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I have a CV with a vast array of different technologies that I've used at my former jobs. In my experience at those jobs, I employed parts of those technologies depending on what the job required, but never enough to be a master of all the remote parts of the technologies used.

But as I've been interviewing for positions, employers see that I have experience in a technology, and ask very specific technical questions that, while I might've known when using them, I can't answer now.

To learn everything about each of the technologies on my CV seems to be a gargantuan task that would be overwhelming.

How do I prepare for job interviews where each prospective employer focuses on a different subset of my experience in great detail?

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Hi albert, your question was a little too localized for our site: we want questions that are applicable to programmers at large, not just one person's particular situation. I've edited your question to try and focus on the crux of your issue without making it specific to only your situation. –  user8 Aug 9 '11 at 19:54
Thank you, Mark. I appreciate your outstanding effort to compose an equivalent post. –  Dan Aug 9 '11 at 19:57

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I have also used a lot of different technologies in a somewhat longer career. I can't remember everything about all of them. When asked specific questions where I don't have exact or current information, I answer truthfully, explaining what I do know and trying to demonstrate general understanding. I have used MySQL, but also have several years with Oracle and am now using Postgres. So if asked "Can you update MySQL views" I would say "I don't know if MySql views can be updated. Some database engines allow views to be updated if the columns being updated can be mapped to unique table rows. I would expect current versions of MySQL to support this, but I would have to check the documentation."

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Thank you, it looks like a good practice. –  Dan Aug 9 '11 at 19:52
Yep. I've been on interviews where they asked a lot of "manual page" questions, which are about things you know you once knew about and know exactly where to look up the details. The number of those kinds of questions you get asked in an interview tells you a lot about the interviewer or the company if he's working out of a question pool. –  Blrfl Aug 9 '11 at 19:57
Excellent answer. When I interview someone, I try to stay away from these kinds of trivia questions, but I do like to find out how they react to not knowing something. The approach of "I don't know, but this is my educated guess based on this experience" is exactly the kind of answer I look for. –  Karl Bielefeldt Aug 9 '11 at 20:14

Interviewers seeing that many technologies in that short a time will understand that you can't possibly have very deep knowledge of all of them (which you don't - basically no one could). So you are going to have to exhibit a certain degree of honesty about what you know and what you don't. If you can't answer something you never claimed to know it's not too bad, but if you can't answer about something you do claim to know then your interviewer won't find you credible and won't know what skills you do have.

In your case you might consider breaking out the "keyword" section of your resume into core skills and secondary skills, otherwise people might not know how you fit in at their company.

Try to emphasize how what you know will help with the specific job you are targeting. If appropriate try to show that you can start from scratch in a new technology and get things done.

As far as what to study, you have to decide what you want to do, no one can learn it all. I don't know that anyone can decide for you, or even really help with that.

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Thank you very much for taking the time to answer. I think I didn't explain very well in beginning - I've updated the question - I actually have more than 6 years of experience in companies and 1.5 years at my startup So I've used those technologies over a long period but not all their features –  Dan Aug 9 '11 at 18:25

Find out what technologies will be used at the job you're applying for and brush up on those. I remember being impressed with candidates that asked what technologies we worked with, and then went out of their way to learn more about them.

Even if they don't tell you, at least take the time to Google them and see what you can find out. You can often get an idea of what kind of development they do by looking at their website or software products.

Also be honest and tell them the languages you have worked with most recently or know best, and which ones you have worked with in the past and have forgotten, but are confident you could remember quickly.

If they ask you questions where you recognize some of the syntax but not all, feel free to ask if that is the equivilent to [some keyword] in [some other language/techonology]. They are probably willing to overlook syntax errors providing you can explain the process that occurs

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Well, I'm applying for interviews abroad and the range of jobs is huge. I've been contacted by many recruiters until now but I didn't apply myself yet because I don't know when I'm "ready" - don't know how much should I brush off before I can start taking more interviews. The one I got was from a company that I didn't want to refuse. –  Dan Aug 9 '11 at 19:50
Do some research into the company before the interview. You can often get an idea of what sort of development they do by looking at their web page or software products. –  Rachel Aug 9 '11 at 20:05
What if the interview is scheduled 1-2 days after applying? I doubt you can review much in this timeframe. –  Dan Aug 9 '11 at 20:16
1-2 days is plenty of time, especially if its something you once knew. Do a Google search on the language/technology and refresh your memory on the common terms and concepts, and take a look at anything new or important that you might have missed. You don't need to get the exact syntax correct - that's what libraries are for. Just be sure you understand the concepts and major design patterns of the language/technology –  Rachel Aug 9 '11 at 20:19
I'd just add to Rachel's advice that even if you can just show that you have looked the company up and know a little about them shows a good attitude - bit of initiative and interest –  Wudang Aug 10 '11 at 13:23

Focus on fundamentals; If you've worked on MySql, Sql Server and Oracle, talk about relation databases and set-based operations vs working on specific rows. If you've worked in C#, Java, and C++, talk about Object Oriented design. Feel free to say, "I can't remember if MySql supports that feature, I'd have to check the documentation. In Oracle, I would use..."

Most interview questions seem to be designed to determine if you know the stuff you put on your resume, or if you are lying. But the underlying question is, "Can this guy do the job?" If you answer that question, the trivia is meaningless.

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There must be a way to have a few versions of you CV for the types of job you want. Be specific with the recruiters and start hitting the books on those areas. At least tailor the CV for each of the top jobs. You may find you are not marketable for some, so you'll have to adjust.

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Stop trying to be a jack of all trades. What are the core technolgies you know in depth? Focus your resume and your job search on them. Nothing turns off an interviewer faster than thinking someone is well-versed in something from their resume and then finding out they don't understand basic concepts. If you can't answer technical questions in depth about a technology do not make it one of the core technologies on your resume. We just interviewed 4 people and 2 out of the four could not discuss, at any level of detail, items on their resume and they are the two eliminated from consideration so far. They wasted my time and my colleague's time and we wouldn't hire them for any position now.

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