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Guesstimation Interview Questions

Posted by James M on December 9, 2008

Guesstimation interview questions are in the same family as logic questions and require a similar type of response framework.  They are used primarily in the high tech and consulting industries.  In this post I’ll try and tackle one of the most famous of these questions: How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?  Remember, these are not trivia questions, but rather questions used to test your ability to make assumptions, simplify complex problems, and maintain a logical framework to problem solving.

Before you waste your time reading my ramblings, you might consider viewing this video from  It approaches this type of question from a sample interview point of view, and gives some very helpful tips.

Thanks Vault!!  Now I’ll try to tackle the Mount Kilimanjaro question with an analysis provided below. I’ve written my equations in numerical values instead of writing them out in English for clarity and simplicity while reading.

How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weigh?

“Oh, wow, a lot?  Ok, well I think I have seen pictures of the mountain and I remember it is suppose to be pretty tall, maybe like 15,000 feet.  So I guess let’s assume it is 15,000 feet tall.  And in the pictures I seem to remember it was pretty wide, it looked wider than it was tall, so maybe it is 20,000 feet from end to end along the base. So to figure out how much it weighs I just need to figure out the volume and then figure out how much that volume weighs.  So I’ll do the calculation in cubic feet and then just multiply by the weight of one cubic foot of rock.

So to make the calculation manageable lets assume the mountain is a perfect cone, basically a cone with these dimensions I wrote down—a radius of 10,000 feet and height of 15,000 feet.  So, let me think.  The formula for a cone is…(1/3)pi*(r^2)*h.  So let’s see r^2 is 10,000^2 which is 100 million feet.  100 million times the height of 15,000 feet is 1.5 trillion feet.  So 1/3 of that is 500 billion.  So 500 billion*pi feet cubed is the mountain’s volume.  Ok, how much does rock weigh?  I remember I helped my dad build a small stone wall by our old house a few years ago, and the rocks were about a foot square and six inches deep.  So that is half the size of a cubic food.  I think they probably weighed about 70 Ibs.  So I can assume the weight of 1 cubic foot of rock is about twice as much, so that would be 140 pounds.  So 140 which is the weight of one cubic foot of rock times 500 billion*pi which is the volume of the mountain is 7X10^13 pi Ibs.  Wow, that is a lot.”

So, there are really there components to answering this type of question involving math and estimation.  First, you need to be able to make reasonable assumptions.  Making assumptions is part of any job especially engineering—you have to simplify tasks into manageable parts which involves assumptions.  So if you say the density of rock is 12 Ibs per cubic meter or that Mount Kilimanjaro is 5 miles high, this might indicate to the recruiter that you will have trouble creating grounded assumptions.  Again, the best way to make assumptions is to use reference points.  For example, I mentioned the photo of the mountain I remembered seeing and the stone wall I helped my dad build.

Second, you should be able to do the basic math involved in these sorts of problems.  Yes, the numbers were big in this example, but they involved lots of zeros so it really wasn’t that hard.  In addition, you’ll have scratch paper during the interview.

Third, and most importantly you need to have a chain of logic.  Again, it is not the right answer that is important, but how you talk through distilling the problem to its essence and the steps you go through to get to the answer as you describe it in your opening problem statement.  In reality Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,340 ft and the density of rock is more like 167 Ibs per square foot, but since this isn’t trivia, but about problem solving, the assumptions we made will do just fine.

Well that’s all for today.  If you have any questions or would like free resume consulting, feel free to e-mail me at  Thanks for reading!

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Consulting Interview Case Studies and More

Posted by James M on December 9, 2008

If you are interested in the field of consulting, as many young entrants into the work force are, then indulge in this consulting smorgasbord I have put together for you.  I’ve included links to over 15 case study examples and explanations straight from the websites of some of the world’s top consultancies.   In addition, there are some great links to delve more into what a consultant actually does and what the companies themselves look for.  To view the referenced information, just click on the highlighted names or phrases which I’ve linked to the websites.

1) Let’s start with what you are probably most interested in—details about the dreaded case study interview.  I have complied a list of practice case studies (over 15 in total) and other interview preparation tips from some of the biggest names in consulting:

  • Oliver Wyman offers a fantastic, comprehensive interview preparation website with case method overviews, tips, strategies, a breakdown of different types of cases and 2 interactive full length practice cases.
  • Bain and Company offers 3 sample cases and a helpful set of “Crack the Case” interview tips.
  • One of the perennial rivals to industry leader McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) offers 4 practices cases as well as 1 interactive case.
  • Shrouded in secrecy, but purportedly able to fetch over $10,000 a day for a small team of consultants, McKinsey is the employer of choice for major MBA programs like the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Wharton’s famed business program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Their website is filled with case study information including two online cases, a case preparation video, and a downloadable tip sheet.
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, better known simply as Deloitte Consulting, offers 3 practices cases for entry-level Analyst positions as well as 2 in-depth case examples for MBA hires.

