48

This recruiter is from one of the top 10 companies in the world. They have a branch in India, and I applied via Indeed.com. I received a call from the recruiter, who scheduled an interview for two weeks later, sent me an email, and a week later called up to confirm the interview, and told me the data structures I could expect questions about.

A day before the interview he calls up again, and says that the interview is confirmed, and says that what they've decided to quiz me about during the interview are certain data structures and design problems (he mentioned the names of those data structures).

I was surprised. Why was he telling me all this?

  1. Either they were desperate to hire me.
  2. Or there's some kind of fraud going on (his email id was from the company domain and the interview location is at their company)
  3. My engineering was not done in Computer Science, and the position is for a software developer. But I do have 8 years of software development experience. Perhaps this recruiter is trying to save his ass for calling a non-software engineering guy for an interview?
  4. Is this an ethics scenario where they will later ask me if there was anything strange about the interview process and I'm supposed to either say "Yes. They recruiter told me what questions will be asked" or to check if I rat out their employee or not?

Have you encountered such a situation or heard of one? I do hear of people getting conned in India by fake recruiters, who offer them a job and say that it'll cost them a certain amount of money. No money has been asked of me yet, but I don't understand why a recruiter would tell me what is going to be asked during the interview...

  • 2
    Presumably you'll know if the job is real or not when you go in for the interview? As for how to handle the interview questions you know you could look at this thread: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/17770/… If you just say you prepared for the question beforehand and then discuss what you know, and details as needed, I don't see it being an ethical problem. Besides, the recuiter only told you what questions may be asked. There will certainly be follow-up questions that are off script. – Brandin Jun 5 '15 at 10:59
  • 25
    Recruiters get paid when you get hired. It's still a sign of a shady recruiter, but you're not the one who should be worried. – BinaryTox1n Jun 5 '15 at 15:44
  • 1
    It's a good thing. Always keep a good report with your recruiter. When you and they move on to new jobs, knowing a recruiter at another firm is a great way to get your resume to the top of the pile. – corsiKa Jun 5 '15 at 15:55
  • 3
    Suspicious? Maybe. Unethical: certainly! If the questions the recruiter provided were the exact questions asked then this is cheating plain and simple. You can find many "possible" interview questions online for tech interviews, but thats analogous to studying for an exam whereas this is stealing the test ahead of time. I am surprised by the community OK'ing this behavior. – Steven Magana-Zook Jun 5 '15 at 19:52
  • 3
    @StevenMagana-Zook, this doesn't looks to me any more suspicious and unethical than "pay attention, this will be on exam". – Oleg V. Volkov Dec 18 '15 at 15:14
96

Why was he telling me all this?

The recruiter is trying to give you as much information as he can, so that you can prepare and do well in the interview. He is trying to help you get hired.

This is good for you (since you could land a good job). And it is good for the recruiter (since if you do land the job and if he is an external recruiter, he gets his commission. If he is an internal recruiter, it looks good as an accomplishment).

Have you encountered such a situation or heard of one?

Yes. This is very common.

Have you ever been debriefed by a recruiter after you have attended an interview? Did they ever ask you the kinds of questions you got during that interview? Knowing what one candidate was asked, it only makes sense to pass that knowledge along to the next candidates, so they can be prepared.

It's not much different than if you had a friend in the company, and asked what kinds of questions might be asked during your interview.

You should be happy about this, rather than being so worried.

I don't understand why a recruiter would tell me what is going to be asked during the interview...

A good recruiter will tell you everything they know about the company, the benefits, the department the hiring manager, and any other hiring practices they know.

This is a good thing. Try to stop worrying so much.

  • 14
    I agree here. One reason a company gives these questions out ahead of time is that someone who is stressed about the interview can waste time and stumble around questions they were not ready for even though they know the answer, it takes time to fomulate a good answer. Giving the questions out the day before helps even the playing field so that a company is more likely to get a good candidate rather than someone that is just a good interview. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 5 '15 at 13:52
  • 2
    Joe is exactly right - this is extremely common for IT positions. Most of the time, I'm dealing with a 3rd-party recruiter who doesn't know the material like I or the interviewer would, but has a list of subjects & questions provided by the hiring company. In short, the recruiter wants you to be as well-prepared for the interview as possible. Nothing suspicious, un-ethical, or illegal about it - all normal practice in the industry. – Omegacron Jun 5 '15 at 14:01
  • Just to add, it's also common (or should be!) that the interviewer asks follow-up questions which weren't provided. It's an easy way to weed out any candidates who memorised answers but don't have any experience or knowledge to fall back on. – Lilienthal Jun 5 '15 at 14:09
  • 1
    @Lilienthal It's also common for us to Google the questions we're known to ask and write down, for example, all the Stack Overflow (in our case) answers; even if someone does quote such an answer back to us, it's easy to tell when someone knows the material enough to paraphrase SO vs. parroting what he read an hour ago. – KutuluMike Jun 5 '15 at 14:44
  • 1
    It would be suspicious if they gave you the actual questions they were going to ask. By that point you can do the research and find answers online yourself so they might as well have given you the answer. Since they only gave you the general gist of what will be asked I think it's fine, they're giving you a chance of brushing up on a specific set of skills. It's like your history teacher telling the class "This semester we studied the twentieth century but the finals will focus mostly on World War 1 and 2 so focus your studies on that!" – bpromas Jun 8 '15 at 13:36
13

The usual practice of giving applicants a surprise pop quiz at an interview has several drawbacks. The applicants are nervous, so they might not respond as coherent as they would in a real everyday work situation. Also, you might get them about that one topic where they are quite weak and completely miss their qualifications at a similar but equally important topic.

That means such a test sometimes does not test the skills you actually want to test.

