An interview is not the place to voice negative thoughts. You’re there to make a good impression, and that’s best done with positive opinions. Even though you may have the best of intentions, be careful of a few traps.
Saying the wrong thing is one way to fail a coding interview, so let's try to avoid that by looking at three angles:
- Building a rapport with the interviewer
- Avoiding judgemental opinions
- Respecting the interviewer as a person
As an interview progresses, you get calmer. A connection builds between you and the interviewer. This is great, as it allows you to think clearly. But there’s a danger that you let your guard down. It doesn’t matter how well you think you’re getting along, you still know virtually nothing about the interviewer.
The good rapport you’re developing is because you are agreeable and sharing a mindset with the interviewer. You’re both on the same page. Ideally, you want to stay like that until the end. Why risk it by being negative?
Maybe you’re coding in Python and you see a chance to compare to C++. Doing do so is good, but only if you can keep the comparison neutral. Don’t let slip an opinion about Python being superior. It’d be a bad assumption that the interviewer even likes the language. Many of us are programming in languages we don’t like. The interviewer’s passion may lie in C++, they might even participate on a C++ discussion board.
In my experience, it doesn’t take much to derail the bond. I’ve had interviews going well for me, but feeling over-confident, said something I shouldn’t have. Everybody kept their smiles, but I could see the strain. At the time it didn’t even register that my remark may be take badly. Beyond negativity, I learned to avoid snide and sarcastic remarks entirely.
On the other side of the table, I’ve had good candidates blurt out things that made my eyes roll. It may be a minor quip, but it takes a big bite out of the goodwill that was building.
An interview is not the same as being on the job. Nobody trusts you yet, and opinions require that foundation of trust. You’re trying to earn the respect of the interviewer.
Many criticisms require a deep understanding of the material. Spouting off a canned opinion on Twitter may be fine, but it comes across as shallow in an interview. Sure, there’s a chance the interviewer agrees, but there’s a greater chance they don’t.
For example, say you’re looking at some code that uses dependency injection. The interview asks you for an alternative to that approach, which is a fair question. You correctly answer that a global configurator also works. Then, as happens in many interviews, you’re asked, “Is that a good approach?”
It’s an leading question that functions like a trap — whether or not that was the intent of the interviewer. Ensure you've be listening carefully to the interviewer to understand what they want. The key phrasing, “is that good,” sounds like a request for an opinion. Try to stick only to the details you know. Point out positives and negatives to the approaches but avoid saying overall one is better or worse than the other.
If you’re feeling pressured to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, don’t. It’s fine to say your experience is more in one area, and you feel more comfortable with it. You can even say you don’t even understand one method well enough to know where it’d best be applied.
But none of this means one approach is better than the other. Chances are you don’t know enough to make a firm judgement. Chances are that the interviewer also doesn’t know enough. Don’t risk a clash in opinions.
Ask the interviewer’s opinion. This diversion can save you in a bind. Plus, deferring to the interviewer helps build that rapport I talked about earlier.
Real-life is strictly awesome
You should be entirely positive about any topics outside of programming. People’s personal habits vary even more than their technical preferences. If the interviewer says they like morning cartoons, you say, “cool, which ones?” and then note them down, as though you’ll watch them later. If the interviewer’s desk is covered in hand-puppets, you say, “these are great, who made them?” If it turns out the interviewer is a psychic detective in their spare time, you say “that’s awesome, I’d love to hear more about it.”
If this seems shallow, it’s because it is. But you’re intentionally prepping your brain to stay positive. You want to block its tendency to make off cuff comments. You want to suppress any laughter or anything that might be dismissive of the person’s life.
Nobody wants to be ridiculed, not even a bit. How do think the interviewer will rank you, that stranger that belittled them?
Given some interviews I’ve been in, this advice is apparently not taken to heart by many people. The moment any kind of momentum is built, many people shut off their brain and let their mouth take over.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Think about every answer, before you give it. Formulate all opinions in terms of pros and cons instead. Accept the interviewer has their faults, and avoid clashing with them.