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What is a good way to answer a question such as "Tell us about a technical decision you had to make in the past" during an interview for a software development job?

Is this a trick question to see if the interviewee jumps into giving a technical answer? What would be a proper answer to this?

  • Do you have a reason to suspect a trick, or that the question is asking anything other than what it appears to be? – AakashM Apr 25 '18 at 9:09
  • Who is asking you the question ? ah HR guy/non technical or a technical one ? – Walfrat Apr 25 '18 at 9:24
  • It's not a trick question. – pmf Apr 25 '18 at 15:13
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As a hiring manager I've asked questions like this in the past and from my perspective I want to hear a story where you had to use your brain to decide on a course of action and how you implemented it.

Was the decision technically sound? Did you know the path to success, and were you confident? Were there inter-personal, inter-department, or other 'fuzzy' issues that could have prevented it from being successful? Can you show me some passion that you were responsible for it?

If you can't think of anything technical that closely relates to the job description, then tell me any story where you made a decision and ran with it.

I can really get a lot out of this answer ... How you deal with uncertainty, are you motivated to solve problems, can you communicate clearly to me, can you hold my attention from start to finish, do you have the technical and emotional chops to survive in my place of employment, and a few others.

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    +1 I too use the "Tell me about a time when..." theory when writing interview questions, and this is exactly why. – Lumberjack Apr 24 '18 at 19:44
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    Exactly. I'm looking for a clear description of the problem; analysis of solutions, including looking beyond purely the technical solution; how you handled challenges or problems; and outcomes. – Chris G Apr 24 '18 at 20:02
  • It is a question about not only what you technically di but what your thought process was in making the decision and how you physically worked through the problem. – HLGEM Apr 24 '18 at 20:04
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This technique is called "behavioral interviewing." By asking about a time you actually did something, ideally the interviewer can get a better sense of how you do things than just asking a hypothetical - real life is complex, and they want to know how you deal with real decisions in real environments, where people disagree for good and bad reasons, where the best technical option isn't always the feasible business option...

The best answer to a question like this does showcase your success, but also goes into details about how you overcame issues and conflict (ideally without coming across like a rabid wolverine).

There are plenty of people whose examples provide a questionable thought process - "I wanted to use it because it was new even though it might not have been a good fit/I wanted to use it even though it was old because I'm familiar with it", "I just went ahead and did it even though others objected because screw them/I gave in to what the lead wanted because who cares anyway"...

You want to project confidence, but confidence that is warranted because you understood the technical and organizational impacts of that choice, you can successfully negotiate technical decisions with others, and you can show good judgement and select implementations that will be successful.

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Anyone seasoned in the industry will have hundred of such stories.

It is a fairly easy question to answer, and it is not a trick question. For me it is much a more saner question than filler BS questions as "were you see yourself in 5 years..." or "what are your strengths".

I will take pleasure in answer such a question with a couple of examples. In reality, I just have to ask how much time they want me to spend on that question, running the risk of taking too long.

Those kind of questions are mostly to gauge your maturity, line of experience and thinking.

Even when around new work mates, we usually share these kind of war stories over a cup of coffee. (cultural note, here we tend more to gather together over coffee than beer)

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Is this a kind of a "trick" question to see if one jumps into giving a technical answer? How should one give a proper answer to this?

Not really. When this -very common, IMHO- question comes around the idea is to get a feel of what kind of things matter to you when making a complex decision, and to see which points do you prioritise.

It is true that the technical level at which you give your answer matters (as with experience you should get better at understanding what is the role in the organisation of the person that it is in front of you - and that's a valuable communication skill), but it shouldn't be the most important part

Instead, the "trick" is more on showing that you have been in a relatively complex situation in the past, where you have been considering multiple options, and where you finally ended up making a sound decision. An answer with something like that should be more than adequate.

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A question like this can also help to weed out candidates who are just pretending.

When people make technical decisions, if they researched the decisions and implemented them, they usually end up knowing the tiny details as to why the decision was made, how it was implemented and how any issues related to this decision were resolved.

With people who pretend to know, they will try to provide very little detail and will usually get stuck when the interviewer begins to pry.

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