I have 7 years of working experience in programming in general and almost 5 in the programming language I use now. I like to consider myself pretty good at what I do and worked on some pretty complex projects that ended in success, learned a lot in all those years and even trained a few others in what I do.

Currently I am looking to change my job for personal reasons and I hit a big problem. The HR discussion is ok, written tests are ok, programming tasks are ok (both take-at-home and at company).

But i fail miserably when it comes to face-to-face technical discussions. Suddenly, I forget anything I know and start behaving like a junior, failing to answer even the most basic questions sometimes. I already failed 2 interviews due to this problem and don't know what to do about it. It has started affecting my morale.

True, sometimes they ask what I consider to be stupid questions (like the body of a specific function in a specific class, that I could find in 5 second on google or the IDE would autocomplete for me), but many times I fail even logic questions that are more related to thinking than to code knowledge. After the end of the talk I realize how easy some questions were and I feel like bashing my head on the table.

Any ideas on how to overcome this problem?

  • Well, not really. I don't feel more stressed than usual. I just dumb down... like really down... – Adrian Sicaru Oct 20 '17 at 16:17
  • Do you know if this is related to nerves, or lack of interview experience, or something else? – TheSoundDefense Oct 20 '17 at 16:17
  • Well, I feel like at an exam for which I have not studied. If I had a computer in front of me and they told me "Do this!" , I would start typing and deliver something. But when I get asked "How would you do this?", I fail. I can't express in words what I do in practice, I don't know, it's weird. – Adrian Sicaru Oct 20 '17 at 16:33
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    Friend, I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes I'll look up (over and over again) the same simple concept every time I do that particular thing. Or I copy paste a particular solution to a problem from one project to another, such that I forget the details of the implementation which I created in the first place. I've experienced the exact same "brain farts" in an interview situation. However, a good technical interviewer will recognize that memorizing definitions is a ridiculous thing to ask, exactly because modern IDE's make it so easy to be lazy. – AndreiROM Oct 20 '17 at 19:18
  • @AndreiROM I like what you've said except for that part about [gasp in horror] copy and paste code. Please don't say such things; there could be children about. – akaioi Oct 20 '17 at 21:35

I would suggest practicing these types of questions and taking a video of your practices, reviewing it after, deciding what you need to change, and do it again until you sound confident and knowledgeable.

Part of the problem may also be that you don't retain technical knowledge and instead rely on looking things up. This is almost impossible for an interviewer to be able to assess your actual skill level when you do this. Anyone can say they would look it up on Google, but clearly many people who do, then do not understand what they looked up or how to use it as anything other than cut and paste. So they ask technical questions and expect you to be able to answer them. Therefore, you should study for this type of test just as if you were going to take a test in a classroom.

But when you aren't sure of the implementation of something in an interview, talk about how you would look up the details in Google and then how you would use that information to make it applicable to your particular case. You might talk about what things you would need to know to make it work, or how you have implemented similar things in the past.


It sounds like you're suffering from interview anxiety, which is understandable considering the amount of pressure you're under and the potential life-altering effects of a good/bad performance. I think just about everyone has experienced this at some point in their careers.

My solution for dealing with this is to pretend I'm talking to a friend or a junior colleague instead of a boss who's judging everything I say. I think the answers you give would be more or less the same either way. Instead of thinking of it as a test, think of it as an opportunity to teach others all the wonderful things you know. The fact that you do well on written tests tells me you know what you're talking about, but if you really don't know the answer, you could say something along the lines of "I haven't encountered this exact situation, but I have worked on similar problems. This is how I would go about finding a solution..." In this way, you can steer the conversation back to an area where you feel comfortable. If the answer doesn't come to you right away, take a few seconds to think about it. It's better to take your time than to blurt out something that turns out to be wrong.

As with anything in life, interviewing is a skill that takes practice and you'll get better and better over time. Instead of thinking of a rejection as a failure, try and view it as a learning experience. Remember those questions you fumbled over, so you can learn how to properly answer them in the future. More than likely, you will encounter the same or similar questions again and again.

Before the interview, make sure you prepare emotionally as well as intellectually. I usually spend a few minutes doing breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation. You should also avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine which increase anxiety.

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