In quantitative interviews, the questions are designed to measure your brainpower. That’s why the most important thing you can do during a quantitative interview -- beyond having great analytical skills -- is to think out loud.
Companies use quantitative interview questions to test the limits of your knowledge, as well as the techniques, applications and methods you use to attack and solve problems. These kinds of questions are most likely to turn up in interviews for positions requiring analytical skills in investment banking, business analysis and research, capital markets, marketing, and applications systems and technology.
Common quantitative questions include those designed to probe:
- Your Logic and Deductive Reasoning Skills: How many gas stations are there in the United States?
- Your Math Skills: How many times a day do a clock’s hands overlap?
- Your Knowledge in a Particular Field: What is the best valuation method to use when evaluating a technology company?
No matter how smart you are or how hard you studied in school, you shouldn’t expect to know the answer to every analytical question put to you during an interview. “A good interviewer will find out where the knowledge of the candidate ends, and the candidate very often gets to a point where he or she has to say, ‘I don’t know,’” says E. Daniel Raz, principal of Analytic Recruiting in New York City, who has nearly three decades of experience placing candidates in quantitative jobs.
The best way to deal with analytical questions is to take your time, listen and then talk through your thought process, says David Schwartz, a financial services headhunter at D N Schwartz & Co. in New York City. “If you talk through your thought process and get the right answer, people will be happy,” he says. “If you talk through the thought process and get the wrong answer, but it’s the right process, the interviewer may still be happy with you. If you talk and yours is not an analytical thought process, people will think this is not the right career for you.”
Approach with Caution
Before you begin to answer an analytical question, be sure you fully understand it. “You’re always allowed to ask questions, to modify things or ask for an explanation,” Raz says. “Just make sure you don’t ask stupid questions.”
Take time to think quietly to yourself and jot down notes. (Ask for a pencil and paper if you didn’t bring them.) Once you know where you’re going, give your answer in a cooperative, collaborative, friendly and conversational manner.
Whether the question has an exact answer or not, you should then begin to think out loud in a way that shows the building blocks you used to arrive at your answer.
What happens if you suddenly realize you’ve giving a wrong answer? “Stop and say, ‘I was a little excited -- let me give you a second answer,’ even if it comes to you three questions later when you’re more relaxed,” Raz says. “If you figure it out on the subway on your way home, send an email as soon as you get home saying, ‘I’m really embarrassed to tell you, but…’ or ‘I thought about it all night and came up with this answer -- is it right?’”
If you don’t know the answer, your goal should be to avoid looking foolish. Give an honest, logical explanation as to why you don’t know the answer, Raz says. “If it’s something that you’ve forgotten or should have known, but didn’t, put it in perspective by saying ‘I didn’t do that, but I did this similar thing, which I’m very familiar with,’ and then lead the conversation to an area of strength,” he says.
Combine Analytical and Behavioral
If you have hot analytical skills, you’ll want to display them, even when the questions you’re asked are behavioral rather than quantitative, says Gillian Steele, managing director of DePaul University’s Career Center.
“Most interviews these days use behavioral questions, and we prepare students for those by having examples and stories ready of various situations,” she explains. Use these questions to highlight your analytical skills. “Describe the situation, the challenge, what you did and what was the result,” Steele says.
In a Personable Way
Brilliance alone isn’t going to land you most analytical jobs. Work is a social environment where personality and communication -- your body language, eye contact, how much you smile -- are extremely important, too.
Acting intelligent in a quantitative interview will overcome an inability to answer certain questions in some interviews, but not all. “If you have the right personality, the manager may say you’re not 100 percent, but what a nice guy [you’d be] to work with,” Raz says.