Currently, our "self-study" closure reason reads:

Self-study questions (including textbook exercises, old exam papers, and homework) that seek to understand the concepts are welcome, but those that demand a solution need to indicate clearly at what step help or advice are needed. For help writing a good self-study question, please visit the meta pages.

It seems to me like we are getting an increasing number of questions that originate from job interview questions.

I would say we should treat them just like self study questions (request that the tag be added, show work instead of only asking for the answer etc.).

If the community agrees, I would also ask that we include "interview" explicitly in the closure reason, i.e., modify the parenthetical expression to

(including textbook exercises, old exam papers, homework, and interview questions)

and then also include this in the tag wiki excerpt.


1 Answer 1


I usually agree with @Stephan Kolassa but on this issue I feel there are distinctions to be made, perhaps tenuously.

As far as assessments are concerned, students outsourcing their work to any internet forum is

  • a species of dishonesty that may (?should) clash with rules and regulations a student should be respecting -- as a teacher I know that there are frameworks under which my students may ask me for advice on work in progress, but I don't expect them to ask elsewhere

  • arguably not even in the students' best interests as students who get help on questions of the kind asked here are on the whole not better placed to answer later, more complicated questions, let alone undertake more challenging project or thesis work

  • not in the best interests of any field or profession, as students getting grades or qualifications they don't deserve don't benefit the wider field (this is more a matter of principle possibly).

Interview questions are more problematic in various ways.

  • Advice to interviewees is part of what many of us feel free to do, particularly if we know people well for some reason. I never feel guilt about any possibility of disadvantaging others indirectly, as there is a symmetry whereby those other people should have yet others they can ask, and if not I can do nothing about it.

  • Interview questions that are distributed in advance are, however, like assessments. Interview questions that are asked at the time and not in advance can't be asked about here, except that sometimes people have an inkling of the kinds of questions that might be asked (e.g. from gossip from previous interviews).

On the whole, this is a grey area where I don't support an explicit ban or even discouragement. I would want rather to emphasise people's freedom to ignore questions they don't want to answer, as always.

  • $\begingroup$ I appears to me that your second and third bullet point apply precisely to interview questions as well. The idea of the interview is to gauge the understanding of the candidate. I would say it's in this exact spirit to expect posters here to explain their thinking before we hand them the answer on a silver platter. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephan Kolassa You've made a specific proposal and in doubting it my main goal is not to change your mind but to address others. Again, my line is that members can decide for themselves. Interviewees who ask for advice still have to be smart enough to apply it. In the case of student assessments, if I answer then to that extent I am undermining teaching and learning. In the case of interviewees, if I post public advice it is there for anyone to read. I am not undermining interviewing. The art of interviewing in any case is to ask questions that can only be answered through understanding. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW I agree with this sentiment of @Nick Cox-> "The art of interviewing in any case is to ask questions that can only be answered through understanding." If someone memorizes an answer to a question if you ask a couple follow up questions you can (usually) determine quickly if the person has memorized an answer to a specific problem or whether they understand the concept(s). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ Interview questions, in the sense you frame them, strike me as analogous to a student studying from an old exam. You raise good points, but I wonder if everyone involved is best served by the OP coming to understand the relevant principles & how they can apply to situations, rather than just getting 'the answer' that they can later parrot. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 11:23
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    $\begingroup$ @gung-ReinstateMonica I don't (want to) disagree with you. But it seems to me that we aren't collectively or even all individually consistent about student assignments either, despite a policy. Several of us have zero tolerance towards outrageous copy and paste of assignments, but yet I and I think others often soften dramatically if there is just a smidgen of effort visible. It's been a while since I was an interviewer but I am confident in my ability to detect a parrot. In fact any element of bluff, and no go: I would rather someone said "No idea, but I would look it up". $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ Also after reflecting a bit more on this, the risk of adding a description to the tag is that people visiting the site start using questions from the tag as interview questions and people who are interviewing start to memorize them. A similar trend has occurred with programming interview questions, e.g. the author of 'cracking the coding interview' even acknowledged this in the first pages and makes suggestions not to use the questions in the book as interview questions because of this trend. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 0:53

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