Developers, Technology Evangelists, Bros.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Be bold, but truthful.

This is advice I’ve received, and advice I feel is important to “pay forward”. You won’t be rewarded for being meek, but understand where you should draw the line.

Take, for example, a job interview. As a hiring manager, I look for boldness in candidates, but I also look for candidates to be truthful with me. The problem with boldness, is how easy boldness can turn against oneself. Let me explain further.

During interviews, I ask candidates technical, soft-skill, and scenario-based questions. I want the candidate to be at the right technical level, but also be able to speak intelligently about non-technical topics. In general, I’m not as focused (or concerned with) the technical knowledge of a candidate as they may believe – but don’t get me wrong, don’t call yourself a web developer and you can’t explain the HTTP protocol and session state.

One of the more common over-extension of boldness in candidates is not knowing how to say, “I don’t know” to an interview question. As a candidate, how should you respond to a question to which you know nothing (or perhaps have a vague knowledge)? Here’s how I coach my friends and family:

  1. Be honest. Honestly tell your interviewer that you’re not familiar with the topic.
  2. If you are somewhat familiar, say that from your current experience/knowledge, you believe the question/topic can be explained or answered as “give your answer”.
  3. Say that you’re interested in learning about/researching the topic.
  4. Take notes. Write down the specific question/topic for future reference, then offer to investigate it further.
  5. Offer to follow-up on the question/topic in a future discussion, if the interviewers feel you didn’t adequately answer their question.

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