Recently, on Linkedin, someone mentioned how a candidate pretty much answered “I’ll search it up” for most questions in a technical interview. I replied “Depending on the context, searching for information is not a bad answer.” The reason for my reply is, given the current pace of the tech sector and the number of technologies and buzzwords that whiz past us daily, searching is a good way to reduce memorization burden; more so, when the shelf life of these new bits of information (specifically, in terms of relevance, effectiveness, and novelty) is often suspect.
That said, the context is very important. For example, is the interview for a senior position or a junior position? Is the question about a technology or a topic/concept? Is the question about basics/fundamentals or nuances? Is the question about the abstracts or details? You get the idea. So, in general, where/how do we draw the line?
Here’s how I draw the line. Being able to search smartly and being knowledgeable to know what to search for are extremely useful skills. So, if the candidate can provide evidence of these skills and demonstrate that she is knowledgeable about the topics of interest, then I’ll accept “I’ll search it up” as a valid answer.
If you are wondering how can candidates provide evidence of these skills, then they should describe example situations where they used these skills along with how they used them to resolve the situation. Specifically, what did they search for, how did they search for it, why did they search for it, where did it lead them, did they lose their way, how did they get back on track, and so on until they arrived at the final resolution. [Now, “I’ll search it up” doesn’t so easy, right? ;) ]
As for how can candidates demonstrate their knowledge about the topics of interest, they should have a good grasp of the fundamentals of the topics of interest — common concepts, common challenges, common constraints, common solutions — and be aware of sources that they could refer to for details. So, grasp of specifics would be a bonus. Also, they should be able build upon and reason using these fundamentals while considering the specific context and constraints provided by the interviewer. This would implicitly require the candidate to be able to reason about different ideas and their combinations. Also, this requires the interviewer to be an active participant in the interview by posing the right questions to unearth the extent of the candidate’s knowledge.
At the end, as long as the interviewer is committed to asking the necessary questions to uncover the relevant information, “I’ll search it up” answer isn’t an issue. That said, as an interviewee, why would you want to make your interviewer work harder? :)
Originally posted on Medium
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