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CS 461/462/463: Senior Capstone Class

Sample Interview Questions


Good reference: John Morgan and Noah Suojanen, Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. This books sole purpose is to help you prepare for the live programming quizzes that are part of a lot of CS job interviews. Best of all, the OSU library has it in digital form so anyone can

get to it right away. Go to http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu


If doing a phone interview, use a landline cell connections are often weak and hard to hear. Eye Contact - Maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Show you want the job with your interest. Watch your Body Language: Folded arms, fidgeting, clenched fists, Be Positive - In particular, avoid negative comments about past employers. Adapt - Listen and adapt. Be sensitive to the style of the interviewer. Pay attention to those details of dress, office furniture, and general decor which will afford helpful clues to assist you in tailoring your presentation. Relate - Try to relate your answers to the interviewer and his or her company. Focus on achievements relevant to the position. Mention "Transferrable Skills". Encourage - Encourage the interviewer to share information about his or her company. Demonstrate your interest. Mention Behaviors Rather than Traits: I only missed one day of work last year vs. I am reliable. Expect Open-ended Questions: Tell me about a time vs. Are you Its OK to think about your answers: Up to 10 seconds of pause is considered constructive. After 15 seconds the pause might turn into destructive tension.

What was the largest programming project you have done? This was to get an idea on the complexity of programming projects the student has done. (If the answer was measured in how many "pages" the print-out was, I was not impressed). Choose a programming project you did and describe it to me. This is probably asking more about methodology, rather than specific content. This gets at whether you understood the requirements, the approach, algorithms, etc., and whether you can communicate technical information. The description will usually bring up other questions, like what was the most challenging part of the assignment, and specific follow-up questions on the application.

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What was your favorite class and why? Or what was your least favorite class and why? Gives an idea of what they are enthusiastic about, and more on being able to communicate. How do you approach solving problems when your programs aren't working? This gets at technical skills, but is probably not as valuable in an environment with debugging tools. Maybe a better question now would be to get them to describe what debugging tools they have used and how. (If the answer to this one is, "I just look at the code until I see the problem," I am not impressed). What editor(s) are you familiar with? This would probably be phrased differently now too. Believe it or not, I once got the following response to that question: "What's an editor?" That person did not get an offer.

In most of the real world programming is a team sport. The largest program that I have worked on had over 100 programmers hammering away, with 8 in the graphics group alone. There was a lot of daily discussion about the ("program to the agreed upon interface") contract or this or that feature. There was also a lot of "could you help Frank with " direction from the lead and "you and Glenn are responsible for " assignments. There was also interested in both the size of what someone has done individually and what they may have done in collaboration with others. How did you decide who was going to do what on your joint project? How did you plan and execute the integration?

What was the last book you read? Movie you saw? Sporting event you attended? Talk

about books, sports or films to show that you have balance in your life.
Are you creative? Yes. Give examples that relate to your current job. How would you describe your own personality? "Balanced" is a good word to use, but remember the type of company you are interviewing with. What are your future goals? Avoid, "I would like the job you advertised." Instead, give long-range goals. What are your strengths? Present at least three and relate them to the company and job

you are interviewing for.


What are your weaknesses? Don't say that you dont have any. Try not to cite personal

characteristics as weaknesses, but be ready to have one if the interviewer presses. Turn a negative into a positive answer. Because Im just getting out of school, I know my management abilities are weak, but that is something I hope to work on in my first job. Or, I am sometimes intent on completing an assignment and get too deeply involved when we are late.
Tell me about you! Keep your answer to one or two minutes; don't ramble. Use your

resume summary as a base to start.

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How would you react if I told you that your interview, so far, was terrible?

Why is a manhole cover round? How many cars are there in the USA? (A popular variant is "How many gas stations are there in the USA?") You've got someone working for you for seven days and a gold bar to pay them. The gold bar is segmented into seven connected pieces. You must give them a piece of gold at the end of every day. If you are only allowed to make two breaks in the gold bar, how do you pay your worker? Imagine a disk spinning like a record player turn table. Half of the disk is black and the other is white. Assume you have an unlimited number of color sensors. How many sensors would you have to place around the disk to determine the direction the disk is spinning? Where would they be placed? You have 4 jars of pills. Each pill is a certain weight, except for contaminated pills contained in one jar, where each pill is weight + 1. How could you tell which jar had the contaminated pills in just one measurement? You have three closed cans. One contains red balls, one contains green balls, and the other contains blue. Each has been mislabeled. How many balls do you need to look at to determine which can contains which color?

Suppose we wanted to run a microwave oven from the computer. What kind of software would you write to do this? How would you design a coffee-machine for an automobile? What was the hardest question asked of you so far today? If you could gather all of the computer manufacturers in the world together into one room and then tell them one thing that they would be compelled to do, what would it be?

