Don’t Make This Mistake in Technical Interviews

Technical interviews can prove a stressful affair: You’re never quite sure what the interviewer is going to ask beforehand, and whether you’ll be able to solve the offered problems.

Sure, you can ask the interviewer ahead of time whether you’ll face a whiteboard test, a coding challenge, or some sort of app-building nightmare; you can also find out whether the interview is a one-on-one or group affair. Whatever research you can do beforehand, however, the technical questions are often opaque right until you step into the room.

There’s been a lot written about what to do if the question is a real stumper (work through examples, ask questions, don’t give up, etc.), but what do you do if the question is one you’ve seen before?

Yes, the obvious response is “Answer it.” But when confronted by a technical question to which they already know the answer, many interviewees make the mistake of jotting down the solution and calling it a day, or breezing through the logic without really explaining what they’re doing. Either path is a mistake; the interviewer is always interested in seeing how you actually work through problems.

Instead, tell the interviewer that you’ve seen the question before, and that you already know the answer. He or she will either give you a new question, or ask you to show how you’d work through the current one. Either way, you’re going to demonstrate how your mind works. Most importantly: Don’t fake a struggle with a question to which you already know the answer, as the interviewer’s surely seen that sort of thing many times before.

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11 Responses to “Don’t Make This Mistake in Technical Interviews”

  1. Marcus Griffin

    This has got to be the worst job advise I have ever read. YOU should be praising god that you have seen this problem before and can answer it. Just the fact your resume got passed the resume scanning software designed to weed you out , idiot HR recruiters who don’t understand anything except buzz words and the phone interview is a miracle in itself. Then when you get the opportunity interview ‘live’ with the hiring manager and/or his team your going to tell him ,don’t ask me that question because I know answer, REALLY. Oh my god who would do that?!? This is the the WORST advise DICE as ever, ever, ever given and believe me DICE has been given some bad, bad advice.

      • HerrinSchadenfrrude

        It’s impossible that you are truly naive enough to believe honesty is going to do anything besides make people nervous in this job market. Do you see the honest person surrounded by thieves as being the life of the party?

    • Marcus Griffin put it very nicely. Hey DICE, did you read what you wrote beforehand over and over? Hey Editor, did this make sense to you? Would you use your advice on an interview like that? I don’t think soooooo.

    • I would word my response as “I’ve had this question before in the past and resolved this issue this way. Here’s how I did it…”

      Overall, I’m thinking if you have to compete in this manner for a job/client how can you make money as a consultant? Perhaps the interview needed to be an unplanned and casual meet-up at some conference lobby area whereby you reveal how you can solve their issue, instead of a job board seeking a bunch of candidates.

      But then again, what do I know?

  2. WOW bunches of folks did not care for the article, Really? The article has some value if placed in the correct context. Here are my thoughts:
    If you are given a question you have seen before, you do let the interviewer know you have had the problem or a similar one on prior occasions, and “this is one way of solving the problem/issues”. As a consultant I have run into this many times, but have to use caution and not give away all of the answer if it really is a business case. There are firms out in the world who are fishing for solutions without hiring the candidate, thus getting free consultation. If you look at it on a high level, most firms are the same tactically but strategically they have different visions. Thus they will have the same problems and look to you as a possible solution. If the issue is for example: “I give you a brick and what can you do with it” this is more metaphoric and has many solutions which help the interviewer think through your answers as to your ingenuity. For one of those questions I will not volunteer I had seen it before unless asked, but I would answer. I think the article has some value but you have to take it in context of what question is asked. To get the answer I would ask the interviewer and dig deeper to the problem even if I had seen it before, to get to the root of their intent.

    • @Rob, I’m suspect of anyone who start of talking about looking at this article in context. The article is so bad none of the bloggers want to attach there names to it. I take this article at face value and your explaination as fuzzy logic. The facts are the interviewing process is not designed to find the best people, it’s designed to find the cheapest people who know the most buzz words and who can fit into the companies culture, code words for hiring white men or a cheaper h1b visa holder.

  3. I would rather ask what the most difficult problem/issue the “interviewee” had experienced on his/her recent job and explain how it was resolved. The answer should provide the details which only the person who actually resolved and identified root cause would know.