Guesstimate Questions: Some Smart Ways to Prepare

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

During interviews, employers may ask you questions to find out how much knowledge you have about the job, your skill set and experience, or your plans for future growth. These questions have concrete answers you can prepare for and answer accordingly.

A woman is seen explaining an answer during a job interview.

During a job interview, employers may ask you questions to find out how much knowledge you have about the job, your skill set and experience, or your plans for future growth. These questions have concrete answers you can prepare for and answer accordingly.

However, what happens when you are asked a guesstimate question requiring you to estimate an answer based on limited information? You can use effective strategies to approach these questions by providing an educated answer using a combination of skills you may already have or can quickly develop. 

What is the purpose of guesstimate questions?

Guesstimate questions are an essential way to assess how you arrive at an answer to a problem where adequate information is not provided. Employers are trying to form an understanding of your approach toward the problem, so it is important to keep in mind that guesstimation is rarely, if ever, about the answer you give. The purpose is to understand if you can devise a sensible solution to a problem within a set time frame. Answering these types of questions also allows the interviewer to gain a better understanding of your thought processes.

Interviewers also use these questions to see how well you perform under pressure. They are looking to see if you know how to use best the skills and logic you already have. How you approach these questions also shows employers that you can remain calm under pressure, even when you don’t know the answer, so take your time to think things through calmly.

Approaching guesstimate questions using your skills

If you plan on a career in an industry that requires using guesstimates, such as consulting, management, or analytics, it is best to be as prepared as possible, even if there is no one correct answer. Going into interviews where guesstimates may be possible, it is important to plan how to handle this situation. Plus, having a plan will help build your confidence and help you remain collected. 

First, make sure the problem being presented to you is clear. By asking the interviewer to clear up as much as possible, you ensure you have all the information available. It also helps demonstrate your organisational skills, giving you time to formulate your answer. 

Next, instead of seeing the problem as a whole, which can be overwhelming, break it down into small chunks as much as possible and solve each chuck individually, which makes it easier to come up with an estimate. 

Finally, combine all the pieces using mental math to form your answer. Be sure to recheck your answers for any errors as well. This shows your thoroughness and demonstrates how you will perform on the job. 

Remember that you don’t want to take too much time when breaking down the problem so the interviewer can see that you know how to use your time wisely and think things through quickly. Instead of overthinking possible solutions, what counts the most is your structured approach to the problem at hand. The interviewer is more interested in how you come up with the most logical answer. 

Types of guesstimate questions

Employers focus on three main types of guesstimate questions when hiring in their respective fields, each requiring a different approach. Depending on the job you are interviewing for, the emphasis may be on one type more than the others. The breakdown of the approaches are household, population, and structural approaches:

  • The household approach helps pinpoint people’s habits and behaviours.

  • The population approach deals with population and demographics.

  • The structural approach forecasts answers by comparing two or more random variables to form predictions. 

You can find examples of each online that relate closely to your desired position. First, consider which type of guesstimate approach will most likely be asked according to the position you are interviewing for. Next, depending on the approach of the guesstimate question, do the same thing you would with any other interview question—make sure you are as prepared as possible. 

When answering traditional interview questions, most people prepare by applying their knowledge and skills to solve the practice problems that the interviewer will most likely ask. 

Tips for answering guesstimate questions

Because guesstimate questions have limited information, it is useful to know some helpful tips when answering them. To ensure you come to the best conclusion, here are some suggestions that you may find helpful:

  • Use your logic as well as the facts that are available to you. These skills are more important in this situation than following a “feeling” you may have.

  • When dealing with large numbers, round them to the nearest figure instead of using fractions or decimals. Ranges of numbers make things more complicated and will affect the number of calculations you make, utilising unnecessary time.

  • When working out your answer, consider using a sheet of paper to write out your steps. This makes it easier for you to track how you draw your conclusions and shows the interviewer your thought process if they ask to see your written thoughts. Use whatever methods work best for you, including lists and flowcharts.

  • No matter how unusual or irrelevant the question seems, there is always a way to answer it. Use your and your interviewer’s time wisely by beginning to solve it instead of wondering what the question means. Remember that questions will not likely have a definitive answer but require an educated guess.

Next steps

Are you interested in learning more about how to handle guesstimate questions? Check out some online courses on Coursera in the field of your interest to gain more knowledge on how to ace the interview. Consider the University of California, Irvine’s Effective Problem-Solving and Effective Decision Making or Imperial College London’s Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success

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