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How to answer a tech question you have not worked on.

 
Rajkamal Pillai
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Hello,

I am a Java/J2EE professional with 7 years of experience on technologies like Struts, Spring, Hibernate, JUnit, XML e.t.c. Of late I'm looking out for a new position and have been actively taking up interviews for the same. Like any other 'human being', I have worked on the above mentioned technologies but have not explored all the features they provide. So when I'm asked about something I have not worked with I answer,

"I have not worked on ------. And from what I know about the framework/technology, ------- is the way it works and -------- is the way you can get it done."

Is this a right way to answer this question or should I just go ahead and mention what I know about it without saying that I have not worked with it?

Thanks,
Raj.

 
Sandeep Awasthi
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I think that is correct way to answer. No one use everything in project. If you have knowledge you can tell you know how to use it.
 
Andy Lester
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Your answer is fine. The key is "I don't know, but here are things I do know about."

I've posted about this before at How to say "I don't know" effectively.
 
Bear Bibeault
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Exactly. If you have any experience at all, you must have done something that's at least remotely similar or related, and you can use the question as a spring-board to highlight what you do know.

Death is to just sit there and say "I don't know, next question."
 
Andy Lester
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Bear Bibeault wrote:
Death is to just sit there and say "I don't know, next question."


I wouldn't say it's "death".

I may ask about tech at random, without having it actually be a job requirement. I once asked a guy if he knew anything about LDAP, because I'd earlier been talking to someone about something we might maybe possibly in the future potentially do with LDAP, and so I just asked off the cuff "Hey, do you know anything about LDAP?" and I thought he would burst a blood vessel. "Well, I, uh, well, I've done things with...." and trying to turn it into a "No, but I'll learn."

His response should have been "No, I'm afraid I don't. What are you using it for?"
 
Hong Anderson
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For me, I think just I don't know is okay, no need to say more if it's not closely relevant.
Nobody knows everything, it's normal and alright.

When I interview an applicant, I just want to know the he knows this or not, I don't care and don't want to listen that I don't know this but I know that. OK, you know that, but I don't care, don't need to tell me.

Except that if they know something very similar then they can explain, but I don't like guessing.
 
Vikas Kapoor
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Wait a minute guys, Isn't it a responsibility of a good interviewer to go through the resume first before interviewing that candidate? Generally, Interviewer asks what you have done and how you have done. Because if you haven't done something how you are gonna answer it? By 'something' I mean 'technology' and not 'logic'.
 
Hong Anderson
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I also want to know things that are not in the resume. Just hope that they might know.
 
Bear Bibeault
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Vishal Pandya wrote:Wait a minute guys, Isn't it a responsibility of a good interviewer to go through the resume first before interviewing that candidate?

Exactly. Just going through a list of technologies:

"Do you know anything about Xyz?"

"Yes."

"Great! How about Abc?"

"You bet!"

isn't gong to cut it.

If a candidate can't say at least a paragraph about a subject, even if they're not very familiar with it, that is "death" to their job prospects.

To help them out, I also ask questions in such a way that a single word answer isn't really an option. I like to make it more of a conversation than an interrogation.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Vishal Pandya wrote:Wait a minute guys, Isn't it a responsibility of a good interviewer to go through the resume first before interviewing that candidate?

In principle yes. In practice, work priorities can change the interviewer the last minute. I can't tell you how many times I've done an interview when given the (7-9 page CV) that morning. Or even less than an hour before. I don't have time to plow through something that long. And honestly, I skim CVs even if I do have advance notice. If it's not on page 1 or 2 or highlighted, I'm likely to miss it. My point being it isn't a perfect world and you are well served to assume your interviewer hasn't prepared as much as he or she may have liked.

Vishal Pandya wrote:Generally, Interviewer asks what you have done and how you have done.

I also like to know that people keep abreast of technology. Even if someone hasn't used Java 5, they really should know a feature or two. Especially if looking for a job.

Vishal Pandya wrote:Because if you haven't done something how you are gonna answer it?

I want to know someone can think. There's no harm in asking someone to reason through a problem based on their experiences even if they haven't done that exact thing before.
 
Andy Lester
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Vishal Pandya wrote:Wait a minute guys, Isn't it a responsibility of a good interviewer to go through the resume first before interviewing that candidate?


"Do you know LDAP" often does not mean "Please give me a yes/no answer as to whether you know LDAP." It probably means "Tell me about what you have done using LDAP."

An interview isn't a police interrogation where the interviewer is trying to determine the facts of the case, of whether you do indeed know LDAP. The interviewer is trying to see how you interact with others, and how you're able to talk about what you've done in the past. You should rarely answer a question that sounds like it needs a Yes/No answer with a simple yes or no.
 
Sandeep Awasthi
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I have question related to this.
You have some basic knowledge of some framework or some technology but you do not have deep knowledge or hands on or you have not used it in project. Do you add that technology or framework in Resume?
 
Hong Anderson
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Sandeep Sa wrote:I have question related to this.
You have some basic knowledge of some framework or some technology but you do not have deep knowledge or hands on or you have not used it in project. Do you add that technology or framework in Resume?

No. Otherwise my resume will be very long.
 
Sandeep Awasthi
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Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:
Sandeep Sa wrote:I have question related to this.
You have some basic knowledge of some framework or some technology but you do not have deep knowledge or hands on or you have not used it in project. Do you add that technology or framework in Resume?

No. Otherwise my resume will be very long.

Humm... I am talking about genuine knowledge.
For example struts. I am not talking about knowledge like " in struts action and view are mixed and in spring mvc they are decoupled". I am not talking about that kind of knowledge.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Andy Lester wrote:An interview isn't a police interrogation where the interviewer is trying to determine the facts of the case.

I like this quote . Although sometimes it feels like one - when the person lies on the resume. Luckily that feeling is rare.
 
Hong Anderson
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Andy Lester wrote:
"Do you know LDAP" often does not mean "Please give me a yes/no answer as to whether you know LDAP." It probably means "Tell me about what you have done using LDAP."

An interview isn't a police interrogation where the interviewer is trying to determine the facts of the case, of whether you do indeed know LDAP.

Agreed. It should be always like that. I think it would be strange and awkward, if the candidate replied to an answer like "Do you know XXX?" by just "Yes" or "No".
 
Bear Bibeault
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Which again, is why you don't ask questions formed that way.

An interview should be a conversation.
 
Andy Lester
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Bear Bibeault wrote:Which again, is why you don't ask questions formed that way.


I certainly do sometimes, to see what the interviewee knows about how to conduct him/herself in an interview.
 
Bear Bibeault
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Meh, I don't like trick questions. I think you can find out everything you need to know without having to lob hand grenades.
 
Andy Lester
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Bear Bibeault wrote:Meh, I don't like trick questions. I think you can find out everything you need to know without having to lob hand grenades.


I guess I don't see it as a trick question.

I also don't see it as a trick question when I hand a candidate a quiz on a sheet of paper, and see what he does to fill it out. Did he bring something to write with? Or is he looking all around my desk for a pen to use and finally asking "Do you have a pen?" Who doesn't think they're going to need to write at a job interview?
 
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