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Interview background: In that session of interview, all the candidates are graduated from same university and course.

An Interviewer asked: "Do you know (person name)?"

My Answer --> "Yes"

An Interviewer asked further: "When compared to him, what's your strength over him?"

At this point, I wondered whether should I answer his question directly, since I don't know whether is it good or not to answer the comparison between candidates during an interview.

What is the interviewer trying to find out? Should I answer this question directly? If not, what should I do.

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    You can simply state (if its true to a degree) that you do not know their level of expertise, that you simply know them as a friend/colleague, and then go forward and simply state some of your strengths in general. You don't necessarily want to bash them as you may end up working with them and the recruiter would need to know you can work together without conflict. – TheOneWhoPrograms May 5 '14 at 9:05
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    I'd find that to be an incredibly unprofessional question and indicative of a hostile corporate environment. – Dan May 5 '14 at 9:12
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    The interviewer's job is to pick one candidate from a bunch. They all look alike to him - think of purchasing an apple at the grocery store. It's easy to rule out the bad ones, but how do you choose between the ones that look OK? His approach was to ask a very poor question. – Dan Pichelman May 5 '14 at 12:57
  • @TheOneWhoPrograms - your comment would make a good answer. (comments are occasionally deleted) – Dan Pichelman May 5 '14 at 12:58
  • @DanPichelman Thanks. However I only ever have access to the workplace for very short intervals throughout the day. I would not be able to provide an answer to the quality that I would like and thats why I try to provide SOME information in a comment where people can build off of it. Should I stop making comments like the one above? I realize it is "against the rules" of what a comment is, I am just not sure what to do if I want to help but don't have time for a very well written answer. (This is a very real question, I have no clue what is desired by the community.) – TheOneWhoPrograms May 5 '14 at 13:36
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  • This is a minor variant of "What is your biggest strength?"

    You just have to make sure you don't pick something which he is clearly better at than you.

  • But don't throw the other guy under the bus.

    Definitely don't say the other guy is bad at something at any point - saying bad things about people is not a trait people look for.

    Saying you're a lot better than the other guy at something might be seen as similar to saying the other guy is bad at that.

    I'd probably stick to words like "probably" and "a bit".

    A good idea might be to use comparable strengths here - say you're a bit better at {thingA}, although he's a bit better at {thingB} - just be careful not to throw yourself under the bus when saying he's better at something than you (you might consider treating this part similar to "What is your biggest weakness?", which you should be able to find plenty of advice online regarding).

  • There's nothing wrong with not knowing.

    A variant of:

    I haven't worked with {that guy} too much, so I'm not particularly familiar with his strengths and weaknesses, but my strengths are {this}.

    ... should be an acceptable answer, assuming this is true, or they don't know how much you've worked together.

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They're trying to set you up for a bragging match against each other.

And no doubt they have their own ideas already and are judging from your responses whether you're professional or not.

Extremely unprofessional on the part of interviewer, and I'd seriously wonder whether I'd want to work in an environment where such questions are considered normal to be asked of people.

  • I agree. Very professional and very ignorant on th part of the interviewer. The purpose of an interview is to learn more about the candidate and elicit the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. There is no justification for this question. The best that can be expected of low quality questions is low quality question. In this case, the question is the "GI" in GIGO (Garbage In/Garbage Out) – Vietnhi Phuvan May 5 '14 at 12:10
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If you live in the US, cite the 6th Amendment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confrontation_Clause

"the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him"

Basically, state that you don't like to discuss other coworkers' work without the coworker being present, and you'd hope the same accommodations would be given to you.

If you know the person, and have worked with him/her, regardless of his/her abilities, in an interview, it is never a good idea to be negative; whether it's about a previous company or coworker.

In the case that you remember the person negatively: Give a vague answer citing your lack of memory working with that person.

If you remember the person positively: Give a positive report, but don't fawn over the person to the detriment of your appearance in the interview (compliments look good, but you don't want to make the other person look like the better choice!).

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On what is he trying to find out it is likely just to have some way you are different/better than the rest. Some way you stand out.

On should I answer this question directly what I would suggest is that you give a general answer in something you are better than the norm. Say something like " I do know person X, but not exactly sure I can be authoritative on their ability. But what I can tell you is that I am better than most in xyz" and give some examples on why you excel in this particular area.

But I agree with the other comments this is not necessarily a great question.

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