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A few months ago, a company contacted me about a 2-year data science contract. I agreed to an initial telephone interview, during which I was asked:

  • "in Python, what's the difference between a list and a tuple?",
  • "what's Bayes' theorem?"
  • "what is the interpretation of the derivative of a function?".

They then invited me to a Skype interview, where (after some very basic SQL questions), I was asked:

  • "in Python, what's the difference between a list and a tuple?",

  • "what's Bayes' theorem?"

  • "what is the interpretation of the derivative of a function?".

They then scheduled another telephone interview (with the head of data science), where (after some standard questions about my experience / goals), I was asked:

  • "in Python, what's the difference between a list and a tuple?",

  • "what's Bayes' theorem?"

  • "what is the interpretation of the derivative of a function?".

The wording was identical. It was like they were all reading from the same script.

I was then invited to a final Skype interview - which would likely have featured the same questions, had I accepted it. They made no mention of a face-to-face interview.

All of the above happened in about a day-and-a-half.

I don't have much commercial experience, but this struck me as terribly odd.

Why would a company do this? Is it a red flag?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jan 6 at 0:32
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No, it's not a red flag, it's a sign that they're using the same script to ask questions for this role.

Clearly, the people running those stages of the interview don't talk to each other and just pick up their questions from a central depository.

You could have joked about this during your interview and seen what their response was.

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    Bonus points if they had been able to use the Bayes' theorem question to work the joke in (Probability of being asked these questions again if I have another interview etc) – motosubatsu Jan 4 at 13:39
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    I'd argue that this is a red flag. At a minimum, it tells you something about the process that was likely used to select your potential future co-workers; they may well have also been hired on the basis of asking the same screening questions over and over again. That doesn't inherently mean they're incompetent, but it's at least some cause for concern about the company. And if the company is this uncoordinated in their interview process, they may be uncoordinated at other things. – Zach Lipton Jan 4 at 20:11
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    “Clearly, the people running those stages of the interview don't talk to each other and just pick up their questions from a central depository.” Or they’re comparing your answers, to try to see if you memorised a stock answer from the internet. – Paul D. Waite Jan 5 at 11:35
  • "All of the above happened in about a day-and-a-half." I think the whole thing could be some silly scam, or perhaps a really shoddy headhunting operation. – Fattie Jan 5 at 15:05
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Is it a red flag?

No.

Why would a company do this?

To give a uniform experience. I see maybe 50 people at mass interview events. The five other interviewers will do the same. There's a set of questions we're supposed to ask to enter into the computer, as in I can click "yes" or "no" because the actual question is already there.

Now they're mostly not engineering questions but the drive to uniformity is a thing.


marcelm commented on this:

Your explanation makes sense, but it doesn't actually answer why they'd ask the same person the same questions thrice.

Habit. Lack of communication on who is doing what. I'm sure we ask the big important questions at multiple stages (because when I've changed stages they're often the same), this is just taking that to another level.

I've been asked what they consider the big important question(s) by everyone in the interview process because they're that important and everyone wants to make darn sure the question is asked.

  • Your explanation makes sense, but it doesn't actually answer why they'd ask the same person the same questions thrice... – marcelm Jan 4 at 20:52
  • @marcelm responded in post. – Dark Matter Jan 4 at 21:08
  • "Lack of communication on who is doing what" - if they are like that with interviews, might not they similarly uncommunicative at work? Sounds at least a deep pink flag to me – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 7 at 7:40
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It was like they were all reading from the same script ...

They likely were.

I had maintained a list of interview questions at 2 different companies I worked for. Starts out as questions for me. Ends up as questions different teams use. Then, people who are too busy/lazy to come up with original question, ONLY use that list.

Upside is, people ask (generally) good, useful Qs.

Downside is, people as predictable same set of questions.

In all honesty, 80% of value on the interview for me isn't whether you know the answers to those questions, but how you elaborate on follow-up nuances. The questions are just minor litmus test (to sieve off the really unskilled uneducated developers) and a useful jump off points for more interesting discussion with the candidate.

Why would a company do this?

A "company" probably didn't - as I note above, it's probably individual, less-prepared interviewers. Many of whom have a real job to do and (whether they are right or wrong) see having to go off and interview someone a bothersome waste of time, and having to prep for that interview even worse.

Is it a red flag?

Not necessarily. It's a flag that the company has less than perfect talent acquisition procedures. That in and out of itself is not indicative of too much and should not be used to draw meaningful conclusion, absent many other more meaningful red flags.

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I'm going to disagree with the other answers.

Of course it's a red flag! An interview process is meant to gauge the abilities of a potential future employee. If that process is faulty, then how can you have faith in the abilities of the employees of that company?

Another red flag is the quality of the questions asked.... I mean, you are interviewing for a data scientist position, and they are asking you stuff I learned in high school (basic Python data structures, Bayes theorem, and a bloody derivative???).

I mean, sure, sometimes questions like that are asked once initially to discard those that are clearly unfit, but since these questions were asked repeatedly, at different phases of the interview process, clearly that's not the case here.

Stay away from that company.

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    1. Not everyone learns this stuff in HS. 2. In my experience interviewing, many people fail to correctly answer such questions including those whose resumes claim years of relevant experience in the exact subject matter the question is drawn from. It is so bad that simple questions can end up weeding out 50% of the initial applicants for a technical position. – iheanyi Jan 4 at 22:38
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Why would a company do this?

A company would use the same questions to make sure the interview is consistent and fair across all interviewers. What you witnessed is an unfortunate issue when the interview is poorly coordinated.

Is it a red flag?

Yes to some degree. It indicates poor communication between interviewers and lack of organization of the interview process. No interview is absolutely perfect, but the companies I've worked at the hiring manager picks the onsite interviewers and should give the interview some area to evaluate (e.g. algorithms, systems design, team work, resume review, etc). You may get some overlap, but generally the programming questions are all different.

I've rarely seen interviewers repeat questions and if they do, I usually tell them. I did an interview for a consulting position once and I was given a duplicate question. I told the interviewer that the question was a duplicate from another interviewer in the same day and repeated the answer for him. He then thanked me and gave me a different question to answer. The duplicate question was actually a bit of a ruse to test my integrity (and memory).

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It seems all answers are in agreement that it is a peculiar situation and no one seen/heard of it before. So, since you didn't ask them, we are left to guess. Here are my guesses:

  • Part of the work you will be doing is performing repetitive tasks and they want to test your response to repetition. They might want to rule out a candidate who would snap or respond in an uncomfortable way.

  • Catching an imposter. If you are unfamiliar with these concepts but you memorized them before the first interview, you might forget them or not answer them properly the second time.

  • The first interview might have been conducted by an non-technical who may have asked a technical guy what would you ask and used the same questions then the manager may have also done the same.

  • Like everyone else pointed out, poor communication among themselves.

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Given the (relatively) short time frame these all happened in there may not have been chance to fully debrief the different parties involved on what questions were or weren't asked. When a job requires a peculiar set of skills employers will want to make sure that the appropriate questions have been asked regarding those - and well if they get covered more than once there's no real harm vs them getting missed because every interviewer assumes that one of the others will have asked about it.

The wording being identical indicates that the questions probably are being taken from a template or script, which isn't unusual or anything to be concerned about.

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