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So I’m currently in the process of interviewing for a new software engineering position. I notice that the specific questions that companies ask are on Glassdoor and other websites among others. If I were to see these questions in an actual interview, I would disclose it. But is it unethical to practice or look at these questions ahead of time to begin with?

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  • If you're talking about the questions on leetcode.com and binarysearch.com Then, it's the opposite. Not practicing these types of questions ahead of time is a waste of time when you know these are the types of questions that will be asked of you. Dec 11, 2021 at 14:02
  • They want you to start talking about things they would like to know. Having thought things over beforehand may be a good idea, like "what is your greatest weakness?" and "why did you leave your old job?". Dec 15, 2021 at 19:30

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is it unethical

Not at all. An interview is not a test. Many questions don't even have right or wrong answers. Here are some of my standard questions:

  1. What do you like and don't like about your current job?
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to solve a really tricky technical problem.
  4. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.

By all means, you can (and should) practice answers to these questions. Note that these are specific to you, so looking up cookie cutter answers on the internet isn't particularly useful. Bob's answer are different than Alice's because they are different people and have different experiences.

Sure, there will also be technical questions but these are often tailored to the specific role and I also tend to adjust on the fly depending on how things are going.

If someone actually asks you "how many ping poll balls fit into a 747", it's probably time to look elsewhere.

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  • "If someone actually asks you "how many ping poll balls fit into a 747", it's probably time to look elsewhere." Unless you're applying for a job as a pilot or something where the correct answer of "look up the cargo capacity in the operations manuals and do a calculation to determine that it falls within the MTOW and CG constraints" would be relevant, anyway.
    – nick012000
    Dec 26, 2021 at 4:00
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Nothing wrong with it, if they want to reuse questions it's not your problem. Preparing for an interview shows good initiative.

What you don't want to do is pretend like you have knowledge in an area of expertise when you don't though. You may get yourself into a lot of poopee down the line.

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As always with 'ethics' it totally depends on the context.

Say I'm applying to be a Widget6000 Operator .

Scenario 1.

I cannot use Widget6000, never even seen a Widget6000 and barely know what one is. I learn that the company always asks 3 specific questions about 3 specific features out of the 6000 features a Widget6000 offers. I memorise the answers to these and get a 'Widget6000 Operator' job.

Scenario 2.

I am an expert user of the Widget6000, I learn that the company always asks about 3 specific features of the Widget6000 that I've never used professionally. I learn about them in depth to make sure I can talk confidently about them in the interview, but say I've never used them.

Which scenario are you in?

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If I were to see these questions in an actual interview, I would disclose it.

What if they asked a generic question? Like how are you? "I saw this question online and to answer that, I'm okay." Probably won't look good.

But is it unethical to practice or look at these questions ahead of time to begin with?

It is mostly on them to know if your answer falls with whatever people post online. Also, what if they purposely post an answer and see if anyone says it just to see how far you'd go with pretending its your own answer or one of your own? Best to have a guideline and simply state your own answers to questions instead of looking up answers.

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Is it ethical?

At your first interview, you'll be at a disadvantage relative to a candidate who has had more interviews. Is that unethical?

Having some experience with the types of questions you'll get will help your confidence during the interview. Technical interview questions are not an exception to this rule. So, practice.

Why do companies re-use questions?

For entry-level positions, the questions are often used to determine that you meet a skill floor: If you manage to solve the question, you are skilled enough. If you manage to recite a memorized answer, you are teachable enough.

Later in your career, an early interview stage may re-use simple questions to filter candidates that misrepresent their experience. The company does not have an incentive to update the questions, unless bad candidates (that are not worth the time of the interviewers) make it past the initial interview stages.

Interview questions may also be re-used at later interview stages and by capable interviewers. In that case, the question serves as a conversation starter: You'll probably get a few hints, if you get stuck. And the interviewer will have follow-up questions that are specific to your answer and cannot be found online. This stage is about testing your insight, your ability to explain your thought process and the way you collaborate.

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Never a bad thing to refresh your technical knowledge

First of all, I assume you are talking about technical question, not one of those stupid open-ended questions like "Where do you see yourself in 5 years ?". Technical questions are usually based on exact science and have exact answers. Therefore, when practicing technical questions you are either learning something new or refreshing your current knowledge. Effectively, you would be filling some holes in your knowledge, and there is nothing wrong with that because you are effectively becoming better software engineer, which would in turn benefit to the company that hires you.

Is this cheating ? Well, technical interviews are not university exams. In university exams you are required to learn whole area covered by certain university course. Since there is no time to examine each student about whole course, they get set of usually random question to test sample of their knowledge. However, during technical interviews neither you or company are required to cover any specific area of knowledge. They could ask whatever they want, you could answer or not and that is that. If they are satisfied to repeat same questions over and over again, that is their problem. Note that, unlike university they are not required to "pass" you (i.e. hire you) even if you answer all the questions brilliantly !

Therefore, as an advice, especially if you are gearing up for your first job, practice with interview questions and tests as much as you can. Do not disclose anything to interviewing company, just as they would not disclose why they are hiring/not hiring you. And get rid of that university mentality, you are now in real real world and different rules apply.

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