2) Ace The Case offers three representative cases with sample responses including basic accounting calculations when requested by the interviewer.  A large volume of sample cases is available for a fee (Boo!! We like free stuff!).

3) Graduate Tutor has two resources for those interested in case interviews, an overview of the case interview process and a Top 10 Tips page.

4) Business week offers a great day-in-the-life series which includes several employees at consulting firms.  To view each person’s day-in-the-life, simply click on their name.

  • James FitzGerald is a government consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Adam Watson founded his own consulting company Sequitur.
  • Courtney Anne Cochran is founder and principal at Your Personal Sommelier, a wine-consulting company.
  • Punam Ghosh is a strategy manager with Accenture, one of the largest consulting firms in the world.
  • Kelsey Leigh Kitsch is a Senior Consultant with Ivey Business Consulting Group, a small 12-person firm based out of Toronto.
  • David Grrison is a senior associate at Katzenbach Partners, a management-strategy consulting firm.

5) MBA Podcaster offers terrific programing for those thinking about going back to get an MBA.  In particular, they recently released a special consulting podcast featuring a panel of three top industry insiders:

  • Rich Schneider, Director of the MBA campus recruiting program at Deloitte Consulting.
  • Peter Sullivan, U.S. Director of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Richard Wallen, Human Resources Manager at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Click here to listen to the special consulting podcast.

6) If you are willing to shell out some cash (why does everything cost money!??!), Vault offers some great information online as well as providing hard copies in stores.  They specialize in compiling industry data and conducting surveys.  I have a couple of their books at home and find them generally helpful, especially if you are interested in finding out what current and past employees have thought of a particular firm, or if you are interested in reading advice and interviews from industry professionals.  Click here to view their online consulting page and view the limited amount of info available for free.

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Resume Formating Template

Posted by James M on December 2, 2008

Welcome to the first in a series of resume template blogs I’ll be writing.  Each one of these templates will be tailored toward a specific type of candidate—worried about a low GPA, nervous about your lack of work experience, concerned that a previous job was more relevant than your current one—I’ll be providing resume structures and tips to cover all of these issues.

Who is this format good for?

This resume format is ideal for the candidate who is not concerned with their GPA and who’s background is biased towards work and/or internship experience (as oppose to volunteer experience or strong classroom involvement such as class projects or undergraduate research).

Resume Format

This resume uses the format:

  • Objective
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Computer Skills / Additional Activities / Community Involvement / Etc.

Example Resume

Objective: Position with the Microsoft Technical Leadership Program utilizing my real-time software internship experience and leadership skills gained through extensive student government work

Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Expected Graduation Date: Jun 2009
Grade Point Average: 3.54

Work Experience:
Intel Simulations Division
Phoenix, AZ                                                Jun. 2008 – Sep. 2008
Real-Time Software Engineer

  • Created software simulations that administered CPU performance tests on a GE X45 processor hardware test bed
  • Used efficient coding techniques to create simulations that saved 20 minutes over the previous testing run time
  • Created and maintained ISO-9450 compliant user documentation on 5 major simulation branches

Associated Students of the University of Washington
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Jan. 2008-Jun. 2008
Elections Committee Chair

  • Coordinated the successful completion of the 2008 student body elections while managing a committee of 4 people and a budget of $8,000
  • Increased the number of candidates by over 40% and voter turnout by 4.3% (1615 total votes) over the 2007 totals

UW Leaders Program
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Aug. 2007-Jun. 2008

  • Administered a program containing 15 mentors and 25 undergraduate participants
  • Oversaw weekly organization of leadership curriculum and guest speakers
  • Raised $800 and organized a weekend retreat
  • Increased program applicants by 100% and yearly funding from $500 to $2000

Computer Skills and Languages:

C++, Java, Python, FORTRAN, CORBA Interface Patterns, GE X45 Simulation Test Bed, Microsoft Access, Linux

5 Format tips

1. Font Type and Size – I suggest using a simple font type like Arial or Times New Roman in a type face of 11 or 12 points.  Try to avoiding using multiple types of fonts even for your name or address.  Multiple font types are often over utilized by students at the expense of readability and professional appearance.

2. Using Caps – Avoid using all cap headings.  Studies show that caps decrease readability.  Try reading an entire paragraph in all caps and you’ll quickly see this is true.  The exception is online application that offer a plain text box entry system for your resume.  Since these don’t allow font modifications such as bolding, all caps services as an acceptable alternative for your headings.

