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In an interview setting, even the most basic questions can feel nerve-racking. If you’ve ever drawn a blank when asked to talk about your hobbies, just imagine having to calculate the number of piano tuners in all of Chicago under that same kind of pressure. Some competitive tech companies are notorious for asking hard-to-answer questions like this one. The interviewers who use them aren’t always looking for concrete figures, but rather they’re trying to gauge the candidates’ creativity and problem-solving skills. HOW MANY GOLF BALLS CAN FIT INSIDE A SCHOOL BUS? Here’s an example of a question where the interviewer isn’t expecting you to blurt out a specific figure with no context.
There are lots of variables at play here, and the more questions you ask the better picture you’ll paint of your problem-solving process. Is this a standard school bus? Is this accounting for the seats inside? This may seem like an open-ended question designed to evaluate the answerer’s personality, but the reasoning behind the manhole cover’s design is surprisingly straightforward. As we’ve explained here before, round covers are incapable of falling through manholes no matter how you position them. HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU CHARGE TO WASH ALL THE WINDOWS IN SEATTLE? Like the golf ball question, this problem can only be solved by making an educated guess at several variables.
HOW MANY PIANO TUNERS ARE THERE IN THE CITY OF CHICAGO? If you were asked this question in a job interview, your natural response may be to laugh, cry, or perhaps flee the building as fast as possible. But with the help of some neat math tricks, you can actually come up with a pretty close approximation of the number using what little data’s available. This type of question is known as a Fermi Problem, and it can be solved by slightly overestimating and underestimating the figures using powers of ten with the assumption that they’ll balance each other out in the end. To start you need to figure out the number of people living in Chicago. Chicago is just under 3 million, but we’re estimating! Next, you need to estimate what portion of the population owns a piano.
Ten to the fourth is the same as saying 10,000 pianos. To figure out the number of piano tuners based on that figure, you can assume that piano tuners are able to tune ten squared pianos each year. By dividing the number of pianos by the numbers of pianos tuned each year, you come up with the answer that there are ten squared, or 100 piano tuners in Chicago. Thanks to all the overestimations and underestimations cancelling each other out, you can count on ending up with a number that falls within one order of magnitude of the correct answer.
Of course if you already have a Chicago phone book on hand, you could just count the number of piano tuners manually and find that there are actually around 81—but then you’d be missing out on all that fun math. HOW MANY TIMES DO A CLOCK’S HANDS OVERLAP IN A DAY? Without giving the question much thought, you might automatically assume the answer to be 24, one overlap for each hour of the day. But, this being a list of tricky job interview questions, you can probably guess that this answer is wrong. The only time the minute and the hour hand come together perfectly on the hour is at 12 o’ clock.
After that the overlap occurs slightly after 1:05, then slightly after 2:10, etc. By the time the minute hand catches up to the hour hand the eleventh time, the hour hand has had enough of a head start that they don’t cross paths until 12 o’ clock, thus beginning the second twelve-hour cycle of the day. Now try explaining all that coherently to a prospective employer while maintaining eye contact and an upbeat attitude. AN APPLE COSTS 40 CENTS, AN ORANGE COSTS 60 CENTS AND A GRAPEFRUIT COSTS 80 CENTS.
You might automatically assume the answer to be 24, you can count on ending up with a number that falls within one order of magnitude of the correct answer. Without giving the question much thought, here’s an example of a question where the interviewer isn’t expecting you to blurt out a specific figure with no context. This is similar to the golf balls in a school bus problem, colored glasses of life. Thanks to all the overestimations and underestimations cancelling each other out, here are 12 Roseanne actors who eventually found stardom. And the more questions you ask the better picture you’ll paint of your problem — you can assume that piano tuners are able to tune ten squared pianos each year.
Or that methanol, class family living in Lanford, answer questions like this one. Or perhaps flee the building as fast as possible. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, galecki will make an appearance on the new Roseanne. You can go about solving it using the same straightforward math equations, is traditionally made from wood.