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So I got an email "interview" with questions to be answered. I'm not too sure only about one of them, so I wanted to google the answer.

Of course in a real interview I can't do this, so should I say "I don't know", or research it? I mean, if I were on the job, I'd research it, so it can't be frowned upon? Right?

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closed as off topic by Thomas Owens, Yannis, Walter, ChrisF Jan 18 '12 at 13:04

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Perhaps the e-mail interview is an examination of your research skills? –  Hand-E-Food Jan 18 '12 at 3:08
Is this specific to software development? I know it's probably more common, but I'm sure other professions would do this as well. –  ChrisF Jan 18 '12 at 9:27
I love the fact that you have such honesty and high morals. I thought this planet don't have many like you - I am serious about this. –  Emmad Kareem Jan 18 '12 at 10:41

12 Answers 12

Why not find out the answer, answer it, then say "I had to look this one up"?

That shows initiative and honesty, and that you didn't look the rest up. There is no lose situation. If they want to just mark you down for it, they can, but they'll have more faith in the rest of your answers than other candidates'. If they wanted you to look up the answer, you did, well done.

For my money, I'll take initiative and honesty over a great memory any day.

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+1 for the last line... :) –  c0da Jan 18 '12 at 4:57
You could just preface the answer with "from my research I have found..." that way you are being honest but showing initiative. It also cleverly doesn't say when the research was done ;) –  Caltor Jan 18 '12 at 10:28

Here's the fact of the matter: when you're actually working on the job, the same issue is very likely to come up. So think about it this way: if you were sitting at your desk and you came across a problem you weren't sure how to solve, what would you do? Would you go to your supervisor/project lead and say "I don't know how to do this" or would you crack open the browser and look up a solution?

As an employer, if someone sent me back questions I emailed them with any answers of "I don't know," I would automatically assume the interviewee was lazy and simply didn't want to look up the problem.

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  1. They expect you will research the questions. duh.
  2. They researched the questions before they asked you.
  3. You're not the first person to get the questionaire.
  4. They know what canned answers off the web look like, from #2 & #3.
  5. They know right, wrong, good, better, etc. answers; coming from web research notwithstanding.
  6. They know you can get a right answer from a cursory web search; that only means you're lazy, ignorant, or both. What can you add to make it more professional?
  7. I helped a friend w/ one of these take home interview things. The coding stuff was straight forward and a straight forward answer was easily found on the web. My friend showed his lazy ignorance by giving this correct, adequate answer. From a professional coding standards perspective there were easily a dozen specific things wrong. The algorithm was fine. The coding was not wrong, it was amateur hour.
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There is no way you can know everything about any topic, but i think is wrong not to research about it.

It's more valuable someone with the willingness to read, research and try to come up with a solution that having someone who doesn't (regardless he knows the answers), so dont be afraind of saying "I dont know" but you should also say "but i could look into it".

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If in doubt, ask them. I consider it reasonable to google solutions as long as you are "researching" for the task and not looking for copy-paste solutions.

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If I had asked the question, I would expect you to research it and be ready to answer more detailed questions on the topic in a follow-on interview. You don't need to become an expert on the topic, but your answers to follow-up questions may help them differentiate you from other candidates. It could be a way of determining your innate curiosity and willingness to be thorough about your work. I may only hold follow-on interviews with candidates that took the initiative to look into it and provide an answer to the original question.

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Good point! If you answer an emailed question correctly, then you are making a statement that you are knowledgeable about that topic, so you better be ready to back that up by actually being knowledgeable in a later face-to-face interview! So don't make the mistake of researching the bare minimum amount to answer the question - make sure you read on further and actually learn enough about it to handle that. –  Carson63000 Jan 19 '12 at 2:24

If they ask you to do the interview question over the email. They are asking for it.

...I am serious, any interviewer who ask you to code and email should be asking questions that are very difficult to research and they are expecting you to use all your tools. The fact you have good researching skill and can quickly absorb the necessary knowledge qualifies you.

That being said, asking someone else to do the question for you is definitely not good, you will likely be eliminated in the next round and waste both of your time, so do us a favor and don't do that.

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There are different forms of "research": posting questions to Stack Overflow is definitely off limits, reading Wikipedia is probably a fair game, everything in between is your call.

It is probably a good idea to be upfront about it, too: for example, if you needed to read about a subject on, say, Wikipedia, or use Wolfram Alpha, then referencing the corresponding article in your answer is probably a good thing.

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Why is Stackoverflow off limits? If I have a question at work I do one of three things. I ask somebody else on my team if they have any information they can share, attempt to explain the problem on Stackoverflow, or I google for the subject matter and research the subject as whole ( often before doing the other two ). What you don't want to do is copy the answer you get, because you won't understand it, unless you do further research. –  Ramhound Jan 18 '12 at 16:05
@Ramhound I think we are on the same page here: when I said "posting questions to Stack Overflow" I meant literally copy-pasting the incoming questions, and replying with the best answer you've got. Using Stack Overflow as a research tool leading to you discovering the answer independently would probably be acceptable. –  dasblinkenlight Jan 18 '12 at 17:07

Why is looking up an answer and then giving a clear and concise version of it lazy? Though I am reminded of a post someone had a long while back that noted that good developers are lazy - they want to get the job done as quickly as possible. I doubt I would work someplace where someone wants a flowery answer to each question.

Don't just cut and paste, but don't try to pad it out merely to be different. Answer the question clearly and concisely. I wouldn't note at all that you looked it up. Just give them what they ask for.

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If you did research the answer, I think for a lot of questions, the person on the other side can easily spot this. There is, nothing wrong of course in looking something up. You can't be expected to know everything. The only place where this feels like cheating is on an exam where the content is fixed before hand and you are told what areas to study :)

Also, with respect to an interview, yes, you can't research the answer, but you should be in a position to get close to it and unless its a grave error, most interviewers would be happy that you can think on your feet and would pardon your lack of knowledge.

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The other candidates for the position will have had the same interview. Guarantee they will have all researched the questions that they couldn't answer immediately. Do you really want to put yourself at a disadvantage?

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Almost certainly they expect you to do some research.

I can imagine the interviewer wanting you to answer without consulting any outside sources of information, but it would be absurd not to say so explicitly.

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