3. Bold, Italicized, Underlined – You can create a completely readable and clear resume using only bolded headings without other text effects.  Like font type, font effects are used far to often, almost always at the expense of clarity and flow.

4. Consistency – Check, double check, and triple check that your resume is consistent.  This means that all font is the same size, all spacing is the same, and dates, company names, and job positions appear in the same place in the same format throughout your resume.

5. Text Position – I think the text format that provides the easiest flow, and gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of available space on your resume, is left aligned headings with text appearing underneath (not to the right) of the heading.

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Types of Interview Questions – Logic Questions

Posted by James M on November 23, 2008

Microsoft made logic questions famous in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and many other companies have since adopted them, although their use has declined slightly in recent years.  This brand of question is generally reserved for engineers, although it is not unheard of for it to be included in interviews of applicants for other types of positions.

Two of the most famous logic questions are:

  • Why is a manhole cover round?
  • How would you build an alarm clock for deaf people?

There are many variations of logic questions and entire books and websites have been dedicated to tackling them.  In this post I’ll give you two examples of how you might answer this sort of question.

One of the best sites I’ve found for lots of examples of this question type, as well forums discussing the answer, can be found here.

After reading this post you may want to consider reading the “sister” post about guesstimation interview questions.  This branch includes such famous stumpers as “How much does Mount Kilimanjaro weight?”  To read this post now click here.

Please note that these are not trivia questions—that is you are not expected to actually know how much Mount Kilimanjaro weighs for example.  The important skill to demonstrate while answering is your train of thought and the logical steps you mentally go through.  Unlike behavioral questions where you can take a minute to compose yourself before you answer, it is essential that you begin sharing your thoughts out loud immediately after you hear the question even if you are just in the process of wrapping your head around the problem.

I think this is best shown by example, so allow me to do my best.  I’ll write this in a free flowing casual style with minimal attempt to use exact grammar.  The goal is to replicate a process similar to what you would probably end up saying if you were in an interview:

How would you build an alarm clock for deaf people?

“Hmmm, let’s see.  If you have to wake a deaf person up obviously a sound would do no good.  So what are some ways I normally get woken up that aren’t sound?  Um…I guess you could have an alarm clock that pokes a person, but that is difficult to implement.  One time I got woken up by having water dumped on me so you could spray some sort of liquid on them, but that gets messy.  But on the other hand it might work, let me write it down and maybe come back to it later.

I remember when I was a kid I had a bed pad that gave me a small shock if I wet the bed so maybe something like that would work.  Like a pad of some kind, but shocking someone might suck.  But I’ll write it down anyway as an option.  What else could a bed pad do?  Let’s see…oh it could like vibrate maybe.  Actually, I have seen beds that vibrate in movies.  Yea, it might be good to have some sort of bed that shakes, but now that I think about it that is expensive and limits the type of bed one could have.  Ok, so back to the bed pad idea, only instead of shocking, it would vibrate.  It would lay on top of the bed but underneath the sheets.  It could vibrate when the alarm goes off and this would wake up the deaf person.  But I guess it would still be useful to have a bedside type clock that they can look at during normal circumstances to view the time, or if they have guests over.  So the vibrating bed pad and bedside clock could be one unit and be attached by a chord.  But that might be annoying and dangerous if there is a chord that you could trip over.  Um…maybe the bed pad and clock unit could actually be separate but communicate wirelessly.  So the bed pad would have a small receiver in it, and when the clock unit alarm goes off, it can send a signal to the bed pad and tell it to vibrate.

So I think that would be the final design.  A bedside clock that functions very similar to a traditional bedside clock, with the added feature that it can send a wireless signal to a bed pad that would then vibrate to wake the subject up.”

So as you can see the answer is a very free flowing thought process type response.  First, I went through an initial description of the problem in my head—alarm clocks use noise as a wake-up mechanism, but if you are deaf this wouldn’t help you wake up.  Second, I started brain storming ways you might wake someone up based on my own experience of getting woken up.  It is key to use some reference points for the assumptions, estimations, and solutions you create.  If you have a eureka moment in an interview and come up with an answer it will do you no good since the interviewer won’t be able to evaluate the thought process you used to create the solution.  That’s why it is so important to talk out loud and use your own experience to formulate a solution as you work through the problem.  Third, I talked my final bed pad solution out, thinking about what would and wouldn’t work and why that was the case.

Again, there really is no “right” answer to this type of question.  Maybe you want to have the deaf person wear an electronic bracelet that emits a small electrical shock to wake them up, maybe you want them to wear a watch that vibrates, maybe you want to spray them with a small mist of water, maybe shine a very bright light on their face—there are a million different answers.  The important thing is to find something that makes sense to you, after all it is you and your ideas that are being interviewed.

If you have any questions about this post or need any other guidance in your job search, feel free to e-mail me at:

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