Dave's Notebook

3 Reasons Responding To Useless Interview Questions Makes You Happier

I’ve noticed a trend recently. Someone will write a post about some technical interview question and someone will write a comment about how that’s such a dumb question that they wouldn’t even bother answering it. I’ve actually been that guy recently. John Sonmez wrote about “Cracking the Coding Interview” and I responded that I don’t do coding interviews. In fact, I wrote a whole post about this. But as John pointed out, this may actually cause you to be limiting your career. You wouldn’t answer that question for a 33% raise? Really? There isn’t anything that could motivate you to consider answering a question that you feel is useless, stupid or dumb? This week, I saw another post about some technical interview question that someone said he wouldn’t answer. Sorry, I don’t have a link for that one, I wish I did.

And then add to this, the number of useless interview questions I have answered in the last year. Why did I answer them? Because I could. Because the challenge was actually fun.

And so, let’s reconsider the arrogant stance of “Thanks for your time, I’ll show myself out.” First let’s consider why we might not want to answer a particular question.


Telling The Truth Makes You Happier.

As I said, I’ve answered a lot of useless questions. Most recently, I was asked about how garbage collection works in .NET. When is the last time anyone needed to know that? Isn’t the whole point of .NET that memory management gets handled for you? Someone else may have refused to answer the question. Why? Because we don’t think we can.

The reason I don’t like code interviews is because 1) I’ve never had to do one and 2) I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.

Dumb reason! The post I mentioned earlier that I don’t have a link for was something about how linked lists worked. Or sorting. Why did he consider it an issue? Maybe because he didn’t feel like he could answer it? Let’s face it, most of use, rather than admitting we don’t know something, would just rather deflect the problem to the person asking the question.

And so, the first way that just answering the question will make you happier is that telling the truth makes you happier.

The more honest we are with ourselves and with others, the happier we are.

So, rather than taking the stance of “I won’t answer that question”, why not prepare yourself so that you CAN answer the question? And this leads to my second reason…

You Will Gain Confidence

How’s that? Well, let’s say you answer the question, the first time, the best way that you know how but you know you were pretty shaky. So, you go home, and look up the answer. The next time you get asked the question, you are better prepared. You’ve learned something along the way and are now more confident. Or, you may find out that the question wasn’t all that important given all you were able to answer.

I’ll tell you a little insider secret. If you really know your stuff, you’ll probably get the job anyhow. The interviewer is just trying to figure out how much you know. If you’ve gotten to the point where they are asking one of these seemingly irrelevant questions, you’ve probably already got the job.

Most people can’t even answer the basic questions I’ve previously blogged about:

I know of at least two places that have interviewed 10 people just to find one that would be OK. Knowing this, alone, has given me a lot more confidence when I interview.

But as people have mentioned on those post, just because they can answer the questions, doesn’t mean they can code. We have to have other questions we can ask you to get at that.

I’ve been in two interviews, that I can remember that did this well. One was for a position that was mostly JavaScript. In fact, he never asked me anything about C#. What he said was something like, “I know nothing about JavaScript, tell me about JavaScript.” And then he stopped talking and listened to me. Every once in a while he would say, “Tell me more about that.” That was the entire interview.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to talk about my experience with ASP.NET’s MVC.

A question that was just as open ended. The guy’s boss, who was the hiring manager, questioned the open endedness of the question. The response was, “I want to know if he’s worked with it before. If he has, he should be able to answer that question.” Interestingly, there were no JavaScript questions this time.

You Might Get Your Dream Job

Listen! You decided to interview, I assume, because you wanted this job, or at least thought you might want this job. You’re going to walk out of an interview and make yourself look like an ass simply because you don’t like the question? Who is being dumb now?! Like I said, it is so hard to find good talent, that if they are asking hard questions, you’ve probably already got the job anyhow. But if you walk out, not only do you not have the job, but you’ll never get a second chance to interview with the people in the room again, and that includes when they show up at other companies. Think that’s not true? I know I keep a mental list of people I might want to consider in the future. Both people I’ve worked with and people I’ve interviewed.

So take your best stab at the question. There have been a number of times when my answer has been, I don’t know, but here is how I’d find out when I needed it. Often the “how I’d get the information answer” is better than actually being able to answer the question.

So, dare to answer the questions. The results might surprise you.