What To Do When You Cannot Answer An Interview Question

Photo by Ethan Lofton

Photo by Ethan Lofton

You are in an interview, sitting at a table across from the hiring manager at a company were you really want to work. Things are going great. Your rapport with the manager is amazing and the conversation is flowing as if you two have known each other your whole life. Then all of a sudden it happens. You had no idea it was coming and were in no way prepared for it. The hiring manager asks you a question in which you do not know the answer. What should you do? How should you respond?

Early in my technology career, I was interviewing for a position as a .NET software developer. I was still pretty new to software development and my skills were still really green. Due to my lack of experience I was having difficulty finding companies who were willing to bring me in for an interview. Luckily I was able to find at least one company who was willing to talk to me face-to-face and I wanted to make sure I did everything possible to secure this position.

When I arrived for the interview, I knew that my first meeting would be with three of the senior software engineers on the team. This was the first time I had ever interviewed face to face with those who in my eyes were such tech giants. I was really nervous and my mind could just picture them sitting in the room, perched on thrones, eyes glowing red with anger and malice just waiting to pounce on this newbie with questions so difficult even Bill Gates would be unable to answer them.

Of course, like most instances of worry, what actually happened was nothing like what I had pictured. In fact we had a great discussion. Most of the questions they asked I was able to answer but then there was that one question, that question that I wasn’t prepared to answer, that question that caught me totally off guard. I remember like it was yesterday. The lead engineer looked at me and asked, “What is View State?” I froze. Sweat started to bead on my brow. My heart started racing in my chest. That term sounded so familiar to me but I couldn’t exactly place where I had heard it before.

I answered the best I could and said, “I am not exactly sure what it is but I think I remember using it somewhere.” Yep, that was a terrible answer. I was so desperate to get the job and I was afraid my lack of knowledge about that term would surely disqualify me. Looking back I should have just stopped with the first part, that I wasn’t exactly sure. I was devastated and thought for sure they would pass on me as a candidate.

Leaving there distraught, the first thing I did when I got back home was to go to the computer and lookup the term View State. I won’t bore you with the entirety of what I learned but I will simply say that View State was something utilized by ASP.NET in web applications. I determined, if they asked me about View State in the interview then it must be important. I determined that if nothing came from the interview at the very least I just learned about an important term in the field and decided to do as much research as I could about View State knowing that I might be asked again in another interview.

Luckily the team overlooked my lack of knowledge in that area and offered me a job there anyways. I remember talking to one of the team members my last day of work there and he again asked in a joking manner “What is View State?” My answer to that question in the interview months prior was a continuous running joke my entire employment at that company.

This was not the only time I have had a similar experience. I have had this same experience on multiple occasions, both as an interviewer and as an interviewee. When you find yourself in this situation I have found that there are only two correct responses; be honest and always write down the question asked.

Be Honest

First, if you don’t know the answer to a question in an interview, just say so. I interview a lot of candidates in my current position and it still amazes me how often candidates try to come up with answers to questions they simply cannot answer. The problem with this approach is often times the more you talk about something you are not sure about the more you show your lack of knowledge about the topic.

As an interviewer, I am asking questions in order to determine your level of knowledge. An honest answer is always best. Just because you do not know the answer doesn’t necessarily mean I am not going to hire you. I am simply trying to figure out how much you know, not only to determine if you are a fit for the position but to also gauge your exact level of knowledge about a topic. I often ask questions to candidates that are about topics above what I consider a minimum job requirement simply to get an idea of how high their knowledge goes. Simply put, if you don’t know the answer by now it is already too late to do anything about it, at least for this interview anyways, so just be honest.

Always Write Down The Question

Second, when in an interview, always write down the questions you are asked in which you do not know the answer. When the interview is over, go find the answer to the questions then learn as much as possible about those topics so that in the future, if any of those questions resurface, you will be prepared to answer correctly. Use the experience as a learning tool for the next interview. Plus, you will have just spent time gaining knowledge about a topic that is evidently important in the industry. More than once I have left an interview, researched the questions I could not answer only to have those same questions asked again in another interview.

