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I recently interviewed for a role whose core function was to create designs for buildings. The interview panel consisted of engineering doctorate holders. All the questions were centered around the engineering side of the building design. After an hour in the interview, I said the following statement to the interviewers;

Pardon me, but I feel that you have completely digressed from the interview. I have applied for the designer job, whose core function is to create building designs while all your questions until now have been related to engineering side (asking for technical or algorithmic based responses). And I fail to understand, how such questions can be used to judge my abilities or thought pattern? I can answer such questions but then I'm afraid, if the responses that are incorrect can be used against my application for this role. So I think, it'll be best if I'm judged basis of the job description I applied to.

I had a feeling the interviewers were not expecting me to say this upfront to them. Because, basis of their subsequent response, I felt they were caught off-guard.

So now, I want to ask the community the following questions:

  1. Is it okay to tell the interviewers upfront that the questions they are using to learn more about me are incorrect or out of context?
  2. Why do the interviewers ask Questions unrelated to the job position advertised? Is there a sinister agenda in the backdrop, specially when they categorically point out something written in your resume and try to relate it with the incorrect question they are asking?
  3. Rather than the traditional Q&A based interview, is it okay to request the interviewers to follow a scenario-based conversation as a means to get to know the interviewee better?

Please note, I have 5 years of experience in this area. I'm looking for a canonical answer which explains to me how to professionally sideline or tackle (sorry for the lack of better words) such questions for future interviews. This way I'll be better prepared.

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    How experienced are you in this field? – Tymoteusz Paul Aug 23 at 8:33
  • tymoteusz-paul thank you for asking this question. I have reflected the same in the question. – mnm Aug 23 at 8:39
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    As an engineer I find it very valuable when the designers understand engineering. If they dont they may proppose designs that are very complicated to engineer due to not understanding that some in their mind unimportant detail is very complicated. And conversly, they might avoid including design elements they think are to complicated that in reality are rather simple. – lijat Aug 23 at 11:14
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    In pretty much any professional situation, telling people “they’re doing it wrong” instead of asking them “why they are doing it that way” to find out what’s going on reflects very poorly on you. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 23 at 12:39
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    They probably couldn't ask the relevant questions. I'm a mid-level dev and, in my last job, I was asked to be on the interview panel, most candidates had more experience than I did. I tried not to ask questions I didn't completely understand. Even though I'm confident in my abilities, how could I ask someone with supposedly far more experience a question, what if they came back with a different answer than I was expecting. The interviewers may not have the knowledge to ask you the relevant questions, they may not know the correct answers. – Monstar Oct 23 at 19:34
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I had a feeling the interviewers were not expecting me to say this upfront to them. Because, basis of their subsequent response, I felt they were caught off-guard.

I never expect a job applicant to tell me that my questions are not relevant, and the few times it has happened I certainly was caught of guard. I didn't hire the person either.

Is it okay to tell the interviewers upfront that the questions they are using to learn more about me are incorrect or out of context?

Interview is a two way street, you are as free to reject the company as they are free to reject you. With that context in mind you are free to, and should, ask anything you seem necessary, and so is the panel to find out anything they need about you. Just as important was your little speech to you, so were the engineering questions to the panel given how much emphasis they've put on them. You are free to dismiss their questions like you did, and say that they are irrelevant, but then don't expect to be remembered fondly during selection.

To flip it around say you asked about the company operations, are they profitable, how are their balance sheets to gauge whether they are in a healthy financial shape and then recruiter would dismiss you with a speech on how those questions are irrelevant to the job you applied for. Doesn't leave a good taste. You have to remember that just because you may not see how they are applicable to the job it doesn't mean they aren't.

Why do the interviewers ask Questions unrelated to the job position advertised? Is there a sinister agenda in the backdrop, specially when they categorically point out something written in your resume and try to relate it with the incorrect question they are asking?

We can't read minds so this is impossible to answer. My personal experience is that they are relevant to the person doing the interview possibly in not so clear-cut way.

Update after the update

I'm looking for a canonical answer which explains to me how to professionally sideline or tackle (sorry for the lack of better words) such questions for future interviews.

There is no singular solution here.

If you know answer to the questions, answer them and then you can try to use the momentum to steer the conversation into whatever area you prefer to go into. If you don't know the answer, use not being able to provide an answer as an invitation to change the topic. Or anything else like that, there is no manual to follow in how to steer a conversation flow.

But keep in mind that if you get caught trying to divert the interview away from the direction the panel wanted to take, it will likely not be helping your case. So whatever you do, needs to be done with care and understanding of the risks it carries. Of course if you are successful then this may turn an average interview into an amazing one, but you have to weight the options yourself.

