aspose file tools*
The moose likes Jobs Discussion and the fly likes Whats the proper way of saying you dont know the answer in a technical interview? Big Moose Saloon
  Search | Java FAQ | Recent Topics | Flagged Topics | Hot Topics | Zero Replies
Register / Login


Win a copy of Spring in Action this week in the Spring forum!
JavaRanch » Java Forums » Careers » Jobs Discussion
Bookmark "Whats the proper way of saying you dont know the answer in a technical interview?" Watch "Whats the proper way of saying you dont know the answer in a technical interview?" New topic
Author

Whats the proper way of saying you dont know the answer in a technical interview?

Mark Reyes
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 09, 2007
Posts: 426
...and what can you say to still have the chance of landing that job?

Just a curious question though as I am about to apply for a post.


Sean Clark ---> I love this place!!!
Me ------> I definitely love this place!!!
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61426
    
  67

Surely there will be something you know about the point of the question. Even if you don't know the exact answer to the question, it's an opportunity to show what you do know of the subject matter serving as the context of the question.


[Asking smart questions] [Bear's FrontMan] [About Bear] [Books by Bear]
Maneesh Godbole
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jul 26, 2007
Posts: 10451
    
    8

Way I look at things, programming is all about logic and logical thinking. So even if you do not know the answer, if you can think out loud and arrive at some logical answer (though incorrect), I would be happy if I was interviewing.


[How to ask questions] [Donate a pint, save a life!] [Onff-turn it on!]
Jan de Boer
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 422
    
    1
Also depends on the interviewer may-be. Is it a technical lead, or a manager?
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Bartender

Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11411
    
  16

Honestly always wins out in my book. I have answered questions with "Well, I've never used X, but based on my experience with Y, I would think that this or that would be something to consider".


There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors
Jayesh A Lalwani
Bartender

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2402
    
  28

IMO, if you don't understand the question, it's better to be honest and say that you have no idea. Trying to reason through a question that you don't understand sounds like faking. OTH, if you do understand the question, but don't know the answer, it's better to tell the interviewer that you don't know, but try to logically deduce the answer.

Although sometimes you can shoot yourself in the foot reasoning through the answer too Once during an interview, the interviewer started asking me about internals of Java Generics. I started completely blanking out, and in a panic, I gave the answer that first came into my mind and seemed pretty logical to me. Turns out, I gave the answer about C++ Generics (or templates or whatever it;s called). The boss told me that I'm wrong and I gave the answer about C++ Generics . I apologized and told him it's hard for me to keep the 2 straight
William P O'Sullivan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 28, 2012
Posts: 859

A great question!

It also does depend on the original interviewers question. If the answer is binary (i.e: true or false, yes or not),
then that is a mental black mark against you, that you need to recover from by scoring "bonus points" in other areas.

If you are told you are wrong, then simply as suggested say something like "it's a been a while, or I've used X instead of Y"

It the question is more essay type, say "How would you do this?", they are looking for analysis and problem solving skills.
There may be more than one way to get to the solution. This again is all up to the interviewer.

I look for people to think, and not simply rattle off what they have memorized in tests, books etc.
Tell me how you know this, how have you used this.. are there other ways that you may be familiar with etc.

WP
Anayonkar Shivalkar
Bartender

Joined: Dec 08, 2010
Posts: 1509
    
    5

I guess we do have quite descents answers here, however, I would share my two cents:

As some people have already mentioned, honesty is the best policy. If the question is so out of scope that you've never even heard of, then frankly tell them that you have no idea, however, depending on the situation, you can ask for a hint, or what it is related with. However, answer only if you know the answer. If you are guessing, then clearly say that "I don't know the answer, but here is my guess".

Secondly, think aloud. If you are given a puzzle or a coding problem, and you keep on staring at paper for 100 seconds or so, interviewer has no clue that whether you are gone absolutely blank, or whether you are thinking very hard and are almost there and it'll just take few more seconds to get the answer. So, say what you are thinking. Explain your thinking process. Mention why do you think that it should be in such and such way etc. It will make you comfortable (because you don't have to worry what interviewer is thinking), and interviewer understands what you are doing. Sometimes, if you are very close, interviewer may even give you a clue - which helps to further improve the dialogue between you and interviewer.

Finally, please tell the interviewer if you do not know the details. e.g. if you are asked about JDBC technology, and if you don't know the actual JDBC, just say it and move on. There's no point in telling them how your old team created a wrapper framework for JDBC and how you called APIs from those classes - it seems like a justification about why you don't know JDBC - which is not good.

I hope this helps.

All the best.


Regards,
Anayonkar Shivalkar (SCJP, SCWCD, OCMJD, OCEEJBD)
Deepak Bala
Bartender

Joined: Feb 24, 2006
Posts: 6662
    
    5

Whatever you do, dont try to fabricate an answer. Stay calm, think about the question and come up with a logical answer. If the question is down right unanswerable without knowledge about the topic, avoid answering it and decline politely. It is all right to say 'I am not sure I have a good answer to that question'


SCJP 6 articles - SCJP 5/6 mock exams - More SCJP Mocks
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30762
    
156

I agree with the above. Another thing is to say how you'd do about finding the answer for questions you can't reason out. Even "shoot, if I needed to know that I'd look in my X in Action book on my desk" or "I've never worked with X but I'd look in the manual or ask someone".

Also keep in mind it is ok to not know some things. Many interviews keep probing until you get out of your comfort zone to see how you react with new things. It's not necessarily an essential skill for the job they are asking about. And even if it is, it is ok to get a few wrong.


[Blog] [JavaRanch FAQ] [How To Ask Questions The Smart Way] [Book Promos]
Blogging on Certs: SCEA Part 1, Part 2 & 3, Core Spring 3, OCAJP, OCPJP beta, TOGAF part 1 and part 2
Arjun Singh Rampal
Greenhorn

Joined: May 24, 2012
Posts: 20
Jan de Boer wrote:Also depends on the interviewer may-be. Is it a technical lead, or a manager?

Are you trying to suggest something ?
Arjun Singh Rampal
Greenhorn

Joined: May 24, 2012
Posts: 20
What I would do - If it is related to what I know, then I will say that I can try to get a solution. Otherwise, tell him that I dont know.
Its better not to fake it.
Mark Reyes
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 09, 2007
Posts: 426
Thanks everyone for such great insights.

I'll take note of all the pointers that you have given...
Jan de Boer
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 10, 2010
Posts: 422
    
    1
Arjun Singh Rampal wrote:
Jan de Boer wrote:Also depends on the interviewer may-be. Is it a technical lead, or a manager?

Are you trying to suggest something ?


It could be that the interviewer is not technical and only has a few questions he obtained from the technical lead. If so, they probably are more looking at how you try to explain it, and if you stay confident, then paying attention to whether or not your answer is 100% exactly right.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
 
subject: Whats the proper way of saying you dont know the answer in a technical interview?