Truth is, answering questions related to your industry knowledge is only one aspect of the interview process but it is one aspect in which you can grow. Use every interview as a learning process including taking note of those topics in which your knowledge needs to grow.

How Your Employee Expectations Fosters Under-Performance

Photo by Joel Dinda

Photo by Joel Dinda

My brother-in-law often tells a story of a trip he once took in which after years of dreaming about it he was finally able to visit a very famous MLB baseball stadium. Walking around the stadium and absorbing the history of that place made it a trip of a lifetime for him. Though he was able to tour the stadium, he was unable to actually take in a game because the team was traveling during that time frame. One upside of the team being gone was that the guided tour he participated in allowed visitors to enter the home team dugout and catch a glimpse of the view the players have during a game.

Through the process, the tour guide was constantly reminding them of what rules they must adhere to while on the tour. “Don’t enter that door. Don’t touch that picture. Don’t go pass the barrier.” I am sure herding a group of baseball fanatics around such an iconic stadium is similar to herding a group of children at Disney World.

As they tour reached the dugout, the number of tour requirements and the policing of those requirements began to increase. With that many die-hard baseball fans in the group, all it would take is one lone wolf to break ranks and instigate a riot. I can just see the avalanche of adult men and women cascading out onto the field, running around on the grass and rolling in the dirt, completely destroying what the grounds crew had worked so hard to perfect.

To prevent such a scene, the actual touching of the field was completely forbidden. In the dugout, the tour guide repeatedly stressed to the tourists “Please do not touch the grass.” Over and over he had to repeat himself as hands slowly leaned in for just a brush of the beautiful green turf.

Of course, even with all the requirements being clearly laid out and constantly reinforced, what do you think my brother-in-law did just as soon as the tour guide became distracted? In his words he recalls “I reached out, grabbed a hunk of grass and shoved it in my pocket.” Continue reading

Living Life Between The Dumpsters

Dumpster

Photo by Steve Snodgrass

Every morning when I am dropping my son Austin off for school, I can always count on being greeted by the same two faces. Day in and day out; rain, snow, sleet or shine they are there, waiting for on arrival. They are older and a little weathered now but still stand tall with strong backbones. Their names are Bruce and Betty and I can always count on them to be sitting with anticipation awaiting our arrival.

Well, Bruce and Betting is what I have named them. In fact, they are not human but do have faces per se. You see, Bruce and Betty are large brown dumpsters.

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Three Questions To Ask If You Want To Be A Manager But Lack Experience

Darth Vader Manager

by JD Hancock

So you want to be a manager but do not have any experience? That can be a challenge. The way to overcome your lack of experience is to find ways to demonstrate your skills in your current role. In order to help you, here are three questions to ask yourself to see if you are a management candidate worthy of consideration.

Are you already leading your current team?

When looking to fill a manager position, hiring managers look to identify those candidates who are already demonstrating their leadership abilities. Look at your current team and ask yourself, who is the leader? Who is the go-to person? If it is you, then you are in a great position to demonstrate your leadership abilities. If not, then you have some work to do. One option would be to ask your manager for opportunities to demonstrate your leadership skills.

Another option is to simply volunteer when the need arrives. In my career, one of my best moves was to volunteer for a project that no one wanted. The team I led was very successful in delivering the project and management quickly took notice of our accomplishments. I might not have been offered a management position if I had not volunteered for such an unwanted role.

A big challenge here is how to lead without being appointed the leader. Remember, I am not saying you need to try to take charge of the entire team. Instead, work to lead in areas lacking leadership. Volunteer when needs arise and always keep in good communication with other team members.

Are you already managing your current project?

