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Suppose an interviewer asks you a technical question. Once you answer the question correctly, you think of a variant of the question that is trickier/less obvious that you think would be worth discussing.

Suppose you find the new question genuinely interesting, or you want to see how your interviewer thinks (because they will presumably be part of your team if/when you are hired).

Would it be a violation of etiquette to lob this new question back at them?

EDIT: Not a duplicate of this question, which is an open-ended question about what questions one should ask in a CS interview. None of the answers their touch on my question here, which is much more specific.

marked as duplicate by gnat, gazzz0x2z, IDrinkandIKnowThings, The Wandering Dev Manager, jimm101 Sep 19 '18 at 22:56

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    @gnat This question and the one you linked are clearly not duplicates. Please actually read my question – ubadub Sep 19 '18 at 6:56
  • @gnat I reiterate, these are clearly not duplicates. – ubadub Jul 27 at 20:34
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When I'm interviewing, there are two types of questions I focus on:

  • Extent of exposure to the technologies we use. This might involve some very basic/surface level questions for a lot of different topics. This might give me some hints as to how well a candidate can temporarily absorb odd tasks or new technologies at a passable level.
  • Low level knowledge of topics that the candidate has highlighted as having great experience or passion for. If the candidate lists 5+ years of C# experience on their resume but doesn't know how the language works (IL, garbage collection, etc) it would not inspire a lot of confidence in me.

For the purposes of furthering those points, we will often try to ask a combination of closed (point 1) and open-ended (point 2) questions.

If asked an open-ended question, it is perfectly acceptable to elaborate to the extent of your knowledge, example:

Do you know how and where C# datatypes are stored in memory, which datatypes are treated differently?

This is an invitation for you to elaborate and discuss with me, but not a problem per-say. It's your opportunity to show off a bit, and if you seem to know a lot about the topic I might ask some harder / more targeted questions.

What is the default value for the css attribute 'position' and how does it differ from 'position: relative'.

This is a semi-closed question. I'm interested in knowing if you know some of the CSS basics but I'm not looking for an extended discussion about all of the different position types.


One thing you need to avoid at all costs is coming across smug, for instance, in my opinion a very bad answer to the above question might be.

I know all of the css position types: relative, abs... Do you know about XYZ edge case when relative and absolute are configured in this specific way?

A better way to phrase it would be to say something like:

Yes. The default position is 'static', and it renders elements where they exist in the html - and it does not respect position attributes such as 'left', 'top' on itself or on it's children. I learned a lot about the edge cases about html positioning when i was working on project XYZ at [job/opensource], such as [insert really brief example here].

Basically this answers my question, without wasting time, and also gives me the opportunity to ask you more about this if time allows (either now, or later on in the interview)


TL;DR -- In general, I would recommend not to ask questions which inquire as to the knowledge or competencies of the interviewer, and don't try to drive the interview. In some cases, they will be following a script and will not take kindly to deviations. Try to find opportunities to let your interviewer know that you are passionate or really knowledgeable about a specific subject. If they have time and are interested in knowing, they will pick up on this and ask you more about it. If they ran out of time because you were talking too much it reflects poorly on you and some people will take offence to you asking questions about their knowledge.

Also, everyone who does interviews may have a different opinion to mine. This is just general advice I would give to my own candidates.

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    Can you add why you should avoid coming across as inquisitive about the knowledge of the interviewer? – Erik Sep 19 '18 at 5:58
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    @Erik It really depends on the interviewer. Some won't mind, but some will take offence to it. A you're not here to interview me attitude, if you will. Being more diplomatic by default is my rule of thumb for everything. – caesay Sep 19 '18 at 5:59
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    But you are. Interviewing is a two-way street, the interviewee is trying to learn about the company as much as the other way around. Although "some take offence to it" would be a valid reason to either be careful with it or to reject the company, depending on your situation. – Erik Sep 19 '18 at 6:00
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    @Erik It's the interviewee's role to sell themselves. It's the interviewer's role to sell the position and company. It's not the responsibility of the interviewer to answer software related quiz questions. – caesay Sep 19 '18 at 6:05
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    @caesay the problem is, if the interviewee is genuinely interested in working on new technologies or otherwise advancing their knowledge and that's a key part of the role, asking such questions is their only way to gauge if the company's a good fit. It's perfectly fine for an interviewer to say "Sorry, I'm not technical/this isn't my area of expertise, but I'd be happy to pass your questions along", but discouraging such questions at all seems really counter productive, and anyone who takes offence at being asked questions really shouldn't be interviewing in the first place. – delinear Sep 19 '18 at 10:41
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you think would be worth discussing

For what purpose?

