma Franchouillard Modasse

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2012


  7. Joffrey

    Joffrey Senior member

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    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.
     


  8. dhaller

    dhaller Senior member

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    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! :)

    DH
     


  9. Fuuma

    Fuuma Franchouillard Modasse

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    Is this from the Plato powerpoints?
     


  10. mcbrown

    mcbrown Senior member

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    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.
     


  11. Douglas

    Douglas Stupid ass member

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    +1
     


  12. Kai

    Kai Senior member

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    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."
     


  13. Reggs

    Reggs Senior member

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    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:

     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2012


  14. Thomas

    Thomas Senior member

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    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).
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2012


  15. Joenobody0

    Joenobody0 Senior member

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    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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