Not only are hiring managers looking for candidates who are leading their team, they also want to see that the candidate is already displaying some project management capabilities. When your team is blocked or runs into an issue, who is the person seeking to resolve the blockage? Who is the person coordinating with other teams to assist in removing the blocking issues? Who is documenting what is needed to get the team back on track? Whoever that person is, they are the ones demonstrating project management skills.

When issues arise, instead of informing your manager or other team members and then waiting for them to take care of the issue, identify the issue, bring it to the teams attention, then take leadership in finding a resolution. Facilitate any necessary meetings with other key personnel and lead in researching a possible solution. Each of these will demonstrate that you have the ability to manage a project.

Are you a team player?

It may sound odd to ask this question when referring to a management position but managers serve on teams as well. They serve on a team with their direct reports as well as on a team with other managers. If you have difficulties working as a member of your current team, the management team may not be willing to take the risk in having you join their team. Team members rely on one another but at the management level, the consequences increase. Managers want to make sure other managers on their team are an asset and not a hindrance.

If you want to become a manager but do not have any experience, the key is to demonstrate your management skills in your current position. Always be looking for opportunities to lead and volunteer to handle issues. If you are consistent in your effort, your skills with begin to be noticed.

You Can’t Enjoy Church Sitting In The Car

on the road

by Flood G.

Well, it is 11:15am on Sunday morning and where am I? I am sitting in the car in the church parking lot. Does that count as attending or do I actually have to be in the building? It has been one of those Sunday mornings with my special needs son, Austin. You might be wondering why I am in the car. Well, I will tell you.

The morning was mostly manageable getting ready to leave for church. All of the boys and I were successfully able to get in the car and get to church on time. Michael got out and went in with the high school kids and I dropped Luke off at his classroom without a hitch. Now it was time to get Austin to his class, which recently has become a challenge in itself. Austin will turn 13 next week so you know what that means.

autism + puberty = a parental nightmare

As we were walking down the hall I was reminded that all junior and senior high students were going to be meeting together in a large meeting room for their morning class. Austin is now in the 6th grade class so I knew that meant he would be in there as well. Once Austin and I arrived, I could tell by the crowd of students that this might not be the best option for him this morning so I decided to take him to the worship center with me. Even though his shadow was there, I knew Austin might have trouble with a loud, crowded room of kids.

Austin and I found a seat in the back at the end of a row. We had no problem sitting down and it looked as if it would be a normal morning service for us. Everything was fine until the singing was over. That was when Austin decided he wanted a ring pop, which of course I did not have. We usually give him a ring pop when we are in the worship center to keep his mouth busy so he will not talk so much but I was not planning on him attending in the worship center with me so I did not think about bringing one. In the past we have forgotten ring pops and were able to manage but not today. Austin quickly became very vocal in his disapproval and began doing the one thing I hate more than anything else he does, he began squawking.

Have you ever watched the movie Dumb and Dummer? There is a part of the movie in which Harry asks Lloyd, “Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Well, that is almost the same sound Austin makes when he is unhappy about something. If you are unsure what I am talking about here is a clip.

Now imagine someone making that sound in a quite room with about 800 other people. Austin started right when everyone sat down and became very quite waiting on the senior pastor to begin speaking. I could tell it was not going to stop anytime soon so we quickly left the worship center in order not to be a distraction. We tried the overflow room, which was relatively empty, and made it a full 23 seconds before the noises started again. We then proceeded out to a couch in the foyer which turned out worse than the other places. Not only was he squawking, but he refused to sit down and was walking around hitting his head with his hand. Of course, everyone was looking at us as they walked by so we went to the one place I knew would be safe, the car.

So here I sit, in the parking lot, staring at the church building, in a parked car. I tried.

So how am I feeling? Guilty first of all. The churches in which my wife and I were raised stressed the importance of church attendance. Growing up we were there basically there every time the doors of the church were open. That mentality is still stuck in my head somewhere and the guilt is very heavy that I am not inside the building right now.