If your purpose is to demonstrate your technical ability (hey I can tackle this variant of this problem), just continue along your answer.

If your purpose is to gauge the interviewer's technical ability, then it is more likely that you'll leave a bad impression.

Instead, may I suggest the following approach:

What technologies do your team usually work on?

You can often have a good estimate on that person's technical ability based on the way he describe things. Plus, it shows you are interested in knowing more about the company.

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No, don't do this.

If you're asked a question - i always preferred to ask simple questions, and then ask about the underlying concepts. For example to design basic sql tables and then the querying them. And then maybe ask why they used foreign keys and didn't just put everything in one table.

But I'm building to a point, to see if they can do the basics and then, having done that, if they understand the basics.

If someone were to turn to me during this and ask me some question, then the problem is

  1. its stupidly uncommon, what is this person going to be like in a team if they're so unusual now?
  2. it seems like they're trying to control the interview so that I don't have time to ask more questions, and thus can't ask a question they don't know
  3. if I get drawn into it in any meaningful way, I won't have time to ask all my questions, and thus cannot fairly compare this person to other people.
  4. I'm here working out if they can do the job, technically. One would hope, given I'm interviewing them, that I can do the job, technically. It makes no sense for someone to test ME on if i can do the job in doing.

If you're not sure about the work then ask about the work. But asking random technical questions to me tells you... what, exactly? That the job doesn't require a deep level of understanding? That's pretty much every job...

And even worse, what if I don't know? That's embarrassing to me, and because I'm pretty and vindictive, now I'm just going to block your hire. It's not like anybody is going to know the reason!

In short, there's not the time, it is not the place, not does or give you any useful data. Don't do this. If there's time at the end you're better off asking about the culture, the worst thing about the job, one thing the interviewer would change technically in the role, etc.

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It's absolutely a reasonable thing to do, as long as it fits into the discussion of the question the interviewer asked. If you are simply trying to "stump the interviewer" that's not good, but saying something like "that question makes me wonder what would happen in this case, what do you think" is fine.

Asking a followup shows that you are thinking and engaged, and it gives you a chance to see how someone you might be working with operates. It may also give you and the interviewer a chance to chat back and forth and may help both of you to get a feel for each other.

Of course, don't bog the interview down in your question. If the interviewer wants to move on without answering, obviously that's up to him.

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No. The point of an interviewer is for the interviewer to determine that you know enough to do the job you are applying for. They have a specific set of questions to ask, and based on that set of questions they will judge you. Questions you don't answer are marked as a zero. If you waste interview time asking things you might think are "interesting", that takes time away from the questions that they want to ask you, so they might not get to finish their questions, meaning you're going to get zeroes on a wide swath of questions. If you want to ask these types of questions, first pass the interview and get the job, then on your first day you can ask these sorts of open-ended questions.

  • Is this "scoring" methodology universal? – ubadub Sep 19 '18 at 17:59
  • It's not actually "scoring", per se. The interviewer isn't writing down numbers out of 5 or whatever. The point is, the more questions you get asked, the more knowledge you get to show in a variety of areas and the more comfortable the interviewer is that you can do the job that is required. Therefore, you want to allow the interviewer to ask the most amount of their questions so you can show your competence in the areas the interviewer wants to know about, rather than derailing the interview into topics that might not be relevant/interesting. – Ertai87 Sep 19 '18 at 18:14
  • If you derail the interview by going down various rabbit-holes, then the interviewer gets to ask fewer questions in the time allotted (remember: the interview has an allotted time and going over that time is not usually reasonable for the interviewer). If they ask fewer questions, then they get fewer answers, so they are less confident that you are competent in the areas you need to be competent in to get the job, and so you may be passed over for consideration. – Ertai87 Sep 19 '18 at 18:16

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