“How Many Windows Are in NYC??”
And, most significantly : “How the heck does one answer this crazy question?”
Because if you’re interviewing for a tech job, likelihood is that you’ll get thrown one among these curveballs at some point during the choice process. And once you do, you don’t want to totally whiff.
So to form sure that you’re able to handle almost anything, let me share 9 steps that helped me earn offers at Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and VC-backed startups.
1) Understand What the Interviewer Wants
It’s easy to urge flustered if you assume that this is often an equivalent quite question you would possibly find on a multiple-choice test — i.e., there’s one right answer and much of wrong ones.
Instead, believe it from the interviewer’s perspective. She must find someone who can achieve this job — not someone who’s great at counting windows. So what she really wants to understand is whether or not you’ll handle the trials of a crazy tech job:
- Dealing with uncertainty
- Thinking analytically
- Communicating clearly
Thus, take a deep breath and specialise in demonstrating your curiosity, logical analysis, and clear communication — not on the solution itself!
2) Clarify the Question
Start by asking some clarifying questions to demonstrate your curiosity. as an example , if you’ve been asked what percentage windows are in ny (PS: here’s an inventory I’ve collected of other tech brainteasers), you would possibly respond by asking:
“When you say windows, are you only referring to building windows or are you also considering subways, computers, and Bronx Zoo exhibits?
This not only shows off your curiosity; it also can prevent plenty of agony. Because if it seems that your interviewer only cares about building windows, this question just became an entire lot simpler.
3) Ask for Time
Now, as tempting because it could be to dive right into calculations, resist that temptation. There are few people within the world who can write an essay and skim it aloud simultaneously. But that’s exactly what you finish up doing once you attempt to answer the question immediately.
So instead, invite a couple of minutes to collect your thoughts then jot a fast outline like this one:
- Only building windows
- 3 categories of building
- NYC: 10M people
- Apartments: 3 windows/person
- Residential: 10M x 3 windows/person
That way, you get both the time to think analytically and therefore the organization to speak clearly. And no, interviewers aren’t getting to mark you down for taking a timeout. Because, again, they have someone who can do the work — and really few tech jobs involve solving brainteasers live, on-stage!
4) provides a Roadmap
With your outline in-hand, it’s time to offer your interviewer a roadmap to your answer. That’s because numerous answers explode the rails once you think you’re being clear but the interviewer is completely lost.
Thus, you say:
“OK, so I’m getting to solve this problem in three steps. First I’m getting to name my assumptions. Next, I’m getting to break the matter into relevant categories. and eventually , I’m getting to make calculations for every category.”
With this feature, the interviewer will be able to follow your progress at every step. In addition, you come across as much more organized and analytical.
5) State Your Assumptions
It is important to note that there is rarely one correct answer to these questions. I mean, even the mayor of latest York doesn’t know exactly what percentage windows are in his city!
So rather than getting trapped within the look for an illusory truth, just make some logical assumptions. Most important of all, name and justify the assumptions you make.
For instance, you would possibly say:
“When it involves apartment windows, I’m getting to assume that there are three windows per resident. That’s because I’ve lived during a lot of two-person apartments that had six windows, on the average . then three per person feels about right.”
While this might sound like relatively flimsy evidence, the critical word here is “because.” That’s because (wink!) psychology research has shown that folks are significantly more likely to simply accept something with a justification attached. Don’t forget to remember what’s being tested: Your ability to think and communicate clearly, not your deep understanding of residential lighting ratios!
6) Break the matter Down
Now, these questions are often so massive that trying to unravel them in one fell swoop are often downright ridiculous. As a result, break them up into easy-to-digest sections.
In this case, you’ll offer a solution like this:
“Because the buildings in New York are so different, I am going to check out the three different building types separately: Residential, Retail, and Office.”
And now, the question that when looked freakishly scary has become quasi-reasonable — and you get to flex your analytical biceps!
While knowing that there have been 8.406 million people in ny in 2013 might assist you win Trivia Night at the demographers’ bar, trying to multiply 8.406 times anything may be a recipe for disaster. So do yourself an enormous favor and round to the juiciest integer you’ll think of:
“All right, I can say there are about 10 million people in New York, plus or minus a million…”
Again, no one’s testing your Rain Man skills. And this may pay off success when you’re ready to…
8) Calculate on Paper
It might feel safer to try to to your calculations in your head therefore the interviewer can’t see your crummy arithmetic skills. But that’s just nuts — again, who can achieve 27 different mental calculations while simultaneously obeying the 95 rules of interview etiquette?
So skip the maths Olympiad stuff and show your work on paper or a whiteboard, step-by-step:
“OK, there are 10 million people in NYC. So I’m getting to multiply that times 3 windows per person to urge 30 million residential windows. Now let’s advance to retail…”
Now, albeit you are doing ruin , you’ve got the visibility to prevent yourself before your errors snowball into an avalanche.
9) Offer Caveats
So you’ve finally reached a solution . Congrats — you’re done, right?
Not so fast!
Remember that these questions aren’t about the solution — instead, they’re about the method . So before you drop the microphone, take one last chance to point out off your curiosity and analytical chops by caveating your answer:
“So that’s my answer. But I’m not totally proud of it because I completely neglected development trends within the city. I basically assumed that each building was your typical old-school ny office or apartment, with relatively few windows. But all the new buildings are 100% glass, which suggests that this number is perhaps on the low side.”
And now, at last, you’re done. Which leaves you only enough time to work out what proportion that faculty bus weighs after all…
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