I am feeling a little lonely. Not just because I am sitting in a car alone with my son but more in regards to our interaction with other church members. The way you get to know others is by becoming involved but at the moment, because of Austin, we are not able to be as involved as we have been in the past. So, after attending our current church for almost 3 years, we still basically have no substantial relationships with others in the congregation. I am blaming no one. It’s just that we are not able to get involved like other families and because of that, not able to develop deeper friendships.

I am a little saddened as well. I think about all the other families who also might not be able to participate, or even attend church, on a regular basis. I am concerned that they too feel lonely even in a crowded church building or guilty because they have to miss another Sunday.

So here I sit. This is not the first time I have sat in the car with Austin during church and it definitely will not be the last time. I do like the fact that we at least made it and that Michael and Luke are able to participate. The other part of me at least takes some comfort in the fact that this was another opportunity for Austin to learn how to interact with other individuals in a group setting, though today would go down as a complete failure. All I can do is try and I believe that is enough. Though not always successful, I hope our determination to at least try to get to church sets an example for the other two boys as they grow up and have families of their own.

So now, back inside we go to pick up the other two. Austin is in a better mood now and hopefully we will be able to walk down the halls without indecent.  Trust me, if there is a problem, I will tell you all about it later.

When Your Son With Autism Doesn’t Want To Get Ready For School

Austin Not Smiling

Austin Not Smiling

This morning was one of those mornings at the Parker house. I am completely frustrated and it is not even 7:30 AM. As I sit here drinking coffee while Luke eats his “white donuts” for breakfast and watches videos on YouTube about Jurassic Park toys, I am counting down all the things I must do today before I can go back to bed. This morning I almost called it quits. Who needs school anyways? I am pretty sure they can learn whatever they need watching TV or playing XBOX.

I am sure for most families, school days can be a real struggle. For many like us there is the high school kid who doesn’t want to get out of bed until there is exactly 75 seconds remaining before you need to leave the house to get to school on time. Then there is the 4-year-old who eagerly gets out of bed but takes forever to get into the car because they are walking out the door carrying two blankets, a Power Ranger, a Batman, a sword and a glass of milk. “Please leave your blankets here.”, I said. “But I ‘meed’ them.”, is the reply I got.

Then there is Austin, our middle child with autism. Waking him up each morning is like choosing a piece of chocolate out of a Valentines box of candy. You may choose something really sweet and delicious or you may get something filled with chalk flavored toothpaste that makes you gag and spit all over your new shirt. Some mornings he is eager to get his shoes on and head to the car. Other days he is grabbing his shoes from the closet and throwing them across the room as far as possible. Today was more on the later end. There are days when everyone can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. For a child with autism, sometimes its like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and it was the side next to the 100 foot cliff. Continue reading

Typical vs. Special – How Schedule Changes Affect My Children Differently

Austin getting a haircutOur family is a giant ball of crazy! You never know what is going to happen when the Parker Circus rolls into town. My wife and I have three boys, each in a different state of life. Our oldest, Michael, just started high school this year and the amount of teenage attitude has significantly increased. Our middle son Austin, who has autism, just started middle school and that has been a significant adjustment. Then there is the youngest, Luke, who is four. He is a three-foot tornado! No matter what we do or where we go, you can bet there will be people looking at us wondering if we are from another country, or even another planet.

What makes our lives the most challenging at times is the varying reactions we get from our children in different situations. Vary rarely are they all happy and usually someone is in an emotional tirade. Our daily outings are like walking through a mind field, trying to navigate our surroundings and not trip the bomb waiting to explode. This most often happens with our special needs son as it is hard to predict his reaction to what we are asking him to do. Sometimes they are funny, other times they are embarrassing spectacles.

In this series of posts, I want to share with you some of the different reactions I notice between my children as they react to different life circumstances. I will be comparing how my special needs son’s reactions differ from the reaction of my “typical” classified children. Feel free to think they are funny because they sometimes are very funny. Take them as a learning experience as to how special needs children differ from typical children.

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