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I had taken a telephonic interview and the interviewer has given some problem for which I was supposed to give him the algorithm. Since its was a telephonic interview and I had no paper or pen, so I could not give him the correct solutions. So I got bit demotivated that my problem solving skills are very low (I have a decent exp on developing software).

How do you overcome these kind of situations and suggestions to improve algorithm skills especially while facing these kind of tactical interviews.

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3 Answers

The important thing to remember for this kind of question (telephonic interview or not) is that the only wrong answer is to leave it at "I don't know". More likely than not, the interviewer prefers you not to already have a perfect solution, because he wants to see how you reason.

There's also nothing stopping you from having (and using) pen and paper while on the phone, if it'll help you to get your ideas straight :)

I had a similar phone interview once, where despite never having done any systems programming before, I ended up basically thinking aloud while I outlined the algorithms a heap manager might use to allocate and free memory. Every so often the interviewer would chime in with something like "OK, you said X before - what are the implications of this choice on Y?" or would prompt for more details of a particular algorithm.

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I'd fear that you may be missing the point of such questions. While the question may be asking for an algorithm at the end, there can be some discussion and communication that is what is really being tested here. How well are the requirements defined? Is error handling covered properly? Which complexity is more important of space or time?

Often with these there isn't just one correct solution. There are numerous good solutions and I'd be surprised if more than 1% could give an answer that couldn't be changed in some way over the following 6 months if someone put up a $1,000,000 to find some improvement or enhancement to the allegedly optimal solution. The question is how well can you explain why your solution is good, what are its shortcomings and strengths. How maintainable, scalable, flexible, customizable, and other -ables is it?

In a phone interview situation, I'd likely check that I do have the correct understanding and start to look for anything missing or vague in the description that I'd want to get more specific in terms of modeling and visualizing the model. From there I would likely think of a few different strategies and compare them out loud so that it is clear I do know how to analyze and pick a good solution then explain what I'd do to get that up and running. Course that is all hypothetical and in reality I'd probably be close to that most of the time as that is the kind of script I'd want to use though it may have various detours as there may be a joke to give in there or some piece of trivia that may help demonstrate competence to some degree.

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He probably wanted to see your approach in solving the particular problem.

When you're presented with such, try to come to an answer with the use of your existing knowledge. You will not need a pen or paper in many such cases.

All the best.

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