4 Estimation Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)
Updated 30 September 2022
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If you are interviewing to become an estimator or project manager, you can expect to hear a variety of different interview questions. Some of these are going to test your knowledge, whereas others are going to test your thought process and how you arrive at certain conclusions. If you are applying for these sorts of jobs, then knowing some interview questions to expect and how to answer them is going to be quite useful. In this article, we explain what estimation interview questions are, give you four examples with sample answers and share some extra tips.
What are estimation interview questions?
Estimation interview questions test your abilities as an estimator. You are often going to get a situation where you want to derive a useful number for business purposes. Employers like to ask these questions because they allow them to understand your thinking process and competence as an estimator. In many cases, the answer itself is less relevant than the process that you employed to find it. This also means that there is typically more than one way of answering each of these questions.
These interview questions are common in roles related to estimating, project management, technology, software engineering and construction. The interviewer may give you some basic materials to find the answer, like a pen and paper. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your structured thinking ability, which is going to impress the interviewer.
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4 estimation interview questions and answers
Below are some examples of interview questions that involve estimation, together with an explanation of each and a sample answer:
1. How much does this building weigh?
This is an example of a question whereby the interviewer typically does not expect you to provide an accurate answer. Instead, they want to understand how you approach an unusual problem and the structured approach you employ to find an answer. Even if you are not involved in construction, you probably know enough basics to make a rough guess, as long as you follow a structured approach. It is also quite common to make assumptions to make the calculation easier. The interviewer might ask you about the building in which you are sitting, a famous building or other structure.
Example answer: 'I know from the lifts that this building has six storeys. I would therefore assume a total of eight levels, including a basement and roof area. If we estimate the height of each level at four metres, this gives us a total building height of 32 metres. From the outside, the building appears to be rectangular. I would estimate its width at 30 metres and its depth at 40 metres. That gives us a total volume of 38,400 cubic metres. Naturally, a lot of this is empty space, which I am going to estimate at 75%.
This gives a volume of 9,600 cubic metres of solid building material. I am also going to assume that the building is empty of furniture and people. Buildings are mostly a mixture of concrete and steel, with slightly more concrete. A 50-50 ratio would mean 4,800 cubic metres of each, so I am going to estimate 5,000 cubic metres of concrete and 4,600 cubic metres of steel. At 2 tons per cubic metre, that is 10,000 tons of concrete. At 8 tons per cubic metre, that's 36,800 tons of steel. Total building weight would therefore be 46,800 tons.'
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2. How many dentists are there in Jaipur?
A question like this tests your general knowledge, besides your ability to make educated guesses. The interviewer could choose any city, although it is more common to use cities you are familiar with or famous cities from around the world. Even though general knowledge is quite useful, you can still make educated assumptions to fill any knowledge gaps you have and continue with the question. Interviewers often ask questions where they believe you may have a knowledge gap to see how you handle the situation.
Example answer: 'I am unsure of the exact population of Jaipur, but I believe it is similar in size to Pune. I am therefore going to estimate that the population is around 3 million people. The ratio of dentists for the population is typically going to be lower than that of doctors, which I believe is around one doctor for every 1,000 people. I am going to estimate that there are three doctors for every dentist, meaning one dentist for every 3,000 people. For Jaipur's population of 3 million, that would mean the city has approximately 1,000 dentists.'
3. How many customers does this company serve on a monthly basis?
An interviewer might ask you to make an estimation about their company. This can help them to both test your skills and see if you have diligently researched your potential employer in advance, which is almost always a good idea. Understand its business model, how many branches it has and any other information that could be useful in this regard. As with most of these questions, your process is more important than the answer, but if you can demonstrate knowledge of the business, this can boost your chances, too.
Example answer: 'I know that your company operates eight different supermarkets in the city. Three of these are smaller and the other five are full-sized establishments. I am going to assume that you only want to know the number of people who made a purchase, rather than the total foot traffic. I also know that you serve 10% of the population, which is 100,000 people out of approximately a million. If the average size of a household is four people, that is 25,000 households that your supermarkets serve.
If the average household goes to the supermarket twice a week, that is just over eight times per month. For 25,000 households, that is 200,000 shopping trips per month. The total number of monthly paying customers would, therefore, be slightly above 200,000 every month.'
4. Tell me about a time when you missed an important deadline.
A question like this gives you the opportunity to explain how you handled a difficult situation. Although it can feel undesirable to talk about a situation where you may have been at fault, it is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. What is more important is that you handled the repercussions appropriately and took steps to prevent a reoccurrence. Although it can be tempting to avoid talking about where you were at fault, try to admit this openly before talking about how you addressed or improved the situation.
Example answer: 'In my first job after graduating, I made an estimate for delivery of items. Unfortunately, I was still quite inexperienced and made those estimates on a best-case scenario basis. I thought the supplier would be punctual and diligent, and consequently we missed our deadline for the project. Once I realised that this was going to happen, I spoke to the project manager and explained the situation.
He was quite understanding and gave me some practical information about dealing with suppliers. He also asked me to deliver early on subsequent deadlines to make up the difference. I was able to do so, and we were able to meet the overall project deadline despite the initial loss of time.'
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Tips for answering estimation questions
Below are some tips that can help you answer these sorts of interview questions effectively:
One of the best practices for answering estimation questions is to ask questions yourself. Often, the interviewer may provide you with additional information regarding the content of their question. If they ask you to make an estimate, it is often acceptable to ask for certain figures, as the interviewer is going to be more interested in your process than whether you know some numbers. If you are unsure of what they are asking, then use clarifying questions to get a better idea. This demonstrates your diligence and communication skills.
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Learn some facts in advance
Since many estimation questions could involve a calculation, some facts are going to be useful. Even if you do not use them directly, you may utilise these facts to make inferences. Consider the industry of the company itself, the role and find relevant information. You can also use very general facts often, including population sizes, density, the weight of materials, business revenue figures and some tax information.
Use a structured approach
Although the context of an interview might make you feel pressured, it is important to relax, take your time and develop a structured approach to answering the questions. First, consider the question itself and what the answer is going to contain. Second, consider the information that is available to you. Third, ask any clarifying questions. You can then develop a series of steps to answer the question. Take your time and demonstrate your process to the interviewer as you go.
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