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What questions do you think I should ask you? How did you choose your college major? What made you decide to apply for this position? How did you hear about this job opening? What special aspects of your work experience have prepared you for this job? Can you describe for me one or two of your most important accomplishments? How much supervision have you typically received in your previous job? How would you handle a conflict with one of your co-workers? What is important to you in a company? What things do you look for in an organization? Everyone has strengths & weaknesses as workers. What are your strong points for this job? What would you say are areas needing improvement? Do you prefer working alone or in groups? What kind of people do you find it most difficult to work with? Why? What are some things you would like to avoid in a job? Why? What would you say is the most important thing you are looking for in a job? What are some of the things on your job you feel you have done particularly well or in which you have achieved the greatest success? Why do you feel this way? What things about a job are likely to frustrate you the most? What do you usually do about it? What are some things you particularly liked about your last job? What special aspects of your education or training have prepared you for this job? What courses in school have been of most help in doing your job? What is your long-term employment or career objective? What kind of job do you see yourself holding five years from now? What do you feel you need to develop in terms of skill & knowledge in order to be ready for that opportunity? Why might you be successful in such a job?

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How does this job fit in with your overall career goals? Who or what in your life would you say influenced you most with your career objectives? Can you pinpoint any specific things in your past experience that affected your present career objectives? What would you most like to accomplish if you had this job? What might make you leave this job? What kind of things do you feel most confident in doing? Can you describe for me a difficult obstacle you have had to overcome? How did you handle it? How do you feel this experience affected your personality or ability? How would you describe yourself as a person? What do you think are the most important characteristics & abilities a person must possess to become a successful ( )? How do you rate yourself in these areas? Do you consider yourself a self-starter? If so, explain why (and give examples) In your work experience, what have you done that you consider truly creative? Of your creative accomplishments big or small, at work or home, what gave you the most satisfaction? What kind of problems have people recently called on you to solve? Tell me what you have devised. Do you consider yourself to be thoughtful, analytical or do you usually make up your mind fast? Give an example. (Watch time taken to respond) What was your most difficult decision in the last six months? What made it difficult? The last time you did not know what decision to make, what did you do? What organizations do you belong to? Tell me specifically what you do in the civic activities in which you participate. (Leading questions in selected areas. i.e. sports, economics, current events, finance.) Have you made any individual presentations recently? How did you prepare? Would you rather write a report or give a verbal report? Why? What kind of writing have you done? For a group? For an individual? What is the extent of your participation in major reports that have to be written?

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What has been the highest pressure situation you have been under in recent years? How did you cope with it? What do you like to do best? What do you like to do least? How much of your education did you earn? What kind of books & other publications do you read? Give an example when you had to deal with unreasonable expectations of you. Tell me about a high-stress situation youve been in that required you to keep a positive attitude. Tell me about a time you made a decision, knowing that it would be unpopular. Tell me about a time you had to teach a skill to someone else. Tell me about a time when you combined tools to achieve a goal. Tell me about something you wrote that you are proud of. If you could be any superhero, who would it be? What color best represents your personality? What animal are you?

What's the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers? Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco. Use a programming language to describe a chicken. What is the most beautiful equation you have ever seen? Explain.

What's the next number in this sequence: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66 ?

You're in a car with a helium balloon on a string that is tied to the floor. The windows are closed. When you step on the gas pedal, what happens to the balloondoes it move forward, move backward, or stay put?

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Using only a four-minute hourglass and a seven-minute hourglass, measure exactly nine minuteswithout the process taking longer than nine minutes.

A book has N pages, numbered the usual way, from 1 to N. The total number of digits in the page numbers is 1,095. How many pages does the book have?

A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?

CS Questions
What does the volatile keyword mean? What is kernel mode vs. user mode? What is a TLB (Translation Lookaside Buffer)? How does virtual memory work? What are the behavioral differences between pointers and references? In a list of numbers, all are in increasing order but one. How would you find it? In a list of numbers, how would you find the duplicate? How would you reverse the bits in an integer? Given a character buffer, generate the argv[ ] array. What's the difference between a linked list and an array? Whats the difference between a queue and a stack? Whats the difference between a heap and a stack? Write a function to print the Fibonacci numbers. In C/C++, what is the difference between a struct and a union? In C++, what is the difference between a struct and a class? Write a function that finds the nth smallest value in an unsorted array. The only library calls you may use are free() and malloc().

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How do you use parallel computing to calculate ( 1 + 2 + 3 ...+ n ) ?

Use the STAR (Situation Task Action Result) method in your presentation. Make sure the ACTION part of your narrative is about half of the total answer Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way? What was important to your success. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done. Tell of the most difficult customer service experience that you have ever had to handle -- perhaps an angry or irate customer. Be specific and tell what you did. What was the outcome? Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor or professor on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result? Recall a time from your work experience when your manager or supervisor was unavailable and a problem arose and you had to deal with it on your own. What was the nature of the problem? How did you handle that situation? Recall a time when you had to bounce back from failure or disappointment. How did you do it? What did you learn? Tell me about a time when you came up with an idea to enhance your employers business operation and implemented it.

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