If you go on enough interviews, sooner or later someone will ask you to explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew or to name as many options of the ls command as you can.
You may be tempted to roll your eyes, but that’s not the best way to respond. After all, what seems like a really bad question could be the interviewer’s way of assessing your diplomacy or the way you interact with technically-challenged end users.
Remember, you’re on stage during interviews. Every question gives you a chance to shine. Even if the question seems, well, dumb, answer it to the best of your ability or demonstrate your professionalism and technical knowledge by tactfully seeking clarification. For example:
“As you know, the ls command can produce a huge list of files and I use it anywhere from 10 to 50 times a day. Can I give you a couple of examples? Or, did you have a particular use in mind?”
Brain teasers can be exasperating, too. If you don’t have an answer, explain how you’ve approached similar problems in the past. For instance, if you’re not sure how to calculate the amount of corn Nebraska produces in a year find another way to highlight your estimation skills. Something like: “I’ve never estimated crops, but I had to estimate how many shoppers would visit our website on Cyber Monday at my last job. Here’s how I did it.”
Remember, interviewers want to assess your problem-solving and communications skills as well as your technical knowledge. Keep your composure and win the day by responding to the legitimate question about your skills or experience that may be lurking beneath the surface of what seems like a bad question.
How do you respond to really bad technical interview questions? Share your advice in the comments below.