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It's entirely up to the interviewer to decide what format they wish to adopt. They will have a clear idea of the traits and abilities they wish the successful candidate to have. The interview process is designed to assess how closely each candidate fits the bill.

Being successful in a role requires more than a simple ability to do the basics of the job. Intangible qualities such as work ethic, cultural fit and a genuine interest in related areas often play an equally important role in landing you the job. You might be the best designer in the world but if these guys are going to work with you 5 days a week for a number of years they'll want to know you will work hard and fit in with the other personalities in the company.

In terms of asking about the engineering side of things it's possible they wanted to see if you had knowledge of or were interested in more than just designing. I see 3 reasons to do this.

  • If somebody has a genuine interest in the content of their chosen career (i.e. it's nearly a hobby as opposed to merely a way to pay the bills) they will be enthusiastic about their job and will likely work hard at it
  • They see an opportunity for the role to grow or expand and wish to confirm if you would have the ability to grow into the role were it to do so.
  • You will be expected to engage closely with engineers and they feel this would be easier if you knew a little about the engineering side of things and could speak their (the engineers) language.

I would advise against criticising the interview content directly. However, if this was a large proportion of the interview, it would be reasonable to follow up at the end of the interview when typically you will be afforded the chance to ask questions about the role or organisation. Your goal here is to establish that the role matches the job description and your understanding of it and to confirm the company doesn't have something entirely different in mind for you.

Rather than questioning the interview process itself you could ask something like "We've spent a lot of time today covering the engineering side; do you see this being a significant part of the role?". Their answer will hopefully make clear why they asked those questions and also give you more information about whether the role would be in line with your skills and career goals.

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    you have raised a valid point and for that I have upvoted the answer. Continuing further, I would have accepted your answer but it was the user tymoteusz-paul who helped to refine the question to its present form. Yet, heartfelt thanks to your efforts. – mnm Aug 23 at 13:48
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Rather than the traditional Q&A based interview, is it okay to request the interviewers to follow a scenario-based conversation as a means to get to know the interviewee better?

This may vary. Bigger companies tend to follow the same path through all interviews, in my experience as an interviewer. It's a matter of keeping the opportunities equal and a matter of ranking the candidates when time comes to deciding who gets the offer.

Both goals are easier achieved when all applicants are interviewed on the same set of topics. That set of topics is decided long before the interview, and perhaps is even the company standard. Though a candidate can, of course, sideline those topics, not receiving a satisfactory answer to them would obviously hurt candidate's chances of getting the offer.

Is it okay to tell the interviewers upfront that the questions they are using to learn more about me are incorrect or out of context?

No. Don't tell them they're bad, tell them you're good.
It's perfectly ok to say something like:

"Actually, I applied for this position because I feel I'm good at A, B and C listed as the primary requirements for the job. I also have solid experience in related X and Y fields. I'll be glad to demonstrate you my knowledge, skills and experience in these areas, if that would fit this interview."

Note however, I suggest doing this in addition to answering the questions they feel are important to the best of your knowledge. If you feel absolutely strong against answering their questions -- then I'm afraid the best course of action would be to start applying somewhere else...

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  • this is the best answer – Rohit Aug 27 at 4:44
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As some background: I interview a lot of applicants (~50-100/year for the last 5 years), with ~40-50 persons hired based on my evaluation.

I get this reaction sometimes. Nobody who responded to my questions with a similar response to a question has ever been hired. If you actually think that the interview actually is confused about which of several positions you are being interviewed for, you should could note this in a polite way like 'i just would like to clarify, I assumed that the interview was for position X; I saw that you posted another position; I just want to clarify this'.

The questions which I choose as an interviewer are based on which information I am missing to assess the candidate. My way of obtaining the information has not necessarily to do with the position I interview for. I personally find it most efficient to let the candidate talk about one of the following:

  • their previous work/education/thesis: here i know that they will know more than me. I see if they are apre to clearly explain their own work and how invested they were in it. (that is the limit in which they should be 100% prepared)
  • An example from a loosely related subject to the position. This is to understand if they are able to capture uncertainties and make professional conclusions and communication to potential peers and understand their mindset

So yes, sometimes candidates believe that preparing for a specific set of question helps and are disappointed that they could not show their knowledge

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4

Bit late to the party, but wanted to contribute a different way of looking at it.

There are two facets to this situation.

Facet #1 - Disrespecting the Interviewer

Imagine you're going to a car dealership to buy a new 2021 Roadhog. You sat down ahead of time and came up with six questions you're going to ask about the Roadhog - about the average cost of repairs, availability of parts, and safety ratings.

Now imagine the salesperson says, "You're not asking the right questions. Why aren't you asking about fuel efficiency?"

Well, why didn't you ask that? Maybe because you already knew. Maybe because you place a lower priority on that. Maybe because your job is going to reimburse your gas. While it's possible that you didn't ask that because it slipped your mind while preparing your questions... it's also quite likely that you didn't ask because you didn't feel the need to.

Basically, the salesperson is disrespecting/questioning your ability to navigate buying a car. They're effectively saying, "Hey, you don't know what you're doing - if you were competent, you'd know to ask X!"

Well, that's the same position this interviewer is in.

They've prepared engineering questions (and not design ones.) While it's possible they made a mistake, it's more likely they're asking these questions for a reason, and want to hear the answers for them.

You saying, "Hey, what are you doing? You're not asking the right questions" is effectively saying they're not competent at evaluating new employees.

For all you know, they've evaluated your chops as a designer already - whether from past designs or a public portfolio or from someone strongly vouching for your skills. They don't feel they need to ask you Design questions, for whatever reason. And you won't necessarily know what the reasons are - don't assume incompetence.

Facet #2 - What Does This Say About The Job

If I went into an interview for a C# job and 90% of the questions they asked me were on how to operate a forklift... I'd answer as best I could but I'd be thinking "Wait... what exactly does this job entail?"

So you applied for a Design position, but they asked a bunch of Engineering questions. So you should answer those questions as best you can. But interviewing is a two-way street, and you should be wary about what the bent of those questions means. So it's absolutely professional to ask something like:

"In the role I'll be filling, what would you say is the balance between Design and Engineering?"

But here's the thing. You're not asking that with the assumption that the interviewer is wrong and is incapable of evaluating your strength. Instead, you're asking to ascertain exactly what the job role is.

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    Your saying there’s a job out there where I can program in C# AND drive a fork lift? I haven’t got to drive a fork lift in decades... – jmoreno Oct 25 at 4:27
  • @jmoreno Lol - funny thing is, I almost had that combo. I was working IT at a manufacturing plant and the union was threatening to strike (stupidly, since we had an excess of product and management was looking to reduce production anyway.) If the strike happened, us salaried people would've been pressed into a skeleton crew, and I was going to be a forklift driver if that happened. Sadly, the union wised up and decided it wasn't the time for a strike. So I didn't get to put C# Forklift Driver on my resume ;-) – Kevin 2 days ago
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Companies aren't necessarily particularly good at writing job descriptions. Even if they are, the actual job could be quite different than what was originally discussed, depending on your skillset and how you define the role. (It's also possible for a role to evolve over time). They may also have a general sense of what they're looking for but not know all the specifics, especially if they're trying to fill a skills gap in the team or the role itself is new.

By way of example, I have a bogus job title that's completely unrelated to what I actually do, and I don't even remember what the job description said; I'm pretty sure it was quite different than what I'm doing now. What I'm doing now is also quite different than what I was doing at first. You know what, though? I love the job, and it's one of the best companies I've worked for.

Part of the reason that it's so different is that I had a lot of freedom to define the role once I started.

In terms of asking the interviewers to change the format of the interviews, that may be more difficult than you expect. They may have already prepared a standard scorecard or standard questions, for example, that they use for all candidates. If they do an interview for you that's radically different than how they're interviewing other candidates, it becomes much more difficult to directly compare you to the other candidates they're interviewing.

If you're concerned about whether the role is what you're expecting, ask questions about it when it's your turn to ask questions. A few examples of questions you might ask:

  • Can you describe what a typical day would look like in this role?
  • Can you describe what project I would be assigned to at first?
  • What would I be expected to accomplish in the first 90 days?
  • What skills do you think would be most important on a day-to-day basis?

Please note that merely asking them to change the interview format or what questions they're asking you will not help you. The role is what it is regardless of what questions they're asking you, and the best way to find out about the role is to ask about it directly (not make guesses based on what interview questions they're asking you).

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This is huge red flag, and by no means situations like this are due to incompetence or accident. Asking unrelated questions is a well known method to weed out someone who passed interview but higher ups do not want him/her hired. Usually there is age discrimination at play, where I live it is very common for employers to ask stuff that you would quickly forget after graduation. E.g how important is for network engineer to implement merge sort of linked list from top of the head ?

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  • Could downvoters speak up ? This is very real situation that I stumbled upon, and consider this warning valuable for developers that may go through same path. – ImmortanJoe is censored and mu Aug 25 at 19:48
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    For one thing, it doesn't even attempt to answer two of the three questions asked. Aside from that, it is unclear what you believe to be the difference between not passing an interview and being weeded out at the interview stage. Your answer also downplays the legitimate reasons for asking unrelated questions, as well as the chance that an interviewer might think they are related. Finally, it fails to acknowledge that in this case, the questions elicited a response that is useful in making a fair evaluation, thus demonstrating their potential legitimacy regardless of motivation here. – Corey Aug 29 at 2:12

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