By telling the applicants in advance (some of) the questions they will be asked, they get the opportunity to prepare for them.

  • You can estimate how much time they invested into the interview preparation, which proves how much they actually want the job and how well they are at self-organizing.
  • You get a better impression of how well they understand a topic in depth when you give them the opportunity to make up their mind about what to say about it.
  • It's a situation much closer to reality: How often do you go to a meeting where you have absolutely no idea what questions you will be asked? Usually you know what a meeting is about, who you will be talking with and what questions they will have. So you will usually prepare accordingly.
  • "How often do you go to a meeting where you have absolutely no idea what questions you will be asked?" -- is that a rhetorical question, or do you want an estimate? ;-) The realistic situation, IMO, is that you know what the meeting is about but get blindsided anyway when some issue comes up that isn't on the agenda. – Steve Jessop Jun 6 '15 at 13:28
  • @SteveJessop but IRL one can give a 'holding' answer and commit to following it up after the meeting when you have had a chance to look into it. That's not something you would be able to do in an interview. – Smalltown2k Jun 7 '15 at 9:54
3

This isn't totally uncommon.

Google for instance was known to give study guides out for a while depending on the req they were looking to fill. It was so you could be well read on the items of discussion and be well prepared.

  • If that's the case, then it must be a recent change. I worked for Google in the past, and at that time interviewers were supposed to avoid questions which the candidates might have known in advance. – kasperd Jun 6 '15 at 10:01
  • 2
    Google gives pointers about general areas you're expected to know, like this: steve-yegge.blogspot.com.au/2008/03/get-that-job-at-google.html They most certainly do not give you the actual questions you're going to get asked. – lambshaanxy Jun 6 '15 at 12:11
1

The recruiter might have direct economic incentive to give you the best possible odds of getting hired. Their salary or bonus might depend on picking out candidates who eventually get hired.

When such a system is put in place it is of course to be expected that each recruiter will put an effort into getting their candidates hired. Of course it is not hard to imagine that if a recruiter has information which could give a candidate an unfair advantage, they might step over the line and provide this information directly to the candidate.

You shouldn't think too much about whether this is suspicious or not. It may also be that the company simply believe they can evaluate the candidate better on questions which the candidate has had time to prepare for, or they might want a combination of questions with and without preparation.

The way I would recommend using that information is to take some time to read up on the subject. And if you then are asked the exact question which the recruiter told you about, then start your answer something like: "[Name of recruiter] mentioned there could be questions on [subject] so I spend a little time reading [learning material on subject]." And then proceed to present an answer which has better be good.

In taking that approach you have demonstrated:

  • Honesty. In case the recruiter did step over the line by telling you, you are not using it to get any unfair advantage because you are explicitly pointing out what prior knowledge you have.
  • Dedication. You spend time preparing for this interview by reading on subjects relevant to the interview.
  • Learning ability. By presenting an answer to the question which is better than you could possibly have done with your prior knowledge if you had been asked the same question without time to prepare.

And if the recruiter did step over the line, you would be alerting the company to this fact, but still doing it in a way that doesn't demonstrate any suspicion towards the recruiter in case the recruiter was acting within company policy.

1

I've dealt with probably about 20 recruiters in a serious fashion (game development is real unstable, so I've worked at about 8 different companies in the last 14 years).

Only once did a recruiter give me specific info about interview questions. I got the job, but the company was probably the worst managed and least skilled place I've worked at. Consequently I left after a month due to that, and they shut down 6 months after that.

I personally would take it as a warning sign if a recruiter were to tell me the interview questions up front again!

  • 6
    I'm not convinced that there is any causation link here. – EleventhDoctor Jun 8 '15 at 13:44
  • You have to admit, when a recruiter coaches candidates at that level, lower quality candidates are going to do better in the interviews. – Alan Wolfe Jun 8 '15 at 13:51
  • @AlanWolfe-Not necessarily. IMO its a problem only if they give you the exact questions. One has to be a pragmatic about it. Eg. The interviewer asks only about the theory & common applications of a hash map. He does not ask unique questions which require creative thinking. Then, telling an interviewer that hashmaps are important is NOT okay. However, if he asks questions that require lot of thinking, then its okay. However, if the job is mostly about data structures and algorithms, then its NOT okay. As someone applying for that job, you should already know it well. – Borat Sagdiyev Oct 13 '16 at 17:49
0

My guess is that he was letting you know in advance so that you have time to prepare your answers, as one might not be able to answer questions about data structures having just been told about them. Kind of like pre-release material before an exam to give you time to prepare to answer the questions. It sounds unusual, but perhaps they have a habit of doing that with all of their employees?

0

It seems odd to have a 'test' and to know the questions. Yes, the interviewer looks better initially if you do well and that may be their motivation.

What I distill from this is that they want specific questions answered. That doesn't mean that the one who gives the best answer actually gets the job.

The recruiter ought to get credit for sending such useful and knowledgeable people but at the end of the day it may be that the candidates who can implement your ideas at the lowest cost are the ones hired - and they get no credit for the idea.

Once you propose the best Data Structure for the questions/problems and how to avoid any pitfalls, to optimize the process, a well educated Manager may have all they need to get a lesser qualified person to implement them.

Always be wary of "How would you do this" questions when it's obvious you are well experienced and educated. The answer is "hire me and I'll take a look at it".

Once you make a problem easier for everyone to visualize and do your value is decreased, especially if you expect to be compensated.

I don't know why the interviewer would want the recruiter to do that, I'd wing-it and be wary if they required you to plan and present a complete answer for them to keep and for you to discard.

Something seems fishy, yet some other answers have said that it is commonplace; don't know what that says, were they hired?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.