This question got me thinking.

Preventing cheating in a phone interview

In IT often a technical interview will require you to write a bit of code to solve a problem, or implement an algorithm, or a question like 'What would you use XYZ technology for', (or, have you used xyz technology?).

Now it sounds cheeky, (but also very sensible!) but one could write a cheat sheet, perhaps outlining the pros and cons of various algorithms, and perhaps summaries of various technologies (so for example if they ask 'Have you used XYZ technology', you could consult your cheatsheet and say 'No, but I've done my research, and XYZ is used for...').

This would demonstrate that you're resourceful, you've got the initiative and smarts to know what's relevant etc.

Now of course, repeating word for word what's on your cheatsheet wouldn't looking particularly good, but so long as you were demonstrating that it's just a resource and that you've that you've got genuine ability behind you, it might be ok.

Now this could backfire if you got an interviewer who simply isn't impressed.

Question is - generally, for a good forward thinking workplace, is a cheatsheet a good idea (and even, is it already common for technical interviews)? What reasons to not bring a cheatsheet are there?

3 Answers 3


You should conduct the interview like you do your job.

If you are a web developer, you probably refer to a reference (MDNdocs, StackOverflow (LOL!), WC3 guidelines) frequently. In fact, being able to use a reference effectively is a big part of being a good developer.

That being said, I never bring a cheat sheet to an interview because I know what I am doing. You should too.

If someone asks you a question you don't know about

"XYZ framework," and you don't know, you should reply,

"Actually, I don't know anything about XYZ framework."

If XYZ framework is something you really need to know to do this job, does it make sense that you would get the job anyways?

Another example, an employer might ask a very specific question, like something you WOULD need to refer to.

"What is the CSS selector for targeting the language attribute for HTML?"

Rather than using a reference, you can answer,

"I've never worked with that particular selector before, but if I needed to work with it I could find out what it does fairly quickly."

  • 1
    As a development manager, I agree completely. If I asked a question in an interview and the interviewee referred to his/her cheatsheet, I would cut the interview short. Not to be too blunt, but the purpose of the interview is to gauge your actual knowledge, not your reading comprehension.
    – Roger
    Jan 21, 2014 at 22:50

I've seen the advice numerous times to bring a notebook with you. This is where you could put bullet points of what you want to cover, ideas to cram into your head, or other stuff to remember to mention in answering some questions as well as your own questions for the interviewer. You could write out your background's main points, some story ideas, etc.

I'm not sure I'd tell the interviewer that, "Hey, I brought this cheat sheet with me and wanted to tell you about it," as that would be at a minimum questionable and at worst just silly since it isn't likely to be that impressive.

The notebook should be out as part of the initial interview set-up. As you sit down in a chair, you open your notebook so you can take notes as well as review what you already have written. Thus, it isn't suddenly coming out during the interview but rather be out the whole time.

Generally, the sheet should be organized in such a way that you need at most 10 seconds to find the information where I'd advise figuring out what kind of stalling do you want to do in the interview. Some people may take a, "Give me a moment to compose an answer," or other line that expresses there will be an answer after a lengthy pause while others may consider having some initial fluff in answering that if you have a way with words can work though rarely do most people do this well.

  • I'm not sure I'd tell the interviewer that, "Hey, I brought this cheat sheet with me and wanted to tell you about it," - Right but, what if they ask you some technical question, and you pull out notebook, spend a minute reading your notes, before answering?
    – user10911
    Jan 21, 2014 at 1:31
  • @geekrunnings I'd see that as the equivalent of you bringing in a textbook on your subject. It shows zero knowledge or initiative. What this answer suggests is reasonable though, a couple of pages of notes to remind you about key projects is fine Jan 21, 2014 at 11:02

If you can do the interview without the cheat sheet, that'd be best.

There's nothing wrong with not having all the answers. It's okay to say, "I'm no expert at such-and-such, but I did a little research and have a general understanding of how blah-blah-blah". That shows some initiative -- because you can explain what you remember. Of course, that means that you'll have had to actually do the research.

The cheatsheet, on the other hand, could have been prepared by someone else. Understand?

  • Unless it's "you either know it or you don't" type of questions (which I'm not sure there's much point in having a cheat sheet for), it should be pretty obvious to the interviewer if someone else prepared the cheat sheet. The question mentions algorithmic or codewriting interview questions - the cheat sheet in this case would just be reminding you what to do, not telling you something you didn't understand. Jan 21, 2014 at 10:35
  • I am a senior developer. I think a cheat sheet is no more suitable for a tech interview (I've conducted them myself) than for an algebra test. As with algebra, there are fundamentals to development that one has to live-and-breath or there's no chance of advancement. So for someone showing up with a cheat sheet for algebra when the test question is asking, "How do you calculate the slope of a line?" a cheat sheet clearly defeats the purpose!
    – Xavier J
    Jan 21, 2014 at 17:12
  • That's a different point. I was mostly replying to the "could have been prepared by someone else" part and pointing out that that's not really the problem. I wasn't justifying using the cheat sheet (although I see now how my final sentence could have been read that way). I think you should edit your answer to include the points you mentioned in your comment. Jan 22, 2014 at 9:06

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