estimation interview questions

Role-specific questions
  • Walk me through the estimating process.
  • What are the most important factors that affect overall costs?
  • Which metrics do you use more commonly in your estimates?
  • Are you familiar with the tender process? …
  • What software do you find most useful?
  • How do you prioritize tasks?

Estimation Interview Questions

How many planes are flying each day?

With this type of question, interviewers are trying to understand more about your problem-solving skills. Focusing on how you would research an answer for this question versus focusing on the answer itself can help you answer this type of question effectively. Describing each part of your research process can also help employers understand how you might perform in the position.

Example: First, I would start by estimating how many airports there are worldwide. This might equate to approximately 15,000 airports. Then, I would estimate how many flights take off from small, medium and large airports each hour. That may equate to around 7,000 aeroplanes departing these airports worldwide every hour.

From there, I would multiply this by the average number of operational hours of an airport, taking into account that many airports have mandatory quiet hours. This results in approximately 16 hours of active airport operations, which would allow me to estimate the number of aeroplanes departing during that period to be 112,000.

Tips for answering estimation interview questions effectively

Reviewing tips that focus on estimation-type questions can help you better prepare for these types of interviews. Here are some tips to consider when preparing for your next interview:

  • Understand the problem. Understanding the factors for each estimation problem can help you find an accurate solution and prevent unnecessary conduction. Asking clarifying questions can also help you better understand the estimation question.
  • Learn basic facts. Learning the basic numerical facts in your industry can help you quickly estimate different problems an interviewer might ask. This can also help you provide more accurate estimates versus discovering this information during the estimation process.
  • Explain your estimation. Describing your assumptions and your mathematical process can help an interviewer learn more about your thought process. Following a set procedure during your estimation process can also help you detail your estimate after youve reached a solution.
  • Remain conservative. Keeping your estimates conservative or realistic can enable you to provide a more accurate estimate for your interviewer and future customers. It can also help you highlight your critical thinking and estimation skills.
  • Develop a consistent method. Creating a method that works for you when providing an estimate can help you perform calculations efficiently. For example, you might start by asking clarifying questions, then determining which calculation you might need and finally completing your calculations.
  • Can you tell me why rounding your numbers is helpful during the estimation process?

    The interviewer may ask this question to assess your technical knowledge. Rounding off makes it easier to work with numbers and to communicate the information to others. It also helps you to remember the calculations better.

    Example: Rounding numbers when conducting estimation calculations can help expedite estimation calculations. This is especially useful if completing these calculations by hand and can reduce the number of human errors with these types of calculations. Simplifying numbers can also make these numbers easier to work with and can help individuals who might review these calculations understand an individuals estimation method in a straightforward way.

    6 Estimator Interview Questions and Answers

    Many of your cost estimates for a project might be off if something doesn’t go according to plan. How do you revise your numbers?

    This question gets at the heart of the estimator’s ability to deal with any issues that arise during any phase of a specific plan. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the professional that numbers are off. How the potential hire handles that and what plans they have in place for rectifying it will show you their ability to think quickly and re-analyze a situation.

    What to look for in an answer:

    • Traits that point to quick thinking
    • A process for going over data again
    • Steps to prevent possible future errors

    Some professional estimators devise their own methods or ways of thinking about approximations a company might need. What is your process?

    Not all estimators use the exact same process to get to an accurate cost analysis. This question shows your candidate’s analytical and numerical thinking skills. It is also a chance to have the potential hire take you through some of the most important steps they use to estimate a project. You can determine their suitability for your company and particular ventures.

    What to look for in an answer:

    • Specific methods for providing an estimate
    • Analytical and critical thinking skills
    • Where they might fit best in your business

    As an estimator, you need to be able to provide detailed estimations for a project within set deadlines. How do you manage your time to complete your job duties within deadlines while also maintaining quality estimates?

    Estimators need to make intelligent decisions regarding labor and resource needs, overarching costs and potential risk factors. This question helps interviewers learn more about a candidate’s ability to evaluate various information within a given timeframe.

    A candidate’s answer should emphasize:

    • Time management skills
    • Ability to communicate deadline conflicts
    • Commitment to making quality estimates

    Here is an example of a quality candidate answer:

    I know there are several metrics involved when it comes to making an estimate. Can you take me through some of the most important ones?

    Depending on the type of company you have and what projects are involved, these professionals might need to keep track of several numbers or categories at once. This question tests the potential hire’s experience in the field and tells you a bit about their thought processes at the same time. You can search for analytical skills and metrics that might work for you.

    What to look for in an answer:

    • Specific details for measuring processes
    • Keen analytical skills
    • Why certain metrics might be beneficial

    Our estimator may need to present finished reports to upper management from time to time. How would you ensure these complex documents are understood clearly?

    Part of your estimator’s job may be to present a completed data set to the higher-ups at your company. A finished report needs to contain accurate information, but it also needs to be easy for people who aren’t in the industry to understand. This question tests your potential estimator’s communication skills and ability to distill data into a manageable form.

    What to look for in an answer:

    • Good interpersonal and communication skills
    • Good presentation skills
    • Ability to make cost estimates and metrics easily understood

    There are a lot of software applications out there that estimators might use to help them figure out costs. What programs are you familiar with?

    People in this industry have access to a host of electronic tools that can help them produce accurate results. This question tests your potential hire’s basic computer skills and knowledge of the kinds of technology estimators might find useful. The interviewee should be able to name a few specific programs and some of their key benefits when it comes to getting accurate numbers.

    What to look for in an answer:

    • Software that might be useful to an estimator
    • A few primary benefits of these programs
    • Basic knowledge of computer applications

    Overview of PM estimation interview questions with a full example and sample answer

    Allen Yang, ex-Google PM, Head of PM at Bubble

    During product management interviews, you may get a “sizing” or “estimation” question, where youre asked to estimate some business-related number.

    This question tests both your quantitative skills and your ability to break down a complex problem to arrive at a workable conclusion efficiently. Its the kind of question that requires a bit of practice, but its pretty straightforward after youve gotten the hang of it.

    Examples of PM estimation interview questions:

    “Estimate the number of mobile apps being downloaded by Americans each day.”

    “Estimate the number of microwaves being sold around the world each week.”

    “Estimate the total number of packages being delivered by UPS, Fedex and USPS each day.”

    “Estimate the total number of photos uploaded to Instagram each day.”

    A couple of things to note about these questions:

  • You are not expected to have thought about this particular metric before.
  • They are questions that your interviewer also probably doesnt know the real answer to.
  • Estimations come up on the job (but not every day!). However, theyre useful exercises to demonstrate your logic in thinking through a problem.
  • The recommended approach to an estimation question (Top)

    So how should you start an estimation? First, as with many interview questions, you should pause, reflect and, if desired, ask for additional context. This isnt always necessary for an estimation question if the interviewer provides some context already. But if you feel that some piece of information would be helpful, theres no harm in asking about it.

    The starting point should be broad and very likely begins with some population of people. Its useful to know that the population of the world is roughly 7 billion, the population of China and India are both around 1 billion, and the population of the US is roughly 300 million. Here, we see one common trick with estimation questions – you can round somewhat liberally to get yourself “rounder” numbers to simplify the arithmetic a bit. You wont want to round everything or round too aggressively – that will seem like a cop-out – but rounding the US population, which is around 328 million, to either 300 or 350 million is acceptable.

    The next step is usually to break the starting point down along some axis – maybe its people in different age buckets (simple assumption: people are evenly distributed in age between 0 and 100), an urban / suburban / rural divide (⅓ in each), people who are in the workforce versus not (50/50), or something else. Pick a breakdown that makes sense for the question, and then explain why you picked that.

    Then, you will likely be making assumptions about the rates at which each subgroup does a certain action, or the percentages of each that have a certain characteristic, or something similar. You may find yourself breaking the subgroups down again, or crossing some off of the list because you dont think they contribute towards the final number youre aiming for. Generally, the goal is to arrive at some kind of estimate of the metric in question for each subgroup, which you would then add up across all the subgroups to get your final answer.

    With each step you take, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is to make a reasonable assumption, and the second is to verbally justify why you made that assumption. There is usually a range of assumptions that seem reasonable, but there are also ones that seem obviously wrong. For example, if you assume that 90% of the elderly are posting on social media everyday, that will probably raise eyebrows. Generally, the interviewer is happy to accept reasonable assumptions, though they may push back a bit on some to test your thinking or to suggest a piece of information that they want you to incorporate. But more importantly, you must ensure the interviewer is able to follow you as you go through this exercise. You should be organized enough and clear enough about your logic and calculations that they clearly see how you arrive at each next step.

    The general approach of starting broad and breaking things down can take very different forms depending on the question. For example, maybe the interviewer will even give you a starting large number to use. Or, the question might be better answered by starting with a different metric thats not a number of people – perhaps the total number of cars, or cell phones, or videos online, or something else. In these cases, if you dont know a particular large statistic (and chances are you dont), its a mini-estimation question starting with humans to get to the other large number that would be convenient for the question.

    In summary, here are the tips for estimation questions:

  • Aim for a robust answer thats not too quick but also not so complicated that you get lost in your own numbers
  • Verbalize everything that takes you from one step to the next – your interviewer must be able to follow you
  • Round your numbers where appropriate and convenient for you
  • Consider how to break the question down by different user segments (product is all about the user!)
  • Different user segments likely have slightly differentiated assumptions (e.g. “millennials probably use 10 apps per day because of X reason, middle-aged adults use 5 apps per day because of Y reason”)
  • Justify each assumption, and note how strong your justification feels
  • Once youve arrived at a final estimate, youre not done yet! You should proactively transition to doing a “gut check” of your answer – “This feels low / high to me because of X, Y, Z reasons”. Also, as youre doing the estimation, mark all numbers that are assumptions; at the end, review all the assumptions to point out any that you think are either most unfounded, or which appear to make the biggest difference to your final estimate (arithmetically).

    Got a PM interview? Our PM interview drills help get you in top form

    Can you walk us through the estimating process?

    You should show them that you have a system in your work. Try to describe each step you will take in the process. Now, we know different methodologies, and I will describe just one here, and briefly. Feel free to talk about your own system, as long as it is logical, and described in a way your interviewers will understand.

  • Determining the estimate basis. Collecting all information you have about the project, including previously developed schedule and project scope, is the first step. The level of detail varies, depending on the project phase, project type, and project complexity.
  • Preparing base estimate. This is the most important stage and it covers development of estimated costs for all components of a project, excluding future escalation. You can use various sources here, including historical data and databases, market research, etc. At the end the base estimate should include all major milestones in the project, and a list of costs associated with reaching each milestone.
  • Reviewing base estimate. This is where external subject matter experts review your initial documentation to ensure that it reflects accurately the project’s scope of work, that schedule and cost items are calculated in a reasonable and realistic way, and required components are not missing or double counted, and that the associated costs and schedule reflect realistically the market conditions.
  • Determining risks. Once again, internal and external experts, risk analysts and managers should come up with their input, considering both positive and negative risks associated with the project in time. The cost impact of project risks should be included in the total cost estimation.
  • Determine how the estimation will be communicated. Communication is an important factor of the job. As an estimator you should decide about the information that will be communicated to various stakeholders of the project, and the most appropriate way of communicating the information to each interested party. Often the words are as important as the numbers you use.
  • Conducting an independent review. Self explanatory. Most construction projects are too big and estimates too important to pass without a review of a third party. Ensure the interviewers that you count with having your estimates reviewed before the final approval of the managers.
  • FAQ

    What is an estimate interview?

    During product management interviews, you may get a “sizing” or “estimation” question, where you’re asked to estimate some business-related number. This question tests both your quantitative skills and your ability to break down a complex problem to arrive at a workable conclusion efficiently.

    Why should we hire you as an estimator?

    Why do you want to work as an Estimator? Because you have experience in the field, connections in the industry, and ability to accurately estimate the costs and time needed to complete a construction project–your portfolio proves this.

    What is the process of estimating?

    Estimation (or estimating) is the process of finding an estimate or approximation, which is a value that is usable for some purpose even if input data may be incomplete, uncertain